May 25, 2019

A Trajectory of Progress

The third week is always the hardest for us. We know our time is limited, but we become critically aware of what we can and cannot accomplish during our last week.

The school is also aware of our impending departure and tries to make the most of our time. The last week Larry observed six teachers he has been working with as they do a Read-aloud or a Big Book lesson. 

Other teachers came by asking for his feedback on their lessons – and students in classes where he hasn’t sung this year stop him to voice “a complaint,” asking him to sing in their classes. Of course, he made time in his schedule!

Eileen continued reading stories to learners in Grade 1. The joy in their eyes as she read books like “Hop on Pop,” was overwhelming. The teachers joined in the fun. 

And then there were the poignant moments. After reading “Brown Bear, What Do You See?” Eileen asked the children to close their eyes and imagine what they see. During the share time, one girl said with a smile, “I see my mother.” The teacher later told her that the girl’s mother had passed away last week. Sadly, that is not uncommon there.

Partnering for Progress

We were in many meetings to try to finalize ways that we can support the school through the Kugler Family Education Fund, continuing into the future. These are always collaborative discussions with the school leaders and staff. Our goal is to support their efforts and their priorities.

This has been one of the most productive visits we’ve had, and the collaborative work has not ended now that we are home. One of the major factors impacting this year is an improvement in electronic communication.  All the teachers and the community leaders communicate through WhatsApp and email on their phones. In past years, email was spotty and the basic phones were hard to use and limited to local calls; communication basically ended once we left. But this year, we have been able to clearly communicate electronically with contacts at the school and in the community while in South Africa and now that we’re home. This enables us to constantly stay in touch with the principal and to start some efforts in S.A. that we are continuing to develop in the U.S.

Increasing Access to the Library

We’re excited to report that we’ll be supporting a librarian-in-training for three days a week at the school! It is challenging to find qualified librarians for township schools, so the municipal librarians have undertaken what we call a “grow your own” program in the U.S. – empowering someone from the community with training and support. 

We met with Sinoxolo Jack, a young woman from the township who is eager to take on the librarian role. Sinoxolo has already read to learners at Bukani as part of a weekly program sponsored by the municipal library to build a love for reading with the younger learners. 

We are in the process of developing a joint agreement between the school, the Municipal Library, and our Education Fund to provide a stipend for this position. Sinoxolo will receive training and be mentored by the established librarians as well as the teachers on the Library Committee at Bukani. We'll get regular reports on the progress - and keep you posted.

Parents Get to Sing, Too!

Over the years, we’ve built close relationships with families in the township, and mothers and grandmothers stopped Eileen to ask when the program for families will be this year. On our third week, we held an interactive family program. We wanted to give the parents a chance to share in all the fun we’ve been having with the students, building literacy through singing, Big Books, and Read-alouds.
There was an overflow crowd of families for the after-school event. Acting Principal Lamani was happy to share some of the learning enhancements going on at Bukani. The families sang along to “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” and loved the hand motions for “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” as much as their children do. A large group of students stayed after school to sing for the families and many stayed even later for special singing with Larry once their families left.

Eileen read from Eric Carle’s “From Head to Toe” as kids craned their necks like giraffes, waved their arms like monkeys, and beat their chests like gorillas. We encouraged the families to ask about the books their children are reading and sit together to look through the books and talk about the pictures. The ability to read English is not essential to value and enjoy these books together.

Larry’s “Ah Ha” Moment and The Joy Of Singing

Larry’s been teaching Think-Pair-Share to the teachers since our first visit in 2008 and has watched as the learners have begun to talk more freely over the years during the pair time. Yet when he or the teachers ask them to raise their hands and share with the class only the same few hands go up. So this year he brought 3” x 3” stickies and he and a couple of the teachers encouraged learners to write after they talked with a partner. In Ms Breakfast’s grade 7 class and Ms Njenje’s grade 6 class the kids virtually leaped from their desks after furiously writing for a minute or two to post their thoughts on the board.  In one class they even remained at the board to read what others had written.  The change in energy from the previous experience of there not being a peep when they were asked to share verbally was amazing.  The technique will be renamed “Think-Pair-Write.” Writing on stickies or small pieces of paper is less threatening than having a large sheet to fill. Hopefully this will be a springboard to expended writing and/or responding to each other’s writing. Now that we can communicate thru WhatsApp, Larry looks forward to hearing from the teachers about how writing is progressing. Both teachers, new to A.V. Bukani, have brought a positive and encouraging presence to English instruction. 

Something new, unexpected, and highly encouraging was two teachers having prepared complete written lesson plans. This had never happened in any previous visit. Ms. Nongongona, a grade 3 teacher Larry has worked with in the past, introduced her Big Book lesson by reading a poem that perfectly set the stage for the message of the book. She even developed three activities as a follow up, geared to the different capabilities of her students. Ms. Ntshoko, the head teacher for grades R (kindergarten) and 1, who Eileen had worked with, excitedly asked Larry to come observe a Big Book lesson. She invited her fellow Grade 1 teachers to observe and share comments. There was a desk set up with a printed copy of her lesson plan, a blank sheet of paper and a pencil (for Larry to take notes), all ready for him. Both teachers incorporated so many appropriate components of a lesson into their planning and both implemented very effective lessons that engaged their learners.

Finally, Larry continues to find teaching the learners fun and uplifting songs the highlight of each day. There is nothing like their unbridled joy as they learn the songs, begin to sway back and forth in their seats, and then break into clapping and dancing as they embody the words of songs like “This Little Light of Mine” and “Peace Like a River in My Soul.” It just doesn’t get any better than this! Can’t wait till we return next year!

You are Making a Difference

For those of you who have donated time and money to this project over the years, we hope you have seen the impact. Here is a summary of what we were able to accomplish so far this year through volunteer time and the resources provided by your continuing donations.

* Professional development for teachers of English in Grades 3 - 7 on use of Big Books, Read-alouds and Think-Pair-Share/Write.
* Professional development for teachers in Grade 1 on Read-alouds and Big Books.
*Donation of laptops which were equipped with new hard-drives, Windows and Office. (We appreciate our anonymous laptop donor!) 
*Purchase of memory to upgrade existing computers in the lab.  
* Donation of new big books and accompanying sets of classroom readers (Special thanks to Reed O’Brien of O’Brien Associates of Richmond)
* Recruitment and support of a librarian-in-training for A.V. Bukani for three days per week, including mentoring by the municipal librarians and Bukani staff.
* Support of comprehensive computer training for the entire A.V. Bukani staff in a 10-module program after school.
* A family engagement program to build a love of books and reading. 

We’ll be reporting on progress throughout the year and we are in touch with school leaders on additional needs that arise.

A Lifelong Connection

At our Farewell Party (there always is quite a party), Principal Lamani said, “Thank you for choosing our school.” As we sat there, we realized we didn’t just choose the school. It chose us, as well.

You can read about the actions we took that ended up connecting us with A.V. Bukani in 2008, but that really doesn’t tell the story. In a much greater sense, we chose each other. From the first time we stepped foot in the school, the teachers and families in this community of deep Christian faith saw the hand of God in our finding this school in a rural area of a country far from our home. In our religious tradition, it was “bashert” – a Yiddish word that means “meant to be.” However it came to be, it is. We are inextricably connected. And always will be.

Teacher Mr. Tanato made a powerful statement at the Farewell. “When they write the history of A.V. Bukani, the Kuglers will be a part of it. You are a part of us.” And when people talk of us, they will always include our connection to this South African school.

We’re hoping to bring more teachers with us on our next trip, likely August 2020. If you are interested, let us know. We're working on some plans for this and we'll keep you informed. 

Here's some of the fun from our Farewell Party. Oh how we miss these kids. (Let's face it - we miss everyone there!)

May 11, 2019

Critical Connections

Connections that Empower the Teachers and Learners

This was a week of critical connections that hopefully will support the work of the teachers for years to come.  

The school now has significant material resources, many of which we have been able to supplement through generous donations to our Education Fund at South Africa Partners over the years - books, computers, copiers. The school has excellent leadership and committed teachers. But a total staff of 35 for 1160 students cannot possibly do everything that is needed. 

The lack of time, and experience with choosing books for students, has led to underutilization of the library. There are books in most classrooms and there are some real bright spots (more below), but in general the school needs a librarian to support the teachers and learners. (We love that SA educators use the word “learners” instead of “students.”) Increasing outreach by the Municipal Library brings us close to making this a reality. 


The school’s library committee had an excellent meeting with the impressive new head librarian of the municipality, Mthandazo Desire Ntsham, (at right above) along with the retired -but still involved!- head librarian Isabelle Goosen (at left) and two local librarians who have been coming to schools to read with the youngest learners under a newly funded library program. They are brainstorming ways to bring a librarian to the school for a few days a week to help the teachers choose books, work with learners and do outreach to the families. Our SA Education Fund may play a part in this…

We also had a great meeting with Charlie Josephs, who is the connector of all connectors!  Charlie previously worked for the government and has led many community development programs in this region. In a meeting with the acting principal and the deputy principal, he shared many contacts to move critical initiatives at the school forward. What a great partner!

Laptops Arrived!

The donated laptops arrived with new hard drives and software installed on Friday. These are a critical supplement to the updated computers in the lab. Now teachers can work with their learners on computers outside of the lab or have small group work, in addition to the scheduled time in the lab.

There is wi-fi in the office and computer lab and hopefully the learners will begin using the internet for research in addition to the prescribed software that supplements their lessons.

Comprehensive teacher training is on the horizon! Another critical meeting took place with the acting principal and Sister Breda of the Sisters of Mercy, well known for her computer training. The Department of Education has provided each teacher with a laptop -- but no training. Computer skills vary greatly among the teachers, which also impacts how comfortable they are using computers with the learners.  Eileen has provided some limited training, but much more is needed. In collaboration with school leaders, Sister Breda will soon provide a 10-hour course over several weeks after school, with teachers in two groups based on their current knowledge. This training will be at a very discounted fee, with the Education Fund contributing. (Your donations at work, again!)

Thoughtful discussions in the classrooms

Larry continues to work with the six teachers who instruct students in English in grades 4-7, their second  or third language. he continued to demonstrate the use of reading stories aloud while interspersing thoughtful questions to engage their curiosity and thinking and provide opportunities for language development using the Think-Pair-Share technique.  While still working with the teachers to get more learners to share their thinking, he and the teachers were encouraged and amazed at some of the comments made by the learners.  

Larry asked one group to suggest ways in which animals were similar and different. To give
an example of the wide range of language capabilities in this grade 7 class, some learners could only offer “dog, snake, butterfly, fish” to the question. However, another learner suggested they all move.  While accurate, his suggestion led to a discussion of how they also were different in the way that they move.  But what really blew us away was the learner who looked at the list and suggested that they were all the same (and animals in general) in that they were dependent on each other. This led to an even more interesting discussion of the food chain, my contribution injected into the conversation because this learner didn’t have the language (or the confidence) to share what most assuredly led to her statement. The untapped potential of these learners is obvious. We continue to search for ways to have them express themselves and reach that potential. One way we tried was to have each learner write a response on a sticky note and post it on the blackboard. In this way many more learners contributed their ideas.  

Larry also demonstrated the use of non-fiction big books. The purpose was to show teachers that these books could be used effectively with the entire class to teach skills. He focused on one book’s table of contents. The teacher in this grade 6 class was surprised to find out that many learners knew very little about the table of contents. She plans to teach more directly skills and concepts she had assumed her learners understood and were using. 

Larry also did a demonstration of reading a big book story for grade 1 teachers. Several of the teachers took videos so they could refer back to his techniques to engage the learners. We appreciate the many big books donated by O’brien Associates of Richmond, Virginia.

Perhaps the most exciting moment for Larry came at the conclusion of the lesson in grade 6 as we talked about chapters in non-fiction and fiction books. It turns out that the entire class had books in their back packs and that each week they return them and exchange them for new books. This was the first time in recent years that we had seen evidence that the books in the library were regularly getting in learners hands! With the additional support anticipated from the public library staff mentioned earlier, we are hopeful this example will become the norm at A. V. Bukani Primary School.  

“It is better to do things for someone you don’t know”

One of the things that always strikes us here is how many people work tirelessly day after day to improve life for those with little. The country is in an economic crisis with about a 50% unemployment rate of people 18 – 34, so these efforts mean more than ever.

Many individuals and organizations, both local and international, are collaborating on critical projects. Martha Cummings from Rhode Island has done extraordinary work to upgrade the facilities and provide continuing support to Vusumsi, the other primary school in this township, through a non-profit she started called Universal Promise. 

Nowhere is the commitment of individuals more visible than in Langos, a nearby informal settlement – the poorest of the poor, living without basic amenities like electricity or water. Local resident Muffy Miller first became involved in the community when she saw children rummaging through trash heaps for food in the 1990’s. She has worked tirelessly since then, marshalling resources to provide education and a safe haven for the children there.

Momthandazo and the Langbos children
There is a beautiful preschool (called “crèches” in SA) serving 40+ children, led by headmistress Momthandazo Pipe, born in that community. We are so impressed with her competence and vision. During the past 12 years, the project has grown to include a community center, playground, a perma-culture organic fruit and vegetable garden, solar panels and a wind turbine that powers the center which provides the only light at nighttime in the community. It has created eight jobs, hosts a soup kitchen twice a week, and is sending older students to study tourism. The Langbos Créche and Child Care Centre is a registered non-profit, under the auspices of the local Mayibye Ndlovu Development Trust, and the amazing Charlie Josephs is the Langbos project manager. 

But here’s what truly amazed us this year. With support and management from Intsikelelo Foundation (founded by two young American men), the community now has three “super-adobe” domes, built with paid labor from the settlement, with design help from architects who donated their services. In these extremely durable structures, there will be a library in the loft of the largest dome, a shelter for vulnerable women and children, meeting rooms and more.

The domes today!

The dome construction underway

Amazing construction

These are the largest super-adobe domes in Africa, and possibly the world. A visit to Langbos is a must-see stop if you travel to South Africa! It is near Addo National Park, which has extensive wildlife including elephants, lions and more. 

Eric and the Soul Food delivery
 We visited Langbos on Workers Day (think Labor Day) and met Eric from Soul Food which delivers free food to communities. “I woke up with a free day and could not sit around,” he said, as he dropped off food. “It is better to help someone you don’t know. Your pat on the back is not from a friend, it is from above.” 

We could not stay away, and came the next week after school to sing with the children, staff and families at Langos. What an amazing time we had there! We are hoping to return next week, although our last week here is a busy one. 

Sharing English stories and rhymes with grade 1

The grade 1 learners love hearing the stories and rhymes in English.  They are becoming familiar with the sounds of the language, and beginning to associate the word with the concept. The grade 1 teachers jump right into the action. 

May 5, 2019

Inspired Anew

It’s been four years since we stepped foot in A.V. Bukani Primary School. In many ways, it felt like four months. There is such a comfortable familiarity with the township and with the school. There are faces we remember, with lots of welcoming hugs. And there are new faces whom we are excited to get to know. Within ten minutes of arriving, there is a meeting with the teachers and we begin our work.

Truthfully, our last visit in 2015 was challenging. The day before we arrived, one of the teachers with whom we had worked closely passed away from breast cancer. It was a sad and difficult time for the school. The school had several other teaching positions open and the Department of Education was dragging its feet to permit hiring of new teachers. (As it turned out, those openings lasted for months after we left.)  The library was barely used. One bright spot was the work on writing that our friend Randi Adleberg was able to do with some of the older students. But the lack of political leadership nationally and in the region was also evident in the school and community. Nowhere was it more visible than the road to the township – the only road – which was dangerously more potholes than tar. 

So we did not know what to expect when we returned this year. But what we see has inspired us anew. As we drove into the township, the first thing we noticed was a beautiful new road, with sidewalks even!  At the school, we saw that the returning teachers, near to our hearts, are bolstered by many new competent teachers. 

Mr. Lamani (r)
and Mr. Matyana (l)
The beloved principal, Mr. Z. Thambo, has moved to a supervisory position in the district. While we miss him, we are so pleased to see Ace Lamani as Acting Principal. Mr. Lamani is a gifted educator who has worked with us since 2008, first as a teacher and later as Deputy Principal.  He lives in the township and cares deeply about every child. He wears the mantle of leadership with a seriousness of purpose. We are very hopeful he will become the permanent principal. He is supported by an excellent Deputy Principal, Andile Matyana. 

Mr. Lamani has worked hard to build on the strengths of the existing staff and bring in committed new teachers. He has high standards and communicates them to the teachers. He asked Larry to work with teachers in grades 4 -7 to review techniques introduced in grades 1-3 in previous years -- Think-Pair-Share, Big Books and Read-Alouds. The goal of all three techniques is to engage the learners in developing their thinking and English skills, starting with hearing the language (Read Aloud) and speaking in English (Think-Pair-Share). Big books help develop an understanding of print and can be used to support content in other areas.

“I saw my learner do something I never expected”

Several of the teachers Larry is working with are new. One noted, “As a teacher, you know your learners. But today, I saw my learner do something I never expected from him.” Noting the student is not disruptive, but can be “playful,” she saw him engaged and participating in new ways with think-pair-share. The teachers are all looking for ways to get their learners to speak more, even the “shy” ones. In addition to classroom work, Larry has led professional development to work collaboratively on the issues. 

Larry was extremely pleased to hear more learners this year actively participating in Think-Pair-Share. When talking with their “Pairs”, they were using much more English in a more sophisticated way. AND, they were more likely to share with the whole group. Great progress attributed to the teachers since our last visit! However, the teachers and Larry all agree they will seek ways to get more learners actively engaged in the next two weeks.
Larry also saw that the upper-grade learners were better able to express themselves in writing. He passed out sticky notes to each learner after asking a question during Read Aloud, and was impressed that many immediately wrote responses and posted them on the chalk board.  This short form of writing seemed well within their comfort zone. Next step will be to engage them in longer attempts (which he knows they can do because of the success Randi Adleberg had during the last visit).

This next week Larry will continue to demonstrate for the teachers in the classrooms, including using Big Books to introduce science content. Then the teachers will take over the teaching during the third week while Larry observes and coaches them.  BTW, there is no school on Wednesday. It is Voting Day and it is a national holiday -an idea the United States should and must adopt. It’s called democracy. 

Larry continued to share his passion for singing with the learners, who exceeded his own excitement. This year he created two Big Books to support the singing of "She'll be Coming 'Round the Mountain" and "He's Go the Whole World in His Hands. (Read the blog next week to hear about a new adventure in singing with local children!)

Eileen has been working with Grade 1 learners– so much fun!  They know “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” in Xhosa, and she’s teaching it to them in English. They did A LOT of jumping this week, as she read “Jump, Frog, Jump” by Robert Kalan. It is valuable for them to see that English can be fun, and start connecting the language to words and phrases. 

An updated computer lab

The computers in the lab have been updated with the additional memory we were able to purchase and bring with us, which means they can run the programs that the students had been using in previous years to supplement their regular classes. The donated laptops we brought with us have had their new hard drives and Windows installed, but we are waiting for the Department of Education to provide the  school-wide license for Office so that can be installed, as well. While the wheels of the Department grind slowly, school leaders are pressing them to get this done. We are very excited about the prospect of a fully functional computer lab for the learners. 

Eileen is also working with the teachers on computer skills. She led an initial workshop for all the teachers on using the official laptops provided to each teacher, and she will work with small groups on particular skills.

A bright spot in the school is Alex Nowala, who supports the computer lab and helps with finances. Despite Mr. Lamani’s efforts, Alex doesn’t yet have a paid position in the school, only receiving a small stipend from the SGB (similar to a PTA but with much more authority). He lives in the township and has two daughters at the school. He is often the first one there and the last one to leave, with many in the school depending upon him for his skills and knowledge.

There is another “volunteer” in the school who works more than full-time for a small stipend,  Mr. Spokter, the caretaker (custodian with responsibility for everything inside and outside the school). In an area with few jobs, these men don’t wait to find one that suits them. They work tirelessly to support the school their children attend. What a gift they are.

Alive With Music and Joy

The school is always full of music, but especially this year. The choruses were rehearsing for a competition and we had the treat of watching them. Such exuberance - so full of life. It is wonderful to see the teachers encouraging the students to show their personal style and enthusiasm. 

We often remark that everyone sings here. It is a part of life, not a separate endeavor.  In our first year, I asked one of the teachers if a child is ever told not to sing.  She looked at me with a perplexed look, sure she must have misunderstood what I was asking since English is not her first language.  How could they ever tell someone not to sing?

Reconnecting with Family

One of the hardest parts of being far away is not getting to see the Mofu family, with whom we lived for our first three visits. It was wonderful to visit them and catch up. Our first year, Yanga turned 7 – He is now 17 and in high school in the nearby city of Port Elizabeth.  He is such a confident and caring young man. He loves his science classes and we are excited for his plans to become a paramedic. 

The two younger boys in the family are now in middle school, sweet and fun-loving. To the delight of all, there is a new toddler, Pam’s daughter Luminjano which Pam told us means “God's love stands with us through thick and thin.”  We were eager to meet Pam’s husband and were impressed with his warmth and caring. And we saw their home, a few blocks away from her parents in the township. They are fixing it up room by room, with their hard work paying off. 

What a Birthday!

Friday happened to be Eileen’s birthday and the teachers worked hard to cook up a surprise. As she entered the meeting room, the whole staff boisterously sang, “Happy Birthday,” dancing with balloons, and presenting her with a birthday sash and a cake. Such love and joy goes into everything they do. At the end of the day, all 1100 students sang Happy Birthday in English and Xhosa and another favorite song of Eileen’s. It  just doesn’t get any better.

And those teachers!!!!  What a surprise:

A Beautiful Fall

It’s been very hot here even though they are going into winter. Well, hot for us, anyway. Two days went into the mid-90’s. It’s amazing how cool buildings can be when they are built to keep cool. It only hits those temps for a few hours mid-day, and we wear light sweaters in the morning and evening. Fall is a beautiful time of year here.

Surfer in Port Elizabeth 

April 25, 2019

Books and Computers and Lesson Plans - Oh My!

Well, we have brought resources with us, but never quite as much as this time!  We are pushing the limits of the luggage requirements and sure hope our scale is correct.

In our luggage are nine lightly-used laptops for the Bukani students, thanks to the generous donation of a business. When we get to Port Elizabeth, these will be equipped with new hard-drives with Windows and open source Office installed, thanks to donors to The Kugler Education Fund. We've also been able to purchase new memory for some of the older computers at Bukani. It's been a bit hectic the last few weeks, but so well worth it.

We're also carrying Big Books and associated readers. This includes two Big Books that Larry created himself, with words of songs that the students love to sing with him -- "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Of course we are also bringing Larry's guitar! How could we be there without singing with the kids?!

Oh yeah, we are also carrying on 4 car shock absorbers. We have friends who are indeed like family there, and they need shock absorbers so they can drive their car. Since the part would have to be imported from the U.S. (and far too expensive), they asked if we can bring them in. Sure!

Do we have room for clothes, you ask? We're just lucky the weather is warm and our clothes are light. Eileen, a chronic over-packer, had to learn to really assess what is necessary.

Our trip will take 33 hours, including an overnight stay in Johannesburg. It's all worth it.

April 12, 2019


It's official!  We leave on April 26 for three weeks at our beloved A.V. Bukani Elementary School in Nomathamsanqa Township, Addo, South Africa.

Larry is busy preparing professional development for the teachers on big books and accompanying little readers. Thanks to the donation from O'brien Associates in Richmond, we have a selection of big books and various small books for early readers, to be used in classroom instruction.

New computers a priority
Eileen's focus is on helping the school replace the aging out-of-date computers in their lab. Donations to the Kugler Education Fund (see "How to Donate")  this year will support that effort. We're also working with potential donors of new computers both from the U.S. and in South Africa.

September 16, 2015

"I am the product of what you have brought here"

We were definitely supposed to stay the fourth week. So many wonderful things took place at school that week. So much came together.

Our Farewell party was an extraordinary day that we will never forget, a surprise that the teachers and students worked on all week. The students displayed their academic prowess in a way we could not have imagined a few years ago. There are exciting details and pictures later in the blog, but first, we’ll report on so much else that happened this week.

It was a week of great achievement.  One of the school’s Grade 3 students won the area spelling bee!  Teacher Nomhle Gada was over the moon when she came in to give us the news.

And the older students took part in a successful Entrepreneur’s Day, under the mentorship of teacher Ben Tenato. 

They had to make something to sell during the mid-day break, advertise it, set out, sell it, and then figure out how much they made after accounting for all their expenses – an economics lesson. So much excitement at the school for this great event! 

The Library

While the school truly appreciates the library, there have been a number of obstacles to getting it functional. This, unfortunately, is the case in many township libraries with over-burdened teachers and no budget or staff to run it.  We were committed this month to trying to “crack this nut,” as our volunteer coordinator Paul Miedema said.

Through some contacts Eileen made in the broader community, she connected with a professor at  Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University  in Port Elizabeth, Dr. Laetitia Greying. Among the professor’s many specialties is library education.

Dr. Greyling met with Eileen in Port Elizabeth on the weekend and then agreed to come out to the school in the township. It could not have been a more positive experience for all involved. She talked about building a love of reading in the community. “Reading has such power. You can’t be mad at your child when you are sitting together reading.”

She met with Principal Thambo and several teachers who are members of the library committee, including new teacher Nombulelo Lamani who had worked at the municipal library. Dr. Greyling toured the school grounds, including the new Reception (kindergarten) areas under construction. She was impressed with the commitment of the school.

Ace Lamani and Laetitia Greyling
But the most fortuitous part was that when Dr. Greyling came to school she recognized Deputy Principal Ace Lamani from his Honors program where she had been one of his professors – one of his toughest, and one of his most supportive, he remembers. They were both happy to reconnect. She is eager to become involved with the school’s efforts to effectively organize the library and train community volunteers and teachers as library aides. She will also be a great resource for teachers interested in furthering their education.

The school still has work to do to move the library forward. The library committee stated it is committed to having boxes of books back in classrooms, something that hasn’t happened widely since there have been unfilled teacher positions in the school leaving some students without teacher oversight for many hours a day.  And there are organizational elements that need to be completed before Dr. Greyling becomes involved. But we are all hopeful these steps will be taken to take full advantage of the wonderful books in the library.
Dr. Seuss on the back of the library

Guided Reading Continues

Larry concluded his work with the six teachers he worked with. They included one Grade 2 teacher, three Grade 3 teachers , and two Grade 4 teachers. During this final week, the teaching responsibilities were completely turned over to the Bukani teachers. Each of them selected a book to use and to lead the lesson. Every one of them did a great job! 

It’s obvious they were astute observers when Larry did the teaching and their seriousness paid off. After each lesson, Larry provided immediate feedback and gave them written feedback by the next morning. The discussions with each teacher focused on what they had done well with one or two suggestions about what they could do to improve during the next lessons and in the future. Overall, each of these teachers made good progress during the month.  Guided reading is by far the most complex technique the staff has undertaken over our eight years and five trips. Much work is to be done to hone their skills, but, taking the long view, they have successfully begun this journey.
And, oh yes. Larry had great fun singing with many classes on Thursday and Friday before departing. The learners at A. V. Bukani so enjoyed learning these songs.  Their smiling faces, the peals of laughter at some of the silliness in the lyrics and Larry’s crazy renditions, and the absolute joyful dancing as they sang left everyone exhausted, sweaty, and exultant (especially Larry).

Parent Programs Build

Attendance at our parent meetings continued to increase during our final week. Deputy Principal Lamani and Mrs. Lamani helped with the translation and also worked with the parents and the learners, bringing joy to all.

The mothers and grandmothers continued to knit scarves for students at the school and really enjoyed the opportunity to get together. One of the community leaders is hoping to continue the knitting at the school.

Eileen also learned that there is an arts cooperative working with women in the area, called Valley Arts ( coordinated by the Centre for the Community School at Nelson Mandela Metro University. They are interested in working with the group that knits at Bukani. Currently they make beautiful bead work and other jewelry along with items from special cloth made only in that region.   **Eileen brought back some of the beautiful jewelry and other crafts from the cooperative for purchase if you are interested in supporting these women.**

But of course, the parent meetings were more than about crafts. During the meetings, the parents learned simple strategies to support their children’s reading and math skills. The parents were given blank cards and a pen to take home to work with their children. Early learners drew pictures of words that start with a certain sound. Some added in the word. Older learners drew pictures and wrote stories about them.

 One father asked me how to get his son to turn off the TV because he gets angry when the father turns it off. I suggested that his son probably wouldn’t mind turning off the TV if the father sat with him and worked on words and stories.  At the next meeting, the father came with his son and the son gave me a stack of cards with pictures and stories. They had truly enjoyed working on this together.

We also encouraged the parents to use their regular daily activities as a way to build math skills with their children. These included cooking, setting the table, grocery shopping, and counting out change for purchases.

An increasing number of children came to each meeting. We had books and word games out and they quickly became engaged. The older learners read books to the younger ones. We encouraged them to keep reading to their brothers and sisters, cousins, and neighbors.

Visiting Our Family in the Township

Yunga is at tall as Eileen
We always look forward to spending time with the Mofus, the family whom we lived with for our first three years. Grandson Yunga who turned six on our first trip is now 14! He is still sweet and caring, but definitely a teenager:). 

Rev. Lovemore Mofu has suffered from kidney failure the past few years. He now goes for dialysis three times a week in a hospital about 50 minutes away. It is a full day’s trip for both him and his wife Nomsamo every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It’s quite a challenge, including the cost of a ride there. One time he did not have the money for transportation and he skipped dialysis. He became so ill, he was in the hospital for 10 days.

They also care for their two young grandsons, whose mother is working in a nearly town. Yunga and the two little ones are the love of their lives. No one gives a hug like their grandma Nomsamo! Pam, Yunga’s mother, works at one of the schools in the township and is a tremendous help and support for her parents and all three boys.

We had dinner at the Mofu home the night before we left. Pam and Nomsamo had wide smiles on their faces and said they had a special gift for us. They honored our family by giving Sara and Alex’s children Xhosa names! As in the Native American tradition, Xhosa names have deep meaning and are a treasured gift to those outside the culture. Maxine’s name is Sinovuyo, one who brings happiness, and Elias’ name is Sipho, a gift. A great honor to our family, indeed.

“I am the product of what you have brought here since 2008”

Our farewell party is always fun and moving – but this year it was something we could not have imagined.  It was one of the most powerful days of our lives.

The teachers wanted to create something completely different from previous
years and they kept it a secret from us all week. The Farewell showcased the Grade 6 and 7 students who were just starting school when we first arrived in 2008. All the speeches were written and delivered by the students, the first time students were given an important responsibility like that.

The official welcome was presented by a 7th grade student:  

I am the product of what you have brought here since 2008. I am from an unnamed family, but you taught me the strategies I needed so I could learn.”

Other students made similar remarks: 
Thank you for planting the seeds that helped us grow.” 
“We will never forget the Kugler family.”

Larry and I were stunned. And of course, the tears started falling and didn’t stop for an hour. The students displayed their reading and writing skills, their creative poetry, and their knowledge of strategies that Larry taught.  The students performed a fun skit about reading a Big Book, including discussing it afterwards.

The learners sang all the songs Larry had taught them, one led on a guitar that a student made in a class where they each made a musical instrument. The Grade 1 learners sang “The Penguin Song” which Eileen had taught them, after her granddaughter, Maxine, taught it to her.

The older learners performed “This Little Light of Mine,” a new song Larry taught this year. Afterwards, choking back tears, Eileen spoke to the Grade  7students. Many will go off to a high school that has severe limitations. And they will face racism and injustice in a country still breaking free from its harsh history. She urged the students to “Never let anyone try to put out your light. If someone tells you that you can't, remember me standing in front of you telling you that you can. And share your light with your younger brothers and sisters, cousins and neighbors. That is how your teachers learned and it is now your responsibility.

Of course, there was great fun, too, with dancing and singing. What would a party be without music?!

This was a program that opened our eyes to the impact our work has had. And inspired us to continue. Yes, there are still challenges and we need to take the long view. But we can revel in a celebration of what these students have gained in confidence, knowledge, and skills. We could not be prouder of them.

It was a wonderful fifth visit, shared with friends who made their own impact on these deserving teachers and learner. We'll have more reflections soon...

Eileen and Larry