In a place like Manenberg, where gangs have become a huge problem, it is easy to give up and give in to your circumstances. Of course, there are people like Pastor Sam Henkeman, a man who looked past these circumstances, and saw potential.
In 2015, Pastor Henkeman started, Step Aboard, a non-profit tutoring project aimed at increasing the maths pass rate in Manenberg. The project started with 50 learners from grade 10, most of whom could not even manage to score above 50%. The success of the project has been so extreme, that these same learners who struggled to pass walked away with A-symbol scores of above 80%. Thus far, Pastor Henkeman’s pupils have managed to become top performers at their schools, winning gold in maths competitions and representing the Western Cape at science fairs.
Not only has the project drastically increased the marks of its pupils, but it is also encouraging a culture of community empowerment. One of the tutors, Anzio Muller, said that he did not know if he would have time to assist. As a Chemical Engineering student, he barely has time to socialize, but he desperately wanted to give back. He matriculated from Manenberg High so he knows what it is like to want to excel in a tough environment.
Pastor Henkeman says that there are a lot of problems in running the project, but he is constantly working to solve these problems. He says that one of the biggest problems is that some learners are at different levels of understanding, but he works with the teachers at the schools to identify and solve these problems. He also works with the Department of Social Development, private funders and surrounding universities.
He says that the thing that makes the project so special and successful is the fact that the tutors are all from Manenberg and the learners can identify with them. These tutors are all students completing their degrees in subjects such as medicine, chemical engineering, financial accounting and electrical engineering. It motivates the learners to know that these university students all came from the same background and despite the difficulties they faced, they are managing to make a success of their lives.
Pastor Henkeman’s long term goal is to have a conference with all of the Grade 10 to 12 maths teachers in Manenberg, so that they can start a conversation on how to best improve the academic performance of the kids. He also wants to focus on developing a leadership programme where kids learn how to solve problems through dialogue and not through violence. He also hopes to get the learners to still be part of the programme as tutors, after they have matriculated and gone on to university.