Walking into the small café with a puppy cradled in her arms, it is immediately apparent that Jane Bradshaw is a caring, loving person. Her SPCA baby, as she calls it, whines softly as she sips her coffee.
Walking into the small café with a puppy cradled in her arms, it is immediately apparent that Jane Bradshaw is a caring, loving person. Her SPCA baby, as she calls it, whines softly as she sips her coffee. Set to retire in April, after 22 years helping destitute children on the edges of society, Bradshaw exudes a motherly aura.
The daughter of farming parents and the eldest in her family with three brothers, Bradshaw was born in Grahamstown. She is a descendant of Jacob Glen Cuyler, one of the first 1820 Settlers to come to the Eastern Cape and her family has been here ever since. It’s a heritage that is beaten only by her history in education. With her mother and grandmother both being teachers, education runs in her blood.
“This will be our 200th year in Grahamstown and our fourth century in education,” she said. “My father’s family has been involved in the education of the sons and daughters of gentlemen and traders in England since the mid-1700s.”
After obtaining her BA from the University of Stellenbosch and her Higher Diploma in Education at Rhodes University, she started teaching isiXhosa as a third language in various government high schools – an often unpleasant experience. “The attitude to being taught [isiXhosa] in white government schools was not a positive one,” she said.
Disillusioned, Bradshaw decided to take a year off work, and moved to Port Elizabeth. “I told myself that I would pray for an answer,” she said.
Sixteen months later, in 1991, her answer came in the form of then Rev Ed Gates, who approached her with the idea of starting a school for severely marginalised children.
“My adrenaline just rushed from my toes to my head and back again. This was the answer I’d been waiting for,” she said.
By April that year the first school was set up. However, Bradshaw’s desire to help these needy children was far from sated. In 1993 in two humble shipping containers the Amasango Career School was started, with a second branch opened in Aliwal North. Since then she has grown it into a bona fide school, with 10 classrooms and some 130 pupils.
Official police statistics – from 2006, the last to be produced – state that there are some 300 000 children in South Africa living on the street. At least 10% of these are in the Eastern Cape.
But her battle for Amasango has taken its toll – sometimes a physical one. She showed me a crooked finger and explained, “A man broke this when I was trying to restrain him and get him off our property”. Drugs, violence, kids being dragged off in handcuffs – all these are daily realities.
Despite this, she remains optimistic. “We must never think that the kindnesses we show are wasted. We don’t know the impact these simple acts can have,” she said.
Despite her upcoming retirement, this mother of two and proud grandmother (affectionately known by her students as ‘Mama Jane’) has no signs of slowing down. “I’m going to take a break for now,“ she laughs, “but I am going to start doing advocacy work, especially for grass roots-level education,” she said.
“There’s a desperate need for schools like these. If people have experienced no love or kindness, they’re not going to grow up to love or respect other people.”