Study abroad in South Africa


South Africa

Tembalethu LSEN School was founded on March 1st, 1970 in the township of Gugulethu, as a school for learners with special educational needs. It is a government-funded school that specializes in educating black children who are physically disabled from grades one through nine. Tembaletu is a commuter school that has students bused in everyday from various townships throughout Cape Town. The learners themselves face both economic and physical disadvantages so the aim for Thembalethu is dually difficult.  Educational and youth development are Thembalethu’s main priorities in preparing students to one day become self-sufficient. The senior phase learners are equipped with practical knowledge of career paths and specific options in higher education that students can pursue after graduation.


Abbey Porzucek

My service site is Tembaletu, a school for learners who have physical and mental disabilities that are too severe for them to function in a normal school environment.  Many of the children suffer from spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and early brain damage due to infections that resulted from HIV. The school strives to give the children the opportunities to learn and play just like children who do not have disabilities through specialized teaching strategies, play grounds, and extracurricular activities such as horseback riding, golfing, beading, and choir.  For the children, these are especially rare opportunities since the majority of them come from poor families, many of which live in Gugulethu. 

I have been working in the nursing department of the school, which has been extremely eye opening to the problems of poverty that the children are forced to face in their daily lives.  As a result of poverty some of the children do not get well balanced diets, so some are underweight and some eat unhealthy and are overweight.  Recently, Thembalethu has been working to implement a new nutrition program that will help manage the students’ weights.  To do this, all of the height, weight, disabilities, and BMI of all of the children needed to be recorded. Between the school nurse and myself we were able to get all of their heights and weights. From there, I was able to calculate their BMIs, look at their weight trends and decide the correct food portion for each child, taking their specific disabilities into account. I have really enjoyed working on this because I have always been interested in nutrition, and working with a nutritionist and learning how to apply techniques to children with specific dietary needs has shown me how much effort goes into creating healthy lives. It has been especially rewarding because the work that I am doing now will benefit the children throughout their years at Thembalethu. 

Thembalethu only works with children who have handicaps too severe for them to function in a normal school environment. In doing this, they are giving the students the skills to become productive members of society, which they would not be able to learn otherwise. In addition to teaching them the normal subjects like math and English, they also teach skills classes.  These classes are designed to prepare them to work in jobs or at home. Much like home economics classes, the students are taught how to sew, bake, cook, and manage money. Due to the nature of the children’s disabilities many of them have trouble with their motor skills.  So as well as teaching them practical knowledge to support themselves, they are also able to work on their motor skills which will improve their overall quality of life. 

Kate Prebelski

Tembaletu is a school in the township of Guguletu for physically handicapped black children. My experience at Tembaletu over the semester has been a very rewarding one. I work with the intermediate phase (5th and 6th grade learners) teaching them in the subject of Math. I spend the day teaching and working with the students on the material we have covered as well as assisting the other teachers with their students. The community at Tembaletu is a very welcoming one and the relationships that you develop with the staff and the children are a critical part of your experience there.

Charles Birts

While at Tembaletu the majority of my time was spent with senior phase learners (7th, 8th, & 9th grade) teaching them in the subjects of Math (Algebra & Geometry) and EMS. During time in between teaching I was also involved in assisting faculty and staff members with various technological assignments concerning: computers, fax machines, scanners, printers, digital cameras, software programs, etc. I have begun to enhance Tembaletu’s technology resources throughout the school. There is a continued need to help with technology as resources are not being used effectively.



Photo of students smiling

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