Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

With all the children running around our village, over 1000 of them alone attending the two schools we work with, 160 of whom have been our wonderful 5th graders for the last term, there are certainly a number of fathers who need to be celebrated today in Seleka. Monday is Youth Day in South Africa, a public holiday, so families also have a long weekend to celebrate together. As I stretched my legs down our dirt road Friday morning and held a warm cup of coffee in my hands to abate the crisp winter air I ran into one of our grade 5 girls. We fell in step together (about three of hers for every one of mine) and started chatting. She is an adorable girl who loves to talk to us whenever we have free time. Very articulate and to the point, she is never afraid to speak her mind. That day is was just excitement that was pouring from her. I had asked about her plans for the long weekend and the up coming three week school holiday. 'Toropong!' she exclaimed, which means 'town' in Setswana. She went on to explain that for father's day weekend she, her father, mother and two siblings were heading into town for the day on Saturday to shop, eat lunch at her favorite restaurant, KFC, and 'ipshina fela' (just enjoy). To top it off, the following weekend they all planned to travel to a nearby city to visit her mother's family for the entire three week school break. Apparently it is an annual excursion. All this joy and happiness was let out in a matter of a few minutes that it took to get from the corner where we met up to the school gate where she promptly sprinted off to meet up with some of her friends hanging out against the side of the school building facing the sun, trying to warm up a bit before having to sit down in a chilly classroom for the morning.

I smiled as I walked up the path to our classroom to prepare for the day. This little girl was doing exactly what our family would do on Father's Day growing up. We would pile into the car and head up to the city for the day, go out to lunch, usually at one of our favorite restaurants as kids, not Dad's favorite restaurant (because we did not really have a taste for choice prime rib and a glass of wine in our middle school years) and just enjoy the day together. I decided to continue asking other students about their plans for the weekend and school break, quickly finding out that my companion for my morning walk was more of an exception than the norm. Most students that I spoke with talked about how their father works in the city, usually meaning Johannesburg, and that they usually only seem him a couple times each year. Others do not have a father figure in their lives. Many are never able to come home from the city because it is so expensive to travel. They send money home each month to the family and that is all they are able to do. Many have passed away at a young age from HIV/AIDS or other illnesses. Some children have neither father nor mother at home due to all of these reasons.

Each face that I looked at that morning I tried to see beyond the personality that comes into the classroom each day. Do they live in the few nice homes in the village or one of the many one room tin homes lining the dirt roads. Is it a family in the traditional sense at home, or just one mother, one father, one grandparent, an older sibling or is this young 5th grade child the head of the house? Unfortunately the latter options are the most prevalent here.

This is just one small village that suffers from the same concerns that hundreds of thousands of people in every corner of the world face. We have had the privilege of getting to know some of these children who may not get to celebrate this weekend with a father, or have someone celebrate them on Youth Day. We hope that in our short time here we can celebrate them each day for the fun kids they are. It is easy to get caught up in our work and see just students in the classroom from day to day. Friday I was reminded again that all these bright faces are not just students but kids in the midst of what for many is a difficult childhood, one that is too short when you are forced to grow up so fast.

So today, on Father's Day, Jess and I are thankful for the blessing of such wonderful fathers and families of our own. Ones that gave us the opportunities that allowed us to be here now. Fathers that taught use the importance of family, friends, and being together. I cannot be a father for every child that walks through the school gate each morning, but maybe I can be a positive male role model many of them want and need. We do not have to go on weekend trips to the city with them or out to lunch, but as long as we are in Seleka we can gather together and just enjoy.

Happy Father's Day.

Monday, June 9, 2008

PNGC Week 4 (A Young Woman's Body)

Organizing the beginning of PNGC was a bit of a fiasco today. As Jess was trying to get back into school with the last of the supplies, she found the gate locked. Students who were trying to leave the grounds faced her through the gate, unable to leave. I hopped into the classroom where we hold club to begin setting up only to find it still full of students working with confetti that was all over every table and blanketed the floor. Searching around campus for the teacher to help close down her class and allow us to set up, I was approached by a number of kids who had come from the gate asking for the key, which I did not have. Other leaders were gathering the girls to help collect the extra tables and chairs we need each week and sending them the room, only to have them be told to wait outside until the other class was finished cleaning. The wind was whipping up dust storms that added clouded vision to my already cloudy mind as we went hither and tither to get everything going. Eventually Jess got a student to come back with a key to open the gate, letting her in and releasing a flood of students out into the the village. The girls were lined up, much thanks to our newly elected student council who really did great today! Soon everyone was inside and out of the cold, windy day.

This week's lesson was titled 'A Young Woman's Body'. As you may realize, I have very little knowledge to add to a lesson like this. To make it more comfortable for the girls during the story and discussion, I sat this week's lesson out and finished organizing a few of the items for the craft. Jessica will elaborate on the lesson:

Being a seventh grade girl once myself, I remember lessons in health class about the changes occurring in a young woman's body being frightfully awkward. Looking back on it, I now think, "what were we all so worried about?," however in those days, I dreaded it enough that it might have kept me up at night, trying to make myself sick in order to have a viable excuse to stay home from school. Keeping this in mind, I hoped that the girls experience today would be in a more open, comfortable environment then it was for me back in the seventh grade. Mma Masenya had volunteered to take on this important lesson, and she did it with gusto, making the girls laugh throughout it's entirety. After finishing the story, all six of the PNGC leaders opened the floor to questions, instead of our normally pre-written discussion questions. The girls were quite shy, not wanting to be the first to ask about menstruation, but eventually the questions did start popping up. I realized how important this lesson truly is when one of leaders leaned over and told me that many of the girls did not even know what menstruation is, much less that it would eventually happen to them. We'll continue this discussion with the girls in our next PNGC meeting. Paul, our official PNGC correspondent, will take it from here...
Once finished, I was summoned back to the room to take up my duties as photographer. The activity for the week was picture frames. I am not sure if it was something in the air, something that was talked about when I was out of the room or if it was the new CD I had compiled but the girls were in rare form today. Talking, giggling, laughing their way through the project they decorated their frame that held a picture of all the PNGC girls taken the day they received their invitation to club. Glue and glitter were everywhere and creativity was not lacking. As I went around to capture the day on camera girls were leaping in front of me posing with their friends and their frames. Once they had their photo taken would dance their way back to their seat to the beat of the music. It was hilarious.
We are amazed that our first month of PNGC has passed. The start up of club has definitely had its hiccups, but on the whole has ran exceptionally smooth. Leaders and girls alike have truly taken ownership and responsibility for ensuring each week goes according to plan (for the most part!) and that everyone is included in the fun. Unfortunately club will not meet again for five weeks due to a public holiday and the three week end of term school holiday. When that was explained to the girls today, we could see that some of them were sad they would have to wait so long to get together again at club. It feels good to know that the leaders and girls have come to look forward to their weekly lessons and crafts. We are expecting a queue of girls at our door when we return from break because we have promised them we will have more beads for them so they can make new necklaces and earrings. Until then, we have a few weeks to unwind a bit, recharge our batteries and prep ourselves for the next term which promises to be exciting!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Student Council Week!

Today was the first of what will become weekly meetings with the newly (democratically) elected PNGC Student Council. We would like to introduce you to our girls!
From left to right: Salome Langa, Rosina Seleka, Christina Kgang, Caroline Lefawane

As a PNGC Student Council representative, the girls have agreed to abide by certain guidelines. The leaders hold high expectations for these girls to be kind, courteous, helpful, encouraging and all around good people. This is expected not only at club but also at school and at home. One of the goals of Palala Clubs is to propel these girls into a life of sharing their knowledge, skills and love with others. Their example will be seen and modeled by those who meet them and hopefully spread.
Specific to PNGC, the student council elect will meet each Thursday to assist leaders in assembling craft packets for the coming week. They will also arrive early on Mondays to help set up tables, distribute packets and make announcements. The girls will delegate responsibility among the other PNGC members and provide direct assistance to the leaders. It sounds like a great deal of work and it is, but there are also rewards for their efforts. Student council members have privileges others do not, such as selling extra materials for club to raise funds, coming to visit us to help prepare for club at our home and enjoying a few extra goodies from Thato's (my Setswana name) kitchen.

We are proud to show of the faces of PNGC! Check out other Palala Clubs Student Councils here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

PNGC Week 3 (Inward Beauty vs, Outward Appearance)

Another week has passed at PNGC and again it was an exciting afternoon. After only two weeks, the girls are on top of everything that needs to be done for club to get going on Monday afternoon. No sooner has the final bell of the day gone off and a handful of girls have shown up to help rearrange the room. Others have hopped into our classroom to take the few tables and chairs we need to give everyone a seat in the hall. The remainder of the girls are arranging all the bags up against the wall outside and retrieving their membership cards and PNGC folders before finding a place in line alongside their friends to wait for the cow bell to sound. It is a bit like an organized chaos but in a matter of minutes all is set and off we go.

At the beginning of club this week we held PNGC Student Council elections. Unlike Zimbabwe or the Democratic Primary, all went very smooth. International election monitors (that would be us) agree that the four girls chosen will represent PNGC well in the roles and responsibilities pertaining to said PNGC Student Council. Polls show the victory was clinched by the candidates supporting issues of beads, fabric, lavender and talking about boys. There is little worry of corruption or military coup at this point and opposition parties seemed to be happy for their friends despite not gaining the majority. The election has been hailed as an example for all aspiring democratic nations and clubs.
Following election celebrations, this week's lesson tackled the topic of Inward Beauty vs. Outward Beauty. One of our leaders, Jacqueline, presented the lesson and Jessica again led the discussion questions afterwards. The girls realized immediately that the two girls in this week's story are the same girls from last week. Already they see the connection between this week and last, as well as between themselves and the girls portrayed. The story unfolded, bringing up issues about jealousy, compliments and being a good friend. The highlight of the day was during the final discussion question when the girls were supposed to talk about someone they knew who had both inward and outward beauty and why they thought so. After a few seconds of contemplation, the first girl raised her hand. Her person was none other than Maam Makhura, one of our PNGC leaders. Maam Makhura seemed slightly taken aback as all the girls clapped and whistled in agreement, but was glowing with pride and beaming shortly their after. The other leaders were all patting her on the back, shaking her hand and laughing out loud in support. It was wonderful to hear aloud one of our girls look up to and admire a leader. As a middle school student, it is hard to put yourself out there like that and the enthusiasm with which this first girl was supported made us smile with pride at these young women. They were clearly a close knit group before club began, but are becoming even closer each week.
Discussions closed on that high note and moved cheerfully into craft time. On the purple felt in front of the girls this week lay a small plastic bag containing a stretchy thread, a scoop of small pastel beads and alphabet beads to make a necklace. Each girl was given the letters of the alphabet needed to spell her name. Not much to explain about how to thread the beads, so the girls began as the music was turned up. Creativity was the word of the day as girls started separating out their pastel beads into colors and groups. Individual patters of twos, threes, fours, pinks, blues and greens soon emerged. Before long a few girls were proudly displaying their new necklace. Tying the thread proved to be the most difficult part of the afternoon and it probably took me twice as long to tie as it did for most girls to finish. We stayed until almost sunset to help the last of the girls finish up and put our room back in order.
Today at school we saw many name necklaces being sported around campus. We even had girls come find us during break asking to buy more beads to make more necklaces. Looks like we will be heading to the store this weekend. Hopefully this will continue, because they really help us. We are still working on remembering all 55 names!


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