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Columba is an NGO that works in troubled schools to give the learners a sense of purpose, self-belief, a new set of values, leadership abilities and skills in communication, problem solving and creative thinking, inspiring them to turn the school around from the inside out.


Western Cape, South Africa – Manyano High School in Khayelitsha once had a terrible problem with its learners getting involved with the Cape Flats gangs. Kids came to school armed with knives, stole whatever they could find, and even torched a teacher’s car in the car park.

“I felt like applying for this school to be closed because that was the safest route,” remembers school principal Nokuzola Malgas. Then she heard about Columba Leadership and applied for its support.  

Columba is an NGO that works in troubled schools to give the learners a sense of purpose, self-belief, a new set of values, leadership abilities and skills in communication, problem solving and creative thinking, inspiring them to turn the school around from the inside out. Once Columba agreed to get involved, all the grade 8 and 9 learners at Manyano were invited to write an essay about why they wanted to be selected for leadership training, which begins with a week-long residential course.

One of the 12 who were chosen was a gang leader, and his attitude and self-belief were rewired so successfully that he began leading a task team working to overhaul the school.
 The Columba learners then devise practical steps to address issues such as poor academic results, absenteeism, drug abuse, vandalism or bullying. By recruiting other students to support these projects the 12 core youngsters create a ripple effect that gradually changes the entire school.

Malgas and three teachers also went on the residential course and returned with renewed dedication and professionalism and a new way of relating to the teenagers, creating a powerful alliance where everybody works together.

“It was an eye opener for us. We learned so much about our learners and that there is so much greatness within them,” Malgas says.

The results were incredible. By the end of the second year, a class that had been written off as filled with violent and academically hopeless students had leapt from a 30% pass rate in exams to a 97% pass rate, and the youngsters start setting achievable ambitions of becoming lawyers, social workers and IT professionals.

That experience is being repeated in schools throughout the country where Columba is involved. So far it has worked with 176 schools, supporting each one for three to five years. “We could work in a good school and make it better but typically we work in schools where there are issues and we know this intervention could make a difference,” says Tracey Hackland, its CEO.

It’s entirely funded by donations, and the more companies that support it through their corporate social investment spending, the more schools it will be able to help.

Jayson George, a former student at Glendale High School in Mitchells Plain, credits Columba Leadership with turning his life around. He’s now a candidate attorney after graduating with a law degree from the University of Cape Town.

“It’s a great organisation that helps people develop leadership within themselves,” he says. “It gives them a chance to make their voices heard and develop soft skills that stand them in good stead for their time in school academically and at university or at work. Columba focuses on the values you need to be successful in life and be a better person who’s better able to add value in other people’s lives,” he says.

“It’s also about serving others and making life better for yourself and other people around you.”

South Africa’s education system is plagued by appalling statistics, but schools supported by Columba Leadership show some remarkable successes:

  • Of all the pupils who attend its course, 91% stay in school to finish matric, far higher than the national average.
  • 82% of Columba graduates actually pass matric, with 74% achieving Bachelor or Diploma level passes.
  • 65% of learners reported a change in their attitude and behaviour as a direct result of the programme.
  • 88% of principals see a positive change in learners during the last 12 months.
  • 93% of the teachers supported by Columba find it has an extremely positive contribution on their professional development and leadership skills.

To find out more about sponsoring Columba or working with the organisation, see

Sources: Columbo Youth Leadership 
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