Wednesday, July 30, 2008


On Tuesday of last week, I was at the Seleka Drop In Center helping the 10 carers hired to cook and provide activities for the 115 orphans and vulnerable children we serve. I admire these women immensely. Although it has taken a year, I think they finally trust and respect Paul and I as their own. Their job is daunting. We all volunteer for an organization which has little funding, and the money seems to 'disappear' regularly. This leads to weeks on end where there is nothing to cook for the children, even though we receive funding yearly from the government specifically earmarked for food. The women try their best to make ends meet by piecing together small donations and occasionally even give some of their own meager stipends to purchase mealies, beans, or vegetables. When first arriving in Seleka, Paul and I had high hopes of being able to help the drop in center financially in some way. However, after extensive discussion with the carers, we've decided that it is best to wait until the political landscape of our organization has changed before trying to make any steps forward. In the meantime, we still go after school on days when we don't have girl’s club commitments, to be with the carers and OVC's and help with the cooking and cleaning.
On this particular Tuesday, I happened to be wearing one of the crafts we did for girls club; a chain bracelet. One of the carers was admiring it and asked if I'd be willing to teach them how to do it? Of course! They all brought a few Rand and over the weekend I purchased some beads for them to make their own bracelets.
Arriving at the drop in center, supplies in hand, I had no idea that this small activity would bring out the sparkle, smiles, and girlish giggles of six women already in their adult years. Having put together a small bag of different beads for each one, they dumped them out on a piece of fleece, laid out on the table to diminish the number of beads rolling onto the floor. Eyes shining, they started making patterns--their own, creative, unique patterns, for their bracelets. Although the small holes in the beads were hard to see for a few (you hardly see anyone with glasses in our community, although I've noticed many of my learners and PNGC leaders squinting..), by the end of the morning they all had their own bracelets on, and were admiring each others.
Creativity expressed through art is not something that is encouraged, cultivated, or sought after in Seleka in the form I know it. Usually the resources needed are just not available. I remember when we were young, having ample opportunities to make things with crayons, markers, fabric, blocks, etc. You name the material; it probably was made into a Christmas ornament and hung from our tree at some point (except for the bird tree--Adam and Ness, you know exactly what I mean). Here in our village, art comes in the form of a crown made from sweet wrappers, a made up song, or drawing in the sand. Wonderful expressions of creativity, but sometimes just a few crayola would add the missing piece between a picture being lost in the next dust storm and being able to bring it home for grandma. Not that I'm advocating that we bring Target to Seleka; however sometimes dust, wrappers, tires, and leftover wire can only get you so far. Seeing the carers work with pretty, shiny objects brought out the young girls in all of them; the young girls that look at a necklace, bracelet, or earrings and say 'ohh'. I realized that morning that I was raised in a country where freedom of creativity is not only encouraged, but where most people have the financial means to achieve it. I guess I had never realized that even the most basic supplies that help young people to express their creativity are still out of reach for so many people in the world. My hope is that through our time here we can create new and sustainable ways to encourage the creativity of as many people as possible. The smiles and laughter on the faces of my friends here should be the norm, not the exception.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

PNGC Week 6: A Young Man's Mind

Last week's lesson/craft combo was 'A Young Man's Mind' and appliquéing bags. The objective of the lesson was for the girls to understand the changes taking place in boys as their mature, both physically and emotionally. Critical pieces of the lesson included how to safeguard oneself from unwanted advances, whether verbal or physical. The discussion questions at the end of the session brought out some giggles, but serious conversation as well. Mma Motebele asked the girls what they would do if a boy was giving them unwanted attention or admiring parts of their body. One of the girls responded she would tell them 'O a yaka' (you are lying!--a commonly used phrases here with our learners), while another responded she would kick him. We tried to talk her out of that one, but we were pleased she was engaged in the conversation. The answer I had been waiting for came at the end of the conversation when one girl said if a boy wouldn't stop touching her, she would go to a PNGC leader or a policeman. Excellent.
After wrapping up the lesson, the girls started appliquéing butterflies onto bags using the blanket stitch. I have found there are small skills, skills I take for granted, which the girls haven't learned how to do yet. For example, many don't know how to tie an over handed knot at the end of a piece of thread, or how to thread a needle. This has presented great learning opportunities for me in things to be teaching them in upcoming weeks and how to continue making small improvements in our crafts for next year. The majority of the girls seemed to get the hang of the blanket stitch by the end of our session, and proudly modeled their bags for all of us.
It has been so fun for Paul and I to walk around our community, or come to school, and see our leaders and girls wearing/carrying their own creations. We're always so pleased to see that sense of accomplishment when the leaders and girls conquer a technique and have a finished product to take home with them. I know they are showing family members and friends what they're doing, as many have come back to me asking if their sister, mother, auntie, etc. can make a pair of earrings. We're hoping the girls will use these opportunities as times to be teachers instead of learners, sharing their skills with other women in the community. In Tswana culture, it doesn't happen very often where children teach their elders. We're working on giving the girls some skills to do so, hopefully bringing them closer to other female members in the community by a shared bond: a love for the arts, and the creation of something special.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

PNGC Week 5: A Young Woman's Body continued

We are back! After a three week school holiday and the first week back off for club, PNGC was back up and running on Monday. It was apparent that the girls were excited to have club again, because I had a number of them come and find me throughout the day to make sure they could come after school. The day went quickly in the classroom and before everyone knew, the final bell had rang for school and the lavender cow bell was clanging to begin club. Despite having already been back at school for one week, the girls continued to talk and chat about how long it had been since the last club, what they had done last time, and wondering what was in store for this week. I had not put together a new music CD for this week's club because I figured it had been a while since they had heard the most recent mix and sure enough, it did not matter. Minutes after they began filing into the room girls were singing and dancing to the beat. It was going to be a good day.
I stuck around for introductions and welcome backs. Because we had missed the end of June and the beginning of July, we had the PNGC Student Council announce birthdays for the month and hand out small gifts of pencils and stickers to any girl whose birthday fell in either of the two months. Everyone cheered and clapped for each girl as she received her presents. Even more special was that one of the PNGC leaders, Ma Seleka, was having her birthday the same day as club. After the student council finished announcing the girls birthdays, we had Ma Seleka stand up to recognize her. Her gift from club was a beaded AIDS ribbon pin that Jess had made that came in a beautiful pale purple little bag. Ma Seleka liked her gift so much she even pinned the little bag to her sweater with the pin!
As the group quieted down from birthday celebrations I took my cue to step out of the room. This week was a continuation of 'A Young Woman's Body' lesson. I still do not have much to offer on the topic, so I took the time to do a bit of prep work for my Math classes for the following day. However, the recap from the leaders after club told me that not only did the girls remember a great deal of the previous lesson from over a month ago, but that their participation was even better as they became more comfortable talking in the large group and knowing that their questions and answers were part of a private discussion. It was a real step toward building off the great momentum of trust and comfortability that was set during the first four weeks of club.

Following the lesson I made my way back into the room to pick up my duties of DJ and photographer once again. This week's craft was chain bracelets. Not only did the girls do amazingly well at this craft, but it was clear they were becoming ever more comfortable with using the tools needed to complete the beading projects. Things like wire cutters and round nose pliers that were utterly foreign objects to them just a few short weeks ago now look like tools that they have been using for years. As some girls finished in record time, they turned their attention to helping their neighbors, picking up extra supplies, assisting the leaders and more. These were not just the student council girls that help us out each week to set up and take down, but all the girls. I was taken aback at how anyone coming in to watch club that week would not have known these girls had only attended four previous club meetings, let alone been on a four week hiatus since their most recent gathering. They looked naturally at ease and were completely enjoying themselves.
At the end of the day we gathered the group together outside for a welcome back photo to show off their dazzling new bracelets. The girls giggled and shrieked as they hopped in line for the photo and then sprinted over to me to peek over my shoulder for a glimpse of their face on the camera. It was a great capstone a fun day back at club. As we strolled home in the now extending daylight as we move toward Spring in South Africa, we had a hard time realizing we had been away for so long. It seemed just like any other day of club should feel and that made us smile. PNGC has fallen into it's routine and the girls and leaders are taking the lead in setting the tone for the rest of the year. If this week was any indication, the rest of this year is going to packed with good lessons and great projects.


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