October was a month for celebrating teachers, acknowledging and honouring them for the crucial role that they play in the lives of young learners as well as for the excellent contribution that they make to society as a whole. It was also the month in which the announcement of the winners of one of South Africa’s influential teacher’s awards programme for teachers who go the extra mile on an extra-curricular basis, Stars in Education, took place. This project, now in its fifth year, rewards teachers for their contribution in their community and celebrates ‘bright spots’ and success stories in the education landscape where teachers go above and beyond the call of duty.

Stars in Education is the brainchild of Argo, a multi-media solutions provider, that realised that teachers were not being recognised enough for the invaluable role they played within their communities in projects outside the classroom. Staying true to its brand values “to inform, involve and inspire”, Argo decided to start the Stars in Education project in 2008. Made possible by the generous and ongoing sponsorship of such companies as Cell C, Mindset Learn, Metro FM, The Star Newspaper, Macmillan and the Transnet Foundation, these well-known and sustaining brands along with new partners, TSB Sugar lend even further credibility to the initiative. By aligning with this campaign and working together, sponsors have shown their genuine commitment to a better future and have built brand affinity, making a real impact on the education landscape with a project that is founded on real stories of hope and inspiration.
In 2012, the Stars in Education project has received a large amount of nominations in projects addressing a vast range of community needs.  Entries were received from all over South Africa and ranged from the creation of local orphanages and old age care facilities to inspiring young achievers, water education and food gardening to Early Childhood Development projects, Parent and School interaction projects to Culture-based extra curricular programmes, Brass Bands to aerobic instruction. The scope of projects put forward is inspiring and showcases just how many teachers are often going above and beyond the call of duty and influencing their communities.
This year, the extremely high standard of entries made judging difficult, but in the end, it was Ms. Thabo Motaung who won top honours with the Thari Mmelegi Orphanage that she created out of the need for children’s care born out of the loss of parents in their community to HIV/AIDS. Put forward by one of her students, Tebogo Motsueyane from the Bana Pele Primary School in Rustenberg, this incredible teacher received first place for her commitment to this cause and for successfully running this project for the past five years.  When asked what made her start the project, Mary explained that their small community was losing their youth and leaving the aged to look after the orphaned children left behind, often with no income except social grants. This orphanage supplies much needed care for these orphans and therefore assists the elderly in the community by reducing their financial responsibility for the children. The facility provides a safe haven for the children where they are fed and clothed and even offered counselling and medical care. Thabo’s role in this orphanage is an all encompassing one, from securing funding to acquiring sponsors and developing structures – she is a real pillar of this community and is commended for her role in this small Rustenberg .
Second place went to FOOD GARDENING by Ms. Nomonde Ntsundwana of the Seisi Primary School in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. This project is about creating permaculture gardens for community members who plant in schoolyards, household yards, churches and clinics with the aim of sustainable methods of producing food. Nomonde has translated her passion for gardening into a means of transferring a skill to the community at large, which will inevitably ensure that they can feed themselves.   What is so incredible about this project is that Nomonde is hands on in showing the community the easy and sustainable methods of producing food, seedlings, sharing herbs and preparing the soil – a transferring of skills that makes this community more self sufficient.
In third place this year, was Ms. Mary Weshi Setshedi, Principal of the Mmatsheko Primary School in Temba for her Turo Centre for the Aged. This home for the elderly was started in 2001 to provide care for the abused and neglected. Mary gave up her own home as the facility for this project to protect and care for as many senior citizens in her community as possible. When asked what prompted her to start the project, Mary spoke of her own personal experience with her Mother who lived in a community in the rural North-West. Due to distance, Mary was unaware that her Mother was not being cared for by the community in which she lived, and despite having some of her Grandchildren nearby, was neglected. After losing her Mother, she made a decision to try and supply care and protection for as many elderly people as possible. She has more than delivered on her promise and is an inspiration.
The other finalists (in no particular order) included:
LEISURELY LEARNING CULTURE by Mabore Dorothy Lekalakala of the Toronto Primary School in the Limpopo Province. This project was started to establish a culture of learning in Mabore’s classroom. She wanted to motivate and encourage learners to focus on their schoolwork so that they can improve their life in the future and uses such tools as computer literacy, Girl Guides, a chess programme, math/science contests and the arts to achieve this goal. The project aims to bring back a spirit of commitment to both schoolwork and all aspects of life.
AEROBICS THROUGH IT by Sadike Kekana of the Toronto Primary School in Sovenga. Born out of concern of the rate of obesity in children, Sadike put this project together to teach learners about the right diet, physical fitness and emotional benefits of exercise.
THE MATSAKA BRASS BAND by Mohlaloga Matsaka Edwin of the Boetse Secondary School in Polokwane. This marching brass band was created by Mohlaloga to give boys from the ages of 10 to 19 years of positive cultural training and to keep them occupied over the weekends and holidays. Over and above learning to play an instrument, Mohlaloga also teaches and guides these youths in the danger of drugs and alcohol abuse and further life training in terms of respect of elders and the importance of education and culture.
ACHIEVERS, WINTER CARE AND YOUNG-HOPE by Phindile Faith Mkhize of the Mdulashi High School in Harding. The first of these three projects, the Achievers Programme offers young learners the opportunity to mentor their peers by giving motivational speeches, hosting youth talk shows and assisting other learners who have trouble with English. These young achievers act as examples to their peers and give motivation to fellow students. The Winter Care Project was started to collect blankets and school shoes to less advantaged children in the community and was championed by the children of the Achievers programme. Finally, the Young-Hope Project is conducted in conjunction with Winter-Care and co-ordinates the collection of clothes and funds for less advantaged students and a nearby orphanage.
MENTORSHIP OF THE EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT EXPANSION PROJECT by Funeka Jija, Principal and Grade R teacher at the Jujurha Pre-School in the Xhora Mouth Administrative Area in the Eastern Cape. This project began with a vision that education is the most important instrument for change and has resulted in the successful creation of 4 excellent preschools in the villages of Nqileni, Tshezi, Folokhwe and Mgojweni by the beginning of 2013. Each school was set up by Funeka offering sixty 4-5 year old children 3 balanced meals a day and education through purposeful play.
MENTORSHIP OF THE EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT EXPANSION PROJECT by Xolisa Dayimani, ECD Practitioner at the Jujurha Pre-School in the Xhora Mouth Administrative Area in the Eastern Cape.  Xolisa is employed by the Bulungula Incubator (BI) which is an NGO established in 2007 to address the challenges of rural poverty while promoting and preserving the positive effects of the traditional African lifestyle and culture. The central focus of BI’s integrated rural development strategy is to use education as an instrument for change starting from the base up and focusing on Early Childhood Development as a means to achieve this goal. Xolisa has been involved with the successful creation of pre-schools in the community who focus on achieving this in this remote area on the Wild Coast.
WATER WISE AND PEER MEDIATOR Project by Zola Mqoboka of the Siyabulela Pre-School in Langa, Cape Town. The project was started to create awareness around the prevention of wastage of our most valuable resource, water. The project also ensures cleanliness within the school and sets an example in terms of achieving this goal. The Peer Mediator portion of the project ensures that struggling students are offered assistance outside of school hours.
CONVERSATION CIRCLES FOR PARENTS by Ms Sarisha Komal of the Grovesnor High School in Durban. Sarisha started this project as she identified after 19 years of being an educator that positive change is needed to bring about successful children in schools. She also identified that she needed to start with parents, as parents should be the child’s first teacher on success and happiness. The project aims to create a comfortable space in which to welcome parents and to build community and self-awareness of the role that parents play.
The Stars in Education Project would not exist if not for the many incredible teachers in our country who go above and beyond in identifying and addressing the needs within their immediate communities and in doing so, for the undeniable difference that they make to our children and to our future. Said Sue Fontannaz, MD of Argo, “Argo and our valuable sponsors salute the efforts of these amazing earth angels and are committed to continue to recognise their incredible contribution to society with our Stars in Education campaign. We already look forward to 2013 and unearthing even more of the incredible projects that are being undertaken to ensure a better and brighter future for South Africa.”
To be a part of recognising and building excellence in the education landscape of South Africa through the Stars in Education Project, contact Argo Sponsorship Manager, Lauren Bright on 083 577 6622 or mail [email protected].