|Our House is the small one on the left.|
Now that we are settled into our new home (for the most part anyway), it's time for us to get busy. We haven't actually started teaching yet... Right now we are in the observation phase. Peace Corps asks us to conduct teacher interviews and observe classes for the first three months that we are at our site in order for us to gain a better understanding of what the needs of the schools and the community are. The three schools that we are working in all seem to have different personalities. For one of the schools, it has been easy for us to conduct interviews and then it is like pulling teeth to get any interviews done in the other schools. The interviews are meant to help us get to know the teachers better and help us decide what types of projects and programs we should initiate in the schools. Eventually we have to find teacher counterparts who will work with us to develop our programs so that the programs are more sustainable when we leave South Africa. So far, we have about 101 ideas just for the High School alone. The challenge now will be seeing if we can get the schools buy-in and if we can find counterpart teachers to work with. If the schools don't take ownership in our projects, then our efforts will be pointless. The school year here runs in quarters and they are in their final quarter now and preparing for final exams. So, we may not get to do any actual teaching until the next term begins in January.
|The long road...|
At this point, we are still trying to figure out our footing here in the schools. The school system here is very different. For one thing, the teachers do not work nearly as many hours as teachers in the US do. They often walk out of class leaving their students alone in the classroom. And the schools have a tendency to knock off early for just about any excuse. Teachers often don't put much effort into working on lesson plans. It seems that Literacy and Numeracy (State-side, think "the 3 R's") are the biggest problem in most of the rural schools here, and the most common issue brought up by the teachers. Another problem is that the schools are supposed to be transitioning all classes to English being the primary language of instruction by the third grade. However, the schools don't focus on the basics of English like the alphabet, phonics, and spelling. Students are expected to go from learning the alphabet to writing complete sentences all in the third grade year. Seeing as this task of learning everything at once is impossible, most teachers often resort to speaking their home language in class rather than speaking English. As a result, the kids do not become literate in English and have difficulty with reading and writing. Imagine trying to learn 4th-grade Math or Natural Science taught in English when your first exposure to English in class was just 12 months ago. Our biggest projects at this point appear to be around continuing work on the libraries and computer labs and related literacy programs the current PCVs have helped establish at the two Primary schools, and also working on the after-school Art Club that they were involved with.
Thanks to the outgoing volunteers, Lora and Adam and Ulusaba, Pride n' Purpose, we now have a new library and computer lab at one of the primary schools. Ulusaba is the local game lodge (Richard Branson's private game reserve) and Pride n' Purpose is the charitable non-profit arm of Ulusaba. They completely funded a new library and a computer lab for one of our primary schools. Recently we had an informal opening of the new library just to allow the kids to look at the books. On opening day, once the bell rang for break – there was screaming and cheers coming from the classrooms as the kids all rushed out and queued to be the first ones in the library. They were so excited that they were waiting in a long line just to get in. Woody had to stand outside and be a “bouncer” letting only a few kids in the door at a time. The library also has 6 library helpers consisting of students from grades 6 and 7 who help with the day-to-day tasks of running the library. Our library helpers, who we have taught how the library system works, were there to control the crowds and assist other students with choosing books.
|Waiting in line...|
Following the library opening, Adam, myself, and some of the boys from the after-school Art Club worked on painting the sign for the new library and literacy center. In addition to the new library, we will soon be opening a computer lab. Woody has been working at both primary schools to get some of their really old computers up and running. We are also expecting a shipment of newer computers to come in soon from the US. So Woody has a lot of work ahead to come!
With the Secondary school, we are still working out where to start. There are so many projects that we can undertake, but the trick will be to figure out which ones will have the best chance of succeeding. The staff there are really excited about the potential for setting up a library, a computer lab, and maybe even a science lab there as well. But the biggest obstacles at this time are space and electrical power. They do have space for a library, so that one should be easier to get started first. However, there is currently no space on campus for a computer lab. Space is so limited that they are currently having to combine two 9th grade classes together with 112 students in one room. Power is another problem. We are amazed that this school of 500 students and 30-something staff are able to do all their work with only 220v 20A electrical service for the whole campus. But that definitely won't cut it for any computers. In fact, their electrical service has been so spotty recently that they have been resorting to using a generator to provide steady power to the campus when needed.
One World Classrooms International Art Exchange:
The after-school Art Club (established by Adam) has also been participating in the International Art Exchange program hosted by OneWorld Classrooms. The idea is to mail 25 pieces of student artwork to OneWorld Classrooms, then they mail you back 25 pieces of original artwork created by students from around the world. It has been a good window through which our students will be able to learn more about other students lives and and their cultures. It also give us a chance to have a teachable moment with the Art Club kids by taking and showing them on the World Map project the countries which we receive artwork from. Art + Geography = Good Lesson!
Just a few more random thoughts: In rural SA, keep your mosquito-net up year-round, as it helps keep more than just mosquitoes off of you while you sleep (like really big, fast spiders); a cold-water bucket bath is a great way to cool off when it's 110 F in the shade; sugar beans make fairly decent frijoles refritos; chemical warfare seems to be the only thing that keeps flies out of the pit toilet; in Shangaan, since Mu-lungu means white person, and Xi-lungu means English, why does everyone here assume we can speak Afrikaans?