Last few days in Cape Town.... :-(

Trip Start May 06, 2010
Trip End Dec 17, 2010

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Where I stayed
Volunteer House

Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Sunday, May 30, 2010

My volunteer program has come to an end, it was my last day yesterday.  In some ways I feel it's a shame because I was actually just starting to feel that I was getting used to life at the primary school and was starting to get to know the teacher and the kids a bit better.  I actually knew some of the kids names which is no mean feat in such a large class size and was starting to build up relationships with some of them so it is sad that at that point it has now all stopped.  However in terms of my whole trip I have had ample time in Cape Town and I am really looking forward to going to Toronto this week.

School this week felt easier because I am more used to it.  The fighting, noise and everything else is just normal now and I started to say to the kids that if they wanted me then they had to stay at their desks and put their hand up rather than have them wandering around the class, tapping me and tugging my jumper for minutes on end!  That system was working reasonably well!  I am still confused by the structure of the school day in that there doesn't appear to be any.  One day they have 2 breaks, then next day they have 1 then it's back to 2 again.  School finishes at a different time every day, some days the kids go straight home, other days they are still in the classroom ages after school has finished but nobody seems to mind!!  I think it would take a few weeks more to figure it all out. 

I had a little chat with the teacher I was with one day about the challenges of teaching there and bless her she said she was losing her hair and she thinks it is stressed induced.  She said she was off for a few weeks last year with depression and this is quite common here for teachers.  I guess they burn out and to be honest I'm not surprised.  The teacher said there was a million teaching vacancies and retired people were starting to come back to teaching as they are being offered good money to come back to work.  They are actually getting paid more than the regular teachers which seems very unfair and my teacher actually said if it carries on then she will stop due the inequity of it all.

I came across lots of kids in the class who can't read at all in the last couple of weeks and because of the structure of the classroom in that there are 50 kids there is really no opportunity to teach them as 1:1 time is impossible.  The teacher said she is supposed to have extra classes with kids who are struggling but her classroom gets used for meetings and she has to attend lots of meetings herself with the other teachers and social workers etc that she doesn't get to have these classes.  She felt really frustrated that she has a group of kids who are really struggling and she tries to spend most of her time with them but that means that everyone else in the class is ignored so the brighter kids aren't encouraged to keep it up and those in between are also not supported to improve. I really feel for her because I think she is a good teacher but everyday she goes to work knowing that she can't do her job properly, it must be soul destroying after a period of time, I don't know how they stick it for years, I know I couldn't. It is impossible to give every child the attention that it needs, nobody could do it in such big classes.

 With 50 kids in every class she is under pressure to send 40 kids through to the next grade and only keep back the worst students because the school can't cope with keeping any more back but in reality only 10 kids in that class should actually be progressing to the next year.  She said she then gets stick from the next grade teachers for sending kids through who can't read but she has no choice but to let them go up a year.  The kids had tests this week supposedly to assess their literacy and numeracy skills but they have their tests sat at their normal desks so they are all just copying off each other so it's really not a valid test of individual ability.   I was taking some kids individually for a reading test on Friday which actually was very telling of their ability.  They had to read out 30 words and if they could read them I ticked them off.  In the class I probably got 35 of the kids done and only 3 could read them all and another 2 got about 90%.  The rest were dismal, less than 5 words.  It was also very noticeable that the kids who misbehave the most are the ones who were worst at reading which is not surprising really- they don't understand anything they are supposed to be doing so they talk, fight, wander around- anything to avoid trying to do things they simply can't do. 

I found out this week that the school got 150 extra kids this year due to people who had moved into the township.  People migrate to Cape Town in the mistaken belief that they will find work and life will be better.  How the school is supposed to cope with that rate of increase of students I have no idea.  They have very little resources so it really is a vicious circle that will just keep going round and round unless the government here starts to do something about it. 

On my last day a parent came to the school to complain that her child had gone home soaking wet 3 days in a row because she had wet herself every day.  That is very common and the kids are just left to sit in their clothes- can you imagine that in the UK, the school would get sued!  The school doesn't really have a choice if that happens,  it's not as if they have extra clothes lying around the place- they don't even have pencils, rubbers or sharpeners for the kids!  It turned out the headmistress was locking the toilets because kids were going in, doing a number 2, putting a stick in it and writing on the walls in poo! Nice!  It had apparently happened a few times so she came into our class saying we weren't allowed to let the kids out.  She also then started saying she couldn't monitor the toilets and couldn't see if boys were in the girls toilets and then said to the teacher I'm not having rape at my school.  There has apparently been a case of that recently, I'm not sure if it was at that school but there is a danger that boys are hanging out in the girls toilets to attack the girls.  I therefore took groups across at break and counted them in and out and ensured that the toilets were safe for my kids.  Just another reminder of how life is here and what a different world it is- rape at a primary school, it's just sick.

All in all I have enjoyed the volunteer placement.  I think I would have ultimately got a lot more out of it if I had been here for longer but I don't regret doing it and will never forget it.  I do wonder what will these happen to these kids in a few years time, I just hope that at least a couple of them get some exams and have an opportunity of having a better life.  At the township school the older kids that attend are having their exams at the moment so I was helping some of them this week with business studies, genetics and geography which was actually a refreshing change from 1 +1 and abc!  Nandipha is also doing exams so her community centre venture is not progressing right now but Kevin is getting the container delivered next week so it is certainly not forgotten.

Nandipha took me to her house this week although house is a bit of an exaggeration.  She has a very small shack made out of corrugated iron which she shares with her mum and brother.  It has a curtain across one area and that part has a single bed which she and her mother share every night (and her older sister too if she is there!)  Her brother has a bed in the main part of the shack which also has a wall piled up with all their possessions, a small table with 1 lamp and a few shelves where Nandipha keeps her texts books.  They have 2 rings which is their entire cooking facilities.  They have to go around the corner for water and they also have an area their to do their laundry outside.  They don't have a toilet or bathroom area, that is outside, shared with everyone else.  Nandipha said she feels her exams are going well so I hope they are, it is hard to imagine how anyone can study in that kind of living environment so my admiration for her continues to grow.

I have taken photos of the township, the kids and the school which are all below!

Aside from school we had a bit of a wander around yesterday.  We went to an area called Bo Kaap which is where the coloured people (not blacks) live.   We were trying to find a particular road and some old lady came along who we asked for directions but she said we were walking targets for getting mugged so her advice was to get out asap so we made a sharp harp exit!

We visited the District Six museum in the afternoon which tells the story of black people who were forceably removed from their homes to make way for the whites.  They were effectively living in a township which had real problems with sanitation, disease and crime so the government gave this as the reason for the removal and distruction of the area.  In reality though it was because they wanted to knock it down and re build houses for white people as the township was in a nice area and the land was valuable and therefore deemed to good for black people.  What was interesting for me having had some exposure to township life was a display where the residents were talking about life in the township,  The talk was of the sense of community, singing and dancing and how a community centre there played a pivotal role in their lives.  Someone had written thank God for that centre, that was where I learnt all the valuable things in life- they had educational lessons as well as dancing and cooking etc.  I couldn't help thinking of Nadipha's project and how it will play the same valuable role in her township.

The Stormers played in their cup final last night so having watched them the week before we watched the game at a local pub which was superbly well timed in that it coincided with happy hour- 70p for a bottle of beer, get in there!  They lost!  Didn't play well at all - oh well we had a good night out anyway! 

I am slightly nervous for S Africa in terms of the World Cup.  There is still an awful lot of construction work going on and I'm not sure it's all going to be ready in time!  There are also a lot of other problems, the rail network is on strike.  The main dockyard at Jo'berg has been on strike for weeks and supplies for the world cup aren't getting through to the venues which worryingly include back up generators so the flood lights may not be working for long!!  There are also a lot of security concerns.  Apparently companies who have got contracts haven't actually been government approved and many security issues are actually yet to be addressed- they only have 11 days left!  I really do hope it goes well for them as the country needs to show the world they can have these types of tournaments and cope but I have doubts.

I saw the stadium yesterday as we walked to signal hill- fantastic views over Cape Town- photos below.  I am hoping to see some seals and do a wine tour before I go but I am starting to run out of money so we'll see.

Until next time- which may well be in Toronto (!!!) good bye! X
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Paul on

Beejeezuz girl sounds like you'll need a holiday after that! Must be rewarding all the same.
Take care.

cazza_macca on

Hey, good to hear from you. It was exhausting some days! Hope you had a good 40th birthday, sorry I didn't text you , I lost track of the date!!

You take care too and have a fab time in London.

mrnkosilathi on

the world cup has come and gone, it was a the games and organisation but the economic gains for the masses like Nandipha are still to trickle in.
It has been in mind lately that poverty alleviation for masses like these lie in self help projects, maybe if the community centres could actually start engaging in profit making schemes as oppossed to the current majority set up where they are essentially about keeping the masses occupied. Overtime thay become unsustainable seeing that most of them are donor dependent, for example a sudden change in the political thinking of the leadership, donors pull out community centres die and its back to the poverty hole once again. I can tell you that there is plenty graduates walking the streets at present (some have put the blame on them not being competent enough to compete in the job market-ref the classroom population and the fact that the 40 or so have to move onto the next grade at whatever cost owing to the ever expanding migration and probable child birth).
There is still agreat deal to be done as far as poverty alleviation is concerned and it will begin with a change in attitudes amongst our far as the management of population is concerned, we are hoping for a positive spin off from the world cup. one of the tourism activities that has shown so much promise lately is the township and cultural tours and its a perfect opportunity for community centres to generate some revenue and it is up to concerned fora like these that we can also assist the less priviledged ones with the publicity for their projects so that they are able to sustain themselves, its one drop in the ocean at present but in the long term it will take one Nandipha out of the woods...

cazza_macca on

Hi, thanks for your interest in my blog and your comments. I am so glad the world cup went well and I hope that it does generate money for the country for many years to come. Cape Town is stunning and I recommend everyone I meet to go and visit. I have spoken to many people on my travels about the township and the school.

There are no easy answers to the poverty situation in S Africa but the solution has to come from it's own people. It is very sad that so many youngsters leave school with no quality of education at all. The teachers are not to blame, I have seen for myself how impossible it is to devote 1:1 time to the children and give them the support and encouragement they need to learn.

Everything ultimately comes down to money and how it is spent within the country. I do hope that money makes it to the townships to do something positive. I think about the kids I met there everyday and I really do hope that there is a brighter future for them.

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