Literally making a difference

Homework Enrichment Life Skills Program learners and staff engage in after-school activities together.

When Muizenberg resident Jean MacKenzie understood for the first time how desperately lacking children’s literacy skills were, she committed to becoming part of the solution.

Although the official stats from 2017 show a decline of 7.32% from 2015 – to a last collected number of 87.05% of adults being able to read and write – Ms MacKenzie says the reality in schools shows a large and ever-widening gap in literacy skills.

Her answer then, was to join Homework Enrichment Life skills Program (HELP) , an NPO started by Anna-Marie Kaars-Sijpesteijn which helps children at Heathfield Primary School and Thomas Wildschutt Senior Primary.

The programme is available for children from Grade 1 through to Grade 7 and began unofficially in Capricorn before being registered as an NPO in March 2011. When Ms MacKenzie joined, there were 200 children who attended and 10 volunteers. Now only 80 children attend, and there are only two or three volunteers on a rotational shift.

“Covid-19 has taken the neediest children out at the knees,” she said. And with limited in-class learning, and even less time for the after-school programme, in addition to the loss of their stalwart volunteer Charlotte Coosner to Covid-19, the programme is holding on by its teeth.

Older children who are part of the HELP NPO do school work in the afternoons.

The programme has honoured Ms Coosner for her dedication to it by naming both Help’s libraries after her.

“The children we deal with have suffered greatly already in their young lives and are exposed to much trauma, a lot of poverty and so many challenges, and this was before lockdown and a raging global pandemic,” Ms MacKenzie said.

The answer for these children is in the after-school attention, where they are guided not only on what they missed out on in school. Sometimes, Ms MacKenzie says, one sick day can leave a gap in a child’s understanding that is easily missed but really interferes with building their understanding of a particular subject. The school work is presented in a variety of ways too, and Ms MacKenzie has even invented board games which revolve around the children’s school work which makes the learning fun and interactive.

And included in this, the children are taught basic essential life skills, like self care and respect for self and others and communication skills.

Founder Ms Kaars-Sijpesteijn said the programme encouraged children with potential to gain the necessary self confidence and respect for themselves they need to blossom in life.

“I love Help so much its like I love it one thousand percent,” says a Grade 2 year old pupil.

The pupils can’t be named, but they were happy to share their experiences with the False Bay Echo. “I like Help because it helps to read,” yells another Grade 2 child, excitedly.

A boy in Grade 4 said he had been with Help for four years and he loved it.

A Grade 5 child called the programme her “life-saver” and another, in Grade 6, said while it was her first year in the programme, she felt it was better than any other extra mural activity

Teacher at Help, Langton Munyayi, another Muizenberg resident, said: “I am happy to be part of the Help team because I have seen over the years how a lot of kids have benefited. There are a lot of educational, emotional and social gaps that we fill, because we can afford to give individual attention which is difficult in big classes. I believe the survival of the organisation will continue making this difference in children’s lives.”

Yami Kami said he matriculated with distinctions last year because of his time at Help. He now volunteers at the organisation which helped him.

To become involved in plugging the holes in the literacy boat, contact Ms MacKenzie on or visit their Facebook site on: