Ernest Hlati has worked in the education sector for almost 30 years, starting as a languages and history teacher at Dayimani High School in 1991 and becoming the school’s principal in 1999. During his tenure at the school, the success rate of students graduating from high-school has risen from 22% to an average of 98%, with the school reaching 100% in 2014, 2015, and 2016.
A Question of Attitude
The school is located in a rural community on the border of the Manyeleti Game Reserve, right next to the Kruger National Park. It is housed in a poorly constructed building with little or no educational supplies, but that doesn’t deter Hlati as he has come to realize that the secret to success is not about the physical things, it is about attitude.
“The best resource we have is attitude,” says Hlati. “Since I have been working at the school, the attitude of the learners has really changed. Nobody ever expected much from a deep rural school, but our students excel at math and science, for example, and go on to become doctors and pilots. I think we have managed to change the attitude so that even if students come from the poorest backgrounds, they can still succeed despite all the challenges they may be experiencing at home.”
The Future Rangers Program
A keen nature-lover (he owns a Wild Card annual pass to Kruger National Park and visits frequently), he knows how important it is to conserve South Africa’s wildlife so that future generations of children can see the animals for themselves and not just read about their extinction in books.
For him, the Future Rangers program is essential to educating children about their wildlife legacy. “The Future Rangers program is really enticing for the students,” Hlati explains. “Before we started the program, they didn’t see working in conservation as a career option, but since Matt (Matt Lindenberg GCC’s Founder and Executive Director) has been coming to the school and talking to the students, they now realize that the Future Rangers program is the future. It is the only way to make sure we conserve what we have. We have embraced this at the school thanks to the Future Rangers program, but we also need to spread the message to the local communities.”
Joining GCC as Advisor to the Board of Directors
Joining GCC as Advisor to the Board of Directors is a huge honor for Hlati. The position has given him a fresh look at the situation as he works with GCC’s team members who come from the four corners of the globe. “I am learning so many lessons and this is empowering me. I am not the same person today as I was six months ago thanks to this experience,” he notes.
The Honor is all ours
Having Hlati on the GCC team is also a huge honor for GCC, as Lindenberg explains: “Mr. Hlati brings over three decades of professional experience from the education sector to the GCC mission. His commitment to excellence, authentic community involvement, and his goal to create an equitable future for all South Africans makes Mr. Hlati’s appointment a massive milestone for the GCC team. We have truly found a man of the people in Mr. Hlati, and we are incredibly excited to see what great impact we can achieve together.”
His Favorite Animals
When asked about his favorite animal, Hlati smiles and cites the honey badger. “It is so confident,” he says admiringly. “It can face off with five lions at a time. It never retreats. It gets what it wants and it takes every challenge in its stride. It is a lesson for us to remember that it doesn’t matter where you come from, how small you are, you can always succeed.” Something tells us that there is a little bit of the honey badger in Ernest Hlati too!