Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Worthwhile Way to Spend a Day

Finding volunteer opportunities here is more difficult than one would think. Although, there are clearly enormous needs everywhere, it seems that most opportunities come through organizations in which you travel here on a “volunteer mission”. Without a car to drive, I have also been unable to find anything I could do in the nearby area. But as fate would have it, I met two girls, Dawn and Courtney from the U.S., who are here on a volunteer mission with a Baptist organization. One of the locations they volunteer is a school in Bapsfontein (about 30 minutes from where I live) in a rural area near a township (i.e. squatter camp or shanty town). The children are bused in from the township on Monday and most of them sleep there during the week and then go home on the weekends. It is a Christian school that receives private funding and while the student’s families are expected to pay a small tuition, most of them are unable to and the school does not typically turn kids away. Dawn and Courtney, said the school is doing wonderful things but their needs are great. The kids have stubs for pencils and have to share an eraser. Some of the children sleep 3 to a bed! One teacher has both 2nd and 3rd grade in the same room totaling about 65 students! The girl’s (aka Dawn and Coutrney) volunteer role at the school is to work individually with the kids on reading or math and to play with them during their breaks! I begged the girls to take me with them and they said they would check with the school director to see if I could come. I was thrilled when they called to let me know that they would be happy to have me and that one of the other volunteers could pick me up! The best part was my mom was here visiting and she was able to go have this experience too!

Veronica, the woman who runs the school started it about 12 years ago. She is an incredibly faithful and devout Christian and must be quite saintly as it is an overwhelming task she has taken on. When we first arrived at the school we went into the 2nd and 3rd grade class in time to help the students with their multiplication! It was quite shocking to walk into such a large class of students all quietly working on their assignment! Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the room was buzzing with noise and excitement because of the new visitors that arrived! I felt horrible, as I am afraid we may have been more of a hindrance than help at first! We were asked to walk around and grade the student’s work. Immediately the kids were waving for each of us to come help them and saying “teacher, teacher come”. They loved the attention and the help and it was such a treat to work with them although it was difficult to give them adequate time simply because there were so many of them. The methods they were using to solve the problems were taxing and it was difficult to figure out how to help them without teaching them a whole new concept! However, it was an amazing feeling to be back in the classroom working one on one kids! I loved every minute of it!

After working with the students we had an amazing opportunity to go into the township with Veronica. I am fascinated by these living conditions, but since they are not typically safe places to visit I never expected to be able to get to tour one! Having lived in South Africa all her life and teaching children from these areas, Veronica was very familiar with the “rules” and way of life in a township and shared a great deal of information with us. These shanty towns have no electricity, running water or sewer. They also don’t have garbage men that come and collect the trash. It was surprising that while there are piles and piles of trash at the entrance of the township, the inner part of the township was quite tidy. It was clear that they take some pride in their small spaces as the dirt was swept and their things organized.

Photobucket Immediately upon entering the community, Veronica introduced us to Gogo (Zulu for grandma). She was a lovely little women, with a well kept property. She didn’t speak much English but communicated with Veronica in Afrikaans. She allowed us to go inside her home but almost seemed embarrassed about the appearance and entered first to fuss around to make sure it was clean for her visitors. The houses in the townships are made of aluminum, and not much larger than a shed. Gogo’s residence had three separate quarters, a kitchen area with a small iron fireplace and camping stove and two rooms with twin size beds and clothes. An African man I recently met had told me that all he needs is a house and a job and that even these living conditions suffice, although he admitted they are quite unsafe as they are built right next to each other and if one starts on fire several others will burn down also. There is community “block watch” type groups organized in these areas but I can’t imagine one would feel very safe living in a home that could be broken into quite easily. Veronica shared with us some of the disturbing things that happen in these communities. Things that I can’t repeat and that are so common throughout this culture that it is just the “norm”. Often times, Veronica, and the other teachers have to wait until the children have identified for themselves that what they are experiencing is not okay before they can begin to help them overcome it.

We saw many children running around this township and asked why they were not in school. Education does not seem to be important to some families or the children are just not being well cared for. Without an education I am not sure how you would ever escape this lifestyle. I can appreciate and even envy that some people are simpler than me and do not need a big house or the same necessities I may need but I can’t wrap my head around the idea that one would not seek ways to better themselves and receive an education. I asked Veronica how many of her children go on to college and she said there have been quite a few. Some have even gone on to study civil engineering and one girl she told us about is now an accountant at one of the largest companies in South Africa! This school is changing lives and I am so grateful that I can be there, however brief, to witness it!

PhotobucketWhen we arrived back at the school after our township tour, it was break time and we were able to spend our last hour playing with the kids on the playground! You would have thought we were celebrities by the way the kids surrounded us. That asked us millions of questions and completely picked us apart! They commented on my blue eyes and my long hair (everyone has to keep their hair short at this school, even the girls) they asked my mom about why her hair was two different colors and which color was hers and which was dyed! The best was when they asked why I had two wedding rings and I answered that one was a wedding ring and one was an engagement ring. One little girl said “oh that is what he gave you when he asked you to marry him, what did you say?” I told her that I said “YES” then she said “and then later you can say, I am through with you now, and give it back”! I asked her where she got that from and she said she saw it on a Soapie! A few of the kids tried to teach me some Zulu and they thought it was very funny to watch me try to make their sounds (this language involves a lot of clicking, popping and sounds in the throat)! When my mom and I began taking pictures, the kids really got excited. Everyone wanted their picture taken and then of course they wanted to see it. Several of them wanted pictures by themselves or with just a few of their friends! We would have had to take pictures all day, except we were saved by one of the teachers who wanted us to watch the older kids do a puppet show. It was an amazing day, and I am so grateful I have finally found a worthwhile way to spend my abundant amount of time!

1 comment:

  1. Holy cow!! This is right up my alley! I would loooove to be working with kids who need my help and think I am super cool. I can't believe all the amazing experiences yo are having in south Africa. What an opportunity for you and your kiddos!