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.