"If there is anyone who is in a position to bring positive change every day, it is a teacher."
When Khojane Mokoma, headmaster of Masaleng Primary School in Ficksburg, came across this Japanese quote, he decided to align these words with his vision as a leader of his school community.
Ficksburg is nestled in a valley between small farming villages in the Free State. Mokoma, has lived in the small town all his life. He says when he began his teaching career in 1991, he made it his resolve to cultivate the greatness within every pupil he would educate. He was appointed as principal of Masaleng in 2007 and since then, his motto has been to make the most of the little resources at his disposal.
"It has not been smooth sailing but I've been able to rise above every challenge I've encountered along the way. I believe that there's never time to complain. You make the most with the little you have."
He says while the school remains under-resourced, he's watched it grow stronger academically and in sports, and even participate at provincial and national level. His school currently has 1 226 learners from grades R-7 and is able to cater to learners with mild to moderate learning difficulties. His team of educators and support staff work tirelessly to ensure a balance between fully functional learners and those with learning impairments, he says.
"Because of Masaleng, I am what I am. Our school's slogan is that we are number one. We want to be unique in doing good. That's our brand, and we've shared our model with other schools in our district and province," he said.
Mokoma said the no-fee school was situated in a poorly resourced town, with most learners coming from destitute families. Previously, the school served lunch to the learners but Mokoma said they continued to experience a scourge of absenteeism and late coming.
"Though the learners knew that they'd be served lunch, it is a few hours into the school day and most of them didn't have food to eat at home. They'd opt to stay home than come to school and have to concentrate on an empty stomach."
In 2016, Masaleng was selected as one of the beneficiaries of the Tiger Brands Foundation's in-school nutritious programme. He said he had seen a drastic improvement in the learner's attendance and participation, as well as an eagerness to be at school on time.
"They know that they will be fed at a certain time and they don't want to miss that. Every day they have two meals at school without fail, it's like a dream for most of them."
"I'd like to thank the Tiger Brands Foundation. Their efforts have seen my school overcoming some severe challenges. You can miss all your meals, but not breakfast,” Mokoma said.
He said making a difference to a child's life, no matter how little, was what mattered most to him. He sternly believes that educators play an integral role in shaping a child's future.
"Our school colours are navy and white, and I always say that my blood is navy and white too. I want to leave this earth empty handed, having exhausted myself completely towards fulfilling the cause of education."