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.

4 comments:

Brandon said...

Thanks for taking the time out to document this event for us Paul. It was wonderful to read and a great addition to all of the photos we already saw. As much as I miss my home in South Africa, I don't miss those 12 hour days :)

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