Sunday, October 26, 2008

Work is picking up:

This week I visited the 8 schools I will be working come January. I have had warm receptions by principals. Some I have been amazed at their commitment and their attempts to support the needs of students, but many are burnt out and the schools show it. I get very strange looks by folks who see a white guy driving through the townships by himself.

I have only felt threatened once. On a Saturday afternoon I was taking a student home from Marimba practice. I had given him a bike that had been donated. As we pulled up to his place (he lives by himself at age 17 because both his parents died of AIDS), and I said hello to a 8 guys across the street who were walking up to the car he told me to start driving because we were about to be robbed. Well....nothing happened, and I learned a lesson about trusting your instinct and not your good intentions always.

I don't stop to ask for directions in the myriad of dirt roads.....I just keep moving untill I find the school or a police officer. I don't live in fear, but do drive a bit more cautiously. Within the gates of the school or amongst my amaxhosa friends, I am fine because people know what I am about. My best safety has been in the relationships I have built thus far.

Most folks that live in the townships are wonderful and kind people, however as poverty remains an issue and as people live within the trap of finding excuses and feeling they are owed something, there are an increasing number of desperate folks who see race as a reason to make demands or rationalize why helping each other is not an option. It is hard not to be racist in South Africa. Socio-economic status, cultural differences, and decades of hurt has put a haze of indifference to the real issues beyond race. Education, social engagement, and people taking ownership of the issues in their community both black and white are necessary to get past the race card that is played so often here.

Life in a picture:

Nomamyasi is one of my many mothers around the world. She is my mother because I am the big brother to her 5 boys from the after school program. I take care of her boys and she takes care of me.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

No news has been good news

I do apologize for my lack of communication to any and all of my friends and family. Fortunately no news is good news. Life has been pulling me along with full force. The following is a snap shot of what has been happening in my work and play.

+ Delayed Literacy Project: I am working with 3 coloured schools (schools that teach Afrikaans and English to the children with primarily mixed racial backgrounds. I have been doing basic reading assessments and have found that about 1/4 of the students are unable to recognize letter sounds and basic sightwords in grade 4. I am working along side teachers and volunteers to set up curriculum and training to address the needs of struggling learners and push the students that are able to read so they don't fall behind.

+ Foundational Phase Literacy Campaign: One of the most exciting things about the program I am working with is that we are partnering with the school district. It can be very hard to work with the government sometimes because of pride issues and an innability to realize that help is needed. The national government has realized that ignorance of the staggering issues of illiteracy in South Africa does not solve the problem. I went to a conference where the governments said we need to fix this problem and it needs to start with the early grade levels where learning to read is essential. The first step to solving a problem is recognition there is a problem....getting the teachers in classrooms to get on board is another issue.....and this is where I come into the picture. So very exciting to be doing the work along side the district and department of education. We have just had some very progressive meetings that are beginning to set things in motion.

+ Reading Camp: As some of you know, the brothers at the monastary partnered with the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington Kentucky to provide a reading camp for 16 disadvantaged students in the area with potential to be good readers. The camp in July was a huge success, and with that has been this incredible momentum where we provided a Saturday camp to show teachers what we did over the camp. To see 16 teachers so eager to learn how to enjoy reading and writing, as well as a bit of art was so exciting. Most often when teachers go to a training they complain about the food or the venue. At the weekend camp the teachers volunteered their saturday (no pay).

+ Mobile Library: Through Kary the person directing the Reading Camp we were able to recieve 60,000 Rand (roughly $7500) worth of books for the reading camp and to implement a mobile library. The mobile library would be supervised by me as I will be traveling between about 8 schools in the area. We would have 8 boxes of books labeled and covered that would rotate every 5 to 6 weeks. This would give the schools a chance to see about 100 new books every six weeks.

+ Learning to read opens the doors to seeing a life that is possible outside of what you have been provided. With the issues of poverty and A.I.D.S and illiteracy and corruption in this country , empowering teachers to find job satisfaction and feel capable and empowered to support the next generation of South Africa is the best way I know how to be involved. I love going to work every day. I have said this before, but I will say it many times, because it has been so worth the sacrifice of relatively low pay and distance from home. I haven't spoken to many about fund raising outside the amazing support of my close family and local church. I have been saving for a time when your money and support can go directly towards the empowerment of the people here. Something about the kiddos I work with begging in the streets really makes me self concious about asking for help. That and my pride.

+ I still get a chance to play: Aside from leading a bible study for University students and playing guitar for Sunday evening church and Taco Thursdays, I take my weekends. I had an amazing adventure hiking the Wild Coast with 2 close buddies. Shane and Pete had been dreaming about our 160 kilometer walk along deserted beaches for 5 years. I had the privilege of dreaming and planning over the last year. It is advanters like these that keep me going able to reminisce and take joy in the accomplishment of seeing an idea to completion. I've also been getting into the rugby scene a bit. Seeing as the last Taco Thursday included 17 ladies and myself, I felt it might be good to make time to hang out with the dudes a bit.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Wild Coast and Work

I just returned from an amazing 7 day walk over 160 kilometers of beach, where waterfalls dropped into the ocean, whales and dolphins played in the waves, and our social interactions with the locals made for an icredible experience. I came back to find that while I was gone, 60,000 Rand (Roughly $7500)worth of books has been donated to the idea of creating a mobile library where I rotate books between schools so every month the school gets around 70 new books. So amazing! More pics and details later....