Wednesday, September 24, 2008

PNGC Week 13: Personal Hygeine

This week at PNGC we had very special guests visiting. Jessica's mother Mary and her sister Vanessa had come to visit us here in South Africa and their very first day full day in the country brought them to our village to see club in action. As has been the trend over the past month, the day was hot, dry and windy but with such honored guests, the girls and leaders were all excited for club to begin. They had been hearing for a couple weeks now that Mary and Vanessa were coming with special craft supplies from the United States and were eager to see what everything was.
The girls lined up in front of the school hall as usual, chatting and gossiping about their day at school, while the PNGC Student Council and leaders helped to set up for the day. We first introduced Mary and Vanessa to the leaders and they happily assisted us in preparing for the day while learning about how this year at club has been going. The leaders were eager to share their stories and show off some of the necklaces and earrings they had made. When all the tables were set with a few supplies, Vanessa was asked to be today's bell ringer. Snatching up the bell and popping out the door to the hall, she rang the lavender bell, much to the girl's delight, and week 13 was underway.
The girls took their seats quickly, inspecting the containers of interesting looking sweets that had made the journey across the ocean for them, as well as the small tubes of paint in the baskets on each table. Their eyes were already lighting up and we had barely started. As Jessica introduced our special guests the girls applauded after almost every sentence. They could just not contain the excitement of having our family here to visit. At this point we probably seem rather ordinary to the girls, but our family had just stepped off the plane from America and the girls wanted to know all about them. However, before they could be bombarded with inquiries from the girls, Ma Masenya stepped in to present the lesson for the day on Personal Hygeine. It was clear to her and the rest of us that the girls were quite enthusiastic about the day and their attention was not easily focused on the lesson. Keeping that in mind, Ma Masenya improvised as she went, cracking jokes and incorporating anecdotes specific to daily life in Seleka to keep the girls listening and laughing. It was difficult to grasp everything she was saying as it was rattled off in Setswana, though it was clear that everything she was doing was bringing the lesson closer to home for the girls in a light hearted way. I was amazed at how she was able to maintain a level of participation from the girls on a day when they were easily distracted by so many other things.

After completing a short discussion at the end of the lesson, the big surprise for the girls was finally here. Jessica began explaining that the paints on the table in front of the girls were fabric paints, and that today the girls would be decorating their very own PNGC T-shirt. More applause came quickly, but was soon drowned out by oohs and aahs, hushed giggles and knowing glances from girl to girl as the leaders began to distribute the T-shirts. Not much explanation was needed on what to do and soon every girl had a bottle of puff paint in her hand, aimed at her shirt on the table. At first, most of the girls took the initial suggestion that they could write their name on their shirt. Almost every girl started with that, though soon word spread around the room of other creative designs and patterns. In no time at all, simply designed shirts became elaborate mazes of different color paint that covered entire shirts front and back. Paints were being passed around the room, ideas shared and expounded upon, and everyone was having a fantastic time. Mary and Vanessa meandered through the girls, stopping to talk, or sometimes just to admire a shirt or two. As the girls neared completion of their shirts (meaning we started running out of paint!) They, along with the leaders, began to help the girls hang their shirts over chairs and tables so the paint could dry overnight. Once finished with their T-shirts, the girls now had their chance to ask the questions that had been burning the tips of their tongues all day. The two new Americans soon found themselves surround by eager young faces asking a range of questions from 'Do you know Beyonce?' to 'What does your house look like?'. They posed for pictures, laughed, joked, made funny faces and thoroughly enjoyed themselves for the entire afternoon. No one was too quick to leave at the end of the day, wanting instead to stay and keep talking, but we assured them that the following morning we would be back at school to take a group photo with all of their shirts. Knowing that, the girls and leaders all helped to clean, sweep, pack and organize shirts to dry. We made our way home with a troop of girls that continued to delight us with questions and conversation all the way to our front door. The evening was starting to cool down and we sat on the front porch talking about what an incredible day it was for PNGC.
The following morning we arrived at school to find all the girls already there, sporting their freshly dry PNGC shirts. After assembly we gathered everyone together for a large group photo. The girls grinned from ear to ear as they showed off their new look and posed for even more pictures with their new friends.

We would not have been able to do this craft without the generous contributions and support of friends and family back home. Please know that your donations will be worn with pride in our village. From all of us at PNGC, thank you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

PNGC Week 12: Money Mangement

This week the girls discussed the topic of Money Management. For a large number of families in Seleka, money is not readily available. Many people rely a pension check and perhaps one salary to support their immediate and extended family. Being able to manage that money is essential to being able to make ends meet each month. Yet, young girls being who they are, and under a constant barrage of popular culture showing off the latest and greatest trends in fashion, technology and lifestyle, the ability to manage money effectively can be extremely difficult. The lesson for the day focused on the two main characters of all the PNGC lessons, Khutso and Mpho, and their trip into town to purchase food and supplies for the family. One girl spends her money wisely and the other unwisely. When they girls get home, it is clear what the correct way is to manage money. It is very likely this scenario has happened to a number of girls and it seemed to hit home for them. As we move forward with our craft making we want to begin encouraging the girls to think about ways they could use their new skills to earn money for club and for themselves. When that time comes it will be important for them to know the how to use their money wisely for themselves while still allowing for a special purchase once in a while. With few people in the village having their own bank account, cash is the only money people have and makes it all the more important to learn money management skills.To go along with the lesson for the day, the girls were able to sew their own personal coin purse. Having been on the sewing machine before, it was now much easier for the girls to zip through their sewing. Even with 54 girls in club and only four sewing machines we were able to sew up almost every coin purse in one day! They were immediately filled with some spare change, a pencil or pen, lipstick, chapstick, and other assorted items the girls had on hand. Hopefully each time the girls pull it out to buy something for themselves, they will think of the lesson for the day and remember what it takes to make good decisions with their money!While other girls were on the sewing machines, the remaining girls spent the day putting finishing touches on past projects like their beaded AIDS ribbon pins, or starting in on a beaded wire bracelet project. With all of the different activities taking place it was quite a busy day at club. Girls and leaders were buzzing back and forth amid the din of conversations and the hum of the sewing machines. It was a perfect scene of club, active and productive up to the last minute. The girls went home for the day sporting a number of new items and hopefully a few more bits of wisdom from their leaders.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

PNGC Week 11: Respecting Elders

It was another week of visitors for PNGC! Our good friends Chanda and Jacobus who live here in South Africa were hosting friends from back home, Ken and Pam, and stopped into Seleka for the afternoon to check out all they had been hearing about PNGC. Ken and Pam had only just arrived the day before and were fighting their jet lag, so the girls made sure that their music was turned up just a little bit more as club got under way for the eleventh week. After an introduction of our guests for the day and a huge round of applause for the special treats the brought from the United States for club (Starbursts), Ma Motebele hopped out of her seat wearing her bright blue sunhat and proceeded to give this week's lesson, which was on 'Respecting Elders'.
Growing up in the States, we always heard this lesson from our parents and teachers under the larger context of Respect. However, here in South Africa, elders in the communities hold a much more prominent role than what we may traditionally be used back home. In the past. community elders were those with the knowledge of the community history and heritage, important information when keeping custom and tradition alive. While this is still true today in many areas of South Africa, it is not as central to life as it once was. Still, the idea of respecting one's elders has not diminished in the least and this was an important lesson to remember for the girls who are now growing up with ever changing, and often conflicting, views of who constitutes your elder and how to show respect and care for them. The girls listened with intent to Ma Motebele and were quite talkative during the discussion. Clearly the tradition of respecting elders has not been lost on these girls considering the way that they treat their leaders at PNGC by listening and participating each week. It is really nice to see.
Following the lesson, the girls continued to work on their beaded AIDS ribbon pins that they began last week. The improvement of the girls in one week was astounding. Not only did they remember some of the tricks we taught them for keeping their thread on the needle and working through the pattern, but they really worked hard to make sure they were getting it right. Jess met with the PNGC Student Council girls at the end of last week to help them finish their pins in advance so that they could assist the leaders this week and help their friends finish. The student council girls shuttled around the room from one person to the next, guiding, demonstrating, encouraging and laughing with their friends as slowly, more and more pins took shape and brighter spots of red beads could be seen growing on the tables. With the help of the student council each girl was given special attention when they needed it and nearly all of the girls were complete or near completion by the end of the day. Our visitors strolled through the tables watching the girls and talking with the leaders about how the club is run. It was a great experience to have friends visit PNGC. I could tell the leaders enjoyed showing off their club and it's accomplishments. The girls were excited to meet new people and happy to indulge a photo or two (as if they could ever not be in the mood to have their picture taken!).

Friday, September 5, 2008

Organized Chaos

We have now officially passed the one year mark and are quickly approaching the time when we no longer count how long we have been here, but how much longer we have left. In the first year we have gotten used to doing a number of things we once thought new and strange. Based on an informal survey of things I do on a regular basis around the house and extrapolating for the remainder of our service, I expect that by the end of our two years in Seleka the following can be added to my resume:

300 bags of trash burned
650 chamber pots emptied
700 baths taken using small red wash basin
1460 buckets of water hauled from the tap at the church next door
2190 articles of clothing hand washed
4380 litres of water boiled
13000 ants sent to their doom with DOOM

This is a short list of accomplishments that only begin to describe one aspect of my life here, but I like to think they are an intergral part of 'building character'. With all this to do on almost daily, it is a wonder where I find the time to do much else!

Truly, in the last month or so, the pace of life has sped up dramatically. After completing the fourth month of full-time teaching, the new teacher was finally hired for Seleka Higher Primary School's grade 5 Math and Technology position. I had just recently resigned myself to the fact that I would end up teaching the remainder of the school year because of the snail's pace at which the paperwork was moving for this new teacher. Of course, as soon as you make a decision here, something happens that completely upends your plan. The arrival of the new teacher happened right in the middle of a number of trainings and meetings that Jessica and I attended for Peace Corps in Pretoria and elsewhere. Between traveling back and forth from these meetings, orientating the new teacher to our students and our curriculum and be inundated with requests for help in other areas now that our schedule has opened up I feel a bit overwhelmed. Unlike the first year of our service when we were trying to figure out what to do, where to work and how to fit into our communities, we are now established in the schools and in the village. Therefore, when all these new opportunities arrive, we are in a better position to be able to start in right away. This leads to constant work in all sorts of areas. In the two weeks since we have stopped teaching, I have been asked to help start computer classes, work one on one with teachers in their classrooms, lead a team of teachers to organize a solution to the watering issues we are having at our new school garden, work with the school Surroundings committee to design a layout for their proposed landscaping and paving projects, assist in the creation and maintainence of the school budgets, and photograph the entire student population for portfolios and train the teachers on how to use their camera in conjunction with the computer to store their information. Each of these activities is not only possible in the next months or year, but they are all projects that I want to take part in and are areas where I can be productive in training our teachers. Yet having them all drop on my lap at once, just when I felt I was getting settled into the classroom, has caught me off guard.

We are just over 12 months away from closing out our service and previous volunteers have frequently said how their second year of service was much busier and went by much faster than their first. Clearly this seems to be the way our service is shaping up to be and because of that, we also must start to think about life after South Africa. This adds a whole new dimension to our plans that seems so far away, but in reality is just around the corner. There is an anxious feeling about the next few months and being able to get things reorganized so that we can continue to be productive in our village but also to feel prepared to move beyond South Africa after our service. Time here seems to have only two speeds, slow and relaxed (agonizingly so some days) or lightning fast, and the speed changes in the snap of a finger so that one day you wake up and realize a few months have gone by and tomorrow is today. Knowing that this will be the case for the rest of our service I need to continually remind myself to be taking in the small pleasures of each day, each sunrise and sunset, time spent with our friends and colleagues, and sometimes even finding pleasure in such things as hauling water or taking down laundry from the line after a labourious yet satisfying handwashing.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

PNGC Week 10: Understanding HIV/AIDS Continued

Another busy week of PNGC has come and gone. This week we had special guests at club; Brandon and Rachel Johnson, who began Palala Clubs in their village last year, stopped in for a visit to see PNGC in action and to meet the leaders and girls who are inspired by their clubs. It was great to have their support not only to observe, but to dive in and help where needed. With a packed schedule for the day, we were happy to have as many people as possible on board!

After last week's successful introduction to HIV/AIDS, the girl's this week did some more in depth discussion on how to stay safe and be prepared for situations that could lead to contracting the virus. It was great to see the enthusiasm was still there with the leaders and the girls for this topic which is often very difficult to handle. The leaders are becoming very comfortable talking with everyone and do not shy away from using vocabulary that often is not used when working with delicate topics. In turn, the girls give emphatic answers to most of the questions. Not only do they know what HIV/AIDS is and how to prevent it, but they want everyone else to know as well. To continue to keep the girls thinking and talking about HIV/AIDS, this week they were given an essay competition to write on the this topic. All of the essays will be reviewed by the leaders and the winners will have a chance to present theirs to the group. The girls were excited at the opportunity and the challenge. They are strong and find support with each other and we feel grateful for each and everyone of them who continue to work so hard on the main focus of club, life skills lessons for these girls.
The hard work translates directly from lessons into crafts and we are thankful for that too! The projects that the girls are getting into from now through the end of club are much more difficult and time consuming. We wrapped up round one of sewing this week as the last of the girls were able to finish making their quilt square and ironing it to prepare for piecing the whole thing together. When they were not sewing, the girls began work on a beaded AIDS ribbon pin. The pattern for the pin is tough. Girls must count out an exact number of beads, thread new ones in the process and keep track of the spacing and direction they are beading. Initially it was troublesome for many of the girls. We spent a great deal of time untangling thread, putting needles back on, tying off beads etc. Slowly some of the girls began to recognize the patterns and when they did, they were eager to help their neighbor, which took some of the pressure off all of the leaders to get to everyone. By the end of the day, almost every girl had at least began the pattern and was understanding how to continue. The girls will take up their pins again this next week to finish them off.
Teamwork was the word for the day. Between leaders, girls, Brandon and Rachel and ourselves, we needed every hand and every minute of the day to work. Despite the chaos it was successful, and you could see the sense of accomplishment and pride in every person's eyes after a solid afternoon of good work.


The opinions expressed are our own and do not reflect those of the Peace Corps, the U.S. Government, the Republic of South Africa, or and other person, party, or organization mentioned on this website.