UCT Schools Improvement Initiative comes to Chelsea Flower Show

Right in the heart of last week’s Chelsea Flower Show, the UCT Trust welcomed alumni and friends to their fundraising event for the Schools Improvement Initiative, which aims to foster a pool of talented pupils and nurture them toward a place at university

The Chelsea Flower show is the jewel in the crown of garden shows in the world. It is an event of prettiness, spectacular displays and sunny dispositions. Garden enthusiasts twittering over designer exhibits, and paying homage to the image of Nelson Mandela at the Kirstenbosch display. All in all, the perfect day to indulge in another world, where beauty and peace reign for a while.

Late afternoon, and a unique event took place in the midst of all this perfection. The UCT Trust welcomed alumni and friends to their fundraising event for The Schools Improvement Initiative (SII). Interesting choice of venue one would have thought, here in flower central, in the heart of London. Yet, one must not read too much into the choice of congregation, or the canapés on offer, for we were not invited only to savour the flora on offer, but to listen. And anywhere one can capture an audience is the right place to begin.

Despite inroads in achieving a better education for all, there are many, highly intellectual students who fail as a result of their environment and lack of resources. Who will never have the chance to gain a tertiary education. They may deserve to flourish, but remain in the unseen void, tucked away in townships, in vain hope of being recognised for their talents. The SII, initiated by Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price, is trying to change this, fostering a pool of talented pupils and nurturing them toward a place at university.

For now, Khayelitsha is the focus of attention and the aim is, with the support of local school principals, teachers and other interested parties, to improve the overall education system in South Africa. Nothing noble about it, a necessity if we are to improve the lives of all who live there. A two pronged project was launched. Firstly, the 100UP high school programme; to facilitate and prepare gifted students to compete for places at the University of Cape Town. More importantly, if these students succeed academically to win a place, not to simply leave them to struggle with life as a student, but stand alongside them, giving support when needed. Second is the drive to improve primary school education, a project called Ikwezi, defining and developing skills in primary language and mathematics. Teaching them young is half the battle won.

One could not help but be captivated by the passion of both Sir Frank Berman and Dr Russell Ally as they spoke of the benefits of the SII. Passion is an overused word, so perhaps fervour or dedication to the cause would be more apt. Difficult trying to entice funds from pockets of those who have and put it in the hands of those who do not. There is no glory in begging, in whatever form it may take, but there is a great fire in the belly of those who are willing to stand up for those who do not have a voice. Men such as these, with remarkable roads walked, can still be humble enough to bend down and help up those who cannot stand alone.

The Schools Improvement Initiate will succeed, for there are still people out there who value themselves only by giving value to another. It will succeed because those who have tasted the fruits of hard work can recognise the drive in others who work even harder to take their rightful place in society. Leaders are not born, but given the opportunity to do so. And right there, in the heart of the Chelsea Flower show, these words of kindness became the beautiful. It was fitting for its purpose – for those worth fighting for a better life may never get to see perfection in nature on display, but human kindness may yet bring them close to their perfect selves.

‘Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?’ With little hearts and little souls and generous donors, all in a row. I nurture them and watch them grow, to blossom, to thrive, the best on show.’

For more information, visit the UCT Trust website at www.ucttrust.org.uk

Photos by Ronel van Zyl

See a gallery of photos from the event