Tuesday, August 18, 2009

PNGC 2009 Award Ceremony and Our Farewell

Last Wednesday, August 12th, was a big day. Combined into one large event, held at the Seleka Community Hall, was the PNGC 2009 Awards Ceremony and a community farewell function for Jessica and I. We could not have asked for a better day to mark the beginning of our final days in Seleka. Despite a mountain of preparation, last minute details and communication across a number of different organizations in Seleka and the surrounding area, the event not only went smoothly, but was truly a celebration of all the achievements this community has had over the past two years.

Our morning started at 5:30am, when a local tailor named Adam and his assistant stopped by to fit Jessica for her traditional dress. Seleka Higher Primary school had organized this dress as a gift for her. She had been measured only once and when she donned her new wardrobe for the first time, it fit perfectly. Adam is a truly exceptional tailor. He found out that I did not have a traditional shirt to wear for the ceremony, took a glance at me and said 'I know your size'. Unexpectedly, a couple hours later I was met by Mma Motshegwa and presented with a brand new, excellently fit, traditional shirt to match Jessica's dress. Truly incredible and a wonderful gift.
Jessica, Adam, and his assistant

After our early start and a strongly brewed cup of coffee, we made our way to school. Upon arrival and after many oohs and aahs at how beautiful Jessica looked in her dress, she was quickly ushered into Mma Modipa's classroom where a second traditional dress awaited, much to her surprise! The teachers shooed out all the men, helped Jess out of the first dress and into the second. We men were then called back in to admire the new look, which again was beautiful. A number of photos were taken, and then the men were again shooed away as the women decided which dress Jessica should wear for the day. They decided on the first.
Jessica (dress #2) and Mma Kgang

The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 10:00am. Knowing that it would not start on time (its the way of any event in Seleka) and having completed all our preparations in the previous few days, we were able to spend the morning on a few last details with the teachers and community members; setting up the PNGC Craft Sales table, making copies of the program for the day, setting up and testing the DVD player, etc.
PNGC Craft Sales Table - Business was good!

At the community hall, people began to trickle in around 10:30am. By 10:45am it was suggested we should begin, but then quickly postponed when it was realized that over half the honored guests, including all the PNGC Leaders and Jessica, had gone back to school to collect a few last items. Finally, at 11:15am the program started. For the next couple hours people continued to filter in as they arrived from different parts of the Seleka, neighboring villages and Lephalale. We were honored to have a couple representatives from Peace Corps join us for the day. Margaret Shebe is the Small Grants Coordinator and has been instrumental in assisting PNGC and Palala Clubs to get their funding and also to promote apron sales. Hendrik Matseke, Jessica's Peace Corps supervisor was also able to attend.
Hendrik Matseke and Margaret Shebe, Peace Corps

The first half of the ceremony was dedicated to honoring the work for Palala North Girls Club 2009. A few of the leaders spoke about the achievements of the girls throughout the year and explained the essence of club to the community. A dozen PNGC girls performed two poems centered on HIV/AIDS awareness, and Junitah Maphoto, the PNGC winner of this year's essay contest, read her essay on 'How she will work to prevent HIV/AIDS in her life and in the community'. It was great to see everyone in the audience so supportive of PNGC, the leaders, the girls, and all the work they have done. To know that the entirety of Seleka is behind the club lets us know that there will be encouragement to hold club again in 2010.
Mma Motsoko, PNGC Leader
Junitah Maphoto, PNGC Essay Contest Winner

Towards the end of the PNGC part of the program, we had the privilege of presenting the HIV/AIDS ribbon quilts from 2008 and 2009 to the community. It was decided by the PNGC leaders that the quilt of 2008 should be donated to Kgosi (Chief) Seleka, to be displayed at the Tribal Office. Kgosi Seleka had arrived shortly before and his entrance was heralded with singing and dancing. The presentation process was very unique. When addressing a Kgosi in Tswana culture it is appropriate to work through his main councilor, who will then relay the message to the Kgosi, even though the Kgosi is standing next to his councilor and can hear everything that is being said. This tradition is a sign of respect towards the Kgosi. Graciously Kgosi Seleka received the gift of the quilt and then rose to address the crowd. He spoke highly of the work that Palala Clubs has done, not only here, but in Klipspruit Primary where it began with our good friends Brandon and Rachel Johnson and their leaders Mma Ditsela, Mma Tema, and Mma Khalo. All three of those ladies were in attendance and were able to be recognized in person, a great thrill for them! We were also deeply touched when Kgosi Seleka thanked us for our time in Seleka. He made a point of telling us, and the community, that we are no longer visitors, but we are part of the Seleka family, with the name of Seleka . This makes us brother and sister to Kgosi Seleka, a truly incredible honor. It has been so much fun to meet with Kgosi Seleka over the last couple years and his welcome has been wholehearted. To have him speak about Palala Clubs so fondly and to thank us for our time was a wonderful part of our day.
Kgosi Seleka
Andrew Mocheko, Kgosi's Councilor and Kgosi Seleka
Quilt for Kgosi Seleka

After presenting Kgosi Seleka with his quilt, it was time to present the quilt from this year. For this quilt, the PNGC leaders decided to have a communitywide raffle to raise money for PNGC 2010. In the week leading up to the ceremony, all the PNGC leaders and girls had been selling raffle tickets. Anyone could buy one, and the winner would receive the quilt. The quilt was unfolded and displayed before the hall and our emcee for the day, Grace Masalesa (also a PNGC leader) explained the process. People young and old were digging into their bags and pockets to remove their ticket(s), glancing at the number, and eagerly awaiting the drawing. Mma Tema, from Klipspruit, was our guest raffle drawer. She dug around in the box, stirring the tickets for a few seconds, and then removed one and handed it to Grace. Grace, ever an entertainer, proceeded to ask the crowd in Setswana 'Who is it?!' 'What name is in my hand?!', while the crowd began to call out 'Bua! Bua!' (Speak! Speak!). This went back and forth for almost a full minute until the name Martjie Manyako was finally called out. Jessica and I had a hard time distinguishing the name, but out of the crowd popped a very surprised young girl, who happened to be a PNGC member from this year! As she walked up front she initially looked completely overwhelmed and not sure what to do. The crowd was cheering; the PNGC leaders were excitedly singing and dancing as they presented her with her brand new quilt. After about 30 seconds it all set in and Martjie broke out into a large grin as the PNGC leaders wrapped her up in the quilt. For Jessica and me, it was such treat knowing that one of the girls who helped to sew the quilt had won. Not only that, but the next day we got an even bigger thrill. We found out that after the ceremony, Martjie had gone home with her quilt. Upon seeing this incredible prize that she won, her gogo (grandmother) sent someone out with R45 to buy a live chicken and a two litres of Coke so that they could have a big celebratory dinner to honor Martjie. For a gogo to do something like this, and spend that kind of money on her granddaughter (gogo's small income comes from selling sweets to school kids during lunch break) is a big deal and might have been an even bigger event than winning the quilt itself!!
Quilt for the raffle
Grace Masalesa, PNGC Leader, teasing the crowd
Martjie Manyako, PNGC member and raffle winner

With the quilt presentations completed, I then presented the PNGC girls with a short photo slideshow from the year. They laughed and pointed and celebrated as they watched a review of all their lessons and crafts. It was an exciting to watch them revel in this video that was all about them. Unfortunately Jess was not able to see the girls view their video because she was taken out quickly with Mma Motshegwa to change into a third (yes, third!) traditional outfit of the day!
Mma Modipa, Jessica (dress #3) and Nancy

The video marked the end of the PNGC section of the ceremony and we moved into our farewell that had been organized by the various organizations in the community that we have worked with. It was marked by numerous singing and dancing pieces, a variety of speakers from each organization and throughout all of this there was a hearty traditional lunch served in take-away Styrofoam containers to each adult in the room (children ate outside in the shade). Needless to say it was very moving for us. Mr. Motsoko, a retired principal from Seleka Higher Primary, related the story of how when we first arrived, we refused to type documents for people, but were very happy to sit down with someone and show them how to type a document. His metaphor of choice was 'Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.' We were very impressed by his relating these stories, and also found it hilarious that they had grasped so early on the way that we wanted to work with the community just by the way we addressed requests to type! Other speeches included a touching farewell poem written by one of our grade R (kindergarten) teachers, a rousing speech from Mma Motshegwa, and a celebratory speech by the Itsoseng Elderly Group showing off all of the bead work they had created under Jessica's instruction.
Mr. Motsoko, retired principal from Seleka Higher Primary
Mma Chipana, Grade R teacher and poet
Itsotseng Elderly Group dancing

As the speeches wound down and the food was being finished we were presented with a few small gifts from the community. They are some very unique pieces of art from South Africa that we will be able to take with us. It was such a generous thing to do on top of throwing such a large celebration for us. In response, Jessica and I proceeded to give our prepared speech (in English and Setswana!) to thank everyone and each organization individually, for welcoming us into their lives and their community. Without such a welcome we could never had succeed as much as we did over the last two years. As our gift to the community we purchased a mango tree for each organization that has played an important role in our service in Seleka. We have now planted seven trees around Seleka that will hopefully remind people of us once we leave!
Mma Seleka, Paul, Mma Motshegwa, and Nancy showing off Bahoting's mango tree

After our speech there was a closing dance and singing before people dispersed. We lingered, enjoying the laughter and conversation that always follows a jubilant celebration, despite everyone being rather exhausted. Noticing the sunlight casting long shadows across the floor of the hall, I glanced at my phone to see that the whole event had lasted for over five and a half hours! No wonder we were tired. We finished collecting our things and assisting with cleanup, arriving home at around 6:00pm, over 12 hours after we started our day! I think we were asleep within an hour or two.

This celebration for us was such a grand event and so special for us. It was difficult knowing that this truly marks the end of our service. We are now in the closing days and weeks of our time in Seleka. Other than organizing our supplies and passing them all on to people to use here, we need to pack our bags and head to Pretoria. Each moment we have left is being spent with friends and colleagues. Many cups of tea and coffee, lots of laughs, reminiscing about an incredible two years together and dreading the inevitable last goodbye.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

PNGC 2009: Weeks 1-11 in Review

PNGC has almost completed its second cycle here in Seleka, as we move into our last week on Monday. Unfortunately, one of our leaders from last year, Jacqueline, was not able to participate as she was on maternity leave for four months; however we've had two excellent additions to the leaders to replace her for this year: Mma Motsoko (Jacqueline's sister) and Mma Masalesa. Both Mma Motsoko and Mma Masalesa teach at our lower primary school, Baphoting. Jacqueline just returned to school on Monday and PNGC presented her with a quilt, made by the leaders (a huge thanks to Rachel for the donation of warm, flannel material!), to welcome her back!

PNGC 2009

PNGC Leaders at Invitation Day

Mma Masalasa

Mma Motshegwa presenting Jacqueline with her quilt

Leaders with Jacqueline's quilt
This year we have followed the same format designed for Palala Clubs: a lesson and then a craft We've moved our location from the Seleka Higher Primary School Meeting Hall (which also serves as a classroom for one of our fifth grade teachers) to Mma Seleka's classroom (7th grade teacher and one of our girls’ club leaders). This has proven to make the set up and clean up run much more efficiently and allocated an extra 20 minutes weekly to club.

We used three new lessons this year: Rape and Abuse, TB, and Physical Activity. The leaders and I were hugely pleased with the seriousness and sensitivity the girls used in participating in the Rape and Abuse lesson, ending with an excellent discussion of adults the girls could come to in the community if they or someone they knew were ever threatened/abused/raped, how one should treat someone with compassion if they have ever been physically, emotionally, or verbally abused, etc. The physical activity lesson was a huge hit, as we followed up the lesson by getting outside to do relay races. The girls had the opportunity to jump around like frogs, give piggy back rides, and do the potato sack race. Some of the girls suggested that we end the day by having a relay for the leaders, but since most of them were wearing high heels, they decided to hold off! Paul and I loved getting a chance to see the 'athletics clothing' that was worn for the day. There were old flannel skirts, grandmother's aprons, biker shorts, and slippers!

Frog Jump

Piggy Back Rides

Potato Sack Race
We have also tried out a few new crafts this year including tie dying (my mom and sister crated a full suitcase of tie dye materials from the States when they came in September---we owe them big time!), Bohemian necklaces made with leather cord and wooden beads, and link bracelets with beads that Megan's (Paul's sister) class at Lincoln Park Pre-School so kindly donated. The girls were a bit leery when they eyed the plastic gloves they need to wear for tie dying, but it only took about five minutes for the die caps to come off and they dug right in.

Memory Wire Bracelets

Chain Link Bracelets

Mma Makhura helping the girls with Applique Bags

Name Necklaces

Beads donated by Lincoln Park Pre-School

Our dear friend Mmapula (Megan Owen) came to visit us and help out with girls club during week 9. She helped with packing 62 bead packets, being the official photographer, untangling knots, showing how to thread beads, etc. She was an indispensable member of our team for the week and we wished she could have stayed for the rest of the year!

Mmapula and Mma Seleka
Two of our favorite parts of girls club this year came in the form of an Easter egg hunt, and our four PNGC Student Council girls: Junitta, Anna, Johanna, and Vanessa. We organized the Easter egg hunt one Friday after school. We initially had been hoping to hold it on the Seleka mountain (loosely defined) and, per the wise suggestion of the leaders, headed over on Wednesday afternoon to the tribal office to make sure we could get the activity approved from the chief. Chief Seleka has been extraordinarily welcoming and kind to us in this community, and when we approached him this Thursday afternoon, he looked at us and said 'might it be possible to move the egg hunt to the other mountain (across the road) as this mountain is where our ancestors are buried'. Gulp. Paul and I have climbed this mountain many, many times, each time passing by the cemetery nestled at the base of the mountain, where the previous Kgosi (king/chief) Seleka's were buried, but hadn't ever considered the possibility that we shouldn't be traipsing up there. We quickly said that we would move the activity and decided that it would be to do it on the school grounds. However, as we like to say at home, 'no harm, no foul' and the hunt was a high point for all of us that week.

Girls holding their eggs

Having 62 girls in club this year has not allowed us to spend good time with all of them, but we have had the fortune of working very closely with four of them. Junitta, Anna, Johanna, and Vanessa have helped myself and the leaders to make the weekly craft packets, organize set up and clean up, recognize birthdays, and to ensure the smooth running of club. Paul and I have had the girls over twice to watch movies on a Friday, treating them to chocolate sweets from the States and the glories of Disney animated movies. We've loved getting to know these four girls and are going to miss them terribly once we leave.





Having the ending of PNGC so close is bittersweet. I have loved working with the girls and leaders. It has been such a treat. However, as we start to close in on the last few months of our service, I know this program is in good hands, both here in Seleka and in Klipspruit. I know that the program will be changed and modified in the future, as there won't be a full time person here to do some of the behind the scenes work, but that the core parts of it, the lessons, skills that have been learned, and the role models that these leaders have become in our community will continue, with or without me.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tuesday in the Village

It was midday and I was preparing for my afternoon computer class. As I was working on one of the computers, it just switched off. No power. I figured it was the same problem I had last week when the school was out of electricity so I hopped over the to principals office to check on the electrical box. Unfortunately I found it to be off as well, which means that the power was out for our entire area of the village. As I was discussing the power outage with fellow teachers, Jessica sent a message letting me know that the power was out at home as well, where she had been busy on the sewing machine with a Palala Clubs Apron Project order. Losing power is a regular occurrence here, though usually it comes with a storm or high winds. To the contrary, this day was a moderate, cloudless, beautiful winter day; a day you would choose if you could wake up in the morning and select the weather. As I went around to the teachers who are in the afternoon computer class to discuss rescheduling for a later day when electricity is available, it filtered in through a few students that there had been an accident. A baakie (pickup truck) had hit an electrical pole and knocked out power to our section of the village. Questions answered. Yet as I made my way home I saw ahead of me on the dirt road a large gathering of school children and adults from the neighborhood surrounding what I could only imagine was the fated baakie. I could see the power lines swaying low in the soft afternoon breeze and knew this was the site of the accident. Detouring through the crowd I asked a few students about the what transpired and this is where it gets interesting. Turns out the baakie belongs to the principal at the secondary school. Following the norms and standards of accepted practices at school, he had sent two boys on an errand (personal, not school related of course). This errand involved tossing them the keys to his baakie and directing them across the village to a local person who was going to repair his spare tire. Unfortunately, after the boys, giddy with the freedom of having the Principal's keys in their hands, careened down the first half kilometer of road they apparently lost control on the gravel and grated the passenger side of the baakie across the electrical pole. The boys were taken to the local hospital for treatment, but were found to have no injuries and are back in school today. The baakie, with half of the bed torn away and a punctured rear tire, looked like a casualty of urban warfare that you see in the news. After snapping a few photos and hanging out with the school kids to watch as they towed the baakie away, and Eskom (the electrical company) showed up to start repairs, I made my way home.

The remainder of our Tuesday night was taken up with a cheese and cracker dinner and strawberries for dessert by candlelight, all because a couple of high school boys went joy riding in the Principal's baakie and knocked out power to half the village.


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