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Posts tagged ‘South Africa’

A month in photos: April 2014

  • Although we just had a week long break from school the first week of April, a bunch of South African holidays collided, so we got another week off! Shawn came down for a visit for and then we spent a few days at Umzinyathi house on Fugitive’s Drift Lodge’s property with Laura, Monica and Katie. (A cute and secluded budget/self-catering house in the Battlefields.) Laura’s mom booked us for a little staycation — thanks Mama Bram!!!
  • Happy 37th Birthday Monica! (She thought we forgot. Little did we not…we had been planning some activities for about a month now. Lots of surprises and good food for her!)
  • Climbing up Isandlwana mountain, which is close to Katie’s site. (Isandlwana is where the Zulus and British fought in 1879, and the Zulus won.)
  • Yes, this month was American-based. No, I’m not done with my library,  and thus no new project pictures.
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Everyone can learn a lot from my sister

When I first arrived at my host family’s house way back in September 2012, I had been told I had a sister the same age as me. She was nowhere to be found.  It wasn’t too soon until I found out that she had been admitted to the hospital due to a miscarriage at seven months because of high blood pressure. When she returned home, I remember meeting her for the first time. It was somber moment,  as we quietly sat next to the wood stove to warm up. I knew she was happy to meet me, but it just wasn’t the right time.

As months went on, obviously my relationship with her grew. She told me how much she wanted a baby, and how last time it just had been the wrong time. I reassured her everything happens for a reason.

Late March, I got a knock on my hut door. It was her beaming with joy, delivering the news that she was pregnant again. Her and her boyfriend were delighted. Since then, she has taken every precaution possible and been to and forth from the doctor’s. She was determined to make it right this time with anything she had control over.

A few weeks ago, she had her second miscarriage at seven months in. The doctors cannot give her a reason why.

I sat on writing about what’s been going on with my family for quite some time. Mostly because it’s personal and everyone deserves a certain right to privacy during challenging times.  But as the weeks have gone on, I’ve realised more and more that I should write about this – and in fact, celebrate my sister.

I know an American reading this may say 24 is far too early to want a kid so badly/have one. I completely agree in our culture. But in her culture, it’s pretty incredible she has waited this long. All of her friends have at least two children. Not to mention, her boyfriend has planned for it and saved money. This is something that is rare, as usually babies just come along as something that “just happens”.

My sister would make an incredible mother; my mom would be the fun-loving gogo. My sister’s boyfriend and his family would be very involved.

She knows that. We all know that. Then we look around our community and see so many young teen mothers, kids who were unexpected and being raised by gogo at home with young mothers living elsewhere or too busy, absent fathers, and come back to our perfect set up. My sister and the two families involved deserve a little one. So why can’t it happen?

They say God only knows; I say everything happens for a reason and sometimes it takes a while to see what that reason is, good or bad.

Life. That’s just life, right?

Well, that’s my sister’s attitude even after going through this twice. She has said to me: “There is nothing I can do about it now. I must move on. That’s life.”

She carried the baby after the miscarriage for three weeks and gave birth to a stillborn. I never heard her complain once about being in pain. And when doctors were telling her conflicting information, she sat there calm and collected. Of course she cried, and seeing her at the funeral was heartbreaking. However, she has gone on with normal life as is, and as if nothing had happened.

It’s not that she doesn’t care that it happened. It’s her reaction to the situation within her cultural norms – Zulu women are brave, extremely strong and have a high threshold for pain and suffering. My sister falls directly into this description, and may be just one of the strongest people I’ve met.

My sister is one example of a woman in my community enduring such strife with a smile on her face. I can only imagine what other women take and handle.

Everyone can learn a lot from my sister. Life happens and sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way you planned, but you may have no control over it. You’ve got to pick the pieces up and keep on going, just like many Zulu women do.

Amandla / strength

Month 14: I’d like to give an appreciation…

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to drag myself away from City Year culture. I find myself doing the silent applause in meetings; I use hands-up in  class to get the kids to shut up; I recite Ripples of Hope to my colleagues when they need a lift-me-up, and yes, I still do appreciations.

Hands up – I have an appreciation!

Indeed, this is an old photo; I don't have hair! Yet it speaks volumes to those I'd like to give an appreciation to!

Indeed, this is an old photo; I don’t have hair! Yet it speaks volumes to those I’d like to give an appreciation to.

This month I’d like to give my school an appreciation.

Term three recently ended and all of our students took the Annual National Assessment (ANA) test. Primary schools take this standardized English, home language and maths test to measure improvement.

Rural South African learners abysmally fail this test – 15 percent of 6th graders passed English in 2012 – each year. Sometimes there are mistakes on the test, the wording of the test is beyond any primary school’s kids grasp of English, and believe it or not (earlier this year, true story) the test can have an incomplete story on it. This time around, we got lucky. The test covered most things I had done in class with my learners (besides poetry…sorry kids!) and was about topics kids anywhere in South Africa can relate to: a story about dogs, instructions about planting a garden and a poem about a family.

The teachers at my school started preparing  a good few weeks before by giving the kids tests from past years; the maths teacher even offered 50 Rand to the learner who scored the highest on the grade 5 maths practice test!

As soon as my school received the envelopes of the tests, my principal had us open them to ensure there were enough tests for our kids. This – in no way – was a hint to cheat on the test. My principal is a virtuous and extraordinary woman and would never cheat on a test or do anything that disobeys the South African royalty of rules.

We counted the tests, put them back in the bag and brought them to the principal’s office to wait until test day. We then administered the tests according to schedule and everything seemed fine. That is, until the day the world ended.

On the last day of ANA testing, an advisor from the district randomly popped up at school. Grade six had not begun writing the maths test yet. The advisor saw that the tests had been opened and that one was missing. The grade six maths teacher took one to do the problems herself so she could grade the tests afterwards; we had yet to get the answer key from the district.

Chaos ensued and everyone was rushing around, whispering in Zulu and laughing. I knew something was up, but I always have to wait for my counterpart to brief me on the gossip in English.

As I was sitting in the library marking my kid’s tests, my counterpart rushes in me and to tell me our school could be disqualified because we opened the tests.

In situations like this, I have a hard time concealing my laughter. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not funny that we could get disqualified, but rather the irony. After being here for a year, those “oh, god, the world is ending” days are always related to one tiny problem that’s blown out of proportion or attention is being focused on the wrong thing.

“But why is that an issue? These kids are passing ANA, look at these scores!” I said to my counterpart. “Shouldn’t that be what the district is focusing on? I’m sure we’re doing a lot better than other schools are doing! They should be proud of us.”

My class had a 52 percent average on grade 5 English ANA, which is really good for rural kids. Ten or so kids even scored in the 40-49 point range, with 49 and 48 out of 60 being the highest grades (80 percent average, which is incredible). Of course I pulled aside these kids and showed them — there’s no better moment than to see how happy a kid, who really cares about their education, to see how well they’re doing in a class or on a test.

Some of my kids are so gifted. I can assure you they didn’t do well on this test because they had me as a teacher. They did well on this test because of the education they have received up to me. I just gave them an extra push by throwing them into an English-only environment.

Because of this test, I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to serve at my school and work with my staff. From watching my counterpart always spending time with the 16-year-old kid at my school who cannot speak or write, to have another teacher tell me she’s scheduling class for a weekend to catch up with the curriculum and feel the passion my principal has for her community and school daily, my school deserves one big ol’ City Year-style appreciation.

It’s been a long and tiring year, but I’ve found that I have nothing bad to say about my school. Of course we have our issues that rural schools alike have, but for a rural South African school, it’s high functioning. I have a lot of pride for my school, which has only made my Peace Corps service easier.

To me, it doesn’t matter if we get disqualified from ANA – to hell with it. I know the people I work with care and are doing the best they can to ensure our little rural school succeeds. If you’re passionate about the work you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Small heartYours in service,
Liz

Why you should fund my school’s library — Project Amandla

It’s that time during my service where I have to fundraise! As I’ve written plenty of times on my blog before, my main secondary project has been getting my school’s library functioning. I took on the challenge to help coordinate a Peace Corps library project – Project Amandla (power in isiZulu) — with an American nonprofit called Books for Africa. Books for Africa will send a container of 22,000 English books to anywhere in Africa if the recipient(s) fundraises the shipment costs. My school will receive 733 books through this project to enhance our library. Additionally, the secondary school in my village will receive 733 books. I plan to allocate a few months next year to developing the secondary school’s library.

“Amandla” means “power” in isiZulu – because reading is an infinite and undeniable power any child can harness if he or she has access to grade-level appropriate books. Through Project Amandla, my learners and approximately 16,000 other South African students will be given the power of literacy.

I could write anecdote upon anecdotes of heartfelt service stories about why my kids are deserving of these books. Here’s a few:

  • The day I opened my library, my grade 5 girls were skipping around the library (and doing some Zulu traditional dances) because they were so excited that it was finally opening.
  • Dumsani, a grade 6 learner with “special needs”, checks out a book from the library nearly every day.
  • Nolwazi, one of the brightest grade 7 learners, read the only series of chapter books we have within two weeks.
  • That one kid Sebetsang, who I’ve written about before, has been reading Roald Dahl stories that are giving him inspiration for more of his stories.
  • Spheamandla, the learner I detailed in my project’s description, is in the library during ANY free time at school – reading anything and everything he can get his hands on.
  • My grade 5s will have read every book my school owns that is at their level by the end of this school year.
  • My grade 7s need a library at their secondary school to continue reading and exploring a world outside of the very routine days (i.e. copy notes, answer questions, repeat)
  • Two libraries in my community will help these kids take ownership of their education by enjoying reading and thus developing their English vocabulary and comprehension skills.
Spheamandla and other grade 7 learners checking out a book for the first time in their lives

Spheamandla and other grade 7 learners checking out a book for the first time in their lives

To donate funds, view our project link on the Peace Corps Website here: https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-674-004$20 will send 15 books to my learners!

For more information about the nonprofit Books for Africa please visit:
www.booksforafrica.org

For more information about my secondary library project please visit: Liz’s Peace Corps Secondary Projects

For more information about Project Amandla, please read  the Peace Corps Partnership Program Grant I wrote that explains the background of my community, project implementation, sustainability of the project, desired outcome of the project, etc.

Thank you for helping me make a difference in the lives of these kids who I love dearly and believe deserve a shot at a decent education. We hope to have these books in South Africa by October!

Nolwazi, Sebetsang and other grade 7 learners thank you!

Nolwazi (center), Sebetsang (far right) and other grade 7 learners thank you!

Small heartYours in Service,
Liz

A month in photos: April 2013

  • Beauty pageant time — my school has been working very hard to fundraise 2,000R to contribute to our book project to receive new books for the library. My school’s go-to fundraising technique is to host a beauty pageant. Four kids from each grade participate (two boys, two girls) and then the learners and educators pay to watch the pageant. These learners are beyond brave to strut their stuff in front of the whole school to, of course, some old school Celine Dion (South Africans love old school American music) and bouncin’ South African house music. This may have been one of my funniest and ridiculous cultural experiences yet. The kids and educators took it so seriously, while I couldn’t help but just sit in the back and giggle to myself the whole time.
  • Some randoms: my visit to neighboring PCV Monica’s library to see it in action before I open my library and Monica’s birthday celebration at her site!

Help! In need of suggestions for my grade 5 class story

Nicely put, the South African English curriculum for grade 5 is absolutely unrealistic for rural kids and is a load of eloquently written and presented nonsense.

Instead of sticking to the books, I created a class story for my English class. The kids get two different stories each week that build upon each other. Each story is simply written and has bolded vocabulary or a punctuation concept. My main goal for this ongoing story is to help the kids who can barely read, read a little better, and the kids who can read, critically think. I debated about going on with the story because some of my smart kids finish the work so quickly, but whatever, I’m all in now.

A short summary: The class story is about a boy named Umhaha (greed in Zulu according to my Zulu book). The boy lives in a village and is bored with his life; all he wants to do is travel the world and see different things. He walks to a birthday party with his best friend Thobile (humble in Zulu) and gets cornered by a talking horse, Amandla (power in Zulu). Amandla gives him them the option to each make three wishes. Thobile doesn’t think it’s a good idea because he thought the horse was lying, so he leaves Umhaha and goes to the birthday party. Umhaha, however, decides to make three wishes. The next time he meets Amandla the Horse, thinking that he can make his first wish, Amandla tells him he must complete a task first and will know if he doesn’t because he’s magical and can see everything. Umhaha then realizes that Amandla is pretty powerful horse and could maybe do harm. The task Amandla has Umhaha complete is ridiculous stuff – like steal his sister’s sweater and put it on a goat. After he completed the task, he finally got to make his first wish, which was to travel to other countries. As soon as he made the wish, he and Amandla ended up on a beach in Mozambique.

That’s as far as the story has gone so far: All I know is he is going to travel all over the world and have an adventure in each country –whether that is running into trouble, trying new food, seeing a new part of a culture, whatever. Then, I’ll show the kids on the world map mural at my school where he is in the world. If the kids are good (unlikely), maybe I’ll make guacamole during avocado season and Umhaha travels to Mexico.

I ask the kids questions that evaluate Umhaha’s decisions and what they would do if they were in similar situations. Then (starting this term) I will have them draw pictures of the sequence events in the stories each Friday. Critical thinking and comprehension points! I asked some of the kids last term if they thought Amandla was a good or bad character and some actually said a bad character because he told Umhaha to steal. I was STOKED! Then, there are the kids who copy word-for-word things out of the story to answer questions…a helpless battle so far.

Alright, I may be creative, but I also get writers block more than often. That’s where YOU come in!

Where do you think Umhaha should travel? What kind of trouble do you think he should run into? Why? What lessons will he learn? What should be the major lesson he should learn? What other two wishes should he make? Should Amandla end up being a good character or continue to be a manipulative character? How should the story end?

Got ideas? I have some, but am looking for more. It would be pretty awesome to use outside suggestions. E-mail: Lizinservice at gmail dot com or comment away.

Term Two starts tomorrow. Not in the slightest ready, but it can only get easier from Term One, right? Currently dealing with severe-post-vacation-village-shock.

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

Month eight: just call me mama

Every morning, I walk by the grade R classroom and the kids either say, “buh byeeee Ms. Mathebula” (because it’s all they know how to say in English). One of my wittle friends, Zinhle, always says, “Hi mama!”


Zinhle swingin’ away, where the “Hi Mamas!” usually come from

Mama is how one refers to an older woman in Zulu culture. But as we know, I’m not old, and I look like I’m 18. South Africans usually call me intombazane (girl), so it always cracks me up when Zinhle calls me mama. Learners have also asked me many times if I have a baby. Am I really old enough (23, soon to be 24), to be called mama and have a baby? Maybe in this culture, but in my own culture? Uh… I sure hope not.

Although I’m in a drastically different place from last year, I keep experiencing things here that remind me of my City Year service. One of which has come to mind quite often this school term: students seeing me as a motherly figure.

Liz Warden, as a motherly figure? The girl who has vowed countless times that she will not have kids because she can’t deal with them? The girl who often has a scowl on her face – without even knowing it? Yup. I guess there’s just something so warming about that infamous scowl.

Last year, I had a couple of students who called me “mom” and clung to me. Their mothers had either passed away or they were absent from their lives. I never really understood it because I was far too young to be considered a mom in America.

After almost two years of this stuff, I am starting to understand the mama role a little more. Because I show a lot of interest in my student’s lives and try to get to know them personally, they open up to me. They see that I care and trust me, so they begin to see me as a motherly figure. To have a young, energetic woman, pushing them to do their best in their life is different than what they normally get.

In my journaling efforts with my grade 5 class, one of my students wrote all about her mom. She told me everything. That her mom lives all the way in Johannesburg and rarely sees or talks to her, she forgot about her birthday, and she even said, “My mom doesn’t care about me.” Then she wrote, “Miss, tell me about your mom. What is your mom like?”

Alright. To my readers who don’t personally know me or my life story, I guess it’s a time to get a little mushy because I can only truly explain this impact of my service by digging deeper into my past. I don’t have a relationship with my mom, and cut off all communication with her last year for various reasons. I haven’t had a — let’s say — present mother since I graduated high school and my parents split. Blah blah blah blah life story blah blah blah.

I’m sure my student thought I would write about how perfect my mom was, how much I miss her, how beautiful she is, and all that. As someone from America, of course everything has to be perfect, right?

I could have simply described what my mother looked like, her name, where she lived, and all that boring stuff. But I had a gut instinct to be honest, probably because I had tears filling up my eyes. I told her I don’t talk to my mom also, we don’t agree about many things and it can be very hard without a mom, especially at her age. I told her that she’ll look back to when she was 10-years-old when she’s my age and realize how strong she is because of all of her mama drama. I knew by writing this, she would trust me more and hopefully not get so down on herself. I understand both of us have very different mama drama, but mama drama in general is always bond-worthy because somehow it always relates to an absent mother.

I know you’re probably thinking how can one of my grade 5 learners comprehend any of this, as I have said plenty of times before that some of them can barely write a sentence in English. This little girl, however, is an anomaly. Her aunts spoke English to her growing up, so she speaks very fluent English for a fifth grader. She’s really mature, too. I enjoy talking to her sometimes more than talking to adults at my school. After telling her about my mom, I can tell she feels more comfortable with me. Sometimes she’ll just come into the library because, “They’re being too noisy in class.”

With little of a language barrier, I can be a mama figure for this learner and push her to succeed in school and life – something her gogo, who she loves very, very much, can’t do because she’s too old. Two years of being my little buddy will be something unforgettable for the both of us.

Staff told us in Peace Corps training, our “self-identities” would change drastically during our service. Well, so far mine has changed from “Liz Warden” and “friend and daughter” to “Miss Mathebula” and “friend, daughter, sister and mother”. Call it mentorship, call it whatever, but honestly, sometimes I really do feel like a mother and care for some of these kids as if I was related to them. Maybe because of my past, maybe because I feel guilty about my family, maybe because I’m old enough to be considered a mother here, or maybe that’s just how this service game plays out. Who knows, except I do know that I’m happy, excited, and have found just another one of those kids that makes my service worth it.

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz