August 15, 2010

The roller coaster takes off

Books, books, where art thou, books?
The books have arrived! ...Oh wait a minute, the books didn’t arrive. ...They are on their way to the school…. or maybe not. Welcome to life here the past few weeks.

For those who have followed this project, you know the container of books was scheduled to arrive before we did, with time for adding windows and doors. But the original ship was overbooked, and our library shipment sat waiting for the next ship, with a revised arrival date of August 3.

And then the roller coaster began:
* The ship was delayed a few days at sea.
* The shipping company decided to bypass Port Elizabeth (PE) and go straight to Durbin on the Eastern Coast and then come back to PE (delay of a week).
* No! It didn’t go to Durbin because of protests at Port Elizabeth. It headed back to PE for docking last weekend. Yay!
* Extremely high winds prevented the ship from docking, and it missed its scheduled berth in PE.
* The ship finally docked and the shipping company informed us that the shipment would be trucked to the school on Saturday at 8 am. That meant the principal of the school had to drive an hour to be on the grounds to meet it. We would not be in the township when it arrived.
* Saturday morning comes and goes. No shipping container. But wait! After frantic phone calls, Calabash Tours and Trust (who oversees and supports our placement) determines that the shipment was dropped off at the Police Station in Addo a few miles away because the truck driver “couldn’t find” the school even with explicit directions.
* More frantic calls. The trucking company will return Sunday morning to move the shipment to the school grounds. Frustrated and angry Mr Thambo, the school principal, has a conversation with the shipping company representative, a racist who challenges Mr. Thambo’s right to be angry. We are appalled.
* Joy! Rapture! On Sunday, the books are indeed moved to the school grounds!

Yes, life in South Africa is never a straight path, and from what we are told, it is similar in other developing countries. You take 10 steps forward and 9 back. And there are always stories that put life in perspective. Our school still lacks telephone lines, but we learn that two schools in the cluster of seven schools that are supported by Calabash don’t have electricity because the wiring was stolen. One of those schools has power again, through wiring paid for by Calabash with outside donations, but the other school remains without electricity.

We so admire the people who work in development and fight these battles on a daily basis. It is clear we must remain optimistic and rejoice in the positive changes. There is an attitude that things do work out in the end and you must persevere. As Americans, we feel the experience here is so important to our own personal growth. We rapidly stop taking things for granted.
We do see many South Africans of all races taking things into their own hands. Paul from Calabash tells us of a woman in PE who
organized an informal preschool for orphans “who nobody wants.” She runs it with the meager pension (social security) her husband gets. At night she takes home all 15 children to sleep in her small home. “Why do you do this?” Paul asks her. “How can I not do this?” she replies.

One of the elderly grandmothers in the community took Eileen to her home in the township for a short visit. As is typical with Xhosa homes, it was neat and spotless. She showed Eileen her partially built new home a few feet away. It is one of the homes built by the government to replace the old mud or metal shacks. But the government ran out of money and the house sits unfinished like so many we’ve seen. She said, “I must finish it myself. I will get cement and put it up. And then I will clean it because it must be clean. And then I will paint it myself.”

So how can the Kugler family get frustrated? We have to overcome the obstacles when we can and make progress where possible. And we must continue to work so that more progress is made. Perseverance is a lesson we learn on a daily basis.

Setting up the library begins

We are so happy and relieved that the shipment is finally on the school grounds. There will be many volunteers from the community helping unload the container. Monday afternoon, the families will come in for a program about the library. Eileen will be sharing ways to help their children even if they don’t read English, such as looking at the book together and talking about the pictures.

Last Thursday, we did a workshop for the teachers on how the library will work. Because there is no funding for a librarian and the container can’t hold all the books, the system will largely be classroom based, with teachers bringing boxes of appropriate-level
books into their rooms. Each child will have the opportunity to choose a book each night and take the card from the back of the book and put it into their clip (a clothes pin with their name) hanging in the classroom. When they return the book the next day, they will put the card back in the book and choose another book.

We had a great brainstorming session with the teachers on how to make the system function well. They had wonderful ideas for dealing with issues such as a teacher being absent. They were also concerned about the books being damaged by the students. Eileen talked with them about the importance of the students using the books and not worrying whether they remain in pristine condition. “I know you often receive books that have been worn out by someone else. Now you will have new books that your students can wear out themselves. If we return and the books are in perfect condition, then we know the library was not used.” We’re setting up a system where parents can come in and repair damaged books.

While we would have loved to have the library here on the first week, we see the excitement building for these books. The literacy work has created a hunger and purpose for the books, as the teachers see the impact of read-alouds and shared reading. Families are excited about the books that will be in their midst, and even when we meet new people from the community, they are aware of the library project!
We hear too many examples of books being sent to schools without any on-the-ground preparation for how they will be used (Volunteers in a school in PE discovered boxes and boxes of books in a dusty closet sent to the school by a major non-profit). We are hoping that by working with the teachers on setting up the system and using the books in the classrooms, and by working with the families on looking at the books together at home, we will indeed create a library that is used instead of becoming a protected trophy.

In addition to holding the boxes of books which the teachers can look through, the container will also be converted into a library room where special programs can be held. Eileen has been working with the municipal librarian to get family reading programs organized. The municipal library will train volunteers to be story readers. Eileen already has two volunteers, one of the grandmothers from last year’s program who has excellent English skills and a young Xhosa man who works in one of the local restaurants. He loves reading himself and is eager to be a part of the library.

Progress in literacy

There were great strides in literacy work this week. Most teachers demonstrated the techniques we taught them the past two years and some of the new teachers implemented the techniques we introduced just last week. One of the teachers just learning the think-pair-share said she could use the technique in all her subjects, not just teaching English. Yes!

We have seen tremendous growth in the learner’s abilities to predict, retell and share their ideas about characters. We were especially encouraged that some of the teachers asked their learners to write about the read-aloud books and the learners constructed their own phrases and full sentences. The teachers were really excited about what they saw.
Cecily leaves her mark on literacy at BukaniCecily Kaiser, Sara’s friend who joined us this year, has been a wonderful addition to the team. She is ever enthusiastic, hard-working, and brimming with ideas for working with the teachers. And the teachers love and respect her. Her love of children is evident every moment.

At Cecily's final meeting with the teachers, she shared how much the past two weeks have meant to her “I’ve been hearing about this work for two years from the Kuglers, but I could not imagine how wonderful this could be. I feel like I have new family on this side of the world. And I have learned so much from each of you. It is very hard to leave.” She then went out to the courtyard full of students singing songs to tell her how much they appreciated her time with them.
There is much to be done with only one week left for Larry, Eileen and Sara. This is the point that we wish we had another month here. But it is five more days so we’ll pack in as much as we can.