José Bright’s “Saturday school” helps poor-but-promising schoolkids – and their parents – to succeed.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Soweto, South Africa
When José Bright arrived in South Africa in 1994, he felt daunted by the task ahead. After all, as director for regional affairs for the mayor of Washington, D.C., he had been asked by South Africa to help transform its schools, designed to benefit the white minority of 4 million, into a system to educate the 40 million black majority as well. [Editor’s note: ]
Nobody would have blamed him if he'd simply declared victory, turned, and run.
But after several short-term projects here, Mr. Bright stayed. He's now a lecturer the School of Economic and Business Science at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. He has dipped into his own pocket and donated his free time to ensure that a handful of poor but promising South African middle-school students make it through high school. [Editor’s note: ]
Bright's nickname is Teboho, the Sotho word for "gift." Awarded to him by local elders, it means, "thank you God for giving us this person” – a gift.
Thus the Teboho Trust was born.
Today, with a team of volunteers working for his Trust, Bright is helping nearly 230 children – and some of their parents as well – to succeed.
"Why do I do it? That's how my mother raised me. She taught me to be compassionate," says Bright, standing outside the kitchen where volunteers were preparing a free lunch for the 230 young students participating in Teboho Trust classes on a recent Saturday. "When you are dealing with a child, it's a big commitment. That child, he has a face, a name; he has thoughts, he has a heart."
Bright's parents raised him not to pity those who are disadvantaged, but to be a problem-solver, he says. What can he do to help people improve their situation – for themselves?