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August 8, 2019

Heartlines

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Mom, sister, granny. These are the words Louise Cameron’s students call her. Having formed a bond that is so strong, it’s hard for her students to let her go.

Louise (64) has been the Programme Manager at Rose Act for 16 years. It’s a Saturday school programme that primarily assists learners from Alexandra to improve their English and Mathematics, but does lots of other activities as well.

Rose Act has been in operation for 28 years and has made a great impact on young people’s lives, helping them better their chances in life. It was founded by Heartlines CEO, Dr Garth Japhet, long before he had even thought of Soul City or Heartlines.

“Rose Act has never had to advertise, but thousands of students have come through our doors having been referred by parents or friends,” says Louise.

Rose Act has operated successfully under the auspices of Rosebank Union Church since 1991. Louise says her love for children and teaching was discovered when she was in Grade 3.

“My teacher selected me to take over her class for a bit, I thought she would return quickly but she was gone for hours,” she says. “It was such a buzz standing in front of a class and telling my peers what to do, it’s what started my desire to become a teacher.”

Louise obtained a degree in teaching at Edith Cowan University in Perth. She taught music and says she loved the experience,  but felt she had a greater calling and moved to Tanzania to work as a volunteer to assist children from a disadvantaged background.

“It’s a whole new culture. The conditions were poor, children had to walk for hours to get to school and teachers were administering corporal punishment. Australia is very developed and I loved working there but coming to Africa was something I felt in my blood,” she says.

“A book that impacted my decision to come to Africa was Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. It tells a compelling story of two cultures meeting and the realities of crime, loss and love.” 

In 2001 Louise had to come to South Africa for an operation having suffered a back injury. It was here she met people with an incredible spirit of service to others.

“Everyone I met was very friendly to me and they volunteered in some way, I didn’t know anyone but I was drawn to the people here,” she says. “After having been here for three months, I had built friendships. I moved to South Africa and later became a member of Rosebank Union Church. From there I was appointed as Programme Manager at Rose Act.” 

That began her 16 years of service to the children of Alexandra. She has impacted so many lives that many of her learners return to Rose Act to volunteer while they are studying at tertiary level or when they have completed their studies and become working adults.  

Lillian Motaung (32) attended Rose Act when she was 16 years old. She says her marks improved tremendously and says it’s thanks to her “mom” Louise.

“My parents were not there to raise me, I was living with my aunt and we had a difficult relationship. Louise took care of me. She is a kind, strong, incredible woman.”

Their relationship continued to grow and to this day, Lillian says Louise throws her a birthday party every year. They still meet for lunch and attend events together.

Persley Ramogale (25) shares the same sentiments. He attended Rose Act from the age of 14.

“Louise is our granny because she’s one of those people who keeps us together, she’s a mediator when there are challenges. She cares about where we come from, what’s happening in our situations at home and every aspect of our lives. Today I volunteer at Rose Act because of the impact she has made on my life,“ he says. 

Persley says Rose Act not only improved his performance at school, but gave him confidence to meet new people, and he’s not afraid to share his view point with others on important issues.

“Young people from Alex need leaders and older people who will share their wisdom. Louise is someone who passes on her knowledge and skills,” he adds.  

Louise’s longest standing volunteer and friend Annietjie Ramatlhape (49) says it has been her greatest pleasure working with Louise for 16 years.

“She’s a perfectionist, she wants things done the way they should be done. She loves the kids and would do anything for them. She’s not afraid to drive to Alex alone, she goes to all lengths to make sure her kids have food and stationery,” she says.

“She also allows people to come up with ideas and listens to our opinions, she’s got Ubuntu. If we could give her an African name, we would call her Mabatho, because she’s a people’s person.”

Louise is retiring at the end of 2019 and says if she does go back to Australia, her dream is to start a Saturday school and help Aboriginal children.

Lillian says Louise’s departure will be one of the hardest experiences she will have to come to terms with.  

“I’m so sad that she’s retiring, where else am I going to find a woman who cared for me like she did?  I wish I could pack my bags and go with her. “I call her “mom” because she’s the most important person in my life. I am who I am today because of her.”

All grown up. Former Rose Act learners Candice Sehoma, Thakgalo Makgoka, Palesa Nopote, Sibusiso Nguna, Louise Cameron & Angela Hiliza-Ellensson

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