Hey everyone! The beginning of this week was more fun safari-ing. Our guide squeezed the water out of elephant poop and drank it, which was a bit ridiculous and gross. We also went on the world’s fastest, highest, and longest zip line. It looked incredibly intimidating but we all loved it.
On Wednesday, our families left for New Jersey. It was really hard to say goodbye and watch them leave, but we’re finally settled in at our new home. The family we’re staying with is great, and we feel very comfortable. “Aunt Laura ” and “Uncle Andrew,” as they invited us to call them, have been involved with Global Literacy Project for over two years now. Their daughter Bekiwe also lives here and is doing her graduate study at Witswatersrand University.
Two Princeton students are finishing up their internships with GLP and are also living at the Peppetta’s. One just left, and the other leaves in about a week.
We visited a few schools on Thursday and Friday. We picked up our schedules from Randfontein Primary School and found out we’ll be working with 1st-3rd graders straight from 7:30 am to about 1:30 pm, which will be tiring but also exhilarating. We start there tomorrow. We also visited Zuurbekom, where we met with the principal and worked with our first class. It was pretty overwhelming, since their teacher wasn’t there and we had no notice or direction on activities or their reading levels, but we decided to split the kids into groups and work with them that way. In any case, it was nice to spend a little time with the class and get a better sense for the school. We’ll be there every Thursday.
Saturday was one of our best days here so far. We took nine kids from the farm at Caroll Shaw Memorial to Johannesburg for a sort of field trip. These kids live in homes on squatter land and go to a farm school, where they have limited resources and teachers who are often absent. We have spent a little time with these kids before because they use the library we set up two years ago. Besides their walk to school every day, they do not leave their properties on the farm. A teacher accompanied us on the trip and pointed out that these kids (except for her own, who were also with us) had never been into Johannesburg before, even though it is only about an hour away from them. It would cost about 30 rand (the equivalent of ~4 dollars) for them to get into the city, and their families can’t afford to spend that. We went first to lunch in Soweto, at an all-you-can-eat buffet (it’s amazing how much a buffet lunch can spring kids to life!) and then went to the Hector Pieterson museum, which describes the Soweto Student Uprisings of 1976, at which students protested the forced use of Afrikaans as the main language in all schools.
Afterwards we headed into Johannesburg, where we toured briefly and then went to the Carlton Center, which holds the Top of Africa, the tallest building in the continent. We had a great view of the city, but the best part was going on elevators and escalators for the kids for their first times. They were terrified in the elevators! They were so confused that their ears were popping, their stomachs felt funny, and they felt like they were falling. A few of the girls were clinging to us and closing their eyes! And at the top of escalators they would hesitate–one girl even screamed! We got funny looks from the shoppers as we rode the escalators up and down multiple times. On the car ride home, the kids were holding our hands, playing with our hair, and constantly hugging us. They also broke into a bunch of songs spontaneously–and, of course, sounded significantly better and more organize than a group of Pingry kids singing “Build Me Up Buttercup” on our own field trips.
We’re enjoying ourselves but we miss you all!
Hey guys! The start of this week was pretty busy, but we are now at the Ivory Tree Game Lodge in Pilanesburg (a national park), spending the last few days with our families on a safari.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, our GLP group hosted two different book fairs. The first was for about ten schools in the Randfontein area. There were a lot of speakers (including government officials, principals, GLP representatives, South African students, and us). Every child who attended received a book or two to bring home. For some it was the first book that they have ever owned.
(During this book fair, GLP also unveiled two books, one of poetry and one of short stories. The books were made up of collected writings from the South African students themselves. The poetry book also contained poems from New Jersey studnets who had been writing to their South African counterparts.)
The second book fair was held in one of the government housing projects, called “Mandela housing.” It’s going to be a GLP “high literacy cluster” (the idea is to essentially saturate an entire area with books and other educational resources).
We’re buying each of the 400 houses a bookshelf and donating at least twenty books. This is one of the places that the two of us will be working, possibly every afternoon. GLP also plans to set up a formal library and after-school program in the village.
We also continued to be teachers’ assistants at RPS. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we worked with small groups of first and third graders, mostly focusing on literacy. The kids never failed to be charming and eager to learn, but we also saw how far behind some of them were: a few third graders did not know the sounds or names of the letters. We were both reminded how much fun children’s books are to read and discuss, especially with little kids! Christina is obsessed with Where the Wild Are. And if you have a spare moment during the first weeks of college or whatever you’re doing, go read some The Cat in the Hat or Rainbow Fish.
Now we are taking a few days to relax before we really launch into our work and settle into a routine. Today we saw lions, a cheetah, a leopard, buffalo, elephants, giraffes, and much more. At one point, a lot of us had to go to the bathroom—but we were surrounded by elephants on both sides, unable to reach a toilet! Not to mention that elephants are HUGE, and could trample us without much thought. Our guide had to slowly to back the truck down a side road until all of the elephants were in one group again. Luckily, we all made it to the bathroom.
Our families fly back home Wednesday, and we’ll be moving into Peppetta’s house in Randfontein. Hope everything is going well with you!
Emma, Christina, and Meryl have been teaching and working as teacher’s assistants over the past week at Randfontein Primary School. We also talked with teachers about the challenges that they face because of curriculum, class size, language barriers, etc. Being teacher’s assistants has mostly consisted of taking out smaller groups (generally either the most advanced kids or the weakest kids) to work on reading and phonics. This has been great: the kids are adorable and determined.
We have a couple stories. The “learners” refer to all of their teachers as ma’am. During one of the smaller group sessions, Emma told that kids that they could call her Emma. A boy quickly jumped in to explain to the other students that it was ok, because although she was teaching them, she was still a pretend ma’am.
In Christina’s group, a kid pronounced the word “the” like “tuh.” Christina and the rest of the group tried to work with him and practice making the “th” sound. After almost a minute of this, the kid sheepishly smiled and said to Christina, “ma’am, I don’t have my front teeth.” Sure enough, the kid was missing three or four of his top front teeth!
This afternoon, we went to a lion park. We actually got to pet and play with lion cubs. And Emma, Christina, and Meryl can officially say that they have been bit by lions!
Sorry for how awkwardly written this was. We don’t really know how to do it without talking in the third person…If you made it to the end, thank you!
To everyone heading to college this week, good luck! We miss you all and hope that everything’s going well. Please update us on your lives too!
One of the classrooms that we revisited was the grade “R” (aka kindergarten) room at the Thabisile School in Soweto that the group worked on last August. Christina did her Gold Award project there, which consisted of planning and fund-raising for a renovation (retiling, repainting, and supplying) using the Montessori (classroom “stations”) method. Returning to the room was very exciting, because the teacher had fully utilized all of the supplies and information provided, and effectively using the all of the Montessori stations (and even added her own, a Science Center). The kids were working and reading at a higher level than we had seen before.
(Principal Vilakazi had written a letter to us: “As we explained to you when you were here with the rest of the Global Literacy Project group in August , our Grade R is not funded by the government; it is funded by impoverished parents who have trouble raising the small amount of money that we ask of them. The little money that the parents raise is used to pay the Grade R teacher. There is no money left over for books, chairs or any teaching materials for Grade R. Without your generosity and effort, our Grade R would have remained a bare room without any teaching materials for many years.” She also had said “…your Girl Scout Gold Award project has become gold for us: this has become a model Grade R room that all the other primary schools in Soweto want to visit and to emulate. So far very many principals and teachers from the surrounding schools have come to visit our Gold Grade R room.”)
We also returned to the Zuurbekom school, where we went around from classroom to classroom to distribute books to each of the students. We saw the grade R room that we renovated last year (under the direction of Chloe Carver and Meghan Barry).
Hi everyone! For those of you who don’t already know, this is our third time in South Africa, and each trip has been very different. We’ve been involved with Global Literacy Project since our sophomore year, which has given us the opportunity to work in a seven different schools in Randfontein and Soweto. The people we’ve met and the desire for education we’ve witnessed has motivated us to begin our gap year with a few months. If you would like more information on Global Literacy Project in general, definitely check out glpinc.org.
Our first few days here were basically just reacquainting ourselves with the people we’ve met through the organization and the schools we’ve previously worked at. We were once again reminded of apartheid’s still-lingering effects on the countries, especially evident in the education system. We again saw the incredibly striking distribution of wealth.
For the first two weeks, our group consists of fourteen people: Christina’s family, Emma’s family, Olubayi Olubayi (president of GLP), Emeka Akaezuwa (trustee of GLP), Ramsey Vehslage (Pingry middle school teacher), and Meryl Ironson (Bragg school teacher). The group has worked on a variety of projects, including unloading the container and sorting books for two upcoming book fairs, introducing high school students and teachers to computers and the internet, revisiting our past classroom renovations and library, repainting a class, and working with teachers and students at Randfontein Primary School (RPS).
Look out for our continuing adventures! Check us out on Facebook also!