For almost two decades, the Words Open Worlds (WOW) project has made a tangible difference in the lives of over a million school learners across the country.
WOW is a non-profitable empowerment project overseen by the Toyota Stellenbosch University (SU) Woordfees. Launched in 2003, it aims to create programmes in underprivileged schools and communities to develop language, literacy and the arts, and help broaden the perspectives of all participants.
Numerous WOW project actions are presented throughout the year. These include school visits by the authors of prescribed books, reading circles and festivals, debate festivals, arts and culture festivals, workshops, the paint and poetry competition for young learners, as well as the fast-growing national Sanlam WOW Spelfees.
WOW 50-schools recruitment project
Many of the learners who take part in the WOW projects are also able to achieve their dreams of tertiary studies at SU, thanks to the WOW 50-schools recruitment project. This project sees WOW working closely with SU's Centre for Prospective Students to recruit potential students for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. The project also continues to assist learners once registered as Matie students.
This support entails focused strategies to ensure that WOW students have a transformative experience at SU, engage in student activities and succeed in their studies. Strategies include administrative support, follow-ups to ensure that applications are complete, assisting with applications for financial support, and helping to find suitable accommodation close to SU. In addition, students are supported through structured contact sessions and tutor assistance. There is even a WOW Café that supports students with healthy meals when needed.
“The WOW 50-schools recruitment project differs from other SU recruitment strategies in the sense that we focus on learners with a Grade 11 average of 65% or higher, those interested in studying the humanities, and learners from schools who are not necessarily served by other SU outreach projects," explains Ms Jeneen Wallow from SU Woordfees.
“In this way, the project fills a gap by reaching learners that would otherwise not have had the opportunity to study at SU with the necessary support and understanding. We provide registered students from the project with the necessary moral and social support, required medical support as well as a mentoring system to ease their adjustment to campus life."
WOW SU graduates
“The WOW recruitment strategies enable learners to reach their goals and bring about positive social change in their communities. WOW aims to transform lives through education, and to encourage our students to be lifelong learners and, ultimately, share their knowledge and skills with their communities after graduating," says Wallow.
Over the years, many WOW-recruited learners have graduated successfully from SU.
Octavia Spandiel from Port Elizabeth had always dreamt of becoming a journalist. The WOW project turned her dream into reality when she graduated with the degree BA Hons in Journalism in 2020.
“The work WOW does is very important. They expose children to the possibilities of the world, spark learners' curiosity and enhance their abilities. WOW has assisted me financially, emotionally as well as spiritually. It opened up a whole new world for me and helped me grow as an individual," says Spandiel. She currently works as a social media coordinator and hopes to return to SU to complete her master's and PhD degrees.
Mtiwekaya Malongwe also believes that the WOW project is more than an educational programme for learners, but provides important emotional and family support as well. Malongwe grew up in the small coastal town of Lamberts Bay, and never thought he would be able to study at an institution such as SU, as he didn't have funding for study fees or accommodation.
He found out about the WOW project through his high school subject advisor, who motivated him to apply to SU. “I will remain grateful to my teacher, because without him, I wouldn't have come into contact with Ms Van Kerwel, the WOW project manager, who helped me get a bursary from SU. This gave me the opportunity to stay on campus while completing my studies," says Malongwe.
Malongwe obtained his B.Ed. from SU in 2020 and is currently studying towards an honours degree in Science Education at the University of the Western Cape.
WOW also helped Miceala Martin from Atlantis achieve her dreams of becoming a teacher and ploughing the knowledge and skills she learned through the project back into her community. She completed both her undergraduate degree in Theology and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at SU.
“WOW stepped in and played a huge role in me becoming a Matie. Five years later, I'm standing in front of a class with two qualifications against my name, all thanks to the immense support I got from WOW."
For more information on the WOW project, click here.