A day in the life of 13 Sydow Street

Interwoven tapestry of the individual stories shared by the learners currently enrolled on an NQF Level 2 Clothing Manufacturing Learnership at TVET SA, situated at 13 Sydow Street, Maitland in Cape Town. The collected stories are presented as a meta-narrative by Alex Marais, TVET SA Facilitator.

The day is dawning / 5:00

I open my eyes. Instinctively I reach out, and with some precision, my left hand finds the phone from which a ringing melody blares into the morning darkness. I lift the screen at an angle, trying to keep the bright light out of my face. 5 o’ clock. I turn from one side to the other, trying to evade the icy morning air creeping into my room through the barely insulated wall.

The ringing melody resumes its daily call. I drag myself out of the bed, remembering how I was stuck in the queue at the rank for an extra 20 minutes yesterday, just because I waited for the third snooze. I stumble into the kitchen, switch on the stove, and start warming some water. As I pour the water into the washing basin, I hear something. I pause, but the sound doesn’t continue. I resume the pouring, trying to do so more quietly to ensure I don’t wake up anyone else. Not yet at least. 

Before I leave, I put some water on to warm for everyone else. It’s just gone ten past six as I make my way around the corner to the taxi rank. I take my spot in the ever-lengthening queue. As I make my way to the front, the glaring sunlight and cacophony of hooters, engines, and voices overwhelm me for a second. I take a deep breath, and as my head clears, I notice the faces of the people come into focus. Like so many times before, I realise I really should have something to eat in the morning.

We’re hurtling along the freeway, unlike the other vehicles that are slowly but surely backing up. It’s a game some of us have to play every day. A game where our safety is pitted against the financial interest of the driver.

‘Hai! Hai!’ comes the call from right behind the driver’s seat. It’s like the two older women scolding the drivers are his mothers. Fortunately for us, for the moment, he listens to them and makes his way back into the snaking line of vehicles.

A whole new world / 7:16

I arrive at 13 Sydow Street, like most mornings, after seven. As I’m about to enter the building, I pause for a second. It’s such a strange sensation, looking up at the sign on the front of the building – the words ‘TVET SA’ in big white, green, and grey letters. On my first day here, I barely paid it any attention. To be honest, I was so nervous I almost passed out.

As the weeks have gone by, we’ve had so many discussions about what it means to be enrolled in this learnership programme at TVET SA, funded by the FP&M SETA. What it means to me, what it might mean for my family, my community, my generation. When we initially discussed the purpose and benefits of being on a learnership, I could barely put together two sentences about it. Now, as I look up those letters, I feel excitement stirring inside me.  

I enter the building and walk up the now familiar stairs, leading to a reception desk. This same desk that aroused fear and anguish in me now provides the kind of comfort that only something that reminds you of home can offer.

And that’s exactly what this place has become for me. Somewhere where I’ve been allowed space to find my voice, a place to learn, a place to explore future opportunities within the Clothing Sector, and a place to express myself. A place I now call home.

A shared journey/ 7:59

I take my seat. One that I’ve had for a couple of days, but that I know by now I shouldn’t get too used to. We are moved frequently, which at first annoyed me. But I’ve come to like moving around all the time.

Instead of finding comfort in a specific chair at a specific table, I can now sit anywhere and feel at ease. I’ve learned to recognise and trust my voice.

I have had the opportunity to sit next to people I probably would never have chosen to even speak to. I’ve learned to listen. I’ve learned to recognise the power and courage displayed by my brothers and sisters in the TVET SA family. To appreciate the immense courage it takes to set out every day, against all the economic difficulties and historical adversity.

I stare long and hard at the page in front of me. I wonder if I wish hard enough if the words on the page would rearrange themselves in a way that would make their meaning accessible to me. No, it’s never happened in all my years in a classroom, no matter how long or hard I wished.

Instead, I’ve sat in classrooms enduring everything from utter neglect, where teachers don’t acknowledge my existence, to educators questioning why I bothered coming to school in the first place.

As I’m rummaging through these thoughts, I become aware of a presence behind me. It startles me for a second, but hearing the familiar voice of my facilitator puts me at ease. It’s a voice that I have come to know well, but more importantly, a voice that I’ve learned to trust. This voice and many of the voices at TVET SA have echoed a truth that I never knew, or maybe I did, but perhaps has been long forgotten. The truth that I am valuable, the truth that I have something valuable to contribute.

The long road ahead / 17:42

As I squeeze into the second taxi I take to get home every day, the humdrum symphony of hooters and revving engines overcome my senses again. I close my eyes for a second, while deeply breathing in the dense afternoon air hanging in the taxi.

The faces of my new family at the College stream through my thoughts as our driver glides through the traffic. And then I see myself, as clearly as though I were looking into a mirror.

I see a learner, who is also a mentor. I see a sister, a mother, a provider, a caregiver, a skilled worker, a valued individual in the community. I open my eyes. I see the sun slowly setting, and just there behind the horizon, I see my future, brighter each day.

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