Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Adventures with Words and Chasing Chocolate

Let's Get Creative (Article by Robin)

In March, I facilitated a lesson with Grade 10 and Grade 11 students at our high school regarding a creative story writing assignment. At the beginning of the lesson, I talked about how to introduce characters and the setting. I discussed the three main points of view (1st, 2nd, and 3rd person) and the 5 parts of a story. I gave them a brief overview of how to write a story. Then I handed out a worksheet to help the students write an outline or skeleton of their story. I also gave them each a picture from a magazine and asked them to use that as a starting point. The people in the pictures became their characters which they had to name and the background in the photo became their initial setting. I know that many people have trouble just coming up with a story on their own. So the idea was to use the magazine pictures as a starting point. We started with story outlines, then I had them write a rough draft, then lastly the final drafts of their creative stories. The goal of this project was to try and develop the learners imaginative abilities, help them learn and apply knowledge of the writing process, and especially help them practice their English writing skills. 

In the end, I got some great stories including a story about Captain Masiya who is a captain of a ship who sails to a place where birds will sing for you. But his two crewmen named Vincent and Reckson were fighting to the death until Vincent killed Reckson and the ship sank. Vincent then had to tell the tale of the ship's woes from prison.

We also had a story titled “The Unusual Wedding” about a beautiful wedding that took place on a ship in the middle of the ocean. It was the wedding of Elizabeth and John. Everything ran smoothly during the wedding until suddenly a storm came and shook the boat and John fell overboard. Elizabeth then jumped into the water and swam to save her love John. She carried him on her shoulders back to shore and the couple lived happily ever after.

Another story was about a teenage girl who saves an entire village of people who are suffering from heart disease by getting the whole town to exercise. She called a town meeting and encouraged people to exercise thereby saving people's lives.

We also had some sad stories including one about a teenage village girl who is tricked by her school friends into going to the mall in the big city and who then force her into having a “date” with an older man who locks her in his car and rapes her. But then the girl goes home and tells her mother what happened and they go to the police who finds the man and puts him in jail for 50 years.

Speaking of stories, here is another short story written last year by a grade 7 student who was attending Woody's computer classes. A few of the Art Club boys came to the computer lab after school and Woody taught them how to use the Paint program. In addition to drawing pictures on the computer, he asked them to write a short story to go along with the picture. The story is titled: 

3 Rooms by Isaac
This room is divided in to 3 ROOMS.
The first room is for me and my brother.
The next room is for my two sisters.
The last room is for my father and my mother.
There is no shower but there is a bath room.
Where we bath in when it is cold.
There is swimming pool where we swim here when it is hot.
MY father keep our family BEAUTIFUL by planting trees (and) green grass.
There are many trees that give us shadow.
When it is a time of fruits we eat more fruits like
Paw paws (papaya), mangoes, bananas and apples.

Story and picture by ISAAC (grade 7)

Show Me and I May Remember (Article by Robin)

Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.” ~ Doorknob (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

One observation that we have made while teaching here in South Africa is that regardless of their literacy level and educational background, many people are often more visual learners. People tend to need to be shown rather than told how to do things. For example, when we share an American food item with our host mom she often wants to know how it was made. Once we baked her banana bread and she loved it. So, she asked me how to make it and I wrote out the recipe, read over it with her, and gave her the baking instructions. But she still insisted that I come into her house that day and give her a cooking demonstration on how to make it – never mind that it was actually Woody and not me who made the bread. Also, while teaching sewing classes, I've noticed that my students prefer that I demonstrate something rather then give them the pattern instructions. Once I was helping one of the students use the school's industrial sewing machine. Since it is an industrial machine, I wasn't familiar with how it needed to be threaded. So, while my student immediately tried to thread the machine incorrectly, realizing that it wasn't right, I took out the manual to see how it should be done while my student stared in amazement that I would actually read the manual for instructions. Also, although Woody has repeatedly tried to show people how to use the 'Help' menu in Word or Excel, they still often have trouble understanding how to do things just by reading the instructions. So, he is left having to give a demonstration of how to do something even though the person he is helping just finished reading the step-by-step instructions in the Help menu. This also might explain why the 'Self Help' section of the school libraries are generally left untouched.

Having knowledge or knowing how to do something is highly prized here in South Africa. In America and the 'West' in general, it's common for people to freely give other people information. But that's not always the case in Africa. People tend to guard their knowledge in the same way that Americans might guard their personal items. Knowledge is an expensive commodity here. So, taking the time to show someone how to do something is highly revered. It shows that you care enough about someone to share with them.

Nonetheless, visual learning is definitely not a bad thing. It just means that we have to be more conscious of it when we are teaching people here in South Africa. I know that I myself have certainly gotten frustrated many times with sewing instructions that don't have good pictures to better explain what to do and how to do it. And I also have a funny story about Woody and a new washing machine when once he didn't read the directions.

The Birthday Race (Article by Robin)

What's the best way to prove to yourself on your birthday that you are not getting old? Why complete a marathon, of course... This year, the Longtom marathon happened to land on my birthday. Again like last year, Woody ran the 56K ultra marathon and this time I walked the half marathon. So, I spent my birthday walking my ass off until my hips were sore, my legs were sore, and my feet had blisters. Um, what the hell was I thinking doing this anyway??

Cold and foggy morning of the race
We started the 21K at 7 AM in Mauchsberg at 2,150 m above sea level at the top of a section of the Drakensberg mountains. It was quite chilly that morning when we started the race due to the thick layer of fog in the air. Typical me, not being dressed properly – I was freezing since I was dressed for the heat in a short sleeved shirt. Luckily I had brought along my trusty MP3 player which I didn't use to listen to music – but instead to keep my inner ears warm as I tend to get ear aches in cold windy weather. At the start of the race, my race companions and I started out running mostly just to keep warm. After we got our blood flowing again, we slowed down to a brisk walking pace.

Me and one of my walking partners
A few kilometers in, we got to the first well equipped waterpoint where people handed us water, soda, candy, bananas, and other high calorie energy goodies. Which helped to keep my spirits up but didn't do me much good for trying to burn calories off. Instead of burning calories, I was consuming them. But damn, they were good! I guess there should be some type of payoff for putting yourself through this kind of grueling exercise. Anytime I was starting to get tired, at least I knew that there was another waterstation coming up soon which meant that I would get candy!

Woody coming in toward the finish line
As the fog started to clear off, a beautiful view began to emerge. We could finally look around us and saw a picturesque view of the valley below and the surrounding mountains. As we descended down the mountain, we eventually reached the town of Lydenburg. As we got to the town, cars were literally running us off the road. By the time my walking companions and I got about 13 or 14K into the race, there were several of the faster 56K ultra people who were starting to pass us. However, one cool part was when we got to see the first female 56K runner coming in to the finish line. Additionally, the one female PCV in our group who ran the ultra marathon was the second female to finish the ultra race and the first PCV ultra runner to cross the finish line. It was great to see all these iron women. It definitely made me wish that I had gotten my grandfather's marathon running gene. Aaargh, why didn't I get that gene??

Woody and Robin at the finish line
After crossing the finish line and getting that well deserved medal, ;o) I tended to my sore legs, kicked off my shoes, and waited for Woody to come in. Woody arrived at the 7h 42m mark. I was so relieved to finally see him come in. Knowing how much pain I was in, I couldn't even imagine what he must be going through having run an ultra marathon. But after we finally got on the bus and back to the backpackers where all the PCVs were staying and took a quick shower, there was a full buffet of food awaiting us. Then I got to celebrate my birthday with cake and ice cream and surrounded by lots of friends and other PCVs. So, what more could you ask for on your birthday? Well, okay, I guess you could ask for a trip to Cape Town. Because that's what we did next. We spent the next 5 days over the Easter school holiday on an all too brief trip to Cape Town. Click here to check out our Picasa photo album to see pictures of our trip to Cape Town. We went to Table Mountain, the Cape Peninsula, Boulders beach and more. There are lots of cute pictures of penguins and dassies...

African Jackass Penguin
A rock Hyrax ("dassie") at Table Mountain

Woody and Robin at Cape Point

Books for Africa (Article by Robin and Woody)

“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

The progress on the new library at the high school is coming along well.  The masonry work is finished and the roof is going up.  Next we just need the electrical work and a few coats of paint.  And of course books!  We want to thank all of you who have donated to our Books for Africa project:

        Helen Al-haddad
        Rhoda & Ben Hill
        Cely & Joe Alhaddad
        Marla & Mohammad Al-Sulaihim
        Tim Branaman
        Kearstin Brewer
        Jennifer Hill & Aaron Martin
        Gillian Grant
        Natalie Eckberg

The response we have received so far has been hugely positive, but a large gap remains between the money we have raised and our funding target.  So far, our group of 10 PCVs have received donations totaling $8,475, about 53% of our total goal of USD $16,000.  Clearly, we still have a lot of ground to cover and we won’t be able to do it without your support.

Please keep in mind that the library building itself will be complete and ready to start housing books and welcoming students in less than 5 weeks.  Additionally, our service will reach an end in September / October this year.   While we hope that our schools will receive another set of volunteers after our service ends, we would like to know that there will be books coming to stock the library, even if they do not get here until after we have left.  So time is of the essence.  If you plan to support this project, do it now!  The sooner we reach that fundraising goal, the sooner the container of books will be on a boat and on it's way across the ocean.  When you break down the cost, the books are valued at around $1 each so even a $10 donation helps support 10 books!  It takes a village to raise donations for a library!  So, be rest assured that any amount you send will be making a huge difference in the lives of our high school kids. 

Please help us and take five minutes to follow the link to our project titled “We Succeed – Siphumelela”:

1. Scroll down to the green “Donate Now” icon above the project description.
2. Fill out all the necessary information.
3. 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:  “Robin Alhaddad” as the name of the person who told you about Books for Africa.
4. 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, 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 helping to make our kids futures just a little bit brighter!