Study abroad in South Africa


South Africa

Zimasa Community School is a public primary school located in Langa, Cape Town’s oldest black township.  They serve kindergarten through ninth grade with over 1,400 students and have been operating for over forty years.  It is one of the best schools in the township and sends graduates to some of the best high schools in Cape Town.


Crystal Au

My service site is Zimasa Primary School. It is the largest primary school in the township of Langa. The school has students ranging from Grade R to Grade 9. The school has a lot of space but sometimes does not utilize that space as well as it can. There is an afterschool program to help kids who are struggling in English but there are no other extracurricular clubs or activities offered for the children afterschool. There is always a need for more school supplies because many students do not have pens or pencils to write with. All students speak Xhosa as their mother language and are not taught English until the 4th grade. Zimasa staff and faculty are welcoming towards volunteers and accept as much help as it can get.

The faculty and teachers at Zimasa gave me so much freedom to help out in whatever way I want. The first thing the vice principle asked me when I visited the school was what did I want to get out of volunteering and what skills did I have to offer. Because the staff trusts you with as little or as much responsibility as you would like, it is best to take initiative from the beginning in how you would like to get involved and be able to take charge and lead the activity on your own.  As a volunteer, you are usually expected to teach life skills.  Since I am a studio art minor, I became the visual arts and performing arts life skills teacher. You can get involved in as little or as much as you would like. I started out teaching three different 5th grade classes. Now, I teach 5th grade, 4th grade, 7th grade, and assist in Grade R. Some of the greatest challenges are the language barrier, large class sizes ranging from 50-55 students, lack of resources, and lack of motivation from some students. One of the most frustrating challenges was how unreliable the other teachers were. Many teachers do not show up to class on time, some do not show at all, and most walk out of the class whenever they want. Teachers are also always willing to have me come teach their class. I do often have to bring in my own resources to teach art while some teachers have more resources than others. My favourite thing about teaching at Zimasa is the flexibility and freedom I have in planning my own lessons and being able to teach as creatively as I want.

I feel like I am contributing to the betterment of South Africa by volunteering to teach in a township where the students do not get many opportunities to interact with people from another country. Especially because my first language is English and the children are struggling with English, they would benefit from hearing me teach them and getting better acquainted with the language. Also, many of the students do not have the opportunity to learn visual arts or performing arts because the teachers usually do not prioritize that subject, so the students can experience learning from my different teaching style and have an opportunity to practice a subject where they can express themselves. I do often wonder if I am making a lasting change at Zimasa to really brighten their futures because I do eventually end up leaving the school when I go back to America. It feels like I am helping the students temporarily and then making them feel worse by leaving. Because of this, I am trying to make a more sustainable impact by helping the 7th Grade creative arts teacher plan her lessons and give her more creative and effective ways in teaching art and ideas for gathering resources. I am also helping start a hockey team for the younger students at Zimasa by getting 7th graders to be their coaches and to be involved in a leadership position for their personal growth and to make the hockey team less dependent on adults.  Hopefully my initiatives have a solid base before I leave and can run effectively while I am gone. 

Kevin Foley

As a service learner at Zimasa, I moved around the school quite a bit. I worked with the deputy principal to help teach Life Orientation to the 9th graders and also worked with the 6th and 7th grade English teacher. In Life Orientation, I taught classes dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, citizenship in South Africa, and personal beliefs and talents. One of my favorite activities I organized was a talent show in which the students showed off anything from their incredible singing voices to their goofy dance moves. In the 6th and 7th grade English class, I worked a lot with identifying parts of speech. One of their favorite activities that I did with them was Mad Libs, which they had never heard of before. I also became involved with sports at Zimasa and spent a few Saturdays and Wednesdays at the schools rugby matches or soccer games. This was where I really grew close with some of the teachers and the principal, and I am really grateful for the times I was able to just hang out with the students on the sidelines of the rugby field.

One of the major challenges with the South African education system is that they have overcrowded and understaffed classrooms. You may be put in front of a classroom with 35-40 students. I learned this semester to simply embrace the chaos that ensues in this type of atmosphere and enjoy that chaos. Even if things don’t go the way you planned, the students will still more than likely take valuable lessons from the lesson plan you are implementing. Zimasa is an incredible school full of hard working teachers and learners! I am so grateful for every moment I spent at the school and for every relationship I formed with the teachers and the learners! As an education major, I will take the things I learned there with me for the rest of my life.

Emily Lesko

At Zimasa Community School, I work as a teacher aid along with the deputy principal. I help out with teaching the 8th and 9th graders life orientation class. Life orientation is a class where students learn about subjects such as fitness, careers, and how to live healthy life styles.  One of the projects I have been working on is bringing in different members of the community in to speak to the students about their careers. It gives the students a chance to be exposed to the different jobs around the area. Zimasa has been an amazing opportunity for me. I have grown so much from each and every person in that school. The faculty and staff are wonderful individuals who truly care about their students. I’m going to be sad to leave the school at the end of the semester.


Patrick Duffey

As a service learner, I work alongside the deputy principal and teach a ninth grade life orientation class.   The subject matter covers a variety of topics including HIV prevention, South African culture, healthy living, and politics. I have been encouraged to start new projects with the students.  During a unit on physical education, I worked with the staff to organize a hiking trip.  Also, with it being the last year of primary school, I am working with the deputy principal on a career day with local professionals from Langa.

Working at Zimasa has been one of the best experiences of my life.  Welcoming and friendly, the staff is very helpful and has assisted me the entire way.  The entire staff has grown up in the townships of Cape Town, with the majority from Langa and some even attended Zimasa.  It can be difficult at times because I only teach two days a week.  Organizing projects or assigning tasks was tough because I would often not see the students for a week at a time.  As an American, the students love to discuss the differences between the two cultures.  Although I am only five or six years older than my students, the staff appreciates the opportunity to give the students a peer role model who is absent in a community filled with gang violence and unemployment.




Photo of students smiling

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