Esquire Theme by Matthew Buchanan
Social icons by Tim van Damme

18

Jul

Combating Education Inequalities in South Africa

Today is Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday – also known internationally as Mandela Day.  In South Africa, it is a day where everyone is encouraged to volunteer 67 minutes as a tribute to the many years that he spent fighting against injustice and inequality.  There are many worthwhile issues that South Africans could devote their service to on this day but there is probably none more urgent, and none more important for the country’s future economic and political stability, than the inequalities that exist in the current education system. Addressing the existing educational inequalities in South Africa, and elsewhere, is the civil rights issue of the 21st century and it will demand the same type of organization, leadership, and unwavering dedication that Mandela epitomized during the struggle against apartheid.

With the end of apartheid in 1994, the African National Congress, the dominant political party, established a new constitution and a new set of laws that were meant to transform the country in a way that reflected the values of dignity, equality, and freedom.  In fact, the constitution includes a right to basic education, which places a responsibility of the government to fulfill this right no matter what the financial cost.  Unfortunately, over the last eighteen years, the educational opportunities in South Africa remain skewed against those that suffered the most during apartheid.  For example, of those in the population who are 20 years of age and older, only 40% of black South Africans have completed at least “some” secondary school and only 5% have some higher education.  There has been little improvement in these percentages since 1994.  Of course, constitutional rights are meaningless until citizens force their elected representatives, the judiciary, and society as a whole to recognize and respect these rights.  This is definitely the case when it comes to the right to a basic education and there is growing evidence that a social movement, made up of South African and global civil society organizations, is beginning to make some gains when it comes to educational inequalities.

In June of this year, I was able to witness first-hand the nature of the education dilemma in South Africa as well as the responses to it.  With seven students from the University of San Diego, we linked up with a local non-profit, Sharing to Learn, to volunteer in a village called Makuleke for two weeks.  Makuleke is located in Limpopo province, approximately one hour from the Mozambique and Zimbabwe borders.  It is a community that epitomizes South Africa’s past and present.  In 1969, the people of Makuleke were forcibly moved from their native land, which is located in Kruger National Park, to their current location.  It is a typical rural community in South Africa in that it suffers from endemic poverty, high unemployment, and struggling schools. 

Yet what Makuleke lacks in economic development and educational resources it more than makes up for with citizens are committed to overcome their socio-economic obstacles.  In addition, Makuleke is fortunate to have dedicated non-profit organizations that are in the community and that are providing resources and working with local level leaders.  For example, Sharing to Learn, based in New York but whose founder and director lives in Makuleke 3-6 months out of the year, was founded in 2009 with the goal of improving the educational system in the village.  In the last three years, Sharing to Learn has done a tremendous amount in the community, but most notably, it has devoted considerable resources to building libraries.  In a country where 93% of the schools do not have a library, the fact that this community of 6,000 has two (one community library and one library at an elementary school), is a phenomenal accomplishment.

The other organization that has a presence in Makuleke is Equal Education.  What is important about this organization is that it is encouraging students themselves to organize and to form groups that are called “Equalizers.”  While in Makuleke, the USD students worked with the eight Equalizers that were established in June 2011, with the assistance of Sharing to Learn.  Over the course of our two weeks in Makuleke, the Equalizers introduced us to their personal ambitions, to their families and homes, and to their schools.  These are students who want to be doctors and engineers but who are often orphans and come from child-led homes, who often attend class where no teacher shows up, and who must share desks, workbooks, and if they are lucky, textbooks.  At times, learning about the many obstacles that they face on a daily basis, was overwhelming, and it felt as if they were caught in a vicious cycle, not of their own making, that was impenetrable to change.  As is always the case, real social empathy only occurs when the statistics and injustices become personal.

Our occasional pessimism, however, was overmatched with the Equalizers sense of optimism and determination.  By the end of our two weeks in Makuleke, with their insistence, we helped them to meet their principal (whom none of them had met before), the chief’s son (who is next in line to be chief), and we assisted them with coordinating a community meeting where they introduced themselves to other students, teachers, and adults.  Speaking in English and wearing their yellow Equal Education shirts, this group of eight students spoke eloquently about the conditions of their schools and their desire to improve them.  For all of them it was the first time they had ever addressed the community in this way.  One of the results of these meetings was that the group doubled its size before we left and the principal promised to support their group once the school year began. 

Over the last four years, because of the partnerships between Makuleke and organizations like Sharing to Learn (based in NY) [http://www.sharingtolearn.org], Equal Education (based in Cape Town) [http://www.equaleducation.org.za/], and now, the University of San Diego, the education system in Makuleke is changing for the better.

Admittedly, these are small changes in what will be a long struggle, but still, it demonstrates the power that citizens can have over their own destinies and the opportunities for like-minded groups to join together for meaningful and sustainable change.  But more importantly, it provides hope for Mandela’s vision of a free and equal South Africa in the 21st century.

03

Jul

Thoughts from South Africa - Makuleke (Days 5-11)

I am writing this post from a restaurant called “Chill” next to our hotel in Durban.  We left Makuleke yesterday morning around 8:30 am and we arrived to the Joburg airport around 3.  We all then scurried in our different directions - Chelsea and Tasha to their hotel in Joburg, Danielle for her flight home, and the rest of us to the check-in counter to make our 4:30 flight.  Except for a bit of turbulence as we approached Durban, the flight was uneventful - except for the poor people that had to sit next to any of us - we all were emanating a distinct smell from our bodies and clothes that could not have been pleasant for anyone. Oh well.  We got our rental car - a Eurovan - and we headed into Durban.  I warned everyone of two things: 1) I had never driven a van with non-automatic transmission in SA; and 2) I have a tendency to get lost.  While there were no stalls our our way in, we did get lost.  I could blame the co-pilot - Jen - but that would be unfair.  I think our directions were wrong.  But we made it to the hotel, checked-in and then treated ourselves to pizza (after taking showers and cleaning up).  

Even though we have only been in the rural areas for 10 days, the culture shock of being in a big city immediately hit all of us.  For example, this morning, instead of waking up to the sign of cowbells or the infamous “go away” birds, I heard horns honking and the pounding of hammers (construction next door).  The other side of the coin, of course, is that I am sitting here with a cafe latte, with free wifi at the hotel as I write this.  

We are going to do some sight seeing and shopping today and then tomorrow we are going to head up to the Eshowe/Entumeni area in Zululand to see some of my friends there.  I am excited for everyone to see the differences and similarities with KwaZulu-Natal as compared to Limpopo.

Okay, enough of the update and this quasi-boring stuff.  Over the last week, I was taking notes on what we did and below I am going to post them.  The bottom-line is that we came to SA with the goal of immersing ourselves in a rural community, making meaningful relationships with as many people as possible, and perhaps collaborate with people in the village on a project (or projects) that would be beneficial to them.  In the end, I cannot imagine things working our more perfectly than they did over this last week.  I am so proud of the USD students and the Equalizers for what they accomplished.  There are more details below but believe me when I say that this combined effort by these two groups of students has started something that could grow in amazing ways in the future.  This is what teaching, learning, and working together is all about.  Enjoy.

Thoughts on June 26-July 1 in Makuleke

On Tuesday, after returning from Pafuri, a sense of panic set in with the USD students.  Our time was limited and we needed to “do” something that would be lasting in the community.  But what?  Watching the students talk, plan, make agendas and discuss different ideas was fun to watch.  They led this and they talked with the Equalizers about what they could do.  This is when the idea for a community meeting, a mini-lecture, and the opportunity for the Equalizers to introduce themselves to the community was born.

I think for the entire group, Wed night felt like the high point.  We had this community meeting where there were young people, a few teachers, and a few older people.  I did a brief talk on US civil rights.  Right before we started, we realized that there were some in the audience that did not speak any English and I asked one of the Equalizers - Tuki - to be my translator.  Tuki is a great kid and he has attached himself to me a little more than the other boys.  He said yes but he was very nervous.  He had never translated before or spoken in front of a group so large.  Well, he aced it and afterwards you could just see the pride in his face.  But what made the event especially important is that after I finished, this group of 7 high school kids who formed this group called the Equalizers talked about their organization and why they joined (it is a group that is fighting for equal education and it is part of a nation wide movement).  Again, for all of these kids, they had never spoken to a group this large.  It just went so well.  After they finished, it was like the end of a lecture at a conference.  Everyone mingled.  I had a lot of people - students and teachers - come to talk with me, ask me more questions, and get my email.  But the most important thing that happened is that about 10 more students asked to join the Equalizers.  They had an impromptu meeting and they are holding their first formal meeting - as a larger group - tonight.  Between me teaching in the village, seeing these kids overcome their fears and stand up for themselves, and seeing some signs that there group is growing brought most of us to tears at some point.  And just like I had hoped, the idea for the meeting was never scripted.  It really did come from the USD and Equalizers talking and brainstorming about what they could do in the community.  It is a weird, but amazing feeling, to see something actually happen that was only an abstract idea a year ago - or even 9 days ago.

 

Oh, but I forgot.  Earlier in the day (on Wed) we all visited the high school where the Equalizers attend.  It was like an abandoned school - seriously, it is a complete mess and to imagine that these kids are being forced to learn in this environment was a serious reality check for all of us.  We left the high school so low and depressed but then by the end of the evening we were so happy because of the meeting.  The days seem to go like this where we are super hopeful and optimistic and then depressed.

 

But while at the HS, one of the Equalizers told Nadalie - one of the USD students - that the principal was there.  So Nadalie walked in there with the student and asked to see the principal.  This was the first time this Equalizer - Mawisa - had even been in the administration office.  She told the principal about the meeting we were having that night and that he should come - he didn’t.  But she also set up a meeting for him at 9 am on Friday for more of us to go and see him.

 

So, that was Wed.  And it felt like the summit was reached and that we were now just going to enjoy the kids and the village.  On Thur, we visited a primary school - the one where Denise built the library (there is a community library near us on the chief’s land and then this other one).  The principal there is very nice and the school is in good shape.  There was such a stark difference between how well kept the primary school was compared to the high school.  Still, we learned that not many students are actually using the library because the teachers do not go there.

 

After leaving the primary school, Denise started telling us about a private school in the main town Malumulele where the kids get a much better education.  She had actually sponsored one Equalizer to go last year but he did not pass and now he is back at the Makuleke high school.  She called the principal of this private school - a woman from Ghana - and told her that we were going to the town to shop and asked if we could visit the school.  So, a group of us went into town, did some shopping, and then visited the school.  I forgot to mention that two new people showed up on Wed night - Dale and Patrice.  Dale is a school principal in CT and Patrice is an artist there.  Dale wants to bring some of her teachers here next year and Patrice is here to do artwork with the kids.  I am not sure how they know Denise but they are all friends.  Anyway, it was me, Danielle, Patrice, Dale, and Denise who went to town and met the principal.  This school could not have been more different from the public ones we have seen.  We spent a while walking the grounds and visiting the classrooms and it showed what $800.00 per year could buy.  We got back and ate together.  Like I said, it had felt like Wed was the highlight of the trip and that our work was now done except for teaching the Equalizers about the internet, getting them email addresses, and just having fun with them.  I am scheduled to do more informal lectures with them as well.  So, Thur night we stayed up a bit later, drank some wine, and just laughed a lot about the week.

 

I did not want to go to the principal meeting on Friday morning.  I was tired and I figured it was going to be lame.  But I got up and Denise, Dale, Nadalie and I went.  He is a nice enough guy but the students really do not like or respect him.  He is lazy.  He gave us his interpretation of the challenges of being a principal in a rural school but Nadalie and Denise both kept pushing him on ways he could improve things - it was a bit weird at times but it was fascinating to watch the dynamics.  We talked with him for an hour and at the end of that conversation, he had agreed to come and meet the Equalizers and to learn more about their group.  We walked around the HS a bit and I talked to him one and one for a bit and then we left at 11 - he was going to be at the bed and breakfast at 11:30.

 

The Equalizers fear this guy and they do not like him at all.  So, when we told them that he was coming to meet with them as a group, I am sure they were scared.  We formed a circle of chairs for the Equalizers, the principal, a teacher he brought as well, and then a few of the USD students.  The rest of us were sitting in back of the circle - it seemed awkward at first as none of the Equalizers were talking.  Nadalie kept the conversation going and then the kids started to speak.  It was amazing to watch.  They told him their experiences of learning at the HS, they told him about being an Equalizer, and they requested his permission to have a classroom at the school to hold their meetings since their group was getting bigger.  He agreed to all of this.  He then said that the group should have a teacher supervisor and that the group should “report back” to him.  So, the group suggested a teacher they like to be the supervisor and he said yes.  Tuki then said that he wanted a specific date when one of them should meet with him and they set the date.  It ended with the principal saying he was very pleased with the group, pleased that he could help, and that this finished “Chapter One” and that now they would write more chapters together.  We were all so proud of the kids and again, there were some tears.

 

I do not know if any of this will be sustainable but I think it is the best chance we got.  We have worked with a pre-existing group of kids that are motivated to learn but who have little community presence.  Over the week, these kids have met the chief’s son, held a community meeting, and met the principal.  They may have a shot now to grow there group and to create an even bigger support group for themselves.  It has been just incredible to watch and while I know it may flop, it seems like there is a foundation for this to keep going - with next year’s USD students building on these relationships and with all of us keeping in touch with them through internet.

 

Later in the day on Friday - after the meeting with the principal - I sat with the Equalizers in a circle to see if they had any questions on SA or the USA.  It started slowly and I could not tell if they were enjoying it.  But it ended very well, they started to ask good questions and I started being more animated and more interactive with them.  They definitely learned something.  But the questions they asked were so profound (these are questions from the meeting on Wed and the one on Friday):

 

-why did the apartheid government make blacks carry pass books and relocate them? [for this one, I told Nesta that some people are just mean and have bad ideas about who can live with each other;  I told them these people exist everywhere and that when they meet people like this they should just walk away]

-how did Mandela become president?

-what is the cold war?  what is civil war?

-did the 1994 govt get rid of all of the apartheid laws?  if so, why were schools still so unequal?

-why did Obama win in 2008?

-in other places, do whites separate themselves from each other like apartheid did with blacks and whites?

-what are the major differences b/n politics in USA and SA?

 

Answering their questions and doing mock lectures has been the best part of the trip for me.  And they really like it.  I think next year we will do more of this.

 

So, that gets us to last night.  It was movie night - the Incredibles - and then a bit of dancing.  During the dance, we would start random chants.  We started one  where we repeated “Equalizers!”  Then the Equalizers started one that said “USD”.  Then we all chanted “Makuleke”.  All to some random techno music.  The dance party ended and Denise took her car to take a few of the kids home.  It was just the Equalizers and us.  We formed a circle, put on some music and each took turns dancing in the middle - with the person who danced in the middle last picking someone to go in.  We then walked back and started talking about how we spent our first full day with the kids one week ago and just thought about how must we have come together in this week.

 

As you can gather, this trip has affected all of my senses: intellectual, emotional and physical (Tuki took me for a run on Thursday morning).  Each day has its highs and lows.  I could not have imagined this trip working out any better.  I am exhausted but so proud of the students.  I am ready to leave but I also know that this group will never come together in this way again and that makes me sad.    

 

I am excited to see Vusi, Rudi, Mary, and the Gogo family in KZN, but right now I am not ready for that part of the trip. 

 

On Saturday, we met the equalizers and played some football (aka soccer).  It was really a lot of fun, and thankfully, no one got hurt.  We played on this dirt field behind the Makuleke Primary School.  The skills some of these kids have are really impressive.  We played well in the “first half” – with the score only 2-1 but then they dominated us the second half and we lost 6-1.  I filmed the last 15 minutes or so – pretty silly but it was just a great time. 

On Sunday, we attended church with the Equalizers and then we just spent the day with them - doing crafts, talking, etc.  It was that odd feeling that we knew we were leaving on Monday and that there were no more “projects” to complete - we could just enjoy each other’s presence.

One of the things that Denise has started with the Equalizers is that they should be writing every day.  They write stories, letters, or personal reflections.  It is a way for them to practice writing (and our students have been doing a lot of tutoring with them on their writing) but it is also a way for them to process their thoughts and feelings.  Well, what has happened this week is that the Equalizers and the USD students have been exchanging letters with each other almost every day.  These letters are so profound and heartfelt (I will share a portion of the one I received later).  So, on Sunday, there was a lot of time spent writing to each other.  Coming from a society where no one writes letters anymore, it was fun to see this happen.

On Sunday night we saw a play that depicted the forced removal of the Makuleke people.  The older women who performed were very good.  It was all in ixiTsonga.  There were our students, the Equalizers, and members of the community there watching.  Each of our students was sitting next to an Equalizer and during the play, they were whispering the translation to them.  These are kids (the Equalizers) that could not speak very good English last year and now they were all translating.  

When we left on Monday morning there were a lot of tears.  The USD students helped all of the Equalizers set up email accounts and everyone plans to stay in touch but it will always be different than seeing them in person.  

There will never be the “first group” of USD students and Equalizers again.  But next year there will be another group of USD students and even more Equalizers (I hope) and we will do it all again.


 

27

Jun

Thoughts from South Africa - Makuleke (Day 4)

June 25, 2012

Today’s game drive was the best I have been on in Africa.  It was not because of the number of animals we saw, however, but instead, it was this unique combination of history and taking part in a walking safari.  Let me explain.  I had told the drivers – both who are from Makuleke – that we were interested in learning as much as possible about the “old Makuleke” and so today they took us to where the royal family is buried and to the site of the chief’s homestead.  At this homestead, there are still artifacts from 1969 – bits of clay pots, burned pieces of wood, and stones that were used for cutting.  This in and of itself would have been enough for me because I really find it fascinating that the removal took place as recently as 1969 and that the community now has access to their ancestral home.  But when we were at the royal family burial site we got out of the Land Rover to look around at a monument.  Godfrey brought his gun with him just in case there were animals.  Sure enough, we were talking and all of a sudden he told all of us to get around this large tree.  As we peaked around the tree, we were staying right at a male elephant.  He must have been 20 feet away.  He just stared at us for a while and then he backed up and went away.  It was by far the best safari experience of my life. 

We spent the rest of the day at the lodge waiting for our ride to come and get us.  We headed back to the village around 5:30 and got in at 7.  

Thoughts from South Africa - Makuleke (Day 3)

June 24, 2012

We left today for Kruger National Park and the Pafuri Lodge.  The lodge is located on the land where the old Makuleke existed before the people were forced to move by the apartheid government in 1969.  The Makuleke people won their land claim in 1998 and they have formed a partnership with Kruger and with Wilderness Safaris to use the land for conservation and the lodge. 

I was not sure what to expect and the truth is that this is one of the most beautiful lodges I have seen.  For me, it is especially interesting to be on land that has such historical importance.  With that said, the accommodations here are incredibly nice and I would recommend visitors to SA to visit.

The land is located right on the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique on the Limpopo River.  What I noticed very quickly was that the environmental diversity here – the types of trees, bushes, the water sources – is so different from the flat, dry, and treeless land where the current Makuleke village exists. 

Our drivers – Godfrey and Alweet – are both from Makuleke village.  As part of the land claim, the Makuleke people are guaranteed some employment in the lodges (the other lodge here is called the Outpost and Denise says it is not as upscale as this one).  I learned that there are only 61 jobs right now for Makuleke (a village of about 7,000).  In addition, none of these jobs are in the upper-management positions (the promise is that Makuleke people will eventually be trained for these jobs).  Godfrey and Alweet were fantastic.  It was without a doubt the most entertaining drive I have been on.  At one point, Godfrey jumped out of the Land Rover and leaned down at a pile elephant poop.  He said that you can tell if it is new or old poop based on whether it is warm or not.  All you have to do, he said, is put your finger in the poop.  He asked for volunteers, and not surprisingly, he had no takers.  After demonstrating to the group – putting his index finger into the poop – he again asked for a volunteer.  Silence.  No takers.  Then Chelsea – who just learned yesterday that she was accepted into the Peace Corps in Africa – said she would give it a shot.  She jumped out of the Land Rover and without flinching, she put her index finger in the poop and reported that – indeed – it was cold, and thus, old poop.  Godfrey then told us that you can tell whether it is a male or female elephant based on taste – sweet poop is a female elephant and not so sweet is the male.  We all started laughing – nervously – and then he bent down, put his index finger into the poop – and yes, he put it in his mouth.  The game was on and Chelsea immediately said a phrase that she probably never thought she would say – “I am not eating elephant poop!”  Come on – Godfrey replied – you are in Africa and this is the way we can know the gender of the elephant – it will not hurt.  At that moment, I can only imagine that Chelsea was overcome with the spirit of the place and she put the finger that she has just put in the poop into her mouth.  Definitely not sweet – it must have been a male elephant.  Well, at this point, we are all laughing, clapping, and I think silently praying that Chelsea has not doomed all of us for this fate.  Godfrey then demonstrates again – but this time a bit more slowly.  Yep, index finger in the poop and middle finger in the mouth – we had been duped and Chelsea was stuck with the after taste of elephant poop – which she claims is quite strong.  As it turns out, Chelsea was so focused on the fact that she had just did this act that she did not realize Godfrey had tricked her until a day later.  Whatever she lost in hygiene, she gained ten times in respect and I think we are secretly jealous of her authentic African experience – not!

We then proceeded to the banks of the Limpopo River for “sundowners” – our drinks!  The Limpopo River is completely dry.  There was an inlet next to us with hippos and crocodiles but there was nothing separating us from Zimbabwe and Mozambique other than a long stretch of sand.  Denise announced that she wanted to pee in Zimbabwe and Godfrey said, sure, let’s go.  They started running towards Zimbabwe.  Knowing that this could not be any worse than eating poop, we all followed – laughing, tripping over ourselves, and trying to make sense of this strange, wonderful moment.  Well, we made it.  Denise found a bush and did her thing.  Emma tried to find her and record the moment but she was a bit late.  Having just gotten to Zimbabwe, we then decided to make a run for Mozambique.  One hundred yards later we were there.  The sun was setting, the moon was rising, and the stars were just becoming visible.  It was unbelievable.  We took photos and could here the hippos – hurry, Godfrey warned, we need to get back to the Land Rovers before they get out of the inlet.

We then had our drinks at the Land Rovers and Godfrey and Alweet started singing South African songs.  They then asked if we had any songs we wanted to share.  As it turns out, Amanda and I have been doing a killer rendition of Joy to the World in honor of Zack and it turned out to be one of the best versions yet.  Godfrey then sang How Great Thou Art.   This experience reminds me a lot of when I came to Africa for the first time in 1991 and we ended up breaking into song at any moment.   

Thoughts from South Africa - Makuleke (Day 2)

June 23, 2012

Today was a very good day for the USD and South African students.  Each of the equalizers took one or two USD students and gave them a personal tour of the village.  The chief’s son, Humphrey, asked the Makuleke students to write a brief history of the village for the USD students and to share this.  The students were able to visit the high school where they attend and visit their homes.  They saw first hand the dire educational infrastructure in the village and the awful conditions that the students are forced to endure.  Just one example that I heard was that a typical class has eighty students and only 30-40 desks.  Two of the Equalizers demonstrated how they share a desk and take turns writing during the course of the day.  The USD students remarked how proud the Makuleke students were to show their village to them and that when they met elders at their homes that they would voluntarily tell them about Makuleke’s history.  In many rural communities there is a strong tradition of oral history and I am thrilled (and a bit envious) that the students were able to experience this for themselves.

It is fantastic to watch the students interact with each other as they fluctuate between serious conversations and playing games.  And what is even more impressive, for me, is that this has all happened spontaneously.   From the beginning, the USD students and I have focused on just getting to the village, meeting members of the community, and immersing ourselves (as much as we can) into their lives.  But without anything ever being said, both groups seemed to understand that this was a unique opportunity to build relationships – and it has turned into something quite beautiful in an organic way. 

When they returned from their tours – after about 3-4 hours – the USD students made sandwiches to share with everyone and they continued talking.  Eventually, they broke into playing some games with each other along with some younger boys and girls that were with them.  At around 4 pm, when we wanted to gather the USD students together to “debrief” the day, it was a struggle to get them to stop. 

The students also experienced some of the challenges of being an outsider in a rural community.  A few of them were approached for money.  They also learned that connections matter – once those asking for money found out that they were friends with Denise and STL, they immediately stopped.  While it is not surprising to the USD students that there are still race and class issues (overlapping) in South Africa, it was important for them to encounter it first-hand.

After eating dinner, which was catered for the first time (Gloria – a friend of Humphrey’s, made us a very nice dinner), we walked to Denise’s house for movie night and subsequent dance party.  This is a tradition that Denise started when she was here in 2009.  Every Friday night – but in this case Saturday night – she shows a movie (Lion King, Peter Pan, Happy Feet).  There were about 60-70 kids of all ages sitting on the ground watching the movie when we arrived (she has had up to 160 on some occasions).  She projects it onto the outside wall of one of the buildings in her home.  When the movie ends, she projects a blue light against the wall and plays music from her laptop.  The kids take turns dancing in the light where they can see there shadow projected on the wall.  It only took a few minutes for the USD students to join the dancing and before you knew it there were 70-80 people dancing under the stars and kicking up the red dirt that is found in Makuleke.  Of course, the kids nowadays listen to this dance music where there are no words and the same beat goes on endlessly.  Once DJ Tuki (aka as Tshepo) [one of the Equalizers] Black Eyed Peas finally came on, yours truly finally showed off his dance skills – fortunately, it was dark and I was dancing with a 7 year old boy (Lamas) who had befriended me earlier.  The dancing lasted until 10ish and we all made our way back to the Makuleke Cultural Center – dirty, sweating, and extremely happy!  We have only been in the village two days and there has been more deep learning and meaningful life lessons learned than I could have ever imagined.  These are special kids and I feel very fortunate to be around for the ride.

23

Jun

Visit to shantytown.

View from my hotel room in Melville.

View from my hotel room in Melville.

Some of the USD students at Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto.

Some of the USD students at Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto.

Thoughts from South Africa - Soweto and Johannesburg

June 21, 2012

I am writing this as we are driving from Johannesburg to Makuleke and I will post it once we arrive in the village.  The first two days of the trip have been excellent.  A group of us arrived on Tuesday morning at 8 am – after a 24 hours of traveling from San Diego.  The rest of the group came in during the day on Tuesday, and by 9 pm, we were all together.

Thoughts from South Africa - Makuleke (Day 1)

June 22, 2012

It feels like we started something important and meaningful today.  It was a long day that did not go as I expected but it was very good for the entire group.  We did not get started until late.  Most of the students did not get up until 9 or 10 and we did not finish breakfast and leave for the library until noonish.  When we got to the library there was about 40 students there and the USD students immediately went into the library and started reading and interacting with the students.  It was quite amazing and it was done very spontaneously.  The students were there until around 3 pm.  They then took an hour to eat something and then started a meeting with the Makuleke Equalizers at 4 pm.  The Makuleke Equalizers are a group of eight high school students that started meeting last year.  The Equalizers are part of a larger organization called Equal Education – a Cape Town based non-profit that lobbies the government on education issues.  Denise knows many of the members of Equal Education and she has facilitated the creation of the Makuleke Equalizers.  Some of these students will be attending an Equal Education conference later this month in Johannesburg.  The Makuleke Equalizers are all very motivated to do well in school and they set aside time each week to meet, share essays, discuss issues at school, and tutor each other on subjects.  While Denise brought the program to this village, these eight students continue with their meetings even when she is not here.  One of the things we will be doing this week is trying to support their efforts.  This first day of meetings between the two groups was fantastic and they ended up talking until 8:30 or so. 

The evening ended with the group of USD students and Makuleke Equalizers making a fire.  Standing in a circle around the fire, they sang South African and US songs.  The sky was clear and we could see the Milky Way.  It ended at the fire with Humprey, the chief’s son (who is in his 30s, has a law degree, and is very supportive of Sharing-to-Learn and our efforts), welcoming us to the village and challenging both groups of students to make the most of the experience.