Written on behalf of the Tenteleni Nkomazi east Project.
Four weeks into the project and the Mpumalanga sugar harvest is getting into full swing. As we make our way to school gangs of workers are already busy slashing down great swathes of cane. This is in turn taken to the TSB factory, a major source of employment for Block C/Naas. As harvest gets going all of us at Nkomazi seem to beginning to get into the routine of life at our various schools.
The typical school day begins with a half five wake-up call, usually by an alarm clock though Josh often lends a helping hand. After breakfast and showers Themba picks us up at 6.20 to be at our various schools for seven.
Emma and I are the first to be dropped off, at Mgubho Combined School. After initial customary greetings, “Sowubona?”, “Yebo” and “Unjani?” the entire teaching staff gather to sing. Maria a senior matriarch of the school will spark up the opening chord of a siSwati hymn. Soon all the teachers are responding in perfect harmony. Every morning without fail this proves to be a truly uplifting start to the day. A vastly different experience to anything I have witnessed in a British staff room. I often amuse myself picturing British teachers, who I met on work experience, having an early morning sing-song.
After hymns and staff announcements the children gather for assembly. At half seven the school day begins in earnest. By now each volunteer has identified which teachers they would most benefit from working alongside. At Mgubho during the day I have tended to work with the Social Science department helping to prepare activities for children in their History and Geography lessons.
As native English speakers many of us have been heavily involved in taking language lessons. However one problem that we have encountered is that British accents often make it harder for the children to understand what has been said. Nonetheless, across the board we have also been able to concentrate in areas where we have the most skill or interest. Dave at Tindzaleni has gained quite a reputation in science - particularly with his gizzard demonstration - and Laura and Nic are honing the children’s more creative talents, working more in drama and art.
Lunch is served early at 10.30. It tends to be Pap and chicken leg. Pap is maize porridge, a staple carbohydrate for much of southern Africa. Though not offensive on the palate a huge white mass of bland can often be a daunting task at such a time in the morning. Just as the day is at it hottest school finishes at 1.15. The volunteers have a window between lessons finishing and Themba arriving to run after school clubs, help with sports or just generally chat with the children. Additional meetings aside we tend to back at Spice of Life some time around two thirty giving us a chance to chill out before preparing for tomorrows lessons and cooking the communal evening meal.