Thursday, 10 March 2011

Cape Town

I've arrived. I'm actually here – Cape Town. I had that weird feeling leaving Dubai and seeing the last familiar faces I was going to see for a while. The same feeling I'd had when I left Tracy at Birmingham airport last July. It's difficult to describe, a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Again I had the feeling of extreme nervousness. What the hell am I doing? Why am I doing this? What have I let myself in for? Of course this time I didn't really have a choice as my bike was arriving in Cape Town so I had to go get it. 

Simon's Town - near where I'm staying
Beautiful coast road south of Cape Town

I'm volunteering with an organisation called african impact.. It's a locally run non-denominational outfit geared up to help in the local townships. They run various projects and I could have volunteered in the animal rescue centre, medical centre or with the schools programmes. I've opted, for once in my life, to put people above animals and am assisting in teaching in a local primary school. The school has 1400 primary aged children (aged 8-14) and I am helping teach English to Grade 7. Which I think is supposed to be 12-13 year olds but there are many older children.(They only pass to the next grade if they pass the exams.) Each class has about 36-40 students, housed in portocabins under the blazing South African skies. Makes for a lovely smell by lunchtime. 

My volunteer accomodation

View from my room

Dining hall and some volunteers

Mr Mkuku, whom I'm working with is the Grade 7 English teacher. He teaches all 5 classes. They have 30 minute or one hour lessons, totalling 3 hours a week. So far it appears to me as if everything is run in a rather haphazard way. There is a timetable but lessons seem to start and finish whenever the teacher wishes (Mr Mkuku doesn't have a watch) and occasionally we've moved to the next class to find that someone else is teaching there (even though the timetable says it should be us) so we've moved on. On one occasion I had just started my 30 minute lesson and someone came into the lesson and said some of the class needed to go and get some food. So half the class got up and left for 15 minutes. I'm not trying to judge or complain – it's all REALLY interesting and certainly challenging. 

PE at the primary school

I've taken a few photos around the school and township but felt very self conscious doing it. I'll try to get better pictures once I'm established there.

Nice uniform!

I have to report that the students are really very well behaved. They clearly appreciate having a teacher and are very keen to please and ever so happy when they get things right. A breath of fresh air having just worked in a private school in the UK, where everything is taken for granted. You will not be surprised (I think) to here that the less people have the more they appreciate the little they do have. At this school the rooms are messy, students are in uniform but very untidy, resources are limited (they all have exercise books and pens, text books are usually one between two and quite old) and we certainly don't have anything like interactive white boards/projectors or computers. I'm teaching with chalk for the first time in 10 years. BUT (and this is a big but) students are keen to learn and work quite hard. All that nonsense about students having to wear blazers with their top buttons done up (Didn't Gove say that?). Not necessary mate. What they need is a desire to learn and teachers willing to help. This is not a revelation to me and I'm not trying to beat up on UK private schools. It's no ones fault. You can't appreciate what you've got if you've always had it. And I've worked in enough places to have known all this already but it's opened my eyes to it again and I am so pleased I decided to do this. Don't worry I'm not about to sell my bike and dedicate my life to teaching English in a township – my English isn't good enough – but this is certainly good for me and although I hate to say it, it's reminded me that I miss teaching and want to get back into it when I'm done with this shenanigans.

My first morning went quite well in the sense that it was extremely interesting as basically the teacher handed over to me, told me what the class should be doing and told me to get on with it whilst he sat at the desk reading a magazine. (“Mr. Dom, you should do active and passive voice, OK.”) Honest! I don't think I'm going to let him get away with that for long but as it was my first day.... I taught (if that's the right word) the same lesson for four different classes between 9 a.m. and 12:30 with a 10 minute break.

It's certainly educational – for me if not for them! Which, to be honest, is why I'm doing it. I doubt if in three weeks I'm going to make much of a contribution to the education of so many students but I'M learning something. It's quite hard to teach in an environmental which is similar but different to my own. I can't teach the way I want to or the way I'm used to and I certainly can't do anything interesting with them. Apart from the fact that it would extremely difficult for the students to suddenly have to adapt to a whole new way of learning (working in groups, collaborating, sharing, thinking etc) it wouldn't be fair as I'm only there for three weeks. I'm there to help, and learn, not introduce my own ideas and impose my style of teaching on them. So there's lots of teacher instruction (although they struggle with my accent), answering questions from the text book and copying things down. If you went to school in the UK more than 20 years ago you'd probably be familiar with the concept. Oh I forgot. When we enter the classroom all the students stand up and say (in a drooling, slow group kind of way singing way that groups adopt when speaking together) “Good morning teachers how are you?” To which we reply “Very well thank you, how are you?” And they say “We are well thank you teachers.” We then tell them to sit down. Priceless!

And another thing. If any of them annoy me I can send them to the Principle for the cane. Smacking is big time OK here. I won't be doing that. There's a British Gap student working in the Maths department and she said the maths teacher routinely smack students with her ruler at the end of the lesson if they have misbehaved. No truth and reconciliation commission here.

Back to the volunteer programme. I expected most of the other volunteers to be GAP Year students, however, I didn't expect ALL of them to be. There are a dozen of us. Ten female gappies, almost all from America and the only other guy is a season ticket holder at the Emirates. Makes me feel I'm working at a sixth form school and I'm on a school trip. At least it means that, at the moment anyway, I have my own room.

Aids orphanage - great picture I know.

In the afternoon we help out for a couple of hours on one of several projects. On my first day I was at a home for Aids orphans and we were helping them with there homework. I've also spent the afternoon painting one of the container huts at the pre-school, and helped out with the cats at the animal centre. I think next week I'm helping out at a homework club for High school students.

RedHill township pre-school


RedHill Township

On my second day we took a tour of the various projects that Africa Impact work with. They have projects in three nearby township. In Ocean View which is an established, reasonably wealthy community (it has roads, and structured housing and water/electricity) there is a clinic. They get a lot of gang related injuries at the clinic, and, as always, lots of HIV/Aids. Best guess is that about 40% of the townships here are HIV/AIDS infected. Staggering.

Ocean View township

In Masiphumelele township there is a clinic, an animal rescue centre, an orphanage for children affected and infected by HIV/AIDS, a preschool and a Primary school. I'm at the Primary school. Masiphumelele is probably what you would think of when you think of a township. There are some concrete structures, some electricity and some running water. Many of the buildings are actually container boxes. About 40,000 people live here. 

RedHill pre-school

RedHill is the third township. This is really little more than a series of shacks on the hillside. The project has a pre-school and a nursery here. The history of this township is interesting. It's on private land owned by a guy who, during apartheid, allowed blacks to set up temporary homes. The idea was that whilst traveling around this part of the Cape they could use this land as a bolt hole should they be chased by the police whilst breaking curfew. Now the government leases the land off the landowner and 1,600 people call it home.

RedHill pre-schoolers playing in the dirt

Going up Table Mountain and to Robben Island this weekend. And rumour has it that my bike might be in town. I would love to think that by the time I post next weeks blog I'll have my bike with me.

1 comment:

  1. Oh to have a working bike! Hope yours arrives without any problems.Your voluntary work is inspiring. Enjoy this part of your adventure. D&J