Wednesday, October 22, 2008

PNGC Week 15: Physical Fitness

It was a hot, humid and tiring day at PNGC this week. The first rains of the season came the night before which is great news, but it also makes the air heavy and sticky. Combine that with construction at school in some of the rooms and packing 54 girls, 6 leaders and the two of us into a small space makes for an uncomfortable start to the day. It was clear from the looks on every face that they were tired and hot and ready for a nap. We felt the same way, but put on a smile and some energizing music and went ahead with club.The girls were discussing physical fitness and the importance of exercise this week. Many of them love playing netball and football (soccer) and our hope was to hold some track and field type events for the girls outside. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and we did not want to have the girls out running under the oppressive afternoon sun. Instead, we unpacked the sewing machines and started the last project of the year, aprons.Each girl began sewing their very own apron out of traditional fabrics. The leaders were each manning a sewing machine and assisting the girls that were sewing. It was clear that these fabrics are a special commodity in the village and the girls were very excited to know that they would be getting their very own. As the leaders and their girls hummed along on their machines, the girls who were waiting for their turn spent the time finishing up their 5-strand beaded necklaces from the week before if they had not already done so.These are a more difficult beading project and require many more beads to finish. I spent most of my day troubleshooting with broken crimp beads and clasps as well as handing out beads. This quickly turned into a very hectic affair. Everywhere I turned there was a girl who needed more beads or help tying off an end. I quickly realized that some girls were just asking for beads because they wanted to take some home, even though they had finished their necklace already. Some went so far as to hide beads under books, in shirt pockets, behind their felt squares and any other place they could find to put them. Then they would come to me saying they were out of beads and needed more. I began to get pretty frustrated with some of them, especially when I had to deal with two or three girls in a row who were blatantly lying about not having beads and demanding more, interrupting, snapping their fingers or flailing their arms to get attention and more.

I kept my cool through the rest of club, packed up and went home. As Jess and I sat enjoying some cold drink and unwinding from the afternoon I tried to pin down what my frustrations were with the girls that afternoon. Part of it was the heat that made everyone a little edgy, and some of their behavior can be chalked up to teenage attitudes and life, but there is part of the way that they acted when demanding this or that through the afternoon that still bothered me. It is not just unique to the girls, but to many people in South Africa. There is a sense of deserving among many people in the post-Apartheid era. It is very rare to hear please or thank you, to form a line instead of crowding and pushing for a space in front, or to wait patiently for someone to finish speaking or working instead of interrupting. These attitudes seem to be born from the idea that since people have been freed from an oppressive life, now they deserve to take it back when and where they choose. I think part of the reason why some of the girls acted the way they did was a learned behavior from their parents and friends. They have been given many things throughout club and perhaps now just expect to get even more instead of looking at everything as a gift and a privilege.

Yet this is not everyone. As I looked back on the day I also began to remember the other girls who were bringing back their extra beads, helping others to finish once they had completed their own work, assisting in cleaning up and organizing all of the supplies. There are a number of these girls and they are kind, considerate young women. They are the bright spots of club that let us know what we do with them and the leaders is worthwhile and important. There will always be struggles when we work with young people in a culture that works differently from our own, but at the end of the day it is worth every minute.

1 comment:

Sarah's Story said...

It was good for me to read about your beads incident - because the same thing happened at my girls club too. One of my co-leaders, Queen, went on a massive hunt to find all the extra "stolen" beads and turned up a bag full. Its hard because I know the girls don't have much and the VAST money is for them, but I agree about the attitude problems with acting entitled. I wonder if they are just feeling overwhelmed by all of the new things I am giving them and don't know how to behave. Not all of the girls by any means, but a chunk of them. Anyway, it was nice to see I wasn't alone with this problem.

Missed you at MST by the way (LOSER!)



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