Monday, June 3, 2013

And with that, my time at Hlengisa was brought to a close.

                Today was my last day at Hlengisa School….  And those words are still hard to even just type, let alone say.  Because I have been caught up in my own finals and my students’ finals, I guess I have a bit of catching up to do here now.  Two weeks ago, I, unexpectedly, wasn’t able to go to service at all.  With UWC final exams and protests in Nyanga, Tuesday through Thursday were out of the question.  This would have been the week before my last week teaching so missing it wasn’t very easy—emotionally or work-wise.
                Last week, after my exams were completely over, I went straight back to work at Hlengisa!!  Tuesday was a normal day of teaching, besides the fact that I had to inform each class I would be leaving this week…  It wasn’t exactly an easy day to get through, but it was much easier than Thursday.  Thursday, I reviewed in the morning with my grade 8 and grade 9 classes for one last time.  11:30 hit and it was time for my English Final.  Gaji took the three grade 9 classrooms and I proctored the grade 8 exams.  After passing out 35 tests to each classroom, I played the waiting game.  Patiently pacing around one classroom, just hoping and praying that the students would be able to write down the answers they had told me earlier that morning.  One by one, the students finished their exams and handed them in.  After an hour and a half, all the students finally finished the 60 point exam.  This first English exam was based on summarization, comprehension and language.  The rest of the afternoon was filled with a presentation from a local pots and pans company (random) and grading just a few papers…. Then came time for my last day of reading club.  I brought lots of food for the kids and we all just talked and ate.  It was a great final session.  A few students still wanted to read, so they were able to look at books.   But some just came to hang out.  I handed out a picture of the reading club to each student which they absolutely cherished and adored.  They also had one more chance to play with my phone and camera which they love more and more every time they get to play with it.  They look loads and loads of pictures of themselves and of each other….which I will forever cherish and adore. When it came time to leave, there were lots of tears and hugs.  A group of students walked me out to Pearnel’s van and hugged me as I climbed in the front seat and watched me as I rode away.  Though I was coming back for an assembly the next week, that was it for reading club.  This day was the most difficult day I have had yet in South Africa. 
                This past weekend, I spent both Saturday and Sunday grading final exams.  I took all the grade 8 English exams to grade while Gaji took care of all the grade 9 exams.  I can tell you one thing for sure, I give much more credit to language teachers than I ever have before.  Reading page after page of written, broken English took much more time than expected.  In South Africa, the students need a 30% in order to pass their exams and classes….about half of the exams were passed.  About 6 of the exams had above a 50%.  I had to take breaks in grading solely so that I wouldn’t get entirely depressed by the lack of knowledge.  I have realized many of the students are able to speak some English because of what they have picked up on, but that does not necessarily mean they are able to read and write English.  Also, all of their subjects are tested in English, not in Xhosa.  Even though some are taught in Xhosa.  Therefore, even if they understand the material, sometimes they are not able to pass the exam because they aren’t able to understand the English.  Needless to say, it was a fairly sad weekend.  I found myself cheering aloud when a student would get the right answer to a question.  I got through grading and wrote their next Poetry Final for this week just in time for Monday morning to come.
                Today was the closure I desperately needed.  I went to Hlengisa at 10am for an assembly they put together for me.  All of my 300+ students attended.  They all crammed into one large classroom and had me sitting at a table in front of the room.  The assembly began with Gaji saying a few words and inviting a small choir of a few girls to the front of the classroom.  After they serenaded me with a beautiful song, one student from each of my grade 5 classes came to the front of the room to say a few words.  This was followed by another song, one student from each grade 8 class, a song, one student from each grade 9 class, a dance, and a student from the reading club.  As if I wasn’t crying enough already from the speeches, they had to add beautiful songs and dances in between!!  During the last song, a teacher came up and told me the translation was “we thank God for sending you to us.”  The entire song was about how grateful they were that I was sent to them.  It was interrupted by the singer crying too hard to finish.   After this beautiful ceremony, I stood at the front of the classrooms and gave as many hugs as I possibly could….students, staff, and students again.  The hundreds of cards that students made for me were collected, and it was just about time for them to start their next final exam. 
                With that, my time at Hlengisa was brought to a close.  I could not have asked for a better experience or semester.  The heart break is painful and transition will be difficult, but it’s very safe to say I have found my calling in life.  This may just have been the most difficult, yet inspiring assignment to start with.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Homestretch             

              I’m not sure if Africa could possibly throw anymore emotions at me during my last month.  The past few weeks, I’ve had major ups and downs.  After hitting a low point at service two weeks ago, the one thing that got me through was prayer.  Last week, I had two papers of my own and about 200 to grade at school.  I have a new found respect for English and History teachers because of the massive amounts of reading involved in grading.
                Last Tuesday, I taught all my classes again after a week of strictly grading and a week of student teachers.  I gave my 8th and 9th graders part of their final “research” for the semester.  South Africa is implementing a ‘learn from your ancestors’ initiative in schools.  This process is being started with interview practice.  For 40 points of their final, my 8th and 9th grade will be conducting peer interviews. The 9th graders are writing about mentors in their classrooms and the 8th graders will be writing about whether students’ parents have rules for dating.  The ‘mentors’ in classrooms previously mentioned are learners who get especially good grades and are essentially openly adopted as teachers’ pets.  Some students think it is unfair and some think the class mentor helps keep the classroom under control (maybe due to the fact that classes don’t always have teachers in them). 
                My 5th grade lesson in life skills last week was on bias, discrimination, and stereotyping.  They understand me so well that when I started trying to describe discrimination in regards to race, they thought I was talking about running… good ol’ English… FAIL.  The 5th graders at least now have compassion for me and seem to somewhat care about the class though!
                The 6th grade reading club was amazing as always. I was so excited because I was able to bring new pencils for all my kids and THE RUGS for the library FINALLY!!!! It came time for reading club and the grounds keeper who usually lets me in couldn’t find the key.  Though I’m still a bit worried about this misplacement, reading club had to meet.  Without books, I once again had to think on my feet.  I pulled 9 story dice out of my magical Mary Poppins bag and the kids went nuts.  For some reason, they love the dice.  For a half hour, we sat, rolling dice, and making up stories.  One child rolls the die, makes a sentence from the picture rolled, the next person rolls the next die and adds to the first sentence, etc.  The students loved the game.
                When I told them I might not be there Thursday, it was the first time I had seen disappointment in the faces of my 20 children.  They didn’t know at the time that the entire school was off on Thursday, but my favorite little Onwaba told me I can’t miss any days because I’m leaving soon enough already. 
                In the past couple weeks, my 6th graders have shown me nothing but love.  They are absolutely amazing children who are now completely fluent English readers.  I have assessed each one and the most stumbles one child had during her assessment was 3 small errors.  She only needed to ask me 3 words and many didn’t need to ask me any!!!
                My hope is that I will be able to put the rugs down in the library tomorrow, Tuesday.  I only have about 4-6 days left with my kids so I’ve been trying to give each and every one as much attention as I can—they’re sure loving the camera!!  Tomorrow I will begin poetry with my 8th and 9th graders which I will be sure to write about.  I’m not quite sure if they’ve ever done poetry….we’ll see!!!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

All Smiles Today!

As I sit in bed, I am listening to a harmonica being played on my front porch.  It’s been a good week;  KHouse is more than happy.

At the beginning of the week, Tuesday, service did not go all that well.  I basically sat in a room grading papers for about 5 hours.  I taught one class where the students were mad at me for not knowing every single person’s name.  Needless to say, I arrived home and was not in the best mood.  I decided going to bed would be the best option.

Wednesday morning, I had two classes at UWC and then a meeting with my Ethics teacher.  She wanted to meet with all the students in the class that got an A on the previous test because the class average was 18/40.  We discussed many differences between American education and African education.  It was interesting to hear how she thought the UWC students were just not trying, when we noticed that they probably were trying harder than we were.   Here, all schools are given funding on how many students they pass.   Because of this, many teachers and professors alike have lowered their standards.  If people are not motivated, they do not pass.  If teachers make the classes easier, they can pass more people.  Therefore, the school will receive more funding. With this corrupt system, it seems as if no one is very motivated so most teachers just lower their standards.  Being an education major, this was a frustrating conversation to have.  This is why so many of my students have been passed through each grade due to their age. 

My Ethics teacher, the one who I had this conversation with, is new to UWC.  She is a professor at University of Cape Town, which was established as a ‘white’ university and still remains very white and privileged today.  After a few years at UCT, she wanted more of a challenge.  She knew UWC would be a challenge, but didn’t know it would be as different as it is. She said she will not lower her standards, but she has to get some way to motivate the students.  She does need to actually pass some students.  I’m so glad there are people like her because I feel as though I should be taking on the task, I just am not quite that qualified yet….

Thursday service went extremely well.  There were 3 UWC education students at Hlengisa to do their hours of observation.  One of them was focusing on English so at first, he was observing me.  Oh how the tables have turned!!  These students really did want practice teaching, though, because their professor would be by later to observe them.  So, after one class, we decided he could just teach the English classes I had for the day.  This was a wonderful break because it gave me time to explore the school.  I’ve always been so busy; I really don’t know how anything else works besides my classes. 

I began walking around and the one teacher-friend I have made called me into her classroom.  She teaches 8th grade math and science.  I was able to spend most of the rest of my day in 8th grade math classes!!! Though this may sound horrific to some of you, this is like a dream come true after 3 months of English.  She was extremely frustrated with the students not understanding so finally she just said “Andrea, can you explain it?”  I couldn’t help but smile as I had three girls around me at the chalk board trying to understand how to use the variables in a word problem.  After awhile, the whole class began to understand why “Tuhli’s” age plus his brother’s age (which was half of Tuhli’s age) equaled 36.

At lunch, I sat with all the teachers outside and ate fish and chips.  Though I still can’t understand more than about 7 words spoken around me, it was great to be included with the teachers.  I’ve noticed that the key to having a good day is just not caring if you show up to all your classes or go late to any.  This sounds horrible and I have refused to accept it up until this point….but, if I am constantly on time and trying to make all of my classes, usually there are other teachers in those classes anyway.  No one really runs on any sort of strict schedule.  There really is no structure to education.  Realizing I am just a 20 year old in a township school has done me some good.  I cannot change everything and just have to try my best to change the little things I can.

Friday morning came and the whole group was off to the District 6 museum.  District 6 is a district within Cape Town that was living completely harmonious lives.  There were Catholics, Muslims, and Jews who all lived happily together.  The children all played with everyone and most people respected all holidays of each religion.  The government absolutely hated this.  “Separate but equal” was their motto.  When the apartheid laws began, this gave them a reason to end the harmony. 

Not only was this museum interesting in itself, but knowing our tour guide so well made the tour that much better.  Pearnel (our driver) lived in District 6 until he was forcibly removed at 7 years old.  He remembers everything about the experience and piling into a truck with as much as his family could fit to be moved out to the townships. The township he was placed in was completely barren.  There were no roads, no infrastructure, no schools, etc.  The only thing in the area were dormitory complexes where each family was placed in one room.  Imagine your whole family living in your college dorm!!!  I can’t..  We really can’t even imagine the things that some people call reality.  Pearnel walked through the museum, showing us pictures of the barber he used to go to, and pointing out his family name on the wall.  He reminisced and included us in his thoughts.  There were some points we were laughing and some where eyes began tearing up.  Really, knowing our ‘tour guide’ so well made all the difference.

Though this week has been very full, the next ones begin to get busier.  We now have research papers due just about every week, along with exams and projects coming up.  It’s like real school or something!!!  Finals here make up most of your entire semester grade…. Therefore, we will be in full-school mode pretty soon.

I also ordered two rugs for my library!!  They should be here in about 6-10 days.  The kids seemed excited and the teacher who has smaller kids in the library once a week seemed absolutely ecstatic.  THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart to everyone who was able to send money.   I really do have the BEST support system and I can’t wait to get back to it!!!

Lots of love from South Africa!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Visitors and Library News

I get so caught up in life, I don’t realize how long its been since I’ve last blogged.  My mom and aunt have come and gone.  I have been on a retreat in the Eastern Cape and back.  I’ve had tests and papers, and given tests…no papers!

The week mom and Aunt Nancy were here was like living in an African paradise.  I was so incredibly blessed to stay with them every night for the week.   We stayed a block away from my house in a bed and breakfast where we all got our own rooms.  We explored Cape Town and Obs, hiked Table Mountain, went on a brewery tour, to Kirstenbosch, Old Biscuit Mill (a market in town), Hout Bay, Aquila Safari, Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point, and my service site.  The weather was absolutely amazing the entire trip, minus the day we went on safari which was rainy and cold.  It must have been quite the scene to see us three, after being left behind, basically getting our own personal game drive, cuddled in blankets and ponchos…. We were lookin good!!  Nonetheless, we had an awesome time every day.  It was rare to come across a moment when we weren’t laughing.

When they left, I was so rudely interrupted by reality.  Surprise!!  Ethics test the next day!!  After spending the entire day at Hlengisa, where the students definitely missed the visitors and were not up for learning, I was on my way to UWC for a night exam. 

Friday morning, we were out of the house by 6am and on our way to St. George’s Cathedral where Archbishop Desmond Tutu said mass for us.  We were in attendance with only one more group of students and the Templeton crew.  He had won the Templeton prize of R15 million the day before.  After snapping a few pictures, and then attending our Marquette classes for the week, we were off to a retreat at Volmoed retreat center which was about 2 hours away in Eastern Cape.  There we had a lot of free time to explore the town, but also met with John deGruchy about his book “Reconciliation: Restoring Justice.”  We discussed Christianity and reconciliation in South Africa and in the USA related to the world.

The most interesting thing we discussed was being a “global citizen” instead of an “American citizen” or “South African citizen” or even “IL citizen.”  Many of the things John described made me think of what Judy Mayotte (the MU program founder) described to us.  John focused on “Christian humanism” which he described as being a Christian and seeing everyone as a human.  This means there is no race, no nationality, and ultimately no differences.  Though we all have very different life experiences, we are all ultimately just humans.  Judy told us a similar story.  When she snuck across the Berlin Wall during the war, one of the guards told her to come with him.  After a long discussion over a beer in a random back room, he finally said to her, “why are you not afraid of me?”  Her response was, “you are a human, just like me.”  This is an extremely refreshing way of looking at the world.  I truly believe this is at the center of what we are learning during our stay in South Africa.

When we arrived home Sunday, it was time for reality again.  School, teach, school, teach, school…

This week, I have felt more “a part” of the Hlengisa community than ever.  There have been observers from UWC and the Department of Education coming and going.  Each of these visitors has been introduced to me.  I am grading all my 8th, 9th, and 5th graders’ work, teaching every lesson, beginning to catch on to what I am missing the days I am not at Hlengisa, and what they really need more help with.  Wednesday night, after my MU paper was finished, I had a bit of time to make some grammar worksheets for Thursday.  The difficult part of teaching here is the different levels within one classroom.  Through there is the same issue in many classrooms at home, the students here can range (and do range) from about 14-22 in one classroom.  So, even making a short story on a worksheet was hard because of the broad age difference.

My reading club is doing extremely well.  They are all reading fluently—with a stumble here or there.  Mom and Aunt Nancy brought hundreds of “Allie the Angel” books that Mrs. Calmeyn still had.  (THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!)  On Tuesday, I handed out the books at the end of reading club because the students couldn’t wait for Thursday to start them.  I made them promise to bring them back for the lesson Thursday.  We spent all of reading club reading those books and discussing rhyming words on Thursday.  Thanks to Mrs. Calmeyn and Mom and Aunt Nancy’s 24 hour plane ride, the reading club had a mini Christmas in April.  The rest of the books will be distributed to various schools.  One girl in my house has already been using them with her 6th grade class at Mkhanyiseli. 

I have grown closer and closer to these students each day, especially 5th and 6th grade.  But, its still hard being in such a different environment for so long.  I truly am missing the American education system, as a student and teacher.

THANK YOU to everyone who was able to send some money.  I found two rugs—one of the world map and one alphabet rug.  I will be ordering them this week for the library.  The kids will LOVE being able to sit and read in a more comfortable environment than just the wooden chairs and “container” floor.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun!! 

I apologize for not writing in such a long time!!  Fourteen students from Kimberley House, including myself, took what was supposed to be a ten day road trip across the country!

The first couple days were mostly driving with little sight-seeing.  We stopped in Knysna the first night and East London the second night just to sleep.  Though both places were beautiful, we continued on.  The third and fourth nights were spent in Coffee Bay. 

Coffee Bay is a rural area with one backpacker and two restaurants.  The first day we arrived, we toured the backpacker which had two bars, a few small rooms, and a huge deck where most people spent their time.  We then headed to the gorgeous beach which was about a 10 minute walk from the backpacker.  The second day, one other girl and I were up early to take surfing lessons before our all-day hike.  The surfing lessons were absolutely hysterical.  As most of you probably know, I’m not the most coordinated person on earth so I was pretty positive it would be an epic failure.  But, it was my friend’s birthday and apparently that meant we were surfing at 7am!!   After about an hour of instruction, we both were able to get up on our own and ride a wave completely into shore.  By the end, I was so astonished I could actually do it, I was getting too excited to actually balance anymore!  After surfing, the whole group went on a 6-mile hike through the rolling hills of the villages.  It was a guided hike, so we were able to meet some of the people, learn how to make bricks for the huts they lived in, and play soccer with some local school children.  Ultimately, we walked to “Hole In The Wall” which is a village named after a massive rock wall near the shore of the ocean with a hole in the center where the waves come crashing through.  We played in the waves for hours, until it was time to be driven back.  We all piled in the back of a pick-up truck and were driven back to the backpacker.  We were all absolutely exhausted after the hike and swimming that most of us fell asleep right after dinner.   The next morning, we were up at 6am again and out of Coffee Bay!

The next night we stayed in Durban, but didn’t have much time to explore the city.  The following two nights were spent in Johannesburg.  In Joburg, we spent the entire day touring townships and museums.  We spent the morning touring a township called ‘Soweto.’  This stands for South West Township of Joburg. (get it?! I thought that was pretty clever!)  This is where Desmond Tutu currently lives and Nelson Mandela lived with his previous wife Winnie.  We were able to go in Nelson Mandela’s old home because it has been turned into a museum.  During this whole day, we had tour guides who explained everything about each place we went.  Without them, the day could have been terribly boring.   We learned about Winnie during the time Nelson was in jail and were surprised to find out that Soweto actually supported Winnie more than Nelson.  During the time he was in jail, she was the community ‘mom.’  She was always willing to stand up for anyone and, being a tomboy in her youth, was also willing to fight the police off if needed.  The most interesting thing I noticed about this township was its size.  Soweto is so big that it has a distinct upper, middle, and lower class.  The upper class homes were big, beautiful, brick homes with larger, green yards.   Around these homes, there were absolutely no children playing outside because these families have the money to buy TVs and Playstation for their children.  The middle class homes were similar to those of Cape Town, like the one I am currently living in.  But, within the exact same township, the lower class homes were shacks made from any material that could be found.  I thought this was interesting because such huge houses with such privileged children lived so close to these run-down shacks with children who have nothing but each other. 

After touring Soweto, we headed to the Apartheid museum.  The apartheid museum was completely overwhelming and I cannot even begin to describe the amount of knowledge that was shoved into our brains.  I felt like my head wasn’t big enough to even absorb it all.  I could have spent 4 hours in that museum, but it was limited to about 1.  At the very beginning of the museum, they began by splitting us into “whites” and “colored.”   Though we ended up getting to the same museum, it put into perspective the fact that you couldn’t even walk with those of a different race during apartheid. 

Our next couple nights were spent at a game reserve just outside of Kruger National Park.  We went on a private game drive the first night and spent the entire next day in Kruger.  We saw elephants, lions, rhinos, giraffes, hippos, impalas, and many more animals.  The camp we stayed at was absolutely gorgeous and a wonderful change from the backpackers we had been in the previous 7 nights.  On Sunday, during our drive home, the truck unexpectedly broke down.  After sitting on the highway for about two hours, we missed two flights out of Joburg and were no longer able to get back that night.  We stayed at a gorgeous hotel in Joburg and were flown back to Cape Town finally at 3pm Monday afternoon.   I have never been so happy to get back to KHouse and see the rest of my housemates!  It was an absolutely amazing trip, but it was just about time to stop living out of a suitcase after 11 days!

I still can’t believe how many amazing people we met along the way who we will never see again!

After getting home, this week has been a blur.  On Tuesday, at service, I entered grades into the computer and put together students’ report cards.  Thursday began their midsemester break so I will not be needed at Hlengisa now until April 8 when they reopen.  So the vacation continues!!

Holy Thursday and Good Friday I spent with my RA, Kholeka.  Because no one else in my house was attending any services, I tagged along to her Xhosa, Methodist services.  Being the only white person in the entire church, I felt a little out of place at first.  By the end of the services though, I was dancing and singing in Xhosa with everyone else.  I couldn’t help but smile the entire time.  The church was on the University of Cape Town’s campus so it was full of students dancing and singing with loud drums and tambourines.  Today, she decided to come with me to St. George’s (Desmond Tutu’s Cathedral) for a Catholic mass.  I am so blessed to have her this Easter because she brought a sense of family to the last few days.

Thank you for the prayers and support.  Our travels went fairly smoothly and everyone was kept safe and well!! I hope everyone has a blessed Easter!!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Not much has changed in good ol’ Africa.  My students and I are both going through mid-semester exams so life has been pretty busy.  If you would have told me last year that while taking course exams in Africa I’d also be correcting South African English exams, I would have never believed you. 

All the students have been writing letters for their English exams.  During this time, I have pulled certain students who I have seen struggling in order to help them pass the exam.  I was working especially with three 9th grade girls in the past week.  When I realized that their letters were just jumbled words, I knew they could not pass this exam any time in the near future.  First, I gave them three questions to answer that went along with the directions to the letter they were supposed to write.  They still could not even answer the questions.  So, I asked them to read the directions to me.  Although I thought this was a simple task and they would just not be able to understand it, I quickly learned these three girls could not read.  They cannot read Xhosa or English.  Suddenly, my job just got a lot harder.  I had to come up with something on the spot because I had another hour to spend with these girls before I went to teach my next class.  I finally just said, “alright, you’re going to teach me your language and I’m going to teach you mine.”  This has to be the only way for us to communicate.  They seemed happy to see me trying to learn.  It seemed as if as long as I was trying my hardest, they would also try their hardest.  The past couple days, though frustrating, have been back and forth…just trying to learn the sounds each letter makes in each language…. Who knew the alphabet could be so difficult.

Though these days have been a little discouraging, I have begun to pour my heart and soul into this school.  I may not have gotten through to them previously because they couldn’t understand me, but I am now finally getting to know individuals and learning names. 

This past Tuesday, I was supposed to be in my 5th grade class for a half hour of review because they are writing their exams this week.  The teachers for their next two classes never showed up, so I ended up staying there for an hour and a half.  By the end, the kids knew the material on the test inside and out!!  All I could think was “FINALLY!” I had made progress with someone!!  Though doing so consisted of me jumping, running, and making an idiot out of myself, the students were all laughing, engaged, and learning.  Nothing is more rewarding than a class laughing AND learning. 

The sixth grade reading club has become my family at Hlengisa.  I am finally learning most of their names—clicks and all!  They even come to eat lunch with me instead of with their friends and hang out with me in their free periods.  I focus on one table each day and have each person at the table read to me.  I can already tell how much the students are improving.  They are all able to read almost every word in the library books.  The only hardships they have are with names of people and countries. 

UWC has also been going very well. We made it through our first papers and exams.  The entire house is beginning to get sick, though.  Certain people have been missing school and service on random days in order to make doctor appointments and catch up on rest.  We leave for a 10 day road trip tomorrow in a huge bus so just pray that the entire group doesn’t end up sick by the end of that!!

Some people at home have also been asking me if they can help me in any way.  Unfortunately, it costs a ridiculous amount of money to send things all the way here and it takes about 3-4 weeks to receive.  Also, most things are also cheaper here anyway.  I would love to get a rug and some pillows for the library so that students do not have to sit on wooden chairs every day while they read.  I would also love to get some more fiction books for the students because many of the books are about technology and computers that they don’t have access to anyway.  So, I have set up an account at Village Bank and I will use all the money solely for service purchases.  The children at Hlengisa and I would appreciate any donations possible.  Even $1 goes so much farther here than at home.  Checks can be made payable to me and be sent to:

Jeffrey Modena
Village Bank & Trust
311 S Arlington Heights Rd
Arlington Heights, 60005

I will never see the checks or who sent what, everything will be anonymous through Jeffrey.  Every penny of this money will go toward the children—for the most part, the library that I am still in the process of ‘opening.’

There are also a few girls in my house who are teaching at schools that do not even have paper or pens for the students.  Any left over money will go toward buying supplies for these schools.  I would love to get any donations by APRIL 30.  This should give me time to buy everything and bring it to the schools.  I will also be looking for local donations from the Cape Town library and local businesses. 

Thank you again for all your thoughts and support.  Anytime I’m feeling in over my head, I always have family and friends behind me.  It means more than you could possibly imagine!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Routine has hit

I am now unwinding from my last week… Thank God for country music helping the process!!

Last Monday (gosh, that was still February!!) I ventured to the city with a couple girls.  We walked around the city, looked at venders, wandered through the Company Gardens, and stopped in Desmond Tutu’s Cathedral to light a candle and say a prayer.  Downtown was a nice little venture after classes!
Tuesday and Thursday I was testing 200 students for English all day both days. I sat in the back of the classroom with a stack of rubrics and listened to presentations.  Tuesday they each brought in a newspaper article and read it aloud as I graded their reading abilities.  Thursday they each brought in another article and they could not look at it while they presented a summary.  Some students read and presented extremely well—gestures, loud voice, a poster as a teaching aid, etc.  Some students went to the front of the classroom and stood there until the teacher sitting next to me said “Okay, zero.” 

While going through my class list on Thursday, I learned that some of the 9th grade students are older than me… (good thing I never told them my age).  I asked the teachers about this and they explained to me that students stay in 9th grade until they pass.  Some of the students have been in 9th grade for 5 years and still cannot speak English.  English is necessary to graduate from the school.  It killed me to watch a student go to the front of the room and stand there until they received a zero.  The teacher kept saying “I can give out zeros all day, they’re easy to write.”  It was interesting to hear this perspective whereas my teachers always told me that the 100% are the easiest to grade so strive to get 100%.  I could feel my usually smiling face drooping as the day went on.  After I realized how many students can’t even read English, I asked Gaji (the teacher with me these days) if I could take small groups and help them pass 9th grade.  He looked at me and said “YES, PLEASE!” as if that’s what I should have been doing all along.  I took the weekend to think about how this would work because I have such full classrooms to teach all day.  I asked him today if I could do this in my one free period and lunch break.  After some discussion, he told me I could work with smaller groups of students during the English class and instead of teaching the 40 students each class period. I’m excited for this because this could be a much larger help to the school and community than babysitting a classroom when half of the students don’t understand a word coming out of my mouth. 

Today, the 8th and 9th graders all had the same assignment in preparation for their term exam next week.  The assignment was to write a letter to your sister who is at university and tell her what is going on at home since she left.  Usually, when assignments like this are given, I am instructed to walk around and simply correct spelling errors in red pen and move to the next student.  Today, after reading a few of the first 9th grade classes letters, I decided to collect the rest.  I was engrossed in these letters during every break today, including lunch.  I didn’t pick my nose up out of this stack of letters that kept growing and growing with each passing period.  I now have about 100 papers left to grade, but I am learning more than ever about these students’ lives.  They wrote about things they have seen in the past couple weeks or months.  Some of the violence that was just casually written on a piece of loose leaf in front of me made my jaw drop.  Not only can I not imagine having seen one of the things some of these students have seen, but I can’t imagine coming to school the next day and being expected to just forget home and learn.  I am starting to understand why some people just don’t seem to care about school.  They will stand at the front of the room and receive a zero, but this could be because they saw their friend murdered the day before.  I am really, quite convinced I can never complain again in my life… ever.  

The 6th grade reading club has been going wonderfully.  I am finally getting to know these students and they are enjoying being in the library every Tuesday and Thursday after school.  I finally was able to move some tables and things around in the library so I have enough seats and tables for my whole class.  I would love to get a rug for students to sit on in the container and possibly have them reading to smaller children one day.  Many of the books are also informational books about technology and such, which is good sometimes but they really enjoy fiction stories.  I am hoping to get some of these books either donated or cheap from somewhere around my neighborhood here.  The library is still a work in progress, but the students are absolutely LOVING it.  They were coming up to me during the day last Tuesday wondering if they could come to reading club right away.  Though it was only 1:00 and school didn’t end until 3, it was great to see their excitement for the club!

The reading club has also started teaching me Xhosa words.  I am learning about 5 per day for right now… we’ll see how that one goes!!  I never thought clicking would be so difficult!!  This gets them excited too, though.  They really like when I try to understand their language and connect with them in other ways.  Thank God that my day ends with “Ufunda Club” because they never fail to bring a smile to my face.  As I walk around and listen to individuals read English aloud, I can already tell they are getting better and better as time goes on.  Even within these past two weeks, they have not been asking as many pronunciation questions and been reading more fluently.  I can’t help but be overjoyed by this progress.  Their future truly depends on English so this is one of the most helpful things to them at this point in time.  In order to get out of the townships or advance in school, a person needs English.  The rest of the country is very English based outside of the townships. 

Friday we had our Marquette classes and I had a presentation on The South African KAIROS Document.  As many of you know, I lead Kairos at St. Viator so I was very interested in this document to begin with.  Although it was a pretty long document, I just wanted to share a few interesting points.  During apartheid, the Christian church (most of South Africa at the time) was not only separated by denomination but also by race.  For example, they had a black Anglican church and a white Anglican church.   Because of the violence, segregation, and oppression, the blacks came together and decided something had to happen.  They related this time to Israel.  Israel rose out of the enslaved people in Egypt.  They were ‘liberated by Yahweh’ and Israel was born.  South Africa, in the KAIROS Document, completely related themselves to this bible affiliation.  South Africa was oppressed and the whites enslaved the native South Africans when they came to colonize the country.  The South Africans saw this time as God’s time for liberation (KAIROS).  They believed and hoped that if they didn’t take advantage of this time of oppression, it would be lost time.  This is a time of true hope that God will come soon to liberate them and bring them out of their oppression.   Though the original KAIROS Document was written in 1985, there are still being responses written to the Document.  One priest, who is currently in a Church Leadership Group that is writing the second response to the KAIROS Document, came to discuss this Document with us after my presentation.  These people never cease to amaze me with the things they have been through.  I couldn’t imagine going to a church and being rejected, let alone if it were my own religion and I was rejected because of my race. 

Just another reminder of how blessed we really are!!  Everything is going very well and I never go more than a minute without smiling in this beautiful country.   Thank you for all the messages and mail from home, it brightens my day…or week for that matter!! I couldn’t be more blessed and thankful for each and every one of you.