Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Thursday, March 10, 2011

From the Village to JoBurg and Back - A Journey of 1,000 Kilometers

To the Emerald City, as fast as lightning!” ~Wicked Witch of the West 

In February, we took a road-trip to Johannesburg along with 4 other educators, 2 from each Primary school, to visit the Rotary Club Book Donation Centre. Thanks to the schools, we were able to travel in "style" with a private khumbi and driver so we didn't have to take public transport to get there. It also meant we could make the trip in a reasonable amount of time (about 5 hours) and at a safe rate of speed rather than the normal 8 - 9 hours of break-neck stop-and-go typical of public transportation.

Rotary Centre Warehouse
Because the Rotary Centre is only open from 9:30 to 3:00 PM, we planned to arrive in the late afternoon and spend the night at a nearby backpackers, then head to the Centre the following morning. Visiting the Centre was interesting, not only in the location and setup, but also in getting to watch the educators walking around the main book repository part of the warehouse like kids in a candy store. There were so many books covering so many subjects, and all free for the taking for needy schools. We even got a reminder of home while visiting the book centre, because many of the books were donated from our home state of Texas. Among the text books, we would find things like Texas history books as well as a Centennial Celebration book about Pearland, Texas. Thank you Texas Board of Education for pawning off your useless textbooks on unsuspecting third-world countries! Because I'm sure that other nations couldn't survive without that valuable knowledge of Texas history. Okay, all joking aside....

In reality, visiting the book repository was just our secondary goal. Our main reason for traveling that whole way was to inspect and arrange transport for the shipment of generously donated computers collected by Adam and Lora's church group back in the States. Unfortunately, because the computers were so well packed, the best we could do was examine the shipment of boxes, get a rough count of the computers based on the packing slips, and make arrangements with the couriers for transport of the computers back to our schools. In the meantime the educators that accompanied us worked to pick out and box additional books both for the libraries and textbooks to be used as subject references for their classes. At the end of the day we collected the 8 boxes of books in addition to the computers, and had plans for pickup and delivery of the computers from the courier, with Ulusaba, Pride n' Purpose kindly picking up the tab for transport of the donations back to our village in a few weeks.

Did we mention that the backpackers we stayed at was about 2km down the road from a little Chinatown? Mmmm, stir-fried tofu & veggies never tasted so good...

Unloading donated computers
A few weeks later, one late afternoon in early March, the couriers arrived with the truckload of computers, after having picked them up from Johannesburg earlier that morning. Thanks to the work of many hands - some big and some small – including a few community volunteers, educators and local kids, we managed to unpack all the boxes in fairly good time. We now have ahead of us the task of sorting, testing, and setting up all these computers, hopefully before the next school term starts in early April. Fortunately, there appear to only be a few different models, which should not only make building the software platform simpler, but also make for a more consistent experience for the learners once the classes begin. This also means that should any computer turn out not to have survived the trip, it can most likely be used for parts for repairs on some of the other computers. Our end goal will be to have about 35 to 40 working computers in each Primary School's computer lab, making sure that both schools have equivalent sets of same performing computers. Soon after, we hope to have computer classes going for both the learners and the educators.

How I met my host-mother....

So, after having been at our site for nearly 6 months now, our host-mother shows up one day completely unannounced out of the blue. You may recall that after initially arriving at our permanent site, we were told by one of our Principals who arranged the housing for us, that our host-mother is not living on the property. She is a single woman who owns the property but she had recently moved to Nelspruit and found a boyfriend. So instead, her nephew has been living in the main house in order to take care of the property. Well, one day I (Robin) was sitting outside reading a book with a group of girls who sometimes come over to our house after school for story time, and suddenly a woman carrying a bunch of groceries and luggage shows up at the main house. After putting her things in the main house, she pulls up a chair and comes to sit outside with me and the girls. Then she announces her name to me as if I am supposed to know who she is. We talked for a bit, mind you that my xiTsonga (Shangaan) is not that good and neither is her English. But, I'm starting to understand that she is not just a regular visitor. Suddenly she gets up and wants to look inside our house. She had heard through her family that live in the village that the schools had installed a shower drain in our wash room as well as wiring the house with electricity. So, she was curious to see what it looked like. But at that point I was profoundly confused why this woman just blatantly walked into our house as if she owned it... Well, it turns out that she does own it. So, I get up following her into the house and thinking “W w w wait, who are you again?!” I wish I would have known that she was coming, then I would have cleaned the house. Anyhow, after finally figuring out who this woman was, we still are not completely sure how long she intends to stay. Although communication between us is limited, we get the idea that because the Mpumalanga Dept of Education finally paid our rent, that she now has the money to travel to and from the village.

After a week or so of her arrival, one day, she baked us some biscuits and brought them over to us. So, in exchange, the next day we baked her some banana bread and returned her plate to her. She enjoyed the banana bread so much that she wanted to learn how to make it. So, we went shopping at our nearest shopping town and picked up some of the ingredients for her. After returning from the store, I (Robin) then went over to her house and gave her a lesson on baking banana bread. She was also very happy with us after Woody was able to fix her refrigerator because it was – in her words quote “fuckt'up.” Its been very strange these past few weeks getting acquainted with her after 6 months of not seeing or meeting her and having lived very independently on our own. But, so far, I guess it's going well... She even told me the other day, “Rirhandzu (my Shangaan name) you are a funny.”

Today's Reader is Tomorrow's Leader

Reviewing Library Rules with Grade 4
After weeks of planning lessons, I (Robin) have finally been able to get the educators scheduled to bring their classes into the library for literacy lessons. I made a timetable for all of the educators who are teaching English classes (which is grades 3 to 7) to attend classes with me once a week in the new library (which I'll call library-B) at one of our primary schools. Most of these students and even many of the educators themselves have never been inside a library much less know how to use one. So, I have been starting at the very basics with teaching the kids library rules, how to choose a book at their level of English, the different book categories in the library, how to hold a book properly, the different parts of a book, etc. So far, classes are going well – despite the one day that a learner vomited inside the library. Eish!

Nevertheless, the teachers have all be showing up to classes – although some are better than others about getting to class on time. One of the teachers even co-taught with me the lesson on the parts of a book! She did a great job explaining the cover, the spine, the pages, and so forth to the kids. 

Literacy Lessons in the New Library

Reading Rewards Program

Morning Assembly
At our other primary school, the library there (I'll call it library-A) has already been up and running for a while thanks to the previous volunteer Lora Willard. Therefore, I thought that it would be a good idea this term to start a Reading Rewards program there in order to rejuvenate the kids' interest in reading. At our schools at least, the kids all seem to love competitions. So, this new Reading Rewards program seems to be just the thing to get them excited about reading.

We are calling the competition the “Big Five Readers” and I have made a chart for each grade that looks like a race track with clip art of the “Big Five” animals on the track to show progression of who is winning. Each of the top five readers for each grade is assigned to one of the Big Five animals and I'm tracking their progression of points each week on the race track. I'm also awarding more points per book depending on the level of difficulty. Here are the rules: “Read a book, then answer the book report questions. You can earn the following points: Story book – Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3 = 1 point, Junior Novel – Level 1 = 5 points, Junior Novel – Level 2 = 7 points.”

On the first day after announcing the competition, we were trying to open the library after-school and there were a ton of kids waiting to get into the library. After letting a few kids inside, it was soon pointed out by someone that there was a green mamba asleep inside the library. Suddenly, all hell broke loose and chaos quickly ensued... Kids screaming, adults trying to kill the snake with large sticks, people running over me. Eish! It was a mess... Thankfully no one was hurt, except for the snake, and we eventually got the library open.

For the competition, I decided to put up the posters in the library so that they are in a public spot and I have been writing the kid's names for each grade who are in the top 5. One day, when the library was open after school, I went to write the names of the top 5 learners for the week on the posters. As I was writing, all of the kids watched in awe and waited silently for me to finish writing the names. They were all excited to see whose names made it up on the board for the week. Although it is going well, the competition is not perfect. Some kids are copying each other or they are copying text from the book and filling out the book report page. So, I am having to address that or decide if I want to award them the points for their report.

Here are a few of my favorite book reports that I have received so far...

Book Title: The Marvelous Treasure, Characters in the Book: Captain Polly Molly Macaroon. Question - Why do you like this book?: “I like this book because its about gold. Captain Polly Molly Macaroon hunted for treasure with her friends. I like this book because its make me now (know) about pirates and it will make me now (know) English.”

Book Title: Salem's Tails Back to School (Junior Novel). Question – Why do you like this book?: “I like this book because I know that school is important to me and other learners and school is your future. As the person I learn a lot in this book and go study. Thanks you. bye.”

Book Title: Swamp Monsters. Question – Why do you like this book?: “I like this book because she tell me Swamp Monsters can come eat your lunch.”

At the end of the month, the winners will be announced and awarded certificates along with some donated prizes. One of the 7th grade girls who is a Library Helper and is an avid reader, has been telling me for weeks that she wants a diary. So, I bought her a diary book and plan to give it to her if she does well in the competition. One day I showed it to her in order to spark her interest in the competition and make her try harder. Since then, I have been grilled multiple times about the contingency of this diary. She is VERY concerned that I will give away the diary to another student if someone else wins the competition. I've been telling her that she just better keep working hard and do well in the competition. Let's see what happens...

Don't Forget to Donate!!

Please help sponsor Woody in his run for the upcoming Longtom Marathon and to help raise money for the KLM foundation. The race is right around the corner and it will be held on March 26th, so this will be your final chance to help support Woody in raising money for this worthy cause!

The KLM foundation is a non-profit organization that was founded by two PCVs that served in South Africa. The foundation raises money to send deserving, hardworking students to one of South Africa’s best college preparatory schools – the Uplands College in the Mpumalanga province. What better way to help this country than to educate a future leader?

We want to thank those of you who have thus far sent in your generous donations in support of Woody for the Longtom Marathon. We appreciate your support!! You too can help us support good education here in South Africa.

Here's How to Donate:

There are two ways you can make a donation:

Method 1: Online

1. Go to the KLM foundation website

2. Click on the “Donate Now” photo at the top right-hand corner.

3. This opens up a secure https:// connection for people to donate.

4. In the Longtom Marathon field on the donations form, please indicate “Dawoud Al-haddad” as the runner's name.

Method 2: Check

1. Make out a check payable to: Kgwale Le Mollo (US)

2. Add a post-it note or indicate on the memo section of the check that you are sponsoring “Dawoud Al-haddad.”

3. Mail it to:

KLM Foundation (US)
c/o Bowen Hsu
461 So. Bonita Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91107

For more information on the KLM foundation and the important work they are doing, visit the KLM website at:

Thanks for your support!!

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