Sometimes, I get downright angry as a PCV. On Wednesday, I got very angry at my principal, and had to use all my willpower not to yell at her, and honestly wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. I didn’t, of course. But I so badly wanted her to understand what I was trying to say that I finally had to stop talking and go stew in the corner.

South African educators often get caught up in the luxuries of the First World, which tends to tick me off because my school is far from “First World”. And the Department of Education supports it, which is every more frustrating. The source of contention today was simply printing colored photos. Full page color photos, one after the other, after doing this for the past few weeks, for one teacher only. Photos which zap both the colored and black ink cartridges, cartridges which are expensive.

As an American, I think printing so many photos, which are then stuck into a file and rarely see the light of day, is ridiculous! I see barefoot kids in threadbare uniforms, walls badly in need of paint, a shortage of desks, broken chairs, battered textbooks, smashed windows, holes in the fence, and a scarcity of books, to name a few. The things which serve the learners are falling apart, but goodness, if an educator wants to print 20 full-page photos to shove in a file, or to give to their families, let’s rush out and buy more cartridges! Now now!

One of my main struggles in teaching, besides the language, is that learners do not have pens and pencils. They can’t afford to buy more, so they share. This means it takes twice as long to do classwork and tests because they are sharing their pens.

But hey, we’ve gone through 500 rand in ink cartridges in the past few weeks, just for one teacher’s file.

I tried to show the principal how I felt, and why I thought it was a waste of money. Why the school should spend money on things that directly benefit the learners, since that’s what the money is for. The conversation went round and round, until the end:

Me: “So you would rather spend money on printing out photos for teachers than buy pencils and pens for the learners?”
Principal: “Yes.”

I gave up. I was angry and didn’t want to say something I would regret, or offend her too much. But it’s really hard to see my school’s scarce resources spent on something that doesn’t benefit the learners. So I calculated a few things as I was stewing in my corner.

Roughly R500 has been spent on ink cartridges for this one teacher’s file. That could have been spent on any of the following:

10 pairs of shoes for our barefoot learners
6 jerseys/jackets for the learners who have none
62 loaves of bread
429 eggs
14 pairs of tights for the girls’ skirts in winter
25 stocking hats
50 kg of mealie meal (staple of SAfrican diet)

I feel like 10 kids with shoes or full bellies is better than a few dozen poor-quality photo. But that’s just me being ethnocentric, I suppose. Something I try to avoid.


About Jen Lamos

Christ follower. Writer. Permaculturist. RPCV. Photographer. Gardener. Keeper of Chickens. Daughter of God.

2 thoughts on “Wasteful

  1. Hi Jen. I read the mayority of your posts and this is the one that struck the most. As a fellow PCV I feel you and have been through some of this kind of situations. It’s so hard for us to try to convey in good ways what locals are doing wrong. I have been more lucky then you have and when I bring up stuff like this they take it into consideration and some changes happen. I think from the beginning, since you felt strong about the waste, your attitute was a big deffensive and maybe that’s why the convo with the Director didn’t go well. As you know, it takes time to change people’s minds. But I congratulate you for trying. You can also encourage this type of change via other means or actions. Good luck!

  2. I’m with you on this being insane. I work in a Title I school in the U.S. and we don’t have enough copies on the copier to get the job done, let alone a color printer to use at will. I think it would be a delicate task to change the minds of the administration about it.

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