Heritage Day Singing

This is a video I took of the children’s choir at our After School Care centre. OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) come each day from about 5 different schools, grades 1-11. They learn lifeskills, practice cultural traditions, play sports, participate in a Scouts troop, receive homework help, and eat a good meal each day.

Last week, our centre hosted another drop in centre from Nkowankowa, in honor of South Africa’s Heritage Day, and this is a video of our children singing what I believe is a gospel song. Though my Xitsonga isn’t good enough to tell. 🙂

Souns Like…

No, that’s not a typo!

I have officially started working with the literacy program called Souns.  Now that I’m back at site, I’ve started working with the creche children (kindergarten), doing Souns everyday. Right now I’m just working with one class (3-4 years), but I’ll be working with all 75 of our creche learners, aged 0-5 years!

So how exactly do you teach literacy to toddlers and really young kids?  And in a language they don’t speak?

Souns is a really neat program because you can use any language as the medium of instruction, and you teach children letter sounds, rather than names.  For example, and “m” is a “mmm” not an “em”.  Why?  Think about what sound the letter makes.  Children (especially in a second or third language) can easily become confused when they start to read because the letter “s” is called an “es” but makes a “sss” sound.  Heck, it sounds confusing when I read it.

However, if children are taught that “s” is a “sss”, they can lay out the word “stop” and think “sss-tih-ah-pih” and read “stop” easily.  Later on, children can be taught the letter names and spelling, once they have figured out the sounds and start building and reading words.

If I lost you, sorry.  It’s a really cool program, trust me. And hopefully a way to overcome language barriers while teaching children basic literacy.  The really sweet part is that most letters sound the same in each language.  For example, I know for a fact that “m” makes a “mmm” sound in English, Spanish, French, Setswana, Xitsonga, Afrikaans…etc.  However, the letter name isn’t necessarily the same in each language.  Less information, less confusion.

Soooo….today was my first day with Souns.  I went to one of the 3-4 years class, which had 22 kids in it.  Souns is designed to be used with a group of 5-8 children in an informal environment, so sitting in front of 22 children in a classroom wasn’t ideal.  However, due to current staffing shortages and language barriers between the teacher and me, I decided it wouldn’t be bad to start out this way.  The kids can figure out what exactly I want them to do together, and hopefully next week we can find a place to play with our Souns in small groups.

I was impressed with these kids.  They know the alphabet song, but don’t know what it means, so I got to start with a pretty blank slate.  I started with “o” (ah), “m” (mmm), and “s” (sss), and the kids had a blast.  We spent maybe 20 minutes going over the sounds, and at the end of my session, most kids were figuring out which sound went with each letter.  I’m sure most will forget by tomorrow, but that’s okay.

I’ll start adding more letters once the children start to master these three sounds.  And if you were wondering, we started with those three letters because they are the most natural sounds to make.  Think of the noises babies make.

Souns started training SA PCVs with my cohort, back in 2011.  Due to where my site was located, I wasn’t able to be involved.  So I’m really happy to finally be working with the program!

Want to learn more about Souns, or potentially donate some money so Souns sets can be distributed to more schools?  Look no further than here, at their website.

-Jen

After Two Years….the Things I’ve Learned

I arrived in Africa two years ago, a wide-eyed, fresh-out-of-college, born and raised in Iowa girl, and I distinctly remember freezing through my first night, almost in tears, wondering why in the world Africa was so COLD!  I grew up thinking Africa was hot, all the time.  Silly me. There was so much I didn’t know….

Leaving home-can you feel the sisterly love?  (Yes, we are goofballs!)

Leaving home-can you feel the sisterly love? (Yes, we are goofballs!)

I’ve learned a lot over the past two years, especially that Africa is NOT always hot.  Especially the Kalahari.  I’ve learned how to communicate with people 8,000 miles, studied a little bit of every South African languages (there are 11), and figured out how to cross cultural lines.  I learned that I should have told my village I was a vegetarian, because goat meat is not very delicious…especially the liver and the nose.  I’ve learned how to expertly pass off unwanted attention and proposals, and how to look a guy in the eye and destroy his dream of having a “white woman”.  I’ve learned how valuable family and friends are, and how new family and friends can pop up in the unlikeliest of places-like at a gardening workshop.  I’ve learned more about my passions and God’s plans for my life.

I’ve learned to sing, dance a bit, greet the chief, dress for a funeral, make a speech at a village function, hail a bush taxi, rush to the front of the bus line, make change in a complicated taxi payment transaction, never to go to the grocery store at month’s end, hide all my valuables while traveling through town, bucket bathe, garden in the Kalahari, teach crazed 12 year olds, beat off thieves, inspire adorable 5 year olds, mourn the loss of a family member from afar, wrangle the best spot on the taxi, say goodbye to my sweet little dog, manuever through a herd of cattle, kill scorpions, dispose of tarantulas, to drive on the left side of the road, what shaving my head feels like, cook pap, insure that the windows stay open on a bush taxi, chase out bats from my bedroom, dwell at peace with smaller spiders, ride in a donkey cart, overcome language barriers, love my African families, carry things on my head….I could go on ad nauseam.  Peace Corps is a whole lot of learning, both deep things and shallow things.

I’ve come to understand discrimination and racism intimately, and it breaks my hearts.  I’ve seen literally starving schoolchildren, and find joy when their eyes light up when they see me.  I’ve understood loss, sadness, blessing, and great joy.

My Grade R babies!

My Grade R babies!

Peace Corps is truly a roller coaster ride…one of a lifetime.  There are some days where I desperately want to pack my bags and head home, and others where I wonder if I can stay forever.  Luckily the latter outweighs the former.

My Peace Corps journey isn’t over yet-I’ve got a whole year left to learn new things.  Yesterday I learned how to wear a traditional Tsonga dress, and the day before I learned how to greet the entire tribal counsel (32 Indunas and the Acting Hosi of the Valoyi people).  This strange-but-amazing adventure isn’t nearly over yet, and I’m glad.  As hard as some days came be, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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-Jen

Leaving this Place Better than Before, Part 2

Though I’m not yet leaving South Africa, I am moving from one site to another as I switch from my original assignment to my third year assignment.  In one way, I am finishing up my service and starting anew.  This past week, I attended the COS conference for my cohort, SA24.  Of the 57 of us who came to country, 47 made it to the end of service.  For SA, this is amazing….most cohorts lose far more than we did due to ETs.  45 of us were at our COS conference…two having already COS’d.  And while most of the information given at our COS conference won’t be relevant to me for another year, it was a time for reflection on what I’ve done so far.

Have I really left this place (my old village) better than it was before?

The Village.

The Village.

One of the things that is unique to SA is that just by being in my village for two years, I make a small impact.  Children and adults in my village were able to interact regularly with a white person-one who was learning their language, making efforts to honor their culture, and who tried to help them.  This certainly hadn’t happened to them before.  Children began to change their attitudes: instead of being terrified that a white lady was speaking to them, they began to laugh, then they stopped laughing and greeted me normally.  At the end, children would run up to me, gleefully shouting my name and greetings in English and Setswana.  Adults stopped averting their eyes and speaking Afrikaans to me, and instead happily jabbered at me in Setswana, or tested their shy English skills.  I scarcely heard “lekgoa!” being shouted at me as I walked through the village.  Women would stop and offer to help me carry my things, and men would help me find transport.

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Even if PCVs in SA do nothing else, we change the stereotypes.  We leave our villages a little bit better than they were before, no matter our race.

My host family.

My host family.

Yet there were a multitude of projects I wanted to start, and things I wanted to teach the children.  There were things I allowed to slip through my village, whether through exhaustion, frustration, or simply not knowing how to solve the unceasing problems.  I wanted to do many things: start a girls’ club, host a Camp GLOW, get funding for the garden club, reach out to more home gardeners, significantly improve English and NS scores, start a LoveLife, set up a library, focus more on HIV/AIDS nutrition, engage the community….and many more than I can’t even remember now.  It’s easy to set your goals too high and dwell on the things we failed to do.

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But I believe that every PCV leaves their home a little better than before.  It could well be that all of my projects have completely failed six months from now, and that the people in my village forget my name.  Maybe they’ll start to forget that I was ever there.  But small things will remain: the adorable Grade R who ran to greet me each day might vaguely remember how to plant seeds, my 13 year old host sister might have strong enough English skills to attend university someday, my counterpart may glance at the garden year plan we made from time to time, and the teachers might remember to take the learners outside every now and then and teach in the garden.  Or they might not.

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It was really hard to leave my old village behind.  I had invested a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears over the past few years.  Even though I saw my counterpart and the Garden Club learners take ownership of our garden, I didn’t want to let go.  I wanted to stay and see what they do next.  But I can’t.  And while I’m hoping to visit in 2014, who knows what the future holds.

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I hope and pray that I’ve left my old village a little better than before.  I doubt I’ll even know if and how, but as long as one little things changed, or one opinion shifted, then it was two years well spent.

Adios, my village.

Adios, my village.

-Jen

Planting Gardens Here and There

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The start of a trench bed!

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The past few weeks have been pretty crazy in my normally slow-paced African life.  I was out of the village from April 11-28th, travelling here there and everywhere on Peace Corps business.  It’s actually pretty unusual for an education PCV to be out of the village during the school term for so long, but lest anyone think I was slacking-it was all PC approved!  🙂

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Planting seedlings.

Back in February, I was invited to help facilitate one of the PC Permagarden trainings with the newest education group, SA26.  The workshop was held in KwaZulu Natal, the home of the Zulu people and 100% different than my Kalahari home.  Mountains, trees, long grass, rain, fog, fertile soil….what a beautiful area!  The workshop was held in the Sisonke district, and about 7 PCVs and their counterparts attended.  I hold this group of PCVs in high regard: almost all of them teach 15-20 hours a week, and some are so rural that they don’t have electricity at home.  Woah.  I had a lot of fun working with this group, and LOVED getting to see real KZN…I had been down to Durban last year, but Durban doesn’t even come close to showing the beauty of KwaZulu Natal.

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I've gotten good at carrying things on my head like the locals. I'm on the right.

Fun thing: we stayed in a haunted hotel.  I was on the fourth floor (aka attic), in a room alone, in a creaky, Victorian style house.  It was creepy to say the least.  No, I don’t think they had 8 ghostly visitors, but it was still pretty creepy. 

The two day workshop went remarkably well, and some of the participants have already started their own gardens since then.  They learned some basic permaculture methods, and several have already contacted me for more information.  I’d love to visit some of their gardens sometime, but I have no clue if that is in the cards!  It was definitely fun to interact with some Zulu people, and hear this 100% foreign-to-me language….we didn’t even learn Zulu greetings in PST, so I was at a loss besides “Sanibonani!”

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One of the covered seed beds.

After that workshop, I spent a day in Pretoria, then headed back across North West, through half of Northern Cape, to a remote village on the SA-Botswana border.  I had been planning a workshop with 3 (three!) PCVs who live in this village for awhile, and was excited to visit their unique home.  This village is home to a fairly large white and coloured population (not an offensive term here!), along with a large black population (who still live off in the “location” on the dune…relic of Apartheid).  However, no white children attend the school, only coloured and black kids.  This school, due to the “diversity”, is dual-medium, meaning they have an Afrikaans track and an English track. 

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Some of the ABET learners with their tire gardens.

Obviously, this was not the normal village experience.  This was easily the nicest rural school I had been in, and honestly could have been mistaken for an American school, albeit low-income and pretty under-resourced.  There were the typical South African education problems, such as overcrowding, corporal punishment, absenteeism, few resources, and the numerous other problems found in village schools.  However, the staff was pretty motivated, and wanted to have a workshop for their ABET ( Adult Based Education and Training) class, comprised of about 25 Grade 7 learners.  Yes, an adult education class for Grade 7 kids….some of whom were almost my age! 

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The finished garden!

I was a little leery about working with the most troublesome and struggling learners at this school, but I was pleasantly surprised.  For most of the workshop, they were attentive, involved, and asking/answering questions.  They were clearly excited to be out of the classroom and learning in a different way.  I spoke with one of the volunteers, and he said they might try to have a gardening period every day, since they learners were actually involved in their learning during this workshop.  Just goes to show that sometimes learners need to be out of class to learn!

My next leg of this journey involved another cross-country trip to see my third year site, but that is definitely worthy of its own post.
-Jen

Hunger

Grade R learners-notice the hair of the 2 on the left.

Grade R learners-notice the hair of the 2 on the left.

Since arriving in my village, I’ve noticed how thin kids are. Since food is harder to get in my village than others, and since the unemployment rate is higher, almost every single child in my school is thin. Last year, there were 2 kids that would be described as pudgy, and that has more to do with them having poor-fitting uniforms than actually being fat. Few children appear to be at a healthy weight, and the vast majority are bony arms and legs. It’s hard to live in this reality. Adults are typically overweight, but kids are dreadfully skinny. This is due to a diet largely based on pap (cornmeal dish) and for the well-off family, chicken and maybe a veggie.

I had been told that most of the learners didn’t have enough food, and many went to bed hungry or didn’t have breakfast. Each child would get a meal at school, and unlike every other school I’ve visited, only a handful would bring other food with them. The meals are small and basic, just some carbs, veg/fruit, and a protein. At most schools, kids bring a “real” lunch with them, but not at mine. Mma N, my garden counterpart, had said several times that most learners don’t have food at home, and was adamant about giving food boxes from the garden to our OVCs. But I honestly assumed she and other educators were blowing things out of proportion. This is South Africa, kids can’t be starving, right?

Then I started looking and noticing. I saw how few kids brought food from home, how many didn’t buy snacks at school or participate in fundraisers. I noticed brittle, reddish-blond hair, a dead giveaway symptom of Kwashiorkor. I saw how sluggish and out of it kids were in the mornings, before lunch was served. Kids stole our garden veggies. I observed how slowly children developed, and how babies and toddlers didn’t walk or talk. I saw how small the kids really were, and it was heartbreaking.

Hidden hunger, or lack of micronutrients, is a dangerous form of hunger. People don’t necessarily die from it, but it has lifelong effects. Kwashiorkor is a form of malnutrition that comes from not eating enough protein, even though you get enough calories. I had noticed how some kids had reddish or even gold-blonde hair, and found it intriguing. These are black kids, after all, so their hair shouldn’t be red or gold-blonde. I noticed that many kids in Grade R, 1, and 2 had this hair, but only a few older kids did. So when kids start coming to school in Grade R, they are served a complete protein 5 times a week, and it is helping them. The older kids look a little healthier, but the littlest ones are so small, so underdeveloped.

Kwashiorkor and malnutrition stunt children, meaning they do not grow as tall as they should. This typically is lifelong, which may help explain why some people here are so short. With Kwashiorkor, which I think is the prevalent form of malnutrition in my village, children lose muscle mass and do not develop as they should, mentally or physically. They hit milestones late and suffer in school because they are not prepared for the demands of the classroom. Some even get red or gold-blonde hair, which is very brittle. In the worst stages, they will lose their hair and sometimes skin, leaving oozing sores. If a child has Kwashiorkor, it is much more likely that they will suffer from (maybe even die from) another infection, like pneumonia, TB, malaria, or HIV/AIDS.

I’m setting out on a project to weigh and measure the heights of each child in my school. I’m looking for funding through the Department of Agriculture to help the school garden, and I hope this information helps. Since we use the garden to help feed the kids, hopefully they will be more willing to support us if they see the level of malnutrition and stunting. If not, at least I’ll know which kids need the food box the most. I know it will be hard to uncover the extent of the malnutrition in my village, but it needs to be done. Yes, this is South Africa, but people still suffer from malnutrition.
-Jen

Grade R having lunch. Notice the light hair.

Grade R having lunch. Notice the light hair.

Grade R making recycled art!

Grade R making recycled art!

(Host) Family Visitors

Rorisang.

Rorisang.

During school holidays, extended host family members always come to visit. I am actually happy to be gone through most of the holidays because having random people staying at my host family’s house is stressful for me. They don’t know me, so they want to talk or take me to Vryburg and show off to their friends. They want to come in my room and touch everything, ask for gifts or tell me to make them food. My host family doesn’t do this, but the extended family is not used to this lekgoa, so they end up making me angry, frustrated, and stress.

Since August or so, some extra “cousins” have been staying at the house, but they’ve been keeping to themselves for the most part, and not overstepping my privacy boundaries. But one of them, Rorisang, just doesn’t get it.

Rorisang and Keamogetse.

Rorisang and Keamogetse.

It’s alright because she’s just over a year old, and adorable. I’ve seen her several times over the past year, and once she used to bawl if she even saw my face. Now her favorite thing to do is run to my burglar door, open it, run into my room, and babble on in Tswana and Xhosa. She also seems to think my name is “bye bye,” as she always starts yelling BYE BYE when she sees me, then giggles.

Last week, my host sister Keamogetse and Rorisang were playing outside my room, so I snapped some pictures of the cute kids. Rorisang’s mom came along with a blanket and pillow, and they all laid out on my stoop for a nap (aka Rorisang smacking Keamogetse upside the head many times while her Mom egged her on).

Sometimes Rorisang even lets me hold her, though that also can make her cry bloody murder. She doesn’t fully trust this lekgoa yet!
-Jen

I don't know what Keamogetse was doing, but honestly, she did NOT strangle Rorisang.

I don’t know what Keamogetse was doing, but honestly, she did NOT strangle Rorisang.

Naptime. AKA playtime.

Naptime. AKA playtime.