Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Andrew's African Reports

May 30, 2005

“A Little Girl”

I could have cried when I heard the story. What struck me was the sincerity and the goodness of heart of my favorite teacher, Ma’am Shinwana, when she told me about a girl in her class who had stopped going to school. Keep in mind, as you read, that this teacher is a real exception to the norm. I work with over 60 teachers and there is only one (that I witnessed) whom children have come back to visit after they have left the school – Ma’am Shinwana. Nearly all of my other teachers would have never even noticed that this girl was missing.
Ma’am Shinwana started by telling me how she would normally give old clothes to children in her class whom she could see were very poor. Apparently, there was a girl who had stopped coming to school and Ma’am Shinwana realized that it was because the girl was embarrassed to come any more because she did not have decent clothes. Ma’am Shinwana felt that she should be more willing to buy new clothes for the children in her class so that they are not always wearing old clothes and so that they could also have something new. She, thus, went to the girl’s home and took her to a local dressmaker to have her fitted for a new uniform. It cost R 90 ($15), which Ma’am Shinwana did not mind paying for. She spoke of how excited the child was to be able to come back to school and of how the child was like a new person with a smile on her face every time she walked in the door.
The love that was coming forth from this teacher was so contrary to everything else I experience here from the teachers, and it just washed over me. I thought of how cool it was going to be to hang out in heaven with Ma’am Shinwana.

For a second time the girl was not coming to class and Ma’am Shinwana shared with me how she went to the girl’s home to see what the problem was. Upon going to where the girl stayed, she spoke of her fear of being robbed. She shuttered while recalling the living conditions. She found the parents and other family members smoking marijuana while the girl (a fourth grade learner) was cooking and serving everyone. The excuse given was that there was no teacher at school. Ma’am Shinwana had been away from school for about 10 days on account of the death of her brother in law. I can assure you that culturally a teacher’s absence is absolutely normal and commonplace, and that the family simply preferred to take advantage of the opportunity to have a domestic servant around in the form of their daughter. The situation was rectified and the girl started coming back to school.

A third time the girl ended up absent from school, and a third time Ma’am Shinwana inquired as to what was keeping the child at home. She had been aware that a few weeks ago there had been a death in the girls family (the girl’s aunt) and naturally she would have spent a week away from school…but over two weeks was too excessive, and Ma’am Shinwana confessed to me that the family might not have the money to have had a funeral yet. When I asked why they couldn’t just let the child come to school, I was told that it was probably their custom to keep the girl until the aunt was buried.
Ma’am Shinwana was right. There had not yet been a funeral because the family did not have the R 2,000 necessary to bury the deceased. So the body lay at the morgue and the girl at home. This went on for about three weeks. The day that Ma’am Shinwana was telling me about this story, it just so happened that a girl from a local NGO came to collect data on our orphans and vulnerable children. Ma’am Shinwana used this as an opportunity to get the “social worker” involved, and ultimately it was decided that a meeting should be held with the concerned parties. Two days later a meeting was held with the social worker, myself, Ma’am Shinwana and the Principal, a community leader, and the father of the girl/ brother to the deceased. It was decided that the group of people should go to another local school where a couple of the teachers had experience in dealing with this sort of situation. Ultimately, they were able to get the corpse buried free of charge.
That such a meeting was taking place, was amazing for me to see. I did not even think about how the meeting took two days just to happen, or that that nothing had been done to solve this problem for three weeks. I was just encouraged that the problem was addressed in its own time. In my other life, I would have been horrified that such a thing could go for three weeks without being dealt with, but rather I was reassured by the ultimate solution: the corpse was not allowed to rot. For me that was a sign of hope. Though her schooling will likely change nothing for her, the girl is now back in school and that also is a sign of hope.

May 30, 2005
“An Outreach”

Last month, in April, I helped to organize for a group of University Students to come and visit my schools for an outreach. I had an idea/vision of how everything was going to go, and my vision turned out to be too small for the bigness of what God had planned.
You just never know how many children are going to attend an event like this, and so my expectations ranged from 50 to 150 children. I remembered Saturday Bible Studies where only 5 children came and I remembered more successful events, so I just was not sure what to expect. My expectations, it turned out, had been too limited – over 250 children came. Amazingly all our food needs were met to the “dollar.”
Part of my prayer had been that the teachers would pick up the heart of God for the children. Before the event ever took place, I was struck by the contributions that the teachers made to help make the event successful. There were several things (regarding cooking) that I was not aware that we needed, but I had my key teacher with me and I was certain that Nurse would sort out the missing links. She did. But, for the first time, she did so with the help of the majority of the staff at Dan School. There were teachers who never had anything to do with my Bible Study Group who came on the Saturday just to cook all day for the event. I was shocked and overwhelmed with gratitude. Basically, I had limited my vision of what we could do based on the few teachers whom I knew would be reliable, but other teachers decided to get involved and for the first time they took my vision and made it bigger. You can guess as to how often this has happened before – never. So often it is the other way around…my vision is taken and squashed to the point that I was even hesitant to plan for this event in the first place!
Every teacher there stayed around the whole day and was vital in helping with the games. It had been my desire that my teachers might pick up something from the interaction between the team and the child, for interactive learning just does not happen here. Since this event my teachers have used some of the very games themselves. Just yesterday, I was asked to help set up an obstacle course “just like those other people did.” A real change had taken place in the hearts of the teachers and when someone asked me why I thought this happened now, the answer was a simple one…God.
The effect of the outreach was hardly lost on the children. At a subsequent meeting they sang all of the new songs they had learned and reenacted all of the skits…some of which even I had forgotten about. The children were better then I have ever seen them. And for that day they were free to be children – a freedom our children rarely get!
When lunch was served, I made certain the children ate first, which turned the cultural norm on its head. The children were placed first. The teachers did not even seem to mind having to eat last. They were too busy noticing how much the children were enjoying the meal and being served by their teachers and by the group of white people.
Even now I still hear some of the children at church (where the team also came) singing some of the songs or calling each other names using the names of the clowns.
I’ve tried in my own strength for nearly two years to do many of the things that happened on that Saturday, and have experienced little to no success. In one day God did everything I could have hoped to do and more!

……But God!

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