Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Blog 2 - A Day in the life of a Tenteleni Volunteer

Written on behalf of the Tenteleni Nkomazi east Project. 
See www.tenteleni.org 
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.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Project blog 1

Blog written on behalf of the Tenteleni Nkomazi East Project. See www.tenteleni.org

On the day Nelson Mandela turned 90 the twelve Nkomazi East volunteers arrived in Johannesburg for the start of their volunteer placement in the Rainbow Nation. 

The Nkomazi area is in the border region of Mpumalanga province within striking distance of Mozambique, Swaziland and the Kruger national park.

Our placement schools are in Block C and Naas, a township half an hours drive away from the Spice of life hostel in Komatipoort. Our first week in Mpumalanga was focused on training and getting to know each other. In particular there was a focus on Tenteleni's aims and values and developing useful skills that will be applicable when assisting in schools.

For the few first days we were fully occupied by the Action Adventure team. Divided into The Baboonas and Yebo gogo (yes grandma!) we played a series of logic, team building, athletic and local children's games. Whilst we all learnt to co-operate there was a substantial amount of friendly competition going on. Particularly when it came to perfecting the team war cries! As a Yebo Gogoite for a life, I am positive we just edged it!

The Spice of Life hostel is just off the N4, the main highway connecting Mozambique and Johannesburg. It is run by Kam and Yolandi and Josh their little tare away two year old, who is absolutely delighted to have gained 14 new playmates. Out in the expansive grounds lives Uncle Dave and Rob, two semi- permanent residents. Dave the senior figure in the Hostel is a useful fountain knowledge for life in Southern Africa having been born in South Africa and living in Swaziland and Mozambique. Having friends on the border point just two kilometers- he is also a handy ally to have. Rob, unlike Dave has a rather surprising accent. Upon meeting him I was expecting a gruff Afrikaner accent only to be greeted by a soft South- West accent. Sensibly Rob escapes England for warmer climbs for a couple of months every year.

The most significant day of week one was the teacher observation day on Wednesday. This was the first time that we visited the township and had the opportunity to see our schools and meet our various new colleagues and learners. We were picked up by Themba in his beats machine, a white Kombi which will be our transport throughout the placement. With Afro beats blaring we shot off. Left off the N4, past the border ridge, along the Komati river and out into the fertile plains beyond. As we headed towards Naas farm laborers were already at work in the Sugar cane and Banana plantations. For those of us who had never ventured in a township before the whole experience was a massive culture shock. It proved to be both daunting and exhilarating.

For the first time since we had arrived in South Africa we were truly exposed to the reality of the task ahead.

The Team!

Another significant highlight of the training period was going to Onderberg Lodge on Friday, the home of the closest Tenteleni project, Matsulu. As well as accommodating 16 other volunteers it is also home to three tame resident zebra, the youngest of  which is just a couple of days old. For the days training we were joined by Pienaar and Kanyamazan for a series of talks by other NGOs and the local education board. It was good to meet up with the other volunteers; exchange training week stories and best of all try out the zip wire.

On the weekend we have our own time for relaxation and exploration. As Kruger is only 20 minutes away we spent our first free weekend on Safari with Themba and Uncle Dave. An amazing experience before the real work began!