Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Winter Weather, Books for Schools, and the Unemployed

Changing Seasons (Article written by Robin)

This strange bug landed on the latch of our windowsill.
Winter is upon us here in the village. While most of you back home are getting ready for the 4th of July, swimming, hot summer holidays, and the impending 110°F weather, we are bundled up in sweaters drinking hot cocoa hiding under a warm blanket. Although the temperature outside doesn't get as cold here as it does back home in Texas – and there is no snow, we have no heater and no insulation inside our tiny house. Therefore, there is no real barricade between us and the ominous weather looming outside – making the cold air feels much more frigid here. However, one good thing about winter here is that many of the bugs go away. Yeah! No more flies circling the pit toilet. No more flying termites, click bugs, and other flying beetles swarming around inside our house and bouncing off our heads. No more sleepless nights as we lie on the bed drenched in our sweat. Aaahhh. . . Oh well, to think this harmoniousness bug-free period will only last until about mid-August or so before they all return again. . .

Giant beetle wandering into our house.

A Quest for Books. . . (Article written by Robin and Woody)

Thanks to some extraordinarily generous guests of Ulusaba, Pride 'n Purpose – a privately owned local lodge and game reserve – our High School will be receiving a new Literacy Centre! The donors have agreed to build the school a Literacy Centre including both a library and a computer classroom. The school has recently formed a Building Steering Committee (BSC) comprising of a few members from the high school including the Principal, Deputy Principal, a couple of teachers, a couple of members of the School's Governing Body (SGB), and ourselves. The BSC is now in the process of selecting a contractor to build the new building as well as getting needed paperwork in order. Although the building planning is still in progress now, we are hoping to break ground by August. The Literacy Centre, will be more then just a place to borrow books from... The high school students are expected to do investigations and research assignments on a regular basis. However, currently they have little to no resources to use. They have no internet at home or at school, no computers, no library, and often times no text books. The nearest public library is about 50 KM away. The new Literacy Centre will include both a library and computer lab which will be used for reference, research, enhancing learner literacy, hosting English literacy lessons, and developing both student and educators' computer skills. The Centre would also be used by the learners and community members for career guidance and to enhance marketable skills. Materials and applications for college and other post-secondary education programs would also be made available to learners through the Centre.

Tenth grade high school class combined with over 120 students.
Do you have books that you no longer want? Donate them to a great cause! In light of our upcoming Literacy Centre project, we would like to host a book donations drive. Please join us in raising needed book donations for this future library. You can donate individual books or organize with your school, church, scouts group, community group, or host a drive at your place of business. Ask your local library to adopt our library project, and we'll give you up-to-date info on the progress of the library build. Donated books can be either new or used. Our request for books will continue from now until the library is officially open, which will be several months from now.

Here are some of the books we hope to collect:
  1. Junior novels (from easy to advanced – for grades 8 through 12) – (Here is a list of popular junior novels on GoodReads to give you some ideas:
  2. Story Books with Audio or Video CDs and DVDs – (These may be used during literacy lessons. Books with either audio or video CDs accompanying the text allow the students to hear a voice and accent different from our own and videos help give visual clues to what is happening in the story.)
  3. Classic Novels
  4. Little House on the Prairie, Harry Potter, or other junior series books. (Books suitable for ages 12 to 21)
  5. Reference books including English dictionaries, thesauri, and unique reference books
  6. Multi-cultural and multi-racial books
  7. Books with universal themes (friendships, animals, love)
  8. Books featuring Africans or African-Americans
  9. Books about Health and Science
  10. Educational children's science and literary magazines in good condition
  11. Books about Agriculture and Animal Husbandry
  12. Books about Gardening
  13. Books about Business
  14. Books about Careers and Jobs
  15. Books about Current Events
  16. World History or African History books (please no American history)
  17. Travel Books, Atlases, and Country Specific Reference Books
  18. Reference books for Arts and Hobbies
  19. Ecology and Environmental books
  20. Biographies (especially famous Africans)
  21. National Geographic mags (especially with articles featuring Africa)
  22. Educational Games, Brain Teasers, Flash Cards, and Puzzles

Please avoid donating the following types of books:
• Damaged, torn, or very dirty books (including moldy, missing pages, torn/missing cover, or excessive water damage).
• School textbooks.
• Books with lots of slang, which may be difficult for English learners to follow.
• Books about United States history or government.
• Books about American holidays (4th of July, Thanksgiving, April Fools Day, Valentine’s Day, etc.).

  • If you are willing to help raise money rather then collect book donations, then please contact us for details on how to donate. Any money raised will be used to purchase either computer equipment or library books for the school.
  • We are also in need of computers, monitors, printers, and other equipment for the computer lab. If you are willing to collect computer donations, please contact us directly for information about how to ship items through the Rotary Centre in Johannesburg.
  • We can also use lower-level children's story books for our primary schools. Please contact us directly if you would like more information about what kinds of books we need for the primary schools.

How to Ship Books:

  • For individual book donations, the best methods that we can find are First-Class Mail International Package. A box up to a 4 lbs is only $31.89; and Priority Mail International Flat Rate Boxes. A small box is $13.95.  Please note, when shipping mark the items as “Educational Material” and do not declare a value otherwise we will have to pay exorbitant customs fees.
  • For larger quantities of books, there is USPS Air Mail Bags (up to 66 lbs).  Or you can contact us directly for information about how to ship boxes/containers of books through the Rotary Center in Johannesburg. Please let us know if you plan to ship large quantities of books. If we know of other people hosting a book drive, then maybe we can get you connected in order to combine shipping.

Employment in the Village (Article written by Robin)

The national average unemployment rate in South Africa is about 25% and has in the past gone as high as 31% in 2003. Our province of Mpumalanga has the second highest unemployment rate of 30.8%, second only to the Northern Cape at 31.3%. This is astronomically high when compared to the US which has unemployment rate of 9.1%. Needless to say that the unemployment rate is very high here in our village. Those who do have jobs often leave the village and live in one of the larger cities like Pretoria, Johannesburg, or Nelspruit. There are however a few jobs in and around the village.

Most of the farming in our village is subsistence farming for personal use. We don't have big commercial farms here in our village. Our best guess is that maybe about 40% to 50% of people in the village are unemployed and either get temporary seasonal work or depend on government social grants (welfare). From what we can tell, there is also very little craft work done here in our village compared to other areas. We don't see much in the way of traditional crafts (sewing, beadwork, woodwork, ceramics, etc) being sold either in the village or in nearby shopping towns.

Probably the largest employer in or near our village are the surrounding game lodges. We have several private game lodges in our area who are excellent at hiring local people. Local villagers often work at the lodges in a variety of jobs including as maintenance crew, house-keeping services, general assistants, lodge managers, park ranger, drivers, cooks and chefs, and administrative assistants. There are also local villagers who work at the schools and daycare centers in the village either as teachers, clerks, or general workers. However, the majority of the teachers in our schools do not live in the village and only 1 out of our 3 Principals lives in the village. Most live in nearby townships or bigger cities and commute into work. There are also some "convenience stores" and taverns in the village that few people work at.

Another option, especially for women, is to be a “hawker.” These are food vendors who sell everything from fruits and vegetables to chips, candy, gum, sweets, and sometimes prepared foods. The hawkers (street vendors) usually either hang out around the schools and sell to teachers and students or they have a small roadside shack that they sell from. Many also set up tables at the local taxi rank in our shopping town. The vendors have tables that line up alongside the taxis which are queued up to leave. Since it takes a while for any one taxi to fill up, these vendors generally have a captive audience. Often times they come right up to the window or open door of the taxi and try to “hawk” or sell things to you right there. Generally, we never buy sweets or prepared food from these vendors. However, we do often buy a lot of our daily fruits and vegetables from them. Generally they have better prices on fruits and vegetables then the grocery stores do and often they are better quality too.

Market Day in the Village... (Article written by Robin)

Cooking pots and wash buckets for sale at the market
Because so many people in South Africa are unemployed, the Department of Social Development and the South African Social Security Agency provide various social assistance cash grants to those whose livelihoods are most at risk. The available grants include old-age grants for pensioners; disability grants; child-support grants (for low income families who have children under the age of 15); foster-care grants; care dependency grants, war-veterans’ grants; and temporary grants for aid relief. There is an estimated 50% of the population in South Africa who are below the poverty line and depend on these grants.

Most people in our village who receive social grants generally receive one of the following grants:
  • Old-age grant which is a monthly income provided by the South African Social Security Agency to people over the age of 60. Pensioners receive R960 per month about $141 USD.
  • Foster-care grant for people who raise foster children receive R650, about $95.50 USD per month. Due to a sizable rate of HIV and AIDS in South Africa, the parent mortality rate is exceedingly high leaving behind many orphans and vulnerable children, therefore making the need for this grant tremendous.
  • Child-support grant is a monthly stipend for low income families with children under the age of 15. Families receive R240 per month per child which is about $35.30 USD. This amount is not nearly enough to take care of all a child's needs. It’s not even enough to buy disposable diapers for a month.

Chicken truck on market day
One of the busiest times of the month here in the village, is Pension Day when everyone receives their monthly grant stipend. Therefore, once a month, our village holds a pensioners' market day. People line up outside and down the block of a local convenience store where the Department of Social Development sets up to distribute the monthly pensions. Everything from house-hold goods, cooking pots, plastic bathing buckets, fruits and vegetables, live chickens, traditional fabrics, and clothes are sold at the market. Many things, especially fruits and vegetables, are sold in bulk at the market at wholesale prices. So, Woody and I like to go to the market once a month and stock up.

Broken Down Orange Truck at the Market
Peanuts, Sugar Beans, and fried Mopane (Mopani) worms for sale
Our spoils after market day.  All this cost us R40 (about $6)

Once a month, our village holds a Pensioners' market. 

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