We are always excited to offer students the opportunity to connect across continents and cultures. Our summer 2010 Global Learning Expedition volunteers from The Pingry School visited South Africa on July 30th. The student volunteers spent the six months leading up to the trip collecting, sorting and packing thousands of books which arrived in late July to South Africa. After their fourteen days in South Africa they had the following reflections…
Yeah, so this trip was really awesome. It was completely different than what I expected. The people of South Africa were very welcoming wherever we went and it was really cool to meet everyone. I will never forget this trip experience and I hope to try it again sometime soon. I wish the trip could have been longer; it beats school. ~Alex
This was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. This country is full of the nicest people that really respect us for our mission. I hope to come back again soon to continue spreading literacy to those who don’t have the same opportunities as us! ~Eleni
I think one of the things I’m going to remember most about this trip is the gratitude from the students. It’s one thing to hear the adults or teachers tell us that we are making a difference or helping their school a lot, but it’s so much more rewarding to hear it from the students themselves. ~Kaitlyn
Even though I have gone to South Africa for four years this trip has definitely been different. I was so happy to see the faces on the students when they received their books and saw their redone classroom. The trip was great and I wish the trip could be longer. ~Reeve
The things that I have learned during my time in South Africa are some that I believe will stay with me throughout my entire life. I saw children who owned next to nothing, but possessed some of the strongest wills to learn I have ever seen. South Africa may have the most welcoming environment I have experienced, and I would love to return. -Kit
This has been one of the best and coolest experiences of my life. I’ve seen so much here and have learned a lot just from being around all the children at the schools. Seeing their spirit and eagerness to learn has really inspired me. See you all soon! ~Harlen
This has been such a great two weeks. This is my 4th year here and this has been my favorite trip so far because of the people here with me (but I missed you, Dad lolz). This group has done so much and it’s been a lot of fun to be here with Pingry people who I have gotten to know so much better. I know that I speak for everyone when I say that I have fallen in love with all of the kids at Zuurbekom and want to take them all home. ~Chloe
I love being in South Africa and being able to help so many children at different African schools. The hardest thing I have had to overcome during this trip is that the children I encountered are not getting a very good education. Knowing that they could be getting a much better one but they are not able to is saddening. ~Super Solomon
These past two weeks have been amazing! At Pingry we always have exciting guests from all over the world: speakers, foreign exchange students, student visitors, etc. It was really interesting to finally be a guest in someone else’s school. To be honest, I think the students at Zuurbekom were a lot more welcoming than I have ever been at Pingry. Their questions were so personal, and I felt like they really cared about us. We were like guests in their home, but it wasn’t like we were awkward acquaintances, instead we were more like long lost friends with so many things in common. All in all, I LOVE SOUTH AFRICA (thanks mops and pops for letting me go, lylas!) ☺ ~Tierney
This being my fourth year going to South Africa I knew what it would be like, and what I thought our group would be doing for the two weeks. Except this time we took a main interest in The Zuurbekom School. Unlike the other years when we went to multiple schools and did not have such a strong bond with the students, which this group clearly had with this school. I cannot wait to see you dad in a couple of days, and I am sad you could not go. I think that this group became very close friends in such a short period of time. ~Sean
It’s Sara. We are taking the kids to a soccer game tonight-South Africa vs. Ghana so we will not have a formal email from the kids until tomorrow-our last email day. I am hoping tomorrow’s email will be reflections from all of them on what tomorrow is like. I have a feeling we will have some sad children on our hands. They have really connected with the students at Zuurbekom and as I mentioned before, I have been incredibly impressed by all of their willingness to step out of their comfort zones and make connections with the students and all of the people they have been meeting.
I want to thank all of you for being so supportive of this trip and your children as the first official Pingry service trip to South Africa. It has truly been a pleasure to have all of them here and to watch them as they experience life on this continent. I am sure they will all have many stories to tell and photos to share when they get home.
It’s hard to believe we only have two more days in country.
Take care and thanks again for all of your support!
Today we spent nearly all of our day at Zuurberkom. There weren’t as many children in the school today because of a teachers’ strike in South Africa. The strike was held in order to increase the teachers’ wages.
We split the children into groups by grade level, and there were about two Pingry students assigned to each grade. Alex and Reeve were put in charge of grade 6 students, and they read books that the children picked from the library. Kit and Solomon read to grade 3 students, who seemed to like Arthur books. The students also enjoyed reading aloud to the students who were teaching them. While we were around the school, some of the younger children approached us and asked us to read with them. Most of the kids love Dr. Seuss books.
Once we were done teaching, we put up some posters around the grade 5 classroom we had painted for the school. The classroom continues to look better and better as we put on the finishing touches. As we were finishing, we kept track of the last supplies we needed, and took our final trip to the market to get everything we would need to leave them with a fully functioning classroom.
At day’s end we came back to ALA and where we met with a South African social worker who works with the government, named Mr. Itumeleng. He talked about his life growing up as a South African during Apartheid and about the future of his country. We had a question and answer session with him in which we asked questions involving South Africa as a whole, the education system, and the effects of the World Cup on South Africa. We are really excited because we get to go to a soccer (football) game tomorrow! It’s South Africa vs. Ghana, so it should be a very good game. However, we are also sad that we only have one more day at Zuurberkom because it already feels like we have a great connection with the children there.
Catch ya on the flip side -Alex and Kit
Before we start our email we would like to wish the mothers a Happy Women’s Day. Women’s Day is a celebration of the women of South Africa’s involvement in the fight against apartheid. On August 9, 1956 there was a Women’s March, which is commemorated every year on this day. We would also like to say Happy Birthday to Mr. Shangold.
Today we went to Gold Reef City, an amusement park set over a mine. Unfortunately Kit was not feeling well so Mr. Vassall and her had to stay at ALA. Although we spent the bus ride crying because we missed them, we still had a great time the rest of the day. The first thing that we did was take a guided tour of the mine. We went down to the 5th level, which felt like we were really far underground, until we realized that there were 57 levels in the mine. We learned about how the mine worked while walking in the tunnels.
Hi Dad, it’s not Reeve.
After finishing the tour of the mine we spent the rest of the day running around from ride to ride. Shangolds you might want to sit down –Harlen actually went on Anaconda, a rollercoaster that flips upside-down while your feet dangle in the air! He may or may not have been crying (wind in his eyes?), but hey, he did it twice. McFarlands Eleni went on a ride called UFO which spins you around at 50 km per hour while you stand in a box without being strapped in. At one point you are parallel to the ground while still spinning. We went on a bunch of other rides, including a ride called Tower of Terror, which Tierney, Alex, Solomon, Kaitlyn, and Chloe went on. This ride had the highest “fear factor” rating in the park. It takes you straight up and then drops you to the ground face-first. Pictures from the day are priceless, so get excited for those.
We met up with Mr. Vassall and Kit and went to dinner at Tony’s Spaghetti. It was yet another great dinner. It was a great day and we are glad that Kit is feeling a little bit better. We can’t wait to get back to working at the schools tomorrow! Hope everything is going well at home.
Love, Kaitlyn and Chloe
Today we went to a church service with Reverend Zacharia. It was such a moving experience- it was like a party for God! We were singing and dancing along with all of the people there. Solomon showed off his cool moves. We all got to stand up individually and introduce ourselves to the congregation. They were so welcoming and happy to see us. They really seemed to appreciate our mission for South Africa. They offered us “queenscake” muffins- they tasted like a mix of corn muffins and cupcakes. They were delicious after our three hour church service.
Today was also my (Solomon’s) birthday and the congregation of the church sang happy birthday to me.
Afterward, we went to the Lion Park. We drove our van through a reserve and saw all sorts of animals- like zebras, springbok, hyenas, jackals, cheetahs, wildabeasts, ostriches, antelope, and a couple of giraffes that came up to our window. The coolest were the lions! We got some really cool pictures. We also got a picture of Mr. Vassall comparing his height to a giraffe. We were able to interact with some lion cubs right before they got fed some bloody horse right in front of us. Seeing the beautiful animals in their natural habitats made us feel sorry that we ate them a few days ago. We are excited to go to an amusement park tomorrow!
Solomon and Eleni
p.s. Solomon’s birthday cake was banana bread
Supsies Rents (again), Yup, you guessed it, it’s us again! I know you’ve missed our colorful emails! We have a contest going for who writes the best emails, so compliments are greatly appreciated!
Today, we got to sleep until 9:30, which was wonderful. We went to the African Market where Alex, Solomon, and Sara showed their bartering skills. Alex and Solomon bought African knives, and they are planning an epic battle to the death, so please do not be alarmed if one of them does not return home to New Jersey. (Jokes!) After successfully stimulating South Africa’s economy, we headed to Pretoria, the political capitol of South Africa. We slipped into the courtroom where Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment, and outside we saw a street magician break free from handcuffs (I think you all understand the irony ?). Then we went to The Union Building where the current President works and part of the movie Invictus was filmed. We were not allowed in because of our lack of South African citizenship, but the outside of the building and it’s surrounding landscaping was just breathtaking.
After seeing the Union Building we went to Freedom Park, a tribute to those who lost their lives fighting for freedom throughout all of history. From the park you can see the Afrikaners’ monument, which they built to celebrate The Great Trek from Cape Town. Our tour guide informed us that a road is being built from the Afrikaners’ monument to Freedom Park. In most societies the Afrikaners’ monument would have been knocked down at the end of apartheid, and the fact that they are connecting the two shows how Mandela successfully and peacefully brought the country together.
For dinner we went to Moyo, where we enjoyed a unique dining experience. It was similar to Planet Hollywood, African Edition, but WAY cooler. Everyone but Eleni and Olubayi got their faces painted, and for Solomon’s almost-birthday celebration we surprised him by asking the waitress to sing happy birthday. She proceeded to bring ice cream with a sparkler candle and all her friends to our table. They shook their hips like no other, sang beautiful songs, and played fresh beats on the drums– our waitress even fed King Solomon (what the drummers referred to him as) his first bite.
After a busy day being tourists, we all played 30 seconds, a charade/board game we purchased a few days ago. We learned that Eleni has a weird way of acting out “sister,” Sara has trouble controlling her breathing, most of us have anger management, and Keith has an excellent singing voice — Oh and the seniors dominate at life.
We do have some bad news; this is the last time you will be hearing from the two of us. It has been real. See you all in a week.
Live. Laugh. Love.
Harlen and Tierney
Today the group got an extra hour of sleep because the teachers at Zuuberkom, and some other schools were on strike. The reason they were on strike is the Union said they had to demand for a pay increase. We used the day for handing out books at Randfontein Primary School, the school that Emma worked at this fall. Every student 1-7 got one book to keep and read.
The RCL, student leaders for the school welcomed us to their school and thanked us for the books. We also introduced ourselves and talked about our time in their beautiful country. When we were leaving the kids were reading their books. Hi dad, it’s reeve. In the afternoon, we went shopping for school supplies for Zuuberkom. The group is excited to deliver the school supplies to the students.
We went to Nelson Mandela’s house, the first one that he owned. Our tour guide was apart of the student uprising and has devoted her life to the struggle. She has a constant reminder of what she went through when she was 18. On her leg there is a scar from a bullet. I can’t believe we are already half way through the trip.
From the worlds best writers,
Sean and the better and more talented Reeve
Today started as usual with breakfast at 7. We packed sandwiches quickly and hopped on the bus to Zuurbekom. Everyone fell asleep on the bus…which seems to be a daily occurrence. When we arrived we woke ourselves up and headed up to the library. After picking out books to read to the classes we split up into two groups and went to the seventh and ninth grade classrooms. Although we were told that we would be helping the teachers teach the class, the teachers jumped on the opportunity to go to the break room as soon as we showed up.
In the seventh grade room, which had fifty students, Tierney, Solomon, Sean, Reeve, and Chloe made an acrostic of South Africa, read the Three Little Pigs, and played a few games to teach them parts of speech. The kids enjoyed the chance to be read to, which almost never happens in their school. In the ninth grade room, Harlen, Eleni, Kit, Alex, and Kaitlyn played word games with about forty kids, encouraging them to think for themselves and then promoted each student’s self image by asking them to describe themselves in different ways. Harlen, Tierney, and Chloe also visited a fourth grade class. It was clear that the main strategy was that the teachers and students used was rote memorization.
After being in the classrooms for two hours, we all went outside for another crazy recess. Kids ran around asking for our signatures and some students even signed our arms. Everyone felt like a celebrity with hoards of kids around them asking for autographs and pictures. What was really cool about recess was that although the kids were free to do whatever they wanted, they were most excited to listen to us read stories to them. Their desire to learn was apparent, which made all of us realize how much potential these kids have and what they could accomplish with well trained teachers and adequate supplies. Although some teachers work very hard to educate their students, many lack a proper education themselves having been taught under the apartheid system.
Although we were exhausted by lunch time (who knew kids were that much work?!) we piled back onto the bus and headed to the Carol Shaw Memorial Center and School to finish unpacking and sorting the books. We inhaled our lunch on the bus and got back to work as soon as we got there. After almost four hours of work we were relieved to have the books divided and organized.
At dinner we had a guest speaker named Caroline Setsiba. Mrs. Setsiba was a freedom fighter and was able to tell us about her involvement in the student uprisings of 1976. At only 15 years old she was one of the leaders of the march that we learned about at the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum. It was incredibly interesting to hear her story and the hardships she faced for many years after the march on June 16, 1976. She explained to us that she was forced to give birth to her first child alone in order to stay hidden from police when she was in her early twenties. Later that year she brought her daughter with her to prison for two weeks in order to feed her. She also told us about being imprisoned in solitary confinement for six months. Hearing her story made the struggle come alive, especially because she was our age when she was involved.
We hoped we haven’t bored you too much, but it has been the most powerful and serious day that we have had, but in a good way. Both being in the classrooms and hearing from the speaker has made us realize how far this country has come but also how much remains in need of change.
On a lighter note, the group is really getting to know each other and bonding even more. We have had a great trip so far and can’t believe that we are almost halfway done! We miss you… but not nearly enough to come back early. We would really appreciate an extra plane ticket home to bring a new sibling (or maybe a few extra seats).
Kaitlyn and ChloeP.S. Sawbona means hello in Zulu. The kids are trying to teach us some of South Africa’s eleven languages. Needless to say, we are going to stick with English.
Yeah, so basically we had our first work day yesterday. We went to Zuurberkom, one of the schools, in the morning and painted a fifth grade classroom as well as a science lab. The classroom is a pale mint color now, which looks nice. The children were excited and intrigued by us being at their school. Some even left class to see us, something not suggested but kinda cool. In the afternoon, we went to the “farm school” and packed/sorted books for other schools. Some of the kids were so excited, that they took more books than they were allotted. Some of us took time to read to the kids, and let them read the books themselves. That evening, we went to a restaurant called Carnivore where they served many exotic animals, including zebra, giraffe, crocodile, and antelope. We were so tired when we got home (ALA), that we missed one of our daily updates.
Today, we returned to Zuurberkom, and finished up painting most of the classroom and the lab. During the student’s recess, we went and played with them. We were maybe kinda mobbed. They were excited to be able to hang out with us. Then we finished up at Zuurberkom for the day. Then we went to the mall for lunch, and then to the bank to exchange money. Then we went to another mall to shop and stuff… We bought a board game similar to charades. Then we went to a store that was similar to Target. We bought some supplies for the classrooms. We found some posters and clipboards for the rooms. We used the money that we had raised at Pingry through pizza sales, so we got to see most of the process from start to finish, first raising the money, and then putting it towards our cause. Then, after packing up the van, we returned to ALA for dinner. We had ostrich for dinner! It was good, and it kinda tasted like a mixture of chicken and steak. Tomorrow, we have our first day of helping to teach the kids. Some of us are a little nervous for our first day of teaching, but we are definitely excited. We get to use the computer on the day that we write our emails… which is our motivation to write a great emailll!!!
so yaaahhh xox
Alex and Kit
Hello from South Africa-
Today was our first day at the two schools we will be working with. We were greeted with beautiful African songs and dances it was very powerful and some of us even got emotional. The sight of the smiling students welcoming us with such joy was incredibly heartwarming. We also started to realize how much of an impact we may make on these children and how important this trip will really be.
One of the students told us, “we now know we are special because you are here. You are our heroes.”
Following the welcoming ceremony we go a tour of the school and saw the classrooms we will be refurbishing. After this we split up into groups of two and visited different classrooms to talk to the students. Their interest in America was amazing. We got questions ranging from “how many classes do you have in school”, to “do you know Kanye West?”
We spent the afternoon at Carol Shaw school where in2007 the GLP group refurbished a building and turned it into a library. A small private school has now been created on this land and is in its first year of operation. The students here range in age from kindergarten to grade 12 and we spent most of our time interacting with the oldest students.
We taught the kids games and talked to them about school and life. We learned to difference between the South African question, “are you going to university?” vs. the US question of “which university are you going to?”
We are now so inspired for the rest of the trip. We are further appreciating what we have at home, especially after seeing the harsh living conditions of the students we met. We’re all so into this trip we may never come home!:)
Solomon and Eleni