A troubled boy’s kiss on his head is what Alfie Blume will always remember of the horrific accident which changed the direction of his teaching career.
Blume was the Head of Department and under-11 rugby coach at Cradock Primary School, when the school bus with 60 children on their way to Graaff-Reinett for a sports day, collided head-on with a 21-seater minibus in the early morning hours July 21, 2012. The headmaster, who was driving the bus, a 10-year old boy as well as 15 of the minibus occupants were killed on impact.
Blume had facial injuries and remained in the bus during the aftermath of the accident. Raymond, a boy who had a special relationship with Alfie due to disciplinary problems, came and put his arms around his neck and sobbed. They prayed together and the boy kissed him on his head.
“Despite the horror of the accident, this memory will remain with me for the rest of my life,” Blume says. “I still have contact with him and asked him to do something with his life. I believe he will.”
During his recovery in hospital, Blume’s wife, Nicoline, suggested that God might have a different plan for his life – a plan to impact other’s lives.
He sees his appointment as headmaster of JA Ncaca Primary School, also in Cradock, as this plan God had for him.
“When I wanted to apply for the position of headmaster at my previous school after the headmaster’s death in the accident, I saw the advert for the position at JA Ncaca directly below the other one. This was not coincidental and though I applied for both, I started here on 1 November 2012,” he says.
Blume did not have many expectations when he first started there, yet he lives the school motto “Ntinga Ntaka Ndini” (The sky is the limit). Many visible changes have since taken place.
“When people are impressed with what is happening here, I tell them I am only the driver. All praise to God. I am only His instrument,” he says.
Since 2013, learner numbers have increased by 270 and the staff has risen from 14 to 19.
“With this increase, our school building has become too small, but we cannot afford new classrooms. There are now 677 children,” he says.
However, Blume won a notepad lab from Vodacom, which enables the children to work one period a week on the computers. Ncaca Primary was also chosen by Intel to have ultra-modern educational programmes installed on their computers.
“Can you imagine what doors this could open for these children who come from such poor backgrounds?” Alfie says.
This year Blume also started taking the children on educational trips related to their curriculum themes. The Grade R class of 167 children visited a farm. The Grade 1’s went to Addo Elephant National Park and the Addo Wildlife Sanctuary. Grade 3 is going to the SA Marine Sanctuary, Grade 2 to Bay World and Grade 4 will visit the VW Museum and Science Centre in Uitenhage and the Coega Harbour as part of their “transport” theme.
“Many of these children have never seen the sea. And some of the grade R’s has never been on a farm, yet they live in the countryside,” says Blume. “When you work in this environment with these kids from such poor backgrounds and some with a short life expectancy due to HIV, you look at life from a different perspective. These kids are so appreciative and it upsets me when people complain about non- issues and do not appreciate the small things in life anymore.”
Apart from the aesthetic changes and the computer lab, the bathroom facilities needed urgent upgrading.
“The toilets were a problem as there were no doors or windows. It gets very cold in Cradock, so in winter it was freezing and in summer we had a problem with snakes,” Blume tells.
They painted the walls, made doors from pallets and got a sponsor for the glass which will be installed soon.
“There was also only one hand basin in the boy’s bathroom for all the children, so we installed three taps outside and hung mugs on them for the kids to drink water, “he continues.
A vegetable garden was also started on the premises and is maintained daily by a few retired old men from the community. Blume’s heart for people is evident in the seed, compost and other needs he gives to these men to be able to grow the veggies. The harvest all goes to them, but they also share with people in the community who have nothing.
Blume tells the heart -warming story of a little Grade 1 girl, Zanele, who was born without legs. Her mother used to carry her from her wheelchair during break times to the toilet, as there was no pathway for the wheelchair. Though she got artificial legs at the end of 2013, she still could not manage the high step on her way to the toilets and because of the rough terrain, could also not walk around the school. Special wooden steps were built for her and are now fondly referred to as “Zanele’s stairs”.
All 677 children are fed a meal every day through the funding of the National Feeding Scheme. Non-working mothers do the cooking.
“We upgraded an area and now have a proper kitchen. With funds we raised we bought a spoon and bowl for every child and also built an area for them to sit and eat,” says Blume.
As Ncaca Primary is a public school, school fees are not compulsory. However, those who can pay a donation of R80 per year, receive a school bag with the school badge on it as well as all their stationery for the year. And for those in need, a lady in town knits beanies and scarves every winter.
The school now also has a choir and the children have started playing soccer and netball.
“We do not have proper sports fields, but we cleared an area on the school grounds and have already played three soccer and three netball matches this year. The kids just love it, despite them having to play barefoot because they do not have sport shoes,” Blume says.
To acknowledge the participating children, a notice board at the school features photos of them in action. “This makes them very excited,” he says.
“I often write to the local newspapers to tell about our activities and this has led to the community around the school now also buying newspapers to read about their children. People in town are also commenting on what is going on at the school,” he says. “And it is encouraging when old grannies, whose grandchildren attend the school, express their appreciation.”
Another project is involving teacher interns at the school.
“One of our interns developed an intervention programme for children who struggle. Though she does not get paid for her work, she sees it as a challenge and spends a lot of time with the kids.”
“We start each week with Bible reading and prayer time on a Monday with the teachers,” says Alfie. “This does not mean that we are not affected by the Teacher Union’s actions, but I understand that it’s sometimes hard for them and we have a good understanding on this.”
For the children, there is a Bible-based assembly every Tuesday and grades take turns to participate. “This helps build their confidence – something that is almost non-existant,” he says. “Vanessa Goosen Ministries also recently visited the school for a day and screened the Jesus film.”
At Ncaca Primary School, Xhosa is the medium of instruction. “I still cannot speak Xhosa fluently, but we manage to communicate, even if it is by means of gestures,” he chuckles.
“Where I sometimes dragged my feet to go to school, I now can’t wait to get there every day. When you looked death in the eye, you appreciate what you’ve got,” Alfie concludes.
Anybody who would like to support the ongoing upliftment initiatives at the school can contact Alfie Blume at 048 – 8814446 or firstname.lastname@example.org.