Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Photo by Teresa Rafidi

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tales from the Precipice

Building for Books (Article by Woody)

The corrugated metal roof on the
new library goes up!
Following our trip to Pretoria in mid-May to attend our Close Of Service (COS) preparation conference with Peace Corps (have we really been here that long already?), we took a short day-trip to Bedfordview just outside of Johannesburg to pay our second visit to the RotaryClub's Humanitarian Aid and Book Donation Centre. This time our visit was on behalf of our high school, and in preparation for the nearing completion of the new Literacy Centre at that school. Once again we worked to pick out a wide selection of textbooks, reference books, novels, travel books, and anything else that will add variety and flavor to the new library.

Roof beams up and walls plastered...
In addition to picking out books, we were also there to check over and coordinate delivery of a number of computers collected and donated to the schools in our village by the previous PCVs Adam and Lora Willard's home-town church. Between the computers and books from Rotary, plus our share of the shipment from Books For Africa (click here to donate now if you haven't yet!), the generous donations from Scarsdale Women's Club Operation Bookshelf, Darien Book Aid Plan, and many other sources – the kids and adults at our village high school will soon have the resources to expand their access to information, improve their understanding of the world at large, and maybe, just maybe, improve the overall English literacy and graduation rate at the school. Hopefully completion of the new library and the delivery of the shipment of books and computers will coincide such that we can wrap setting up the library and get enough teachers and students oriented to using it before it's time to leave South Africa! Eish! The countdown is on. . .

Xidudla (She-dude-la) (Article by Robin)

As my host mom likes to remind me – “U ya xidudla” which basically means 'you're fat' in xiTsonga. Since coming to South Africa, I've been gaining a lot of weight. I've probably gained between 20 and 30 lbs since being here – although it is difficult to tell exactly how much I've gained as I don't have a scale available to measure. My only gauge is the size of my pants which seems to have gone up about 2 or 3 sizes. Have you heard of the college freshman 15? Well, I've got the Peace Corps 25...

One thing that I really miss about America is having the convenience of an indoor gym where I can exercise. My whole life, I've struggled with keeping extra weight off. But it is really difficult here in South Africa due to a few factors. Not having a climate controlled gym to workout in, there are few alternatives for exercise other then just going outside and walking. However, the first problem is that about 8 or 9 months out of the year here are extremely hot and humid, making walking outside a bit unappealing. Even if the weather conditions do cooperate, there really isn't much of any place to walk. We have two choices – walk in the dirt road where, out here in the country, cars seem to constantly speed and run you off the road regardless if you are a cow, a goat, a child, or an adult. Or the second option is to walk in the uneven and bushy fields where you constantly have to dodge cow patties, broken glass, and make sure that you don't step on any snakes. There are no sidewalks or even pathways to walk, run, or exercise. The other problem with going outside to walk around the village is that many villagers don't just go around exercising. So, when we do go outside, Woody and I constantly get strange stares from people in the village and are regularly asked “Mi vuya kwihi?” – “Where are you coming from?” “You are returning from where?” Basically that is how people ask – “Where are you going?” To which we have to reply just “jiga jiga” (here and there) or “famba fambani” (going around).

Additionally, besides the unconscionable heat, the other problem that contributes to weight gain is the lack of food choices. There are no low fat, low calorie, sugar free food choices in the village. In fact, there aren't many choices at all. Here in the village corner shop, there is only one brand of bread. Your only choice is choosing between the white or the brown government subsidized bread. In the US, I could easily find lower calorie options for just about everything in the grocery store. Here even when we travel to our closest shopping town, the only option available is the full fat versions of almost everything. It was just within the last few months that we could even find fresh fruits and vegetables sold in our village. We always had to go outside the village to our shopping town for fresh produce. Most of the processed foods sold in the grocery stores here are packed full of MSG, salt, and lots of fat. I'm jealous of those younger PCVs who can survive off of cake, cookies, chips and candy and not gain an ounce of weight. So, needless to say, one thing that I'm looking forward to when we get back home is eating a healthier diet and being able to exercise stress free on a regular basis.

Advancing Seams. . . (Article by Robin)

Chains do not hold people together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years. ~Unknown

Student making a
reversible baby dress
In September last year I started teaching a community sewing class to adults after school on Fridays. The goal of the project was to teach community members usable, marketable vocational skills to help supplement their income. The Ku Rhunga Klub students have been quickly advancing and are becoming skilled in making a variety of different products. Currently the club creates items such as girl's reversible baby dresses, boy's reversible rompers/jumpers, reversible aprons, and reversible shoulder bags. From our humble beginnings as a weekly adult sewing class, the Ku Rhunga Klub Project is beginning to expand to an income-generating micro business. The income generated from this project will be split between supplementing the personal income of the participants and providing additional or improved equipment and supplies for the group. The goal will be for each item sold, approximately half of the profit will go to the club member who created the item as labor compensation and half of the profit will be given back to the Ku Rhunga Klub Project to save for needed equipment and materials.

Student working with new sewing machine
In April of this year, the Ku Rhunga Klub was generously granted R4,000 as an enterprise development investment from Ulusaba Pride 'n Purpose. The grant is to be used for equipment expenses and to purchase more sewing machines. The club was also given a 6 months interest free loan to be used to purchase needed fabrics and haberdashery items. So recently we were able to take a shopping trip to the big city! We traveled to Hazyview and Nelspruit along with Lindsay from PnP and the Ku Rhunga Klub's newly elected chairperson to purchase sewing machines and supplementary sewing accessories such as shears, machine oil, irons, and seam rippers, fabrics, etc.

Woody sets up the new sewing machines
We came back from our trip with 2 new sewing machines and a ton of fabrics and additional accessory items in tow. The Klub members have been excited about the prospects of the project and working hard to make the variety of items in the initial order, and a little side income as well. They've already completed a few of the items in the order, and seem to be even more enthusiastic about our now twice weekly Klub meetings and classes. The Klub has also attracted the attention of a few other new community members interested in learning or improving their sewing skills. We even have one teacher from the school who used to sew some traditional items as a side business, but has not had access to a machine in a number of years.  So far, I'm very proud of how much the students have advanced and can't wait to see what other items they come up with next! 

Student showing off her
reversible apron
Student showing off his
reversible vest
Back side of the
reversible vest

Students showing off their wares