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.