Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Friday, February 10, 2012

Oh, For the Love of Books!

Watch Your Head... (Article by Robin)

It is marula season again. Those golf ball-sized green and golden fruits seem to be falling off of trees everywhere. And that also means that it's harvest time. The "great harvest" begins in January and February. Tons of people in the village go around collecting the marula fruit to be sold to commercial companies that process it into products like jam, beer, essential oils, and amarula liqueur. There is so much fruit, that it can't all be picked. So we are having to step over piles of marula left-and-right. I guess that's better then stepping over the usual cow-patties. Not to mention, watch our heads from falling fruit. So needless to say, we are all getting our fill of vitamin-C here in the village.

All parts of the marula tree are used for various purposes. When dried, the seeds have a nutty flavor which tastes a bit like cashews. The bark of the tree is also used in traditional medicine and healing. There are a whole range of beliefs that have also developed around the marula tree. The marula seed is used as dice by Shangaan Sangomas (medicine men and women), who cast their "bones" to foresee the future or help people with a variety of problems or ailments. The Zulus eat the fruit for fertility and use the bark to help determine the sex of an unborn child. And the fermented fruit is also used to make an intoxicating traditional beer. With this love for marula, it's no wonder there are so many annual marula festivals held all over South Africa!
Commercial companies buying local marula fruit

Corresponding with America Requires Syntax Surgery (Article by Robin)

At the end of January, we started a new school year. Last year, our high school had only a 57% matric rate (senior certificate examination that determines graduation), which is up from the previous year's 48% matric rate. You might think, wow only 57%?! But actually we had the third highest matric rate in our circuit. That should tell you a little something about the present state of rural education here in South Africa.

One of the reasons why the matric rate is so low is because of the huge barrier of learning English. All the exams are written in English and the kids are expected to be able to read, write, and understand English well enough to explain complicated scientific concepts meanwhile most of the teaching that goes on in the classroom is done in the home language or in English heavily supplemented with home language – making the need for English literacy immanent. So with this in mind, I jump at the chance to find ways to challenge our kids in English and get them practicing. Recently I had our grade 10 high school students participating in the World Wise Schools Correspondence Program communicating with American kids back home in Farmers Branch, Texas. Through this program, our students get a chance to communicate with students in America while also getting to learn about American culture and practice their English writing skills. While drafting their letters, the class got to practice grammatical rules and concepts such as when to use “are” versus “is,” when to use “at” versus “in,” when to use “watch” versus “see,” and when to use “stay” versus “live,” etc. Not to mention the constant reminder to use punctuation please! Don't forget those full-stops, commas, and question marks...

Recently we received the reply letters from 7th Grade students at Parish Episcopal School. Our kids were very excited to receive their letters and a picture of their pen-pals. The letters were originally written back in October, so after reading the letters I had to explain to the class what Halloween is and why we celebrate it. English class also became a bit of a math lesson when I had to explain how you can convert temperature from Fahrenheit to Celsius when talking about the weather. The WWS program has opened our kids' eyes to some of the similarities and the differences between themselves and American kids. It's pretty universal that most teenagers love to talk about music, sports, and animals. But when it comes to food – well that's a different story. I found myself trying to explain more than once what fajitas and sushi are. Oy... 


Help Bring Literacy to Our High School (Article by Robin)

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say "It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem." Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes." ~Fred Rogers

Contractors break ground on the new library
Although Woody will be running the ultra-marathon again this year in the Longtom race in March, in lieu of asking for money for the KLM foundation – this year we have decided that we would pay the minimum donation from our own pockets. The reason why we are doing this is because we need to ask for your help to raise money for books for our high school – which is something that directly affects our schools. Last year we were able to help raise $900 for the KLM foundation. This year we have to almost double that amount to about $1,600 for Books for Africa.

Contractors laying foundation for the new library
As you may know, thanks to some extraordinarily generous guests of Ulusaba, Pride 'n Purpose, a new Literacy Centre is being built at our High School! In January, the contractors finally broke ground on the new building. So now we need your help in raising money to get a 40ft. container shipment of books from the U.S.-based organization – Books for Africa to our schools in South Africa. There are a total of 10 US Peace Corps volunteers involved in this project, including myself, who are arranging for our schools to collectively receive over 20,000 books including children’s story books, math books, science books, and English literacy books to improve the overall resources of our schools. The total project goal is $16,000 USD – making my share of the fundraising goal about $1,600 USD. Over 2,000 of the books raised from this project will go directly to our High School.

Yay!... Walls going up and we get a door!
Books are the foundation of a strong educational system. The Books for Africa project will provide our schools with the basic resource of English-language books which are pivotal in developing the literacy levels of students by implementing school-wide reading programs, introducing leisure reading, and supplying teachers with materials to enhance their lessons. Thousands of students will benefit from the Siphumelela project by equipping them with the tools needed to speak, read, write, and understand English which is a basic and fundamental skill these children need to excel in their studies and become productive members in South African society. What a better way to help the future leaders of South Africa? Therefore we are kindly requesting your donations by March 15th – the deadline for sponsorship.

Here's How to Donate:

To donate simply follow this link on the Books for Africa projects page:

1. Scroll down until you see South Africa on the right-hand column.  Under South Africa, click on our project titled “We Succeed – Siphumelela.”
2. Click on the green “Donate Now” icon above the project description.
3. Fill out all the necessary information.
4. Under the “Additional Information” field on the donation form, please be sure to write the name of the US Peace Corps volunteer who you are sponsoring.  For example please indicate:  “Peace Corps Volunteer, Robin Alhaddad” as the name of the person who told you about Books for Africa.
5. Click “Next” and you’re done!

Method 2: Check
To pay by check:

1. Make out a check payable to:  Books for Africa
2. Either add a post-it note or indicate on the memo section of the check that you are sponsoring “South Africa – We Succeed-SIPHUMELELA, volunteer Robin Alhaddad”
3. Mail the check to:

Books for Africa
253 East 4th St., Ste. 200
St. Paul, MN 55101 USA

Thank you so much for your contribution and for your interest in our school literacy program!!  It is because of the hugely supportive family and friends like you that we are able to continually develop and enhance our English literacy programs in our schools. 

High School morning assembly
Morning assembly includes about 550 students