South Africa (Tania)

I spent Summer 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa volunteering for the Shine Centre, a non-profit organization that provides literacy support and language enrichment to at-risk students in Grade 2 and Grade 3. The center where I volunteered was housed in a school that primarily serves children from single-parent or foster family homes; many of these students were forced to make long commutes from the townships to attend school. Several have experienced hardships such as poverty and physical abuse and many had some sort of disability that impairs their ability to learn. Despite all of this, the children I worked with at the Shine Centre were some of the happiest, most enthusiastic people I have met in my entire life—they were an absolute pleasure to work with. Every day they went to school, smiling, excited to learn. Every break-through in the classroom was cause for a celebration—the whole center worked as a team, cheering these kids on as they began to learn how to read and write for the first time.

Even though the children’s enthusiasm initially masked the challenges the school faced on a daily basis, I was soon exposed to children who could not concentrate because they had not eaten for over 24 hours, teachers who were unable to teach effectively because they were overwhelmed by over 35 students in their classrooms, and a lack of funding that could hardly pay the salaries of “core” teachers, let alone fund supplemental programs including art and music. Additionally, I recognized that the school system in South Africa is structured in a way that pushes these students from grade to grade, without much regard to how they are performing in school. Many of the students I worked with were unable to identify even basic letters and words, yet they were expected to perform at the Grade 3 level (such as reading books).

I remember working with one Grade 3 child in particular who did not even know the letters of the alphabet. In order to teach him, I incorporated art into our lesson plans—for example, I asked him to draw a bird, a ball, a bear and I showed him how all of them start with the letter “B”. By the end of my time at Shine, this little boy was able to spell basic three-letter words. The expression on his face when he first recognized that he was finally able to spell was priceless, something I will never ever forget.

The children I worked with at the Shine Centre also responded well when I incorporated arts into their existing literacy curriculum, and I believed that a similar integration of arts into their other core subjects could lead to improved overall academic performance. Eager to begin utilizing my skills and expertise to improve the well being of others, I collaborated with a professor at my university to develop an arts education program called Create Progress that is currently being implemented in Cape Town, South Africa. The program aims to encourage academic achievement, artistic expression, and social development in children worldwide through ongoing visual arts education. To date, our team has created and managed the website and social media outlets, organized a successful art supply drive, and developed the arts-integrated curriculum. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we have also raised one-fourth of our fundraising goal of $3,000.

For more information about Create Progress, please check out our website at and


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