August 9, 2010

Literacy continues (library shipment will arrive soon...)

We arrived back at A.V. Bukani to hugs all around and much singing. The school welcomed back Nosango (Eileen) and Thando (Larry) and was thrilled to see Sara returning (especially now that she is pregnant. One of the women said, “Now I will be an auntie!”) They warmly welcomed new volunteers, Sara’s husband Alex Berens and Sara’s friend Cecily Kaiser, and lovingly refer to us all as “The Kugler Family.” It’s been fun to watch the experience of the first-timers and remember how overwhelming the warmth of this community is from the moment you arrive.

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.”
Life quickly is put into perspective in South Africa. We were hoping that the school would have Internet connections this year. What we found was that the basic telephone lines to the entire township had been cut by thieves who took the copper wiring. So neither the school nor anyone in the township has had a land line …..since May. Principal Thambo keeps the school running on his cell phone, paying for “airtime” (minutes of use) out of his own pocket. Some in the township do have cell phones, and some of those have airtime on their phones. They are the link to health care, jobs, and police for others in the township.
Eileen and Larry are enjoying being part of the Mofu family again. Both of the Mofu’s daughters and all 3 grandsons are living in the home again this year, and we love playing with the boys. Sara, Cecily and Alex are staying in nearby Rosedale B&B, in the midst of an organic orange farm. Rosedale owners Nomdumiso and Keith, an interracial couple, share many stories of their lives in South Africa during and after Apartheid. Sara, Cecily and Alex often walk to the Mofus after school and play with the neighborhood children. What an amazing sense of community there is.

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.

A fully functioning computer lab!

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.”
A Xhosa man who is active in the community had been invited to hear Eileen’s presentation. He followed up, saying, “As Eileen has said, we welcome you all into the township. Please come any time and you will get a warm response. We can never achieve the Rainbow Nation if we remain separate communities of Black and white. We must integrate.”

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.