Heritage Day is a South African public holiday that encourages citizens to celebrate their diverse cultures, beliefs, nationalities, and traditions alongside one another. Students from participating schools in Scalabrini’s UNITE program came together to celebrate Heritage Day and wrap up UNITE for this year. In accordance with the holiday’s purpose, students performed various art pieces that represented their cultures and identities including skits, dances, poems, songs, and raps.
Mawande Kaleni, a 10th grade student from Heiderveld, performed a beautiful poem about Africa as the motherland that unites. Kaleni was especially excited for Heritage Day; “We’ve been preparing for this day for a while. We even convinced one of our teachers to set aside time each day for us to brainstorm and practice our performance.” Kaleni articulated his appreciation for the UNITE program and the way it brought schools together and introduced him to new friends. Aside from Kaleni’s poem, the rest of the Heiderveld group performed a humorous skit that kept the audience engaged and laughing.
Heiderveld students Sisipho Ndzabela, Mantisa Gcaza and Aza Ntantiso agree that their favorite thing about UNITE this year was the unique subjects they discussed and debated, and the way their understandings of integration and diversity changed as a result of UNITE. Ntantiso added that she was grateful for the opportunity to celebrate Heritage Day with friends, and that she loves the way Heritage Day gives people the chance to recognize, embrace, and appreciate their cultures. She also noted that culture plays a significant role in shaping personality, and that it should not be overlooked.
Phelo Tsana, a 9th grade student from Zonnebloem, has been looking forward to this day all year. Tsana’s favorite part of UNITE has been getting to know other students and their personalities outside the traditional classroom setting. His peers reiterated his thoughts, and added that they appreciate the way UNITE program leaders give them the freedom to be themselves.
“They welcome us with warm hands. We feel treated as one, not as outsiders.”
Heritage Day served as the culmination to all UNITE program activities for this year, as students will now move into final exam season before breaking for summer. Before the event ended, Mthetheleli Wontyi, one of the UNITE program facilitators, left students with a few words of advice. “You all are the chosen ones,” he said. “You’re very lucky to be here, and being part of UNITE comes with responsibility to be change agents in your homes and in your communities. Now is time to take the lessons we learned throughout the year and apply them to your lives.”
Jade Bell, another one of the UNITE program managers, left students with a reason to work especially hard in studying for finals by announcing that next year, UNITE students will be given the opportunity to participate in the World Scholars Cup (WSC). WSC is a global competition for high school students, and was founded to serve as a celebration of the joy of learning. The tournament is an enrichment opportunity for students, and the top ten highest-scoring or most-improved UNITE students will be able to compete. What a wonderful and exciting year for UNITE!