Family Quilt

On our second volunteer trip A.V. Bukani, we began a groundbreaking project to engage families in the school. As a consultant to U.S. diverse schools, Eileen realized that many families are distant from school not because they don’t care, but because they don’t know why or how connect.  

In August 2008, Eileen led a project to engage the mothers and grandmothers of the community. These are extraordinary women, truly the “mothers” of the nation, who themselves sacrificed much, including their own opportunities for education. Together the families created a school quilt, with each family creating a square that described their hopes and dreams for their child. Based on a model by Teaching for Change in Washington, DC, the quilt-making project connected the families to the school in a non-threatening way, while giving them the tools to be supportive advocates for their children. As the mothers and grandmothers sewed together, they learned about strategies and resources for helping their children.

Words cannot describe the significance that this quilt took on for the community, as the mothers and grandmothers appreciating the opportunity to send a message to the school and to their children about their hopes for the future. As in far too many schools around the world, the educators at A.V. Bukani had viewed the families as simply poor and illiterate, with little to offer. This project proved quite the opposite.

While the school thought about 20 families might attend the meetings, about 75 mothers and grandmothers came to the school to be part of the 5-sessions project.  The late afternoon meetings typically ran for 2 to 2½ hours (although we had initially planned them for an hours, the families chose to stay much longer).  Volunteer mothers cooked full dinners for the mothers and grandmothers for each meeting.  While they sewed, I led discussions on how they could help their children become successful and reach their dreams. Guest speakers talked about adult education classes the family members can take or the resources available in the greater community.

It was the end of the fourth meeting when one of the grandmothers, a leader in the class, said that they must give Eileen a name in Xhosa, a culture in which names take on great significance.  “Your name is 
Nosango,” she said and all the family members nodded and clapped. “Nosango means ‘gate.’ You have opened the gates of freedom to us. You have opened the gates of learning.” Truly a moment.

And at each meeting, the mothers and grandmothers poured their hearts onto their squares. Each design spoke volumes.

The quilt -- we believe the first such school quilt in a South African township -- now hangs in the entrance to the school as a reminder to all of the power of dreams. The Herald newspaper in Port Elizabeth wrote about the project, including photos and audio on their website. 

For more details, see our blog entries for August 2009