Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘south africa primary school’

A month in photos: January 2014

  • Opening prayer at school; school shuts down for a day so the community priest,  learners,  teachers and parents can pray for the upcoming school year
  • Sports day 2014
  • My counterpart’s creative art project with grade fours using some beads my friend Amy left from her visit
  • Bruce Springsteen concert in Joburg! This was his first time playing in South Africa. Unfortunately, I did not bring my camera or phone to the concert,  but got a few pictures before!  The concert was incredible – he played most of my favourite songs while we danced in the rain!

Month 10: library opening!

The library is finally open at my school. I’m almost done training my grade 5-7 library monitors who now know where to put back the books, how to help learners pick out appropriate books for their grade/reading level and how to check-out books.

I will slowly integrate the library into class time by bringing classes in and showing teachers how they can utilize it. To lead by example, I am currently introducing my grade 5s to the library and differentiating from fiction and non-fiction texts through a research project for my English class.

They are researching three countries: Ethiopia, India and Nigeria to decide where our class character will travel in my class story. Then, one-by-one each learner will tell me me why he should travel there for a speaking grade for term 2. We are researching those countries specifically because they are the only countries we have books about. Twelve kids are sharing one book, so I made photocopies of the books. They are also using an atlas from the 1980s that has a page about the USSR…the USSR still exists, right? Hmmm… maybe my characters Umhaha and Amandla can travel to the USSR? Yeah, you can get pretty creative with little and old resources…

This will be the project – other than my class – that I spend the most time for the rest of my time here. I’m ecstatic because it’s sustainable, the learners love it and it will teach the kids that reading is something fun and enjoyable.

The library with tablecloths and all

The library with tablecloths and all. My principal added the final touches to the library on a Saturday — ah-mazing, right?

That computer, straight from the 90s, works

Believe it or not, that computer, straight from the 90s, works

Ethiopia group working hard...or hardly working?

Ethiopia group working hard…or hardly working?


Researching what people eat in India


Taking a break from researching Nigeria… I guess the “throw yo hands up for the camera” is a worldwide “I’m a cool kid” thing


Sanele drawing a picture perfect map of Ethiopia


Some of my learners – like Siyanda – struggle with English, but are artistic. It’s nice to deviate from the norm and give them something to draw and label


Siyabonga and Buhle working together to draw the Nigerian flag

Dear Peace Corps high, won’t you stay for a while?

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

A month in photos: October 2012

Unfortunately, Halloween isn’t celebrated here, so there are no cute photos of little kids in costumes, but there are photos of…

  • Grade R graduation ceremony (which lasted three hours, with a guest speaker and all. It was quite amusing to watch the little ones squirm and pick their noses).
  • Walking to the closest PCV from my village, which is about a two-hour walk one-way.
  • Secondary school’s matric dance — the equivalent to high school prom — but during school hours. Grade 12s dress up, eat together in a decorated tent, listen to speakers and receive awards; parents attend the event also.
  • Weekend swimming at Buffalo River, close to Rorke’s Drift, with my fellow Americans.
  • A party at my mom’s house to “cleanse” her sister-in-law a year after her husband passed away. Traditionally, after the funeral and memorial, the family gets together at anytime, slaughters a cow, bakes and eats a lot of food and sweets, the men drink and everyone enjoys each other’s company.

Month three: living and learning, thinking and hoping

One of my best PCV-buddies Katie told me a good Peace Corps analogy: You’re so excited to get in the boat in the beginning, set sail and do everything you imagined, but then you’re stuck in the ocean for a long, long time, waiting, waiting, until you finally see the shore.

Right now, I’m excited to set sail, am making my breezy ride to the middle of the — at times rocky — ocean, and can’t stop thinking about how I can make my service meaningful here.

I’ve got plans in my little reporter’s notebook for days — initiatives I want to do at school such as spelling bees, phonetics activities, reading competitions, intramurals, SCHOOL NEWSPAPER, and more. I’ve got a little piece of paper hanging above my bed as a “blogging cue” that has ideas for stories during my time here; most of these ideas will take a while to report.

Yet, I also feel like a fish out of water on this little USS Peace Corps boat. I’m here for a reason — to live and thrive — but I’m going to need help from others, like a fish needs water, to implement anything I want to do here. That will happen in time, but not as fast as my head is daydreaming it will.

What makes me nervous is that my school is pretty unstructured: Teachers spend up to an hour into morning class to argue over something, don’t get to class on time, might not teach because they are “too tired”, listen to people come to the school and sell things (real life infomercials straight in my school’s staff room — I’ve learned that “there’s a meeting” doesn’t mean there is a meeting, just someone selling something), etc. My favorite moment of unstructurdness is on “sports day” when learners are out of class at 1:30 p.m. to play sports, but they end up just sitting around. The sports equipment is there and plentiful, but there is no structure for the kids to actually use it. Moreover, my principal seems to always be busy or away from the school attending meetings to really have the direct oversight that’s needed; she’s extremely hard to schedule a meeting with.

A lot of things I want to do here must be structured (I salute you, America), so I’m crossing my fingers that I can find a way around this “structural” clash of cultures to still be successful. Whenever a teacher isn’t in class or learners are wandering the school grounds, I stay clam and collected because I remind myself that this is their culture and how schools have been for decades. Teachers don’t see a problem, so how would they fix it? I’m hoping that by leading by example the next school year will help add more structure to my school.

I still haven’t been doing much at my school because there aren’t many classes to attend. Teachers are busy grading and working on evaluations. Thus, I started one of my secondary Peace Corps projects, which is to get the school library up and running.

The David Rattray Foundation, a non-profit that works closely with the schools in my area, has donated plenty of books to my library, including every kid’s favorite — Roald Dahl! The director of the non-profit, Ben Henderson, supports PCVs and we are very lucky to have him so close by! He comes by the schools every so often to deliver new books.

When I first arrived at school, the library had been sorted into fiction and non-fiction and by subject. However, there was no system in place that would allow learners to check books out. So, I’ve taken on a couple of duties:

1) Cleaning out the library and getting rid of every teacher or student workbook that was unnecessary. This took me about two weeks. I felt like I was on a reality show for hoarding; I found student workbooks that were from the 1980s. I lugged all the books out in a wheelbarrow and burned them (literally — trash is burned here). Satisfaction.

2) Making an “accession register” for all the books — a handwritten notebook with numbers according to every book so they can easily be tracked. I recorded 671 books!

3) Currently, I’m in the process of organizing the books alphabetically and color coding the books based on reading level in the fiction section and color coding and grouping the books based on subject in the non-fiction section.

4) After that, I’ll make return cards for all the books so they can be checked out and create an alphabetical title catalogue to make the books easier to find if a learner asks for a specific one.

Talk about tedious and repetitive work! My goal is to have the library up and running by next school year (January) so I can use it with my class and show other teachers how to utilize it in their classes. In the meantime, I will get some students on board as “library monitors” — some grade 5s have already been coming in during lunch to read and were so excited to see the new books Ben brought the other day. They’re top of my list.

The library has been keeping me busy and I feel somewhat accomplished. Americans like getting things done and that’s exactly what I’m doing. But don’t worry, I’m still socializing with the teachers now and then because building relationships is #1 in South Africa over getting things done quickly.

Other than spending M-F from 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at school, I have free time when I’m not doing chores. Community “integration” has been a bit challenging for me because the weather is bipolar where I live — blazing heat one day and vicious thunder and rainstorms the next. People rarely walk around unless they have a destination.Thus, I feel stupid walking around with no place to go even though I’d like to meet more people. I go to church with my host family occasionally, which is a community hub to greet people. However, as a female, it’s harder to make friends because being friendly to men here isn’t taken as “let’s be friends” but rather, “oh, can I get your number?”

Just the other day I was laughing and hanging out with my 19-year-old host brother and his friend to socialize, but two days later the friend knocked on my hut at night, asked for my number and asked to come in. Hmmm…REJECTED.

Whenever I go into town I am hit on or proposed to.Trust me, none of this is going undocumented: I am writing down all the hilarious things Zulu men say in attempt to woo-me-over and it will be published in a while. I’ve started telling people in my town and my community that “ngiya xolisa, kodwa I have” an American boyfriend, which is actually kind of fun. Clearly, he’s a hipster-preppy mix and a journalist (still searching for name suggestions?) This make-believe man has my heart back home, sorry Zulu men!

I haven’t met many females my age except my host sister and the secondary school’s admin clerk, who I’m hoping will agree to be my language tutor. On a normal day, I watch Generations, an over-the-top-so-bad-it’s-so-good soap opera, with my host family every night and hang out with them on their porch just to spend time with them. I’m molding my relationship with them as if I am part of the family rather than a tenant.

The other day my Mama and Sisi showed me family pictures from as far back as the 60s — some of my Mama and her siblings at the school I’m teaching at, pictures from my Mama’s wedding (you can tell she LOVED her husband. I really wish I could have met him) and some pictures even in front of my 20-year-old rondoval hut! My family has lived in my village for generations and still lives on the same property my Mama grew up on. Now, we live on her husband’s family’s property. I was so happy to learn more about their history and shared a couple of my own photos with them as well.

Women, like my Mama, in the community are seriously super women, just without the flying super power. I wouldn’t be surprised if later they evolve to have that, though. They do everything at home but herd the cattle and chop the wood. As a female, I’m finding my place in the culture. People are shocked when I tell them I can’t cook or I’m single. Which, obviously, ignites the common responses: “I will teach you how to cook!” or “I will find you a South African boyfriend and you will get married here!” Ha, have fun with those people!

My “cooking” has been made fun of plenty of times back in the states and frozen meals were my best friends. I’ve never learned how to really iron clothes. I don’t fold my laundry. Doing laundry in the states consisted of throwing all my clothes — regardless of color — into a machine at once. Cleaning my apartment or room to be spotless clean only happened every once in a while. It’s a running joke with my friends back in the states to feel sorry for whoever marries me (it will suck to be them — IF that happens).

Frighteningly, I’m becoming domesticated like the Zulu women I live among. I’m learning how to hand wash my clothes (which takes up to four hours sometimes) and scrub the coffee stains out of them. I clean and sweep my hut every day because cleanliness is a big deal to my family. Likewise, I’m learning how to cook without a fridge.

Daily meals consist of oatmeal for breakfast, fruit or dry cereal for lunch and a variation between a mix of grilled veggies (onion, tomato, butternut) with seasoning, lentils, sugar beans, soya mince (soy meat), flour tortillas from scratch, rice, pasta, or eggs and if I’m lucky some avocado or guacamole for dinner.

I’m going to get sick of eating the same thing every day after two years, but I’ve been pleased with it so far and my cooking isn’t horrible. I coined the term “saxican food” — a fusion of Mexican and South African food. My host family even loved the guacamole and tortillas I made for them. Rarely do people want to eat what I make, so that’s a score in my book!

Although I haven’t been eating anything so foreign, my body is still hating me right now. It doesn’t like eating the same thing every day and it really doesn’t enjoy trying to digest beans — big or small — all the time. I’ve been sick on-and-off since I arrived at site and hoping it isn’t an on-going thing like a parasite from water or something of that matter, but I doubt it.

The untold Peace Corps stories of dashing to the outhouse or puking outside your hut during the night are real. I am living proof — people just don’t like to talk about it because in our culture it’s taboo. Here, it isn’t and I’m giving you a real slice of life of what it’s like to adjust to a foreign country. News flash: You get sick and all you can do is laugh about it with your fellow PCVs.

I’m supposed to start team-teaching with a teacher next week. The English teacher is aware of this, so hopefully the plan follows through. If not, I’ll be taking on my own grade 5 class — wish me luck!

P.S. mine and Katie’s CYLA alumni story made its way to Peace Corps social media (the Tweeta and Facebook) thanks to City Year!

We are beyond thrilled that our ripples story was shared to such a wide audience because if we were City Year or Peace Corps applicants we would be “fired up” from the story; it demonstrates the power of service! Humble brag, but we’re pretty darn proud of both of these organizations.

Sorting through the fiction books and grouping them based on reading level…it’s a mess, I know

All the new books the David Rattray Foundation just donated! Can’t wait to read Roald Dahl books to my classes!

My completed hand-written library accession book. Hopefully people can read it…

Sala kahle,

Month two: Surprise, it’s an intombazane!

The primary school that I am volunteering at these next two years requested a girl (or as my principal would say, “Oh! It’s an intombazane!” (girl in isiZulu) and surprise, they got one! Well, just one without any hair.

Last Monday, my Kwa-Zulu Natal Battlefield Region PCV group met our principals. All five of us walked to the meeting, stood in a line and took guesses at which principal was ours. I remember thinking that I really wanted the older woman who had a long skirt and light pink-ruffled jacket on with a pin on her shirt that said, “I am an extraordinary woman.” She just seemed awesome and powerful. And I was right! That extraordinary woman is the principal I will be working with for the next two years. She named me “Mpho Mathebula”, which means “a gift from god” and Mathebula is my host family’s last name. Ya, no pressure or anything.

We had a meeting with our principals to go over what exactly we, as PCVs, are responsible for at school. My program director, Lydia, who is now my boss, went over two brochures with the principals to ensure that they were clear about why we are here and that we are not supposed to start teaching until the start of the next school year in January.

Now that I’m at my permanent site these next three months are my “phase 2″/community integration period of my Peace Corps service. Basically, I’ll be observing and interviewing teachers and my principal about their work, map my village for directions and where I can find community assets, talk to youth, identify a teacher-counterpart who I will work closely with, talk with community members and last but not least: try teaching a couple English classes with my counterpart and on my own. All of these tasks sound like a lot, but I have 13 weeks to complete them. That’s… a lot of time.

I attended school for the first time last week. I introduced myself in isiZulu to the learners (students are called learners here) during their morning assembly — every morning learners gather to sing religious songs, the national anthem and hear announcements the teachers may have.

As soon as I stepped out of the car with my principal a few teachers ran over to me, hugged me and started saying things in isiZulu. When I responded in isiZulu they couldn’t stop laughing (people here love that an American can speak some isiZulu — they’re laughing with you, not at you). Right then I had a feeling that I was in the right place at the right time.

The teachers at my school act like one big family, which is similar to my environment at Markham Middle School with my City Year team last year. They joke, laugh, playfully hit each other, call each other out and are always talking up a storm in isiZulu. From first impression, I can say that my school is definitely my kind of place!

South African schools — from what we’ve learned and observed during pre-service training — struggle a lot because many teachers don’t have the qualifications to teach and thus the learners are receiving an inadequate education. Many South African teachers were trained under Bantu education — during Apartheid when Africans were purposefully ill-trained as teachers so rural and township children would not be educated as white children were. Also, because English is the teachers’ second language, they have a hard time speaking it and revert to translating a lot from isiZulu, SiSwati, Xhosa, etc. for the learners, which is not conducive for learners to learn English.

Learners are taught in their home language during the Foundation Phase — in my village learners learn in isiZulu — from grade R (kindergarten) to grade 3. During grade 4, learners take on seven subjects all in English in the Intermediate Phase. They learn some English during their Foundation Phase, but only a little. Likewise, learners speak isiZulu at home and outside of school.

Ironically, the South African education standards are very similar to California education standards from what I’ve analyzed. Think about that: school is challenging in elementary and middle school for American students who speak English as their first language or learned English when they were in kindergarten. Now picture learning the same stuff suddenly after being taught in your home language. I seriously admire any South African who is fluent in English — it’s impressive considering how hard it must have been to learn it!

After observing a few teachings, including the two English teachers, I can say that I got lucky. All of the teachers at my school are good teachers and encourage learner participation, unlike other classrooms I have seen where a teacher will write notes on the board (that are often spelled wrong) and make the students copy them into their exercise books with little explanation. Many of the teachers live outside of my village and get paid more to come teach in a rural community with their qualifications. I ain’t complain’!

Yet, the best thing about my school that is something to rejoice about is that there is absolutely NO corporal punishment! Although it is outlawed in South Africa, some schools still use it (including some schools PCVs serve at). The teachers at my school would never lay their hands on a learner unless it was to hug or give them positive reinforcement. I can really tell that these teachers care about the students. And the best part about this is that the learners are still really well-behaved and respectful.

The learners say “good morning educator” whenever they walk by you, ask you in unison how you are when you walk into class and do as they are told. I am in HEAVEN coming from Markham Middle School!

Behavior and classroom management was such an issue last year at Markham that I still cannot grasp the idea that these learners will listen to me. I’m still self-conscious about interacting with them because I’m so used to students talking back and not listening.

The atmosphere at my school, as detailed, is awesome, but there are also some reservations. The principal has a lot of faith in me and my teaching abilities, as do the other teachers. I’m worried that I won’t live up to their expectations. However, I can start some secondary projects like organizing the unused library, implementing a school newspaper, a girls club, HIV education, etc. I still have a lot of time to figure out what exactly I’ll be doing with my secondary projects.

It was raining and unbearably cold my first week at site, so I didn’t get a chance to meet many people besides those at school. This week, the sun is out and shining and I’m on the move! I attended a community meeting today with the Head of Department (HOD) of my school and introduced myself in isiZulu (ngiyafunda isiZulu, kodwa ngikhuluma ncane. Ngifuna ukufunda isiZulu — I am learning isiZulu, but I can only speak a little. I want to learn isiZulu). Although I thought I was the first Volunteer at my site, I am not. There was a health Volunteer who lived very close to where I am staying; she closed service last March. Many people ask if I know “Ngelady” (her African name) and are familiar with why I am in the village. Because the community members have seen and interacted with a PCV before, they know that I am a resident and will be living in my village for a long time. Everybody is welcoming and I feel very safe here.

My village is very, very religious; everybody attends the Anglican church every Sunday. I attended with my host brothers and the pastor (or reverend? I really don’t know my religions) introduced me to the congregation, which was nice because now pretty much the whole community knows I am here. I am not religious, but I plan to go to church every once-in-a-while because it is a good community asset for integration. South Africans value relationships over work or anything, so I must make strong relationships with people to be successful here.

With that said, there have been some clashes of cultures since I’ve been here. I am a very independent-type of person — I l-o-v-e doing things alone and being alone. I usually just want to go to my room after a long day at school without any disturbances.

Zulu people are always together enjoying each other’s company. It’s amazing how much they value each other, but it’s not my culture. Thus, I think my host family will realize soon enough that it’s in my culture to need some “me” time. It’s been hard to get that “me” time, though, because I always feel pressured to socialize (or I get eight missed calls and some texts from my host brother in the span of an hour. You best believe I told him that in my culture you do not call that many times and I will not pick up if he does so). It’s all hard, frustrating and a little too new for me, but I know it will just take some time to integrate. I’m aware that my hardest time here will (likely) be my first month at site.

Hamba kahle, ngilala manje (go well, I sleep now),

SmallTransparentLogoMpho Mathebula