89 South Street, Suite 701
Boston, MA 02111
We keep thinking about the lessons we learned during our visit and how the people we met enriched our lives. In this township, there was much optimism for what can be accomplished under the “new South Africa.” We were touched every day by what was and is possible. Among the lessons we learned:
· Persevere . The teachers had grown up under apartheid yet had risen far beyond the limitations that system tried to impose. When Bella, a second-grade teacher, was asked how she learned to speak English so fluently, she said, “You must empower YOURSELF.” Principal Thambo, a very impressive leader who was born in the township, emphatically stated, “When they imposed the yoke of apartheid upon us, they didn’t know they were only making us stronger. We learned how to persevere against all obstacles.”
· Family, family, family. There is nothing more important in the Xhosa culture than family. On the trip, we became “The Kugler Family,” rather than 3 individuals. It made us appreciate traveling together even more. When the teachers gave us school t-shirts as gifts, they made sure to include a shirt for Sara’s husband and for our son/brother and his girlfriend, even though they had never met them. They are family after all.
· Everyone should sing every day. Singing and dancing were not reserved for concerts or special occasions at the school. Each day started with rousing singing from the students to get their blood flowing and there was no such thing as a wrong note! The teachers sang as they went off to class, as they drank their tea during break, as they went home. After our farewell party, there were delicious refreshments, but the teachers spent most of the time outside singing and dancing. Oh, how we will miss them!
· Friendship crosses all boundaries. True friendships form across national boundaries, across races, across cultures. They form when there is mutual openness, respect and caring. We could not have imagined the friendships that formed over three short weeks. We smile every time we look at the pictures.
Our final week in the township of Nomathamsanqa was filled with the excitement of teachers learning new skills and eager to learn more, and the reality of the need for books that the students can read along with up-to-date computers that work consistently. We pledged to raise money for both (more on that in our next addition).
The school gave us an extraordinary farewell party, filled with singing and dancing by students and teachers, along with touching presentations. While we waited for the dignitaries to arrive, the students taught Sara new games and sang with Larry and Eileen. At the farewell event, the mothers in the community surprised everyone (even the principal) by giving each of us hand-crafted African garments which we will always treasure.
These teachers are the most extraordinary group of people, and we've grown to adore them. They have the best sense of humor, always joking with us and each other. They are always striving to improve themselves with course work or independent study. It is mostly women, who are outgoing and sometimes outrageous. The two men are warm, but reserved. At a community concert put on for our benefit, the teachers all bought school T-shirts and went on stage to perform although they had little time to rehearse. They were singing (in harmony of course) and dancing and just plain raucous, pulling us up on the stage with them. It will be very hard to leave them.The students are eager to learn but have few opportunities for creative thought. They take pride in their school are they sweep the room and dust the office each day. On Fridays school ends an hour early and the students clean every inch of the school including washing the floors
After school, we’ve either got classes or some activity the school or our host family has planned for us. The sun is often hot in the afternoon, rising 20 or more degrees throughout the day. But when the sun drops low at around 6:00 p.m., the temperature drops with it. We start layering on the sweaters and fleece because there is no heat in the house. A large warm supper is served at about 7:00 p.m. and then the family starts preparing for bed. The first night we laughed at the thought of bed by 8:00, but suddenly we find we can’t keep our eye open much beyond that. We snuggle back in under the covers and listen for the night sounds of the animals, and the neighbors’ music, as we fall asleep.
We can't imagine leaving after just one more week.
We tried to prepare ourselves for just about anything, but we could never imagine the warmth, enthusiasm, caring and outpouring of appreciation that we have received both from the school and the entire township. Once we established that we recognized we had a lot to learn from the school and community, as well as share with them, the relationship has been extremely positive. The teachers, as one teacher noted, "are hungry to learn how to help the students." There are few school resources -- students work with stubs of pencils and very limited paper -- but the human resources are valuable beyond measure. This is a caring and committed staff, with one of the best principals any of us has ever met. They welcomed the opportunity to learn new strategies for engaging their students and increase the learning.
Our host family has been caring and warm, making us feel comfortable in every way. The food has been delicious and high in healthy vegetables. The only "comfort" we lack is a shower, and we have quickly learned how insignificant that is. The entire family is great fun to be around.
We were prepared for the responsibility of being the first volunteers in this school, but also learned the first night from our host family that we were the first white people to ever stay overnight in the township. This was said not with any resentment, but rather a sincere appreciation for our willingness to be with the community. We heard the same message from many others in the township. For us, the home stay has been one of the most meaningful parts of our trip.
The Mofu House
Even in our first week in the township, we've learned many valuable lessons. Among these are (1) The significance of family in the Xhosa culture - Certainly, family is important to us, but family is at the heart of everything here. Greetings between people often reflect your place in the family, so Eileen was often referred to as "Mama" because we traveled with our daughter. This was meant as respect, and actually there was tremendous respect attached to our traveling as a family. This made it all the more disturbing to think of how apartheid often split families or how the AIDS pandemic is taking away parents in so many families. (2) The wastefulness of American culture - While there is a green movement in the US, we became very aware of how much we waste in our society. For example, our host family brought us lunch at the school and carried with them plates and utensils which were washed and returned. There is no concept of paper plates which would just be discarded.
We are still processing this and will have much more later. For those who might want to help this incredible school, we do see there are many needs beyond just books for the library. We’re working with the school on a priority list for fundraising in general and will talk about other options for donations in future updates (as well as discussions once we are home in an all-too-short 2 weeks). Here are a few photos... more next week.