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A Stranger Brightens the Rainbow Nation print

Jose Bright, director of the Teboho Trust Saturday School, helps poor South African children find their dreams.

By Amber Dixon
Sept. 10, 2008

Had Jose Bright arrived in South Africa before 1994, his ethnicity might have prevented him from doing the work he came to do. Apartheid’s end had called for an overhaul of government services, including the merging of a once segregated education system. Bright’s experience with the U.S. government earned him the opportunity to advise South Africa.

“[United Nations delegations] kept insisting that I should come over and be part of the transformation process,” Bright says. “I had no context to what was happening in the country…so I felt that I couldn’t possibly add any value here.”

Amber Dixon
Children line up for lunch at the Tehobo Trust Saturday School in Soweto.

His doubts didn’t stop him, though. After he learned about the low test scores and high dropout rates of poor South African children, he was inspired to spread his work beyond the government.

“The children here, I found initially when I came in contact with them…they had no hopes; they had no dreams,” Bright says. “They were told they were ugly. They were told they were mistakes. They were told they wouldn’t amount to anything.

“I found that a light went on when we started talking about opportunities, when we started talking about dreaming, when we started talking about putting road maps together for them to have the kind of life they want.”

With money out of his own pocket, Bright founded the Teboho Trust Saturday School in 2001 in Soweto, a poor Johannesburg township. According to teboho.com, the community picked the name Teboho, which means “we thank God for bringing you to us” in the Sesotho language.

What began with only five children has grown to 232 students. Some are on their way to graduating from major South African universities.

Amber Dixon
On Saturdays, Teboho students augment lessons at their daily schools and also learn to be self-sufficient. Several have gone on to study at major South African universities.

On Saturdays, when most youngsters are enjoying a day off from school, Teboho students are expanding their life skills, such as how to start a business and work in groups. Other youngsters come to clear up confusion about what they’ve learned in their daily school, where classes are taught in native languages they don’t understand. At the Teboho Trust Saturday School they learn in English, and they can also practice French.

Bright’s work has led him to accept South Africa as his home. But the school’s acceptance of him holds much more significance, especially at a time when hatred of foreigners pervades poor areas like Soweto. It’s a problem affecting the entire country, which prides itself as a Rainbow Nation embracing many different races and cultures.

“At the end of the day, a stranger came to help you,” Bright tells his students. “You must go out there and help other strangers.”

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I found that a light went on when we started talking about opportunities, when we started talking about dreaming, when we started talking about putting road maps together for them to have the kind of life they want.”

Jose Bright