Work at Thanda Afterschool, Umtwalume, South Africa


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Africa » South Africa » KwaZulu-Natal
June 12th 2008
Published: June 12th 2008
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our final pic at the Dublin Airport before starting the journey
I have now been here for one week: here are some reflections. Apologies if I jump around a bit. These are random fragments from my journal.....

Monday: first day on the job. We load up in the truck: the truck goes straight to the sight and the van goes into town to run a few errands.

The drive to Thanda/Sacred Heart School is breathtaking. A 40 minute drive straight away from the coast inland, through rolling hills. The road is paved for the first 10 minutes and then breaks into a dirt road. Lined by sugar cane fields as far as the eye can see. Apparently the cane fields are all owned by one man, a Zimbabwean man . From our house to the site is all land owned by him.

On the road we pass children walking, delapitaded houses/corner shops, big trucks carrying cane, tractors with big trailers transporting sugar cane workers. Women waiting for bush taxis to take them into town to sell their goods. The road is dusty since it is dry season here, but the dust is minimal today since yesterday we had rains.

Sacred Heart Children’s home is at the top of a hill, nestled amongst trees. There is a locked gate at the front with a guard, barbed wire surrounding the whole complex. A woman has laid out a blanket on the ground in the shade outside of the entrance and is selling merchandise.
We arrive and greet all of the Thanda workers. About half of the workers are volunteers from abroad, and the other half are local workers. They are very enthusiastic and seem to be very happy with their work. They speak Zulu amongst each other. There is a white board in the Thanda office where new Zulu words and phrases are written to help us with learning their language. There is a special handshake when meeting people here—you shake their hand and then with a slight shift in your wrist, lock wrists (slipping your hand down to the others’ wrist). Then return to holding the hand. During a greeting you may shift between these two holds several times before releasing hands with the person. Often the person will touch their right elbow with their free hand as they greet you, this is a sign of respect. It both makes me feel good because they are showing me, a
View from the truckView from the truckView from the truck

The hills, sugar cane fields that we drive through every day on our way to the Thanda Afterschool.
stranger and newcomer, respect, but there is something bizarre about it. Why must they do this? Thus it is important when greeting people, especially your elders, to do the same as a sign of mutual respect.

We begin the day by greeting each other and then have a short meeting for Business. Angela, the Project director, is in the US working on fundraising at the moment, and has left the directorial duties to Tyler. He leads the meetings. All of the Zulu volunteers speak English, but are also very encouraging of us to learn Zulu.

After the meeting the Zulu workers begin a time of prayer which includes songs, complex with many parts and modulations, and then closing with singing the lord’s prayer and then a silent prayer. It tickles me how, since this is not a religious organization, most of the foreigner volunteers seem a bit lost during this time. What should we be doing? Most just sort of watch and wait...

Wednesday:
It has now been just over one week since I arrived in South Africa, and already I feel like I have stories and experiences that could fill hundreds of blog entries. But as
Basketball Program StaffBasketball Program StaffBasketball Program Staff

From left: Lungelo, Reed, myself. Lungelo is employed by the Thanda Project--she grew up in the area where our school is situated. Each program in Thanda has one local staff and one foreign volunteer. Reed, who grew up in England and is now in school in the US, began the basketball program which I will take over at the beginning of the new term. Today is homework day, and we are working on an English lesson for those who have no homework.
always, I will try my best to somehow summerize and concisify (not a word but makes sense) them into one blog entry.
Probably the craziest thing about my transition from living in Kaunas playing baseball (and before that living in France dancing) is how not-crazy it feels. It just feels natural to be in another place, tiring a bit, but just sort of ‘ok—here is where I am now. This is what I am doing. So now what??’

There were several surprises that awaited us when we arrived in South Africa. The first was that when the baggage claim conveyer belt stopped, there were no bags left on it. We had found my luggage but were still waiting for Viktorija’s. I noticed a man peek his head through the rubber flats leading to the outdoor baggage loading area. He caught my eye and waved. At first I thought he was just saying hello, but I soon realized that the wave meant ‘that’s it.’
We learned from Baggage Services that apparently Viktorija’s bag had fallen off the transportation vehicle that was driving the bags from the terminal to the plane. Huh!? I assume this means that they simply found the
playingplayingplaying

This boy's name has slipped my mind!! But he is one of the boys from the Home who it seems is hanging around the office all day. I cleaned out one of the peanut butter buckets, and we played a made-up game using the bread bag balls we have made.
bags sitting in the middle of the tarmac. How could the driver not have noticed a huge load of bags that fall off the cart??

My bed here in South Africa is, yes, you guessed it, unconventional much like the other beds I have had for the past several months (and years). There are no more available rooms in the house, so a mattress has been set up in the living room for us. We have moved the two shelves to make a wall, put the mattress in the corner, and rigged up some string, a sheet, and some clothespins to form the fourth wall. I am sitting in my bed as I write this entry, and as I look up I see my freshly washed underwear hangin on the fourth wall, my dress shirts hanging from the bars on the windows of the living room, and my socks and underwear in a plastic bag next to the bed. The rest of my stuff is down the hall in the linen closet.

It is all good, though. The folks in the house are great, really wonderful people and I have thus far been so impressed by them all
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both at the house and in their work at the school.

We cook our dinners as a group every evening. We don’t go out much because it is not recommended going outside at night because of safety reasons. The result is lots of movie-watching, card playing, hanging out with each other in the house.

Our house is overlooking the water. It is so beautiful. Sometimes in the morning you can see sharks, whales, and dolphins bobbing out in the water, swimming and searching for their breakfast. I have seen only the Dolphins thus far……

There have also been monkeys that come around our house, but those have not been seen for several weeks since we got Rizzo, our guard dog (who is only effective because he presents the illusion of being mean and tough—in reality he is one of the sweetest dogs I have ever met).

For the moment my role in the Thanda Afterschool program is as basketball coach. I am working with Reed, an American volunteer, and Lungelo, a woman from the area employed by Thanda. She has never played basketball before working for this program, and thus is learning as she goes. It
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is important for all the programs to have atleast one local staff member involved who often serves as a go-between or ally for the foreign volunteer. Many of the kids do not speak English, even though they learn it in school. This is one of the biggest challenges facing these kids: the final exam that all high school students must take in order to receive their high school diploma is totally in English. English is a necessary skill in order to graduate. Therefore throughout all that we do our focus is on teaching English.

Here is our schedule: We arrive at Thanda around 10 AM, greet folks, announcements, then prayers. The rest of the morning is spent preparing lessons.

At a quarter to 3, we hop in the back of the truck with our tub of plates, cups, juice, and sandwiches for the kids. We drive down the hill to the local high school, arriving just as school is letting out.

Slowly but surely, the kids leaving their classes begin to trickle into the afterschool programs.
The basketball program has about 23 kids, anywhere from 15-23 of which show up each day. But because final exams are going on right now we have been getting only 10 or so each day this past week.

On Mondays and Wednesdays we stay in the classrooms and work on homework with the kids. For those students who do not have homework, we prepare a short English lesson or writing assignment for them to work on. Most of the students are very focused; if they were not, then they would not be here (both because they would not have taken the initiative to try to join the program and because there are certain expectations for attendance and involvement in the program in order to stay in it).

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we head up the hill after snack to the basketball courts. The basketball courts are in fact an old tennis court that has been repainted by Reed and the other volunteers. He has installed four backboards with basketball rims. Painted squares on the backboards. Reed tells me that when they first arrived the court was totally overgrown with weeds. Now it is in great shape—painted, no weeds/grasses, fences (more or less) in tact. The court overlooks a small valley with the soccer field and net ball courts at
Zeb ZankelZeb ZankelZeb Zankel

Curriculum Director for Thanda.
the bottom. Looking out from the court you can see the rolling hills of sugarcane that blanket the surroundings all the way to the horizon…..

The children here have never played basketball; it is a totally new sport for them. Watching them during this first week, I see how their style of play is as if they are on the soccer field. Often they will be near enough to the goal to shoot and will instead pass the ball back. There is a lot of time spent passing the ball, when they could easily just go to the basket and shoot. The kids work really well together and encourage each other. They have lots of fun and are eager to learn. We have yet to introduce rules such as travelling, double-dribble, fouling, and out of bounds lines. These are non-essential, atleast here at Thanda for the moment…..

Right now my role is mostly as an observer. Reed will be here for two more weeks and can handle the sports program on his own. I am learning about the water system here and the problems they are having getting clean, consistent water, something that Reed has been in charge of and which I will take over from him when he leaves. So right now it is a lot of learning and observing.

I am still not sure how baseball will fit in yet. I am still waiting on some equipment to arrive. Today I found a ball on the ground made out of plastic bread-loaf bags. It was the size of a baseball, and actually had some weight to it. I think these could be great for teaching the kids the game, and that way we would not need gloves to play. I have also considered beginning by teaching the kids kickball to familiarize them with the rules os that when we begin baseball they will have one less aspect to be concerned about.

As always, I feel very blessed to be here. I feel like I am getting so much more from the kids, from this opportunity, from the land and air here, than I could ever give in return. It is really an enriching experience. It is challenging on many levels: Living with a group of 13 volunteers in one house, working with kids who don’t speak my language, in a new place. Learning new
driving homedriving homedriving home

I love the ride home in the back of the truck--the hills are beautiful at dusk.
names. New cultural traditions………


That is all for now. Sorry there are no photos--the connection here at our house is too slow to upload photos. Hopefully I will have a chance to put some photos up on the blog this weekend. ☺

PS: please write me comments with any questions you may have and I would love to write about them. I would love to know what YOU want to hear about……



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14th June 2008

Openness:the hand shake
I vaguely remember Dale Herman saying that the hand shake with the elbow touching ,showing respect, comes from earlier times of conflict . That to touch the other elbow/arm is to show you "have nothing up your sleeve" , i.e. no weapons concealed, and that you are trustworthy. It is definitely a sign of respect!! I wish I could hear the singing, it sends chills up and down my spine to hear the beauty of the singing. Might be an interesting way to exchange and share language: English and Zulu songs. When you return you can bring us the gift of Zulu songs, yes? Maybe you could share the Hymn of the Church of Reconciliation...hmmmm! Yes, the ball made of bread wrappings is typical...probably has a stone at the center of it, we made one during a Sunday school class one time. OK, I am off to the Farmers Market, hope all continues well!! Peace. Liz
25th June 2008

Small question!
Hi!!! I have a question regarding the nights at Umtwalume. It is well known that in the big cities the pleasure of a clear sky and the rain of stars over your head is not easy to enjoy. That is something I miss a lot here in Japan. How would you describe the sky over there?
28th June 2008

the stars in umtwalume
Hi carolina!! Unfortunately, we do not live out in the village where we work. There are many reasons we do not live there, but the main is that there is no available housing. So......I don't know what the stars out there are like!! But here in Hibberdene, it is also a small town and so the stars are really beautifu. There is one in particular out over the Indian Ocean that is really bright, we think it is Mars but none of us are experts on stars so are not quite sure. The moon reflection on the water is quite remarkable.....

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