The Cold, My Stories, Our Work

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July 1st 2011
Published: July 2nd 2011
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Day 2Day 2Day 2

Hard at work
So many memories already! Since last I wrote, our next day of work was quite unexpected. At noon, the power went out, which, for an IT workshop, is not good. We spent the afternoon making the best of the situation and pointing out how realistic this scenario really was for these teachers in their schools. We had the teachers working on lessons, projects, and ideas that they could use in their schools, using the tools already on their laptops- no internet. They were so inspired, and so hard-working. It was absolutely heart-warming to see. Today, on our last day of the weeklong workshop, we had the groups come up and share the projects that they had started that day, and spent the rest of the week refining. I was so pleased with the leaps and bounds that these teachers had grown- from barely knowing how to open the internet on their computers, to creating multimedia presentations, properly saved and executed. Wow. They will be bringing back such valuable knowledge and enthusiasm to their schools, and I can’t wait to support them in any way that I can from overseas.

We also had some excellent sessions with the teachers, wherein we started having them think realistically about what would happen when they got back to their schools. What could they accomplish and by when would they do it? Where did they hope to bring their schools, technology-wise, in the coming years? These teachers, they really gave thoughtful, provocative, and inspiring answers. They were mapping out visions for their schools, coming up with action plans, in district groups, and talking about how they could support each other in each of their endeavours (we had 36 teachers, each from a different school- some from up to 7 hours away from here). I wish I could stay here for the year, and go from school to school to help them follow-up on all of this enthusiastic planning. No, boss and colleagues reading this, I won’t stay all year. But as of now, I definitely want to.

One of the sessions that we held this week, that had the participants, and us, smiling non-stop, was when we introduced Skype. Sarah had set up some times with her colleagues and friends back home, and we showed the teachers how to log onto Skype, have a text chat, a voice chat (and conference call!), and a video
Group ShotGroup ShotGroup Shot

I told them to do this, and it turned out so great!
chat. Man, did they go wild! They were waving, calling out, laughing, and of course taking TONS of cellphone photos of the entire call. Following this session, of course the entire group of 36 simultaneously wanted to download and start using Skype, which was not so easy on the already terrible internet here. Somehow, over the course of 24 hours, we did manage to get most of the participants signed up, and I have all sorts of new contacts to Skype with, and set up calls between classes with, when I get back to DC.

And today, the workshop drew to a close, with some thank you’s from our collaborators. I made a little movie to sum up all of the hard work that the teachers did this week, and of course they all wanted a copy of that immediately! Following this, we each stood up to thank them for their hard work and encourage ongoing global collaboration. When I stood up, there were so many cameras, phones, etc whipped out, and flashes going off, that I felt like a celebrity standing at a press conference! This was of course followed by a few group songs and dances (one beautiful song that brought Sarah to tears, and me close behind!), and then 500 rounds of photos with Sarah, Noble, myself, and whomever else happened to jump into the shot. It was such a great feeling of friendship, and I do hope it will continue.

Following lunch, and everybody’s departure, we went with one of the teachers, and our 2 collaborators from the District Head Office, to visit a primary school in King Williams Town. I had asked earlier in the week if this was a possibility, as I know we are spending a week in the schools in Cape Town, and wanted a fair comparison of what the schools are like in different places of the country.

This school, albeit run down and very far behind US standards, was not as bad as I’d expected. I realize that there probably are hundreds of other schools in the country that are as bad as, or worse than, what I’d pictured in my head. We drove up to a 2-story building, with 2 other buildings in back. It was all fenced in, and had security notices on the gates. We were met by the principal, who had driven in specially from a meeting in East London to meet us and show us around. We saw the office facilities, the teachers’ lounge, the kitchen area and then some of the classrooms. The school was currently without electricity, but normally did have working lights. We saw the room that was to become the computer lab- already wired with an alarm system for theft- which had recently received donations from the Indian Cricket League, for round tables to be put in. Unfortunately, they had 2 student deaths this year from Hepatitis, so the funds went towards fixing the foundation, walls, and pipes in the student toilets. What a sadly realistic turn of events. We then went and saw a Grade 2 classroom, which was very cute! It was certainly run down, and not as supply-filled or plastic as our rooms are in America, but you could tell that a lot of learning was happening, and that it was a room for young children. Plus, it was fun to see the beginner Afrikaans sentences on the board and walls, and be able to know what they said! They had a blackboard in the front of the room, an old piece of carpet in

This was during the Skype call.
the back (reading rug), and tiny little wooden chairs that had been repaired and re-repaired over the years. All in all, I am very glad that we got to go see the school, and the facilities, and have a little bit more insight into what these teachers are working with.

And now, some funny anecdotes from the past few days.

First of all, it is freezing here in Stutterheim, South Africa! I sleep with pajamas, socks, and a sweater on. I have an electric space heater, and 2 electric blankets on the bed, which is covered with 2 comforters! On the day that we lost power, and we sat in front of a fireplace to stay warm before dinnertime, I was so scared to imagine my night in that cold room, without my electric warmth! So scared. Luckily, the power came back on at 6:30, and by the time I crawled into bed, everything was nice and toasty.

What wasn’t nice and toasty, however, was my bath water. All week. After just grinning (with chattering teeth) and bearing it, finally Sarah went to ask what was going on. As it turns out, she and I are staying in
Last DayLast DayLast Day

One of thousands of group shots- not the best, but you get the idea.
the only 2 rooms in the whole hotel compound that have solar-powered water heaters, the rest being electric. With shortened hours of sun, and it being such variable weather, our water stood no chance of ever being heated. The hotel was at capacity when this was discovered last night, so, they heated buckets of water in the kitchen and brought them to our tubs for us. I got a whole 2 inch bath of hot water. Hello luxury. Tonight is our last night in the hotel, and they wanted to make us change rooms so we’d have hot water. For one night, this seemed a bit silly, so we instead got a key for a nearby room and will use the shower there tonight/ tomorrow morning!

I have also been working on my Xhosa and can now say Xhosa with much less hesitation! I can also say uthetha isiNgesi (speak English) and Ncuma (smile)! In Xhosa, the C, X, and Q are all click sounds. I’m having a fun time learning about the different ways to click and how to make it flow within a word better. Just wait, 3 more weeks and I might even be able to
Driving out to the schoolDriving out to the schoolDriving out to the school

Passing little villages.
say a whole sentence!

And finally, it is time to tell you all about my husband. On day 3 of the workshop, one of the teachers approached me during a break time and said: “I have decided. You will stay here after this week. I don’t want you to go back to America, so I will take you as my second wife.” I laughed and said he at least had to let me go to Cape Town first, so I could finish the work I was doing. We came to that agreement, and for the rest of the workshop, he’d refer to me as his wife. Even today, when someone asked him to take our photo, he refused and said, “you are going to take a photo with my wife without my permission?” He also told me that once we are married, I’ll drive a Range Rover. I am so excited.

With that, tomorrow we are heading to a lion park and then off to Cape Town for our next chapter of work!

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


Future Computer LabFuture Computer Lab
Future Computer Lab

For 35-40 kids.

2nd July 2011

what a fantastic experience
Keep them stories coming Alex! Truly enjoyed your blog and what a gift you are bestowing on these people - chapeau!! XXX
2nd July 2011

Erm... congratulations on your engagement? LOL A range rover though, wow, lucky girl :). Sounds like the week was a huge success and the skyping is amazing. Awesome.
5th July 2011

2nd wife - not too shabby!?!
I'm looking forward to throwing you an engagement party :) That's not considered too tacky if your husband to be is already married ... is it?

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