Would you be prepared to walk 42km every day for your education?

05 Aug 2015

Have you ever run and completed a half marathon (21km)? I have. It’s the furthest I have ever run. I have thought that maybe someday I would run a full marathon (42km), but that has just been a passing thought - quite frankly I don’t think my mind could take me there, let alone my legs.

Meet Thabisa Rolinyathi. She completes a marathon every week day. That’s right – 42km every week day. You see, Thabisa has to walk to school. And if you haven’t worked it out already, her school is 21km away from where she lives. And then she has to walk back home after school. That’s another 21km. That’s a total of 42km - every week day.

Here is Thabisa’s story:

Thabisa lives in Kayser’s Beach near East London in the Eastern Cape. She is a Grade 10 pupil at the Tsholomnqa High School. Her father died some years ago and her mother is a domestic worker. She wakes up at 5:00am every morning to get ready for school, and leaves the house at 5:30am for the 21km walk to school. She and other fellow pupils have been doing this since their scholar transport stopped in 2010. Thabisa’s mother cannot afford to pay for private transport.

She usually arrives late and exhausted; missing three classes which she needs to catch up. Not only that, she sometimes has to endure punishment for being late. She has to replace her school shoes every month, and rainy days are particularly challenging, as she is soaking wet by the time she gets to school. At the end of the school day, she sets out on the 21km journey back, arriving home at around 6pm. She completes her household duties first, and only then can she sit down to do her homework and study.

I cannot comprehend having to do what Thabisa and many others have to do every day to get to school and back. It was a two-minute walk for me to get to high school from my parents’ home where I grew up.

Why am I sharing this with you? Simple – what’s the price? What price are you prepared to pay for an education? The price you are willing to pay will give you an indication of the value you place on education. Now - what if you don’t have the money to pay that price? Will you value education any less? I would assume not. For the sake of an education, would YOU be prepared to walk 42km every week day to attend school? For some of us, these questions have never had to be asked because education is something that we have taken for granted. For the majority of the population, this is just one example of issues that are dealt with on a daily basis.

You may argue that these pupils have no choice, but they do. It makes sense to assume that the temptation to drop out of school must be very high – and obviously the easier option. However, they choose to set out on the gruelling walk every day. Why? To them and their families, an education is worth the 42km walk each day. Education has the power to change the course of a life, to impact generations.

As George Washington Carver writes, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom”. I may not be a marathon runner (and never will be), but I am an educator, and that is why I educate.

Author: Linda Swanepoel 

Editor: Ernst Kriek