Fran Hewitt: Working with the whole community

Celebrating Youth Day
Early June began reasonably quietly but busy preparing lessons, programs and teaching. For 2nd term I’m focusing on Maths for all grades, so that involves a fair bit of planning and correcting each day. Plus I’m still training Lilly, doing a couple of Crèche / ECE lessons each week, and training Gregory each Tuesday.

At the first Secondary School SGB meeting (School Governing Board, I’m a member) for the term the Principal told us that R80,000 ($10,000) had been cut from their (already limited) annual budget and they are really struggling with few resources. The education system here in Limpopo is still in crisis, and as the corruption has been found to be even greater than first suspected late last year there are even more problems surfacing, for example there are still many schools who have yet to receive their textbooks for this year because the contracted suppliers have pocketed the money and failed to fulfill the contract. Hence an overwhelming failure rate is occurring.

I have been keeping newspaper articles on the topic, and a heading in the main newspaper recently declares “Limpopo education even more rotten that initially thought”, and unfortunately it’s very true.  When I am at the high school and see the children hanging around the classrooms, not having lessons because they have no books, no resources, not enough teachers, present teachers being disheartened, increasing behavioural problems and other factors, it is obvious that it will take a long time to get education back to a manageable and viable state. Over the past 2 months I have been to the school about every 2 weeks, attending meetings, or following up issues and problems related to our students learning and performance. No one cleans at the school so the Principal wants to start a community cleaning roster; we (the SGB) are going next Saturday to clean and do maintenance, to set an example for the rest of the school community.

Saturday 16th June was Youth Day, a public holiday and a very important day in South Africa. It commemorates the start of the Soweto riots of 1976, initially sparked by a government edict that all instruction in black schools would be held in Afrikaans. The iconic picture of Hector Pieterson, a black schoolchild shot by the police, brought home to many people within and outside South Africa the inequality of Apartheid. So I talked to the children about the meaning of the day, about education and peace; and we had a concert in the afternoon, with the children planning and doing their own items –singing, dancing and plays. It was a great afternoon, and good to see the kids embracing their history. The black South Africans are very patriotic and proud of their country.

This term I began doing movement to music with the Crèche children; action songs like “The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round”, If you’re Happy and you know it Clap your hands, and “the Hokey- Pokey. They love it, and every time they see me anywhere in the Centre they grin, break into song and start the actions. As they can’t speak English properly they make similar sounding sounds, like “Eppy, eppy eppy clep or arn” while they clap, or wiggle their bottoms and sing “okey okey okey. It is hilarious, and everyone gets a good laugh from them!

I have recently spent a week doing Child Protection Policy training (day long workshops) with Sr Merrilyn to all staff at the missionary nuns’ projects. On the Monday we did training for 50 people here at Holy Family (our staff and others from a mission about an hour away), on Wednesday we travelled north of Polokwane to do training for 35 people at St Brendan’s College at Dwars River, and on Thursday we trained 60 people at a clinic and Outreach Program in Nzhelele in far northern Limpopo. I am the main presenter, and we choose one of the participants who can speak English to be the interpreter. The languages spoken in these areas are Sotho and Venda. The child protection Policy is about keeping children safe from abuse, yet there is so much abuse happening out in the villages. The workshops are welcomed by health clinic staff and the carers, and we are hearing so many stories of terrible cases of abuse that they come across, and don’t know what to do about it. Hopefully we are providing them with some strategies for dealing with such cases and positive ways to intervene.  Consequently we have been asked by some people to go and give the training to other groups in the villages in an effort to raise awareness about child abuse, but we are not able to work beyond our own organisation at this stage. There are two more training sessions; the next one to be presented by social workers from Joburg and Pretoria, then I will do the final session a few weeks later.  I am enjoying delivering some professional development courses again; it’s a change from working with the children.

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There is much more to doing good work than "making a difference." There is the principle of first do no harm.
There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them. - Teju Cole