Cutie #2

This was Steffany’s pick. He was a bartender at the cafe near the Hyatt. We were able to “speak” with him often. :-)


Adding my mark

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As a way of continuing the wall mural Rutgers created last year at Zaphele Primary School in Johannesburg, I added my  two names to the mural. Earlier in the day students had given me a Zulu name, Nklanhla pronounced N kan ku, meaning, Blessing.  So, since we were leaving our “marks” on this school I painted both my names on to the wall mural.

Superstar Status

Day 2 at the Zaphele Primary School. I distributed koosh rings to my grade R students and all of a sudden I had instant “superstar status.” The children were so ecstatic about these simple koosh rings, they followed me around and told everyone, “…me,” while proudly holding up their rings. The children were so thrilled by the rings that they showed my colleagues, who further articulated that I was a superstar,” Wow, Shani, they loove you and those rings, you’re a rock star!” I would have never thought that something so small would bring such joy. My koosh rings were trinkets I had in my class for several years, I didn’t really know what to do with them, so I brought them along to South Africa. I had no idea that these discarded trinkets equated to instant rock star status. 



Its all about perspective

My first day at Zakhele had its ups and downs. From the onset of stepping into the grade R classroom, it was clear that the teacher and I had different agendas/understandings of how the day would proceed. After I entered, she immediately left for “tea.” When she returned I spoke with her about how I wanted to collaborate with her regarding our teaching experiences. She nodded and proceeded to drink more tea. So, I began to engage the children by asking their names and starting a game of head and shoulders. The teacher joined us and instructed the learners to recite several poems and additional games. After lunch, the teacher conveyed that it was story time, as I tried to take my seat, she insisted that I read a story to the children. I told her I wasn’t prepared for a story and would love to hear her read, she continued to insist that I read and offered to wait while I picked a book from the library ( which was in another building).  After I read the story, it was  nap time. The learners went to the bathroom and as they began entering the classroom, I taught them to tip-toe into the room. The teacher then told the learners to lay down on the carpet, which was filthy :-(.  She proceeds to sit down at her desk while I pat each child on the back.  Moments later as I make my way through 30+ children, I hear what sounds like snoring and to my surprise the teacher is asleep at her desk. I was truly surprised but continued to tend to each child.  After several soothing attempts per child, it became clear that the majority of the students weren’t going to sleep.  Since  several children were making it hard for the others to lay down, I gathered the children and read several stories, while the teacher continued to sleep.  Finally, while we were acting out the stories, the teacher woke up and explained that it’s  now time for the children to go home. She dismissed her class and I said my goodbyes.

After digesting what happened and feeling somewhat taken advantage of,  I speak with my program facilitator. She encourages me to look at what happened through a different lense. To dig deeper into what the teacher was feeling. To ask why she fell asleep. What had her evening been like? Did I truly come into her classroom with an open mind with no agenda?

These questions helped me frame my exchange with this teacher in to a different context. For example, her falling asleep showed that she was comfortable enough with me in her class to relax; her insistence of me reading and teaching could have been because she wanted to learn from me. When I changed how I perceived what occurred, I was able to return to the school with a different approach. The next day, I visited this class and to my surprise the teacher was tip-toeing with the children into their classroom. :-)

My role had been to nurture these children and maybe even their teacher.

Zakhele Primary School-Grade R

The grade R classroom I visited was composed of 33 learners. As I entered this classroom of smiling children, the boys and girls were separated and I immediately noticed the condition of their clothes and hair. Most of the children were wearing torn, tattered, filthy clothes, some had slippers for shoes or no shoes at all. This was heartbreaking. I was informed that a lot of the learners we would interact with were impoverished, but my experience had been that the youngest learners were the most well cared for. At Kalksteenfontein Primary, the Afrikaans school, grade R learners had bows in their hair, clean shirts and everyone had shoes. Grade R learners at Zakhele gave me the first clear example of how poor some of the children were.

After speaking with a seasoned teacher, she conveyed to me that part of the reason for the tremendous amount of poverty was that teenage girls have children at a young age and drop out of school. The government pays mothers $250 Rand ~$42.00 for each child, so teens thinking in the short-term, have babies for the money and then don’t have the means or education to take care for their children.  This mindset coupled with the huge disparity between the incomes and job opportunities between white Afrikaans and black South Africans adds to huge levels poverty.

Faced with these troubling circumstances, our group, the Rutgers South Africa initiative, showered the learners with school supplies, loads of  fun and plenty of love. We hoped that our presence brought the learners a moment(s) of glee.

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Mamelodi East Township-Johannesburg

Today, I taught at Zakhele Primary school in JoBurg (Johannesburg) a “Black” school; composed of Black Africans, namely Zulus, Xhosa and some Sutu children. Africans were labeled as Blacks after Apartheid as a means to separate the Black Africans from the “coloureds.” “Coloured” people speak Afrikaans as their first language. “Black ” people are primarily from African tribes who speak their tribal languages as their first languages. Unfortunately, this form of classifying and segregating of people of color still exists in South Africa.

The Zakhele school has a familiar dilemma, most of the learners speak one or more dialects at home but are taught in Zulu. Therefore, teachers have to explain the meanings of simple words such as telephone or cellphone. Each learner is exposed to at least 7-10 different dialects depending on where he or she lives. In order to communicate with one another, he or she must speak 3-5 languages. These languages include Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Shona, Venda, Zulu, Xhousa, Ndebele and Tsonga. I was amazed how many languages each child spoke and how quickly they were picking up on English and Zulu. For instance, I worked with a grade R teacher on my first day and the children were learning Zulu. They quickly assessed that I didn’t know Zulu, but spoke in a foreign language, English. By the end of the day, several children had picked up some words and phrases in English and were communicating with me. Experiencing this immersion in second and third language acquisition gave me pause. If South African learners were capable of speaking in 3-5 languages minimally at a very young age, why am I struggling with learning Spanish? Also, if South African learners are able to speak several languages, then I am confidant that my learners will be able to speak two languages.  

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Robben Island

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Nelson Mandela along with several other political prisoners were jailed here. The pictures show his cell, the outside area where Nelson and others worked and met regarding political power. Our tour was led by an ex-political prisoner. He spoke how being imprisoned at Robben Island gave him the “Best political empowerment education” he ever received. He called the prison his, “education in Black power and University.” Although, these prisoners were physically imprisoned, mentally they chose to educate themselves and laid the foundation for South Africa’s new government.

As, I walked through the areas Nelson Mandela had once been, I felt a strange mix of empathy and empowerment. Nelson Mandela did not allow his circumstances to limit his opportunity. He created a vehicle to learn; a way to educate others; and most importantly, began  a new anti-apartheid government. If Nelson Mandela, “Mandiba,” created ways to transcend his present circumstances while being in a repressed environment; how can I use my abundance of opportunities to help my students transcend their realities and thereby create the foundations for their futures’. What am I doing to become a transformative teacher?

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