It has been a roller coaster of a week. The shipment of books has been delayed for a variety of reasons, but we believe it will indeed be delivered to the school next Thursday. In the meantime, we’ve been building support throughout the school and community, both within the township and the surrounding areas. Everyone is looking forward to the library opening! At our welcome ceremony, Principal Thambo said, “The founding wisdom is in books. As soon as these books arrive, we will take our students to a new future.”
Work in literacy expands
Can it be a whole year since we’ve been in these classrooms? Impossible! The familiar faces are as comfortable as those at family gatherings. We get down to work quickly after our arrival on Monday, creating a timetable (schedule) for our visits to the classrooms. The staff agrees that all the teachers who teach English want to learn the new methods, so we add five additional teachers to the eight we’ve been working with the past two years, modeling lessons and coaching the teachers.
On Tuesday, Larry, Sara and Cecily begin observations in the classrooms. We watch two teachers using books we brought last year, incorporating all of the techniques we left behind. We see the learners (students) responding to questions about the story in English in phrases or full sentences, speaking as naturally as their mother tongue of Xhosa. We beam as we watch the lessons unfold. Real progress has been made as these learners have developed a comfort with speaking English in the classroom that did not even exist in Xhosa two years ago.
As in any school, the level of implementation is not universal. The learners in some classes still struggle to express themselves. We talk with the teachers about the challenges they perceive, and encourage them to consistently use the techniques and materials that have yielded such rich results in other classrooms.
The enthusiasm of some of the teachers first learning these techniques buoys us. One of them expressed a profound understanding when she stated, “I have to learn to trust my learners” – to raise her expectations of what the students are capable of. Larry, Sara and Cecily agree that we all have to trust the learners, and when we do, we are rewarded with daily growth in their engagement, participation, and use of English.
Alex could only stay for one week, but what a week it was! He worked with the computer tutor in the lab, fixing and upgrading the computers A number of the older computers had been labeled beyond repair, which meant there were never enough working computers to give every learner in a class the opportunity to sit at a computer. But working diligently, Alex used his trouble-shooting skills to get a full computer lab of functioning computers. The Kugler Education Fund enabled him to purchase items to install necessary upgrades. The teachers were extremely appreciative of his work. At our welcome party, there was a special song dedicated to him! At our final staff meeting of the week, the computer tutor said, “You have helped us take a big step toward fulfilling our dream of bringing this computer lab to the whole community. With all the computers working, we are making real progress.” When not in the computer lab, Alex did get a chance to watch the school soccer team practice.
"Thank you for reminding me why I came here”
Eileen continued her work in building bridges to the community. She was invited to speak at The Women’s Institute, a group of farmers’ wives and B&B owners in the area surrounding the township. These women help support various projects in the township, largely through fundraising.
Eileen described the library project, but also gave details of the Kuglers’ time in the township which inspired the library. She shared the warmth and acceptance of the Xhosa community and the overwhelming welcome that keeps bringing the Kuglers back. “You have the good fortune of being just a short ride from the township, while we have to travel some 20 hours to get here,” she noted. Many of the women who had never gone into the township had tears in their eyes. One B&B owner came up to Eileen and said, “Thank you for reminding me why I came here. I’ve been so busy with my day to day life, I forgot.” Another said, “I started a vegetable garden at the school, and then listened to my friends who told me to let the township people take responsibility from there. I realize now I lost out on the experience of working with the township people side by side.”
Eileen invited the women to come to the school after the library shipment arrives and help organize the boxes of books that were not labeled earlier. They will sit side by side with the Xhosa women in the township as equal partners. It will be quite an event.