Friday, June 5, 2009
Thursday, June 4, 2009
I was really, really nervous going into my internship on the first day, both because I had very little idea what I would actually be doing and because I had no experience with social work. As the first week went on (the days before we started our internships), I just kept feeling more and more anxious. The day before we started working, we went to tour the internships, and that helped to change my feelings a lot—I still didn’t really know what I’d be doing, but I knew more about Christel House and the short presentation re-piqued my excitement and my readiness to get started.
Once we got started, I felt a lot better, even though we didn’t end up where we thought we would be: there wasn’t room for us (Megan and me) with the social workers, so we basically got stuck in the remedial room with a teacher called Miss Fran helping to teach students (some of whom can barely speak English) how to read and do math. That, however, definitely turned out to be a blessing-- it was a wonderful experience and it definitely showed me how much even a little bit of help (or a 3-week intern) can give. I learned way more than I ever expected.
Even though, since I’m only working in one room, my role in the organization is really quite small, I can definitely see how big of an effect it has and how important my role is within the organization. Without people like us, without remedial room teachers, the students we work with would continue to struggle and fall further behind, and Christel House’s mission, to educate and break the cycle of poverty, could not be achieved—and the children deserve better than that. They deserve the chance to make a better life for themselves. I’ve seen them work and they try so hard just to read a simple word or solve a math problem. For the most part, they want to be there and want to learn, and they deserve that chance. And that is where Christel House fits within the larger pursuit of human rights in
At first, while really enjoying my internship, I was a little jealous I wasn’t doing something like Adam, or Abby, or especially Cameron, who were working with very powerful organizations where they worked directly with important people in the organization (that’s not to say the children at Christel House are not important) and adults who are already making a direct difference to South Africa and even the world. I mean, they made amazing connections and learned so much about the human rights movement. I was working at a school that, while they definitely appreciated the help (Miss Fran really needs people like Megan and I to come help her, and the school seemed understaffed in general), they didn’t necessarily really seem to care so much that we were there, for the most part. However, after a few days, I realized that I was helping and making a difference. While not making the same connections as some of the other students in my group, I was helping children who could grow up to be the next generation of human rights activists, children who adored us and appreciated our help. And that, in itself, counts for quite a bit.
As I sat there, I tried my best to compare and contrast these same issues to how things are in America and I realized that the only difference is that instead of people being judged solely based on their skin color, individuals highlight certain attributes of people and treat them negatively based on their appearance, their goals and ambitions, and through envious behavior. I found myself saying “ at least things are slightly better in the USA,” not realizing that just because it is seen as being better does not make it acceptable or equivalent to being alright.
I now know through this experience that a sense of community is an important attribute that should be implemented into society as a whole, but especially within the African-American community/culture. This experience has highlighted so many negatives within the black community that I felt that in order to change the behavior of people within society, one must first deal with the issues of overcoming common problems like low self-esteem, self- absorbency, and the individualistic take on life (thinking that everything is about “you.”)
It is important to note that we, as American citizens, take a lot of things for granted and live in a world of individualism. It has been imbedded in our culture to believe that it is great to think only of oneself, but if everyone thought about themselves all the time, then when will we reach a point to where we are able to assist those individuals who can not assist themselves? Who can not read, walk, eat, or even live? These are major questions that came to mind when I looked through these townships and I saw the looks on these people faces as they struggle to eat, sleep, and feel comfortable with their living situations and their inner being. The question that I pose now, is what have you done for your community?
The next two weeks were an adventure of another kind, that of bureaucracy. For the first few days, I analyzed data from an excel spreadsheet that detailed the problem of vote spoilage at a regional level. Overall, vote spoilage wasn’t catastrophic, with about 1% of ballots needing to be thrown out because voters didn’t follow proper voting procedures, but in a few outlier precincts that ratio jumped substantially, with the worst having 21% of ballots being thrown out. I was also supposed to analyze data involving the Section 24A law that allows voters to vote at any voting station, instead of where they’re registered. Unfortunately, this data didn’t arrive. The upside to this is that I got to talk with some of the people at the office, and I’m getting pretty good at FreeCell.
Another part of my experience was the commute. In order to get 12 miles away to the IEC office in Bellville, I would walk 5 blocks to Kloof Street, take a minibus taxi to the hub on top of the train station downtown, and take a Bellville minibus all the way to my office on Voortrekker St. in Bellville. All told, it would usually take me between an hour and a half to two hours to get twelve miles down the road, but it was certainly an experience being in a 12 passenger van with 20 other people, weaving in and out of traffic as the driver cut off every other car and van in Perow, often using curbs or sidewalks as a means to an end. All that and I haven’t gotten mugged or pickpocketed! Neat! I’ve also really enjoyed the other things we’ve done, especially our outings to Robben Island, Cape Point and Kirstenbosch.
What did I get myself into?
I am not very good with little children and I was not looking forward to changing dirty diapers and wiping snotty noses. For the first day I thought I would just observe the teachers and kids, but I was quickly thrown into the role of teacher when both the women working there left to go run errands in the building. I was mortified. The children were running rampant throughout the room, hitting and fighting each other, putting dangerous objects in their mouths, stealing toys from each other and then flipping off others as well as me. I knew these children were victims of abuse and I refused to be forceful with the children, but my soft, quiet ways in dealing with them were not effective. I was so relieved when the teachers came back into the room and regained control.
For several days in the daycare that was all I could see: a bunch of defiant little kids that had no respect for authorities. It wasn't until Steve and Elaine came in to observe and commented about how much the teacher loved the kids that I saw it for myself. I was very critical about how harsh the teachers were on the children. In the U.S., spanking an abused child is taboo, but in South Africa, that is not as frowned upon, but nevertheless, I judged them on that.
Finally I saw the love in it all. The teachers saw behind the mess of fighting, smelly, slobbery kids and saw a child who was deserving of their love. After three weeks of working in the daycare, I am worn out, but my exhaustion is only temporary. Those teachers will continue coming to work every day, putting up with the children's problems, teaching them important life lessons, but most importantly, loving them.
One thing I have learned is that you cannot completely change a person with a one time donation. Change is brought about when you invest in people's lives and show them their worth. This is what the teachers and employees of Place of Hope are doing every single day. With organizations like Place of Hope, South Africa can be transformed into a country that values every human life.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Upon arriving at my internship, I had very little understanding of what I would be doing there or about the South African education system. I was pleased to find out that I would be working in the English department and that I would be teaching literature rather than grammar. While I would have had no problem teaching grammar, and I actually expected to be doing so since English is a foreign language, I was gladly relieved to teach literature, because it is my plan to eventually be a college literature professor. After a few days of basic office work and getting comfortable with the staff and students, I was finally given the opportunity to teach a class last Wednesday. I prepared “Poem for My Mother” by Jennifer Davids, a South African poet, and was confident and ready to lead class on my walk to the mini bus taxi station. I was given a pleasant surprise that put a dent in my confidence on my walk to class that day. Mrs. Bopi, the teacher that I have been working with, was walking to class with me, when all of a sudden at the classroom door turned to me and said, “I’ll be in my office if you need anything.” This took me completely off guard, because I just assumed that she would come with me to help out if needed and maintain order in the classroom. When I turned towards the door my stomach was instantly knotted a million times over, but I took a deep breath and walked into the room. After trying to quiet the class a few times with my normal voice, I soon realized that I would have to speak much louder for a class of forty plus high school students to hear me. Once I got the class settled down, I began to teach the poem. The hardest thing to adjust to, besides talking so loud (I am usually a little soft spoken), was to speak slowly and enunciate very clearly, because, to the students, I have a very strong accent. In the forty-five minute class period, I got through everything that I needed to cover with the class, which was a great relief. At the end of the class, one of the girls sitting in the front row, who I had gotten to know somewhat talking during a few breaks, called me over to ask a question. What she said, I don’t think I will ever forget because it was probably one of the funniest things, given how nervous I was to be alone during my first teaching experience in a room full of students that speak English as a third language to Xhosa and Afrikaans. She said that she felt so bad for me because she could see how nervous I looked throughout the entire class. She did reassure me, though, telling me that I did a good job teaching the poem. The overall experience, nerve-racking as it was, has reaffirmed my already strong desire to continue my education, after the undergraduate level, to teach. It has been not only a great learning experience in how to manage a classroom and make a lesson plan, but also in building a relationship with Mrs. Bopi and the principle, Mr. de Villiers.