Student helps transform tin shack into school

June 11, 2002 8:04 a.m.

From her room in Blair Hall on Princeton's campus, Jacqui Perlman '05 has been overseeing a fund-raising effort to build a school nearly 8,000 miles away in South Africa.

The school is located in Joe Slovo Township, a post-apartheid informal settlement of about 6,000 people near Port Elizabeth. For a community living in extreme poverty at the outermost edges of society, Perlman's efforts already have achieved the most dramatic improvement possible -- she has helped saved lives.

Two and a half years ago, from her home in St. Petersburg, Fla., Perlman came across a Web site that described the deadly journey children from the settlement had to make across a dangerous highway just to get to school because they did not have a school of their own. She learned that more than 150 accidents had claimed the lives of several children and injured many more.

Called to action, this granddaughter of an anti-apartheid leader and former mayor of Johanesburg immediately began raising funds from individuals and organizations to help sustain a school for the children in their own community. From previous visits to other townships across South Africa, such as Soweto and Alexandria, Perlman realized that the legacy of apartheid and its resulting economic struggles would make it extremely difficult to get a school up and running.

She knew there would be no electricity or running water in the school, at least for the near future, because these basic services did not exist in the settlement. But, with enough funds, a tin shack could be turned into classrooms made from prefab materials and cinder blocks, volunteer teachers could be paid something and children could have school supplies.

To meet the challenge, Perlman established the Shack School Fund (USA), which so far has raised approximately $10,000 in money and supplies that has helped the school grow to five classrooms, housing students up to grade six.

"The goal is to make this a school that can withstand time and provide a solid education to the township children," said Perlman.

To read the full story in the Princeton Weekly Bulletin, click here .

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601