As mere mortals, we recognise that the odds of one of us becoming famous anytime soon are slim. So it was with surprise that in a small primary school in the Valley of a 1000 Hills, Lani and I became minor celebrities.
After a few shy glances and cheeky grins from the kids’ gorgeous faces, it wasn’t long before we were being swamped by children, all wanting to hug and touch the mlungus (white people) that had suddenly appeared in their school.
It was our 15 minutes of fame.
This all happened at Empilweni Primary School, a school of just over 400 students in KwaNyuswa, South Africa. We were visiting the school with our Aussie friends Liv, Katie and Rachel who have been based in South Africa for several years now. These three amazing girls are responsible for running various not-for-profit organisations and projects throughout the area. One of their recent projects was getting sponsorship for a number of the students at Empilweni to cover school uniforms and stationery packs and, despite all the work they’ve done for the school over the past few years, this was the first time that they’d had the chance to visit.
According to our friend Spiwe – who’s the principal of the school – this was the first time that white people had visited.
The kids had gone all out, planning a huge performance for us which involved all the year levels and included a poetry recital, songs from the junior and senior school choirs (a privilege, as the senior school choir had recently taken first place in the state school choir competition, and are currently second in the entire country), and a demonstration of traditional Zulu dancing.
Lani and I watched the concert surrounded by kids, all fascinated by our cameras and video camera and quickly made friends. They touched our hair, giggled as they stroked our arms, and played with our jewellery.
As the concert finished and the kids were ordered back to class, we suddenly found ourselves in a sea of children, each wanting to hug us goodbye and tell us that they loved us. One boy – who I guessed to be about 10 years old – told me that two days was too long to wait to see me again, and that he would miss me every minute until then.
Two days later he got the chance to see me again. We came back to the school to interview and photograph the kids who had received sponsorship thanks to the kindness of Australians. Again, we were mobbed by our new-found friends and had to drag ourselves away from them as we left the school.
It’s something that’s hard to capture on paper or in a photograph, but it was one of the most special moments of my life.