Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bi-Horned Odd-Toed Ungulates and Deciduous Teeth

Operation Rhinoceros: Combining Wildlife Conservation and Kid's Art (Article by Robin)

This year, September 22nd was World Rhino Day. Four out of the five species of rhinoceroses are in danger of extinction in the wild, due mostly to illegal trade in rhino horn and increasingly, to habitat loss. Unfortunately, the illegal rhino horn trade and poaching is big business here in South Africa due to the demand in the Asian market for horn products for medicinal purposes. Here in South Africa, there are two species of rhinos including the black rhinos and the white (or wide) rhinos. Just recently on the 10th November the African Western Black Rhino was declared officially extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. And here is another recent SABC news article about two rhino carcasses found in Free State.  When I hear stories like these, it is disheartening and makes me very angry. It's unbelievable how cruel people can be and it often makes me lose faith in human beings. 

It is because of stories like these that I strongly encourage you all to check out for more info on saving rhinos and to donate in order to help raise awareness of this cause.

The beginning of Term 4 started in October. At the beginning of the term, our local game lodge, Ulusaba hosted a World Rhino Day celebration. They decided to host an anti-poaching rhino campaign here in the village to raise awareness and funds in the fight against poachers. Unfortunately, recent poaching syndicates found in the Hoedspruit, Limpopo region (about 1 hour away from us) originated from our area – right in our back yard!  So, Ulusaba's goal was to do awareness campaigns in the villages dispelling the myths about rhino horns, why poaching is bad, and how we cannot afford to loose the BIG 5.

They decided to do a rhino fact workshop with some of the Art Club kids at one of our primary schools and asked Woody and me to help out. A few of their volunteers came to one of our schools and gave a rhino talk to the kids and handed out a new Rhino Awareness booklet that they recently designed. Afterwards, the kids from our Art Club got a chance to paint a carved wooden rhinoceros and then we had an art competition.

Knowing that Ulusaba was planning this event, a few weeks beforehand, I found a realistic looking coloring page of a rhino, I photocopied and enlarged it, and then had the kids from the Art Club use the coloring page to practice making their designs so that they could get an idea of how they wanted to paint their rhinos.

In my Grade 7 literacy class, we had also just finished reading a book called Jungle Drums and in the story the warthogs make a wish and take all of the spots, stripes, and feathers from the other animals in the jungle and the markings of all the animals get mixed up with one another. So, I used that story to explain to the kids that they could do something like Jungle Drums where they put zebra stripes or cheetah spots on the rhinos. For those of you back home, think of the Pegasus horses that were painted and installed all around Dallas (or other public art exhibits that have been featured in major world cities where fiberglass sculptures of animals are decorated by local artists and then distributed all over the city). The idea for this project was much the same where the kids were allowed to design and paint their rhinos however they wanted to.

After the kids finished painting their rhinos, a few days later Ulusaba held a competition to award the best design. There were about 16 kids who participated in the competition. All the participants were given a backpack full of goodies and then the winner of the contest was awarded a free game drive from Ulusaba. The winner will get a chance to go into the reserve with 6 of their friends, have a game drive and hopefully find a real rhino, and then have lunch at the lodge. The kids were real excited about the competition as I had been explaining it to them for weeks beforehand. The competition was also particularly exciting because the kids had special guests who attended and assisted with the competition – Adam and Lora Willard the RPCVs who were previously working in the village. Adam and Lora happened to be traveling through South Africa and visiting the village after being gone for a year. Since Adam originally started the Art Club, this art competition gave him a chance to have one last project with the Art Club kids. All the painted rhinos from the competition will soon be auctioned and sold by Ulusaba to raise money for their rhino awareness campaign and for the school.

The Ku Rhunga Club Sewing Project (Article by Robin)

Ku Rhunga means to sew... As a secondary project, I have recently begun teaching a few adults after school each week on Fridays how to sew or what they often refer to as “machine sewing” here. As many of you may know, one of my hobbies is sewing. Since coming to South Africa, I was able to purchase a used sewing machine for R900 (about $100 USD). And it has given me a opportunity to work with some of the fabulous traditional African fabrics here. Nevertheless, since my class consists of beginners, I started the class by teaching them the parts of a sewing machine and I am now working on teaching them basic sewing skills. I currently have two women and one man in my class. The goal is to be able to teach them usable marketable skills and to eventually produce items which can be sold in the local surrounding game lodges.

First we had to practice cutting patterns, straight stitching, and basic sewing techniques before we could get into anything too complicated. So, one of the first projects was for them to make their own reversible apron. This was a great beginner project because it only requires straight stitching and the students were able to produce something right away to take home. My students were very excited when they completed their aprons. Most of them even wore their aprons while walking home after class. So far, the classes are going well with the only obstacle being consistent electricity. Here in the village we have frequent power outages especially after thunder storms. So, having electricity available can be touch-and-go at times.

We also found out that the school has a used industrial sewing machine that was in a storage room. So, Woody and I took it out of storage, dusted it off, and are working on trying to get it up and running. If we can get it working right, then they may eventually be able to use it to make school uniforms for the kids!

Brush, Brush, Brush Your Teeth... (Article by the Tooth Fairy, aka Robin)

Other than a dimple in a cute little chin,
What's more adorable than a toothless grin? ~Azu "Betty" Espezia

Learning to brush your teeth can be a fun activity especially when you have a cool new toothbrush to do it with... We received donations of about 50 new toothbrushes and some toothpaste from guests of Ulusaba. So, I decided it would be a great opportunity to teach the Grade R (kindergarten) kids at one of our primary schools about dental hygiene and keeping their teeth clean. Our lesson started off with teaching the kids how to brush their teeth using a “B-is for Brushing” mini-poster that I printed out from Colgate online. Then myself and the two Grade R teachers taught the kids a few fun teeth-brushing songs as follows:

Brush, brush, brush your teeth
At least two times a day.
Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning,
Fighting tooth decay.

Are your teeth clean and white?
Do you brush them left and right?
Do you brush them in the morning?
Do you brush them every night?
Do you brush them up and down?
Do you brush them round and round?
Are your teeth clean and white?

After learning the songs, we gave each child their own toothbrush labeling them with their names so that they wouldn't get them mixed up and could take them home after school. The class then journeyed outside to the water tap where we proceeded to first give a demonstration and then had the kids brush their own teeth. We demonstrated brushing the top teeth, bottom teeth, outside, inside and the tongue too. Well, it turns out that watching a bunch of 5 year-olds brush their teeth is quite hilarious as there was toothpaste everywhere! Good thing we were outside. 

After the brushing, I also gave the kids a colouring page of a giant tooth and toothbrush... It was a great day and a good way to brush our end-of-term blues away! 

The Third Goal (Article by Robin)

Many Americans don't realize that there are actually three goals to the Peace Corps program. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy launched an innovative program to spearhead progress in developing countries and to promote friendship between the American people and peoples overseas. From the beginning, the Peace Corps Act which established the program in 1961 identified three goals: 1) to help developing countries meet their need for trained men and women; 2) to promote a better understanding of Americans overseas; and 3) to promote a better understanding of foreign peoples and cultures on the part of the American people.

As Woody and I sit here and write this blog, we are fulfilling goal number 3. Additionally, I also recently started another third goal project by participating in the Coverdell World Wise Schools Correspondence Program. This program is designed to build a cross-cultural understanding for students and help students better understand countries and cultures that many of them may never experience. Thankfully, Woody and I both already knew a few really great teachers back home in the US. So, it was easy to get started in the program. I began our correspondence program with a friend of mine named Tiffany who teaches 7th grade Social Studies at a private school in Farmers Branch, TX. Because of the size of Tiffany's class and the English level of my students here at the high school, we decided it would be best for her class to correspond with our Grade 10 students.

We had about 108 students who participated in writing letters to the school. The goal for my students was to give them an assignment to help work on their English skills while also learning a valuable skill like letter writing. Letter writing in general is a lost art form and judging by some of the adults here, it is not addressed much in schools either. So, part of why I wanted to do this activity was to teach my kids how to write a letter. I started with having the kids brainstorm some questions that they might want to know about American students. I also taught them the 5 parts of a letter including the heading, the greeting, body, complementary close, and signature. It took me a couple of weeks to have them write their drafts of their letters and then edit them. Then the third week I was able to have them write their final drafts of their letters. Because of their lower skill level in English, I wanted to use this assignment as a way to practice their English as well as their writing skills. I think the kids thoroughly enjoyed the assignment and I know that they learned a lot from the experience. Now they are eagerly awaiting their letters from America... Additionally, I hope to be able to recreate this assignment again with another class and a couple of other teachers that we know back home. 

Timetables (Article by Woody)

One year into our work at these three schools, it seems that one of the hardest things about our work is not so much communicating, choosing which projects to tackle, or even working with occasionally unruly kids. Rather, it seems often that the hardest thing is trying to divide our time equitably between the three schools and, in that division of time, incorporate an actual schedule for the classes or tasks we're undertaking. Trying to do that and give enough time for knowledge transfer proved to be next to impossible with the interesting and somewhat creative timetables that the schools have been using. So after meeting with the School Management Teams (SMT) at the two primary schools, and with the Scheduling Committee at the high school, we were able to convince them that the best way to incorporate the English and Computer literacy classes that we are facilitating is to basically reinvent the wheel by designing a new timetable essentially from scratch.

This proved to be an enlightening exercise at all three schools. First we had to review their current timetables to see what subjects were offered to which grades, who taught those subjects, and how many hours a week were dedicated to each class. Just going through this kind of inventory the various teams realized how inconsistent and sometimes plain wrong their old timetables were. After that we worked out how best to distribute the hours of each subject across the school week. We were definitely not going back to the “switch teachers and subjects practically every 30 minutes” routine that had been in place in the past. We were also able to build in a few conditions like what days of the week we were at the school, where the library and computer classes would be placed, and putting the Principal's or Deputy Principal's classes at a particular time of the day to leave the rest of each day free for meetings and management work. Finally we fed the whole thing into a timetabling program called FET and hit generate to let it do the complicated part of shuffling blocks of time around until everything fit. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but we managed to do the whole thing at each school in just about 2 hours of very focused work. Based on the feedback from the scheduling teams, this is a big change from the 2 to 4 weeks they typically spent at the end and beginning of each year fiddling with the schedules until they got them “right”.

Since this is a pretty big change in process for these schools, they adopted the new timetables with the understanding that they would only be used for the brief few weeks of teaching at the beginning of Term 4, the current term that started in October. With the high school we actually did the design work at the end of Term 2, and were able to pilot it for all of last term during Term 3. Now that they've all had a chance to try it, we're asking all the teachers for feedback to see how they like the new schedule and if they have any special requests for how to allocate their time in the coming year. Later in November and early December, we will be going through the timetable design again, but this time with the scheduling teams doing all the inventory and data entry, taking the feedback from the surveys into account, and I will be there simply to advise and assist. With a little practice, they will be able to use this method going forward, and save themselves a few weeks of headache and frustration at the beginning of each year.

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