Two Months From Leaving South Africa


1.  As of April 27, 2016, there is work being done on the new container building but it is not completed.  It is very close though.  I have no idea why it isn’t complete.


This is the container classroom before the roof was put on.



The roof pieces are assembled and are then put in place.


The workers are finishing with the final roof work.

2.  As of April 27, 2016, the paint job has not been completed and no one has been coming to work on it.

3.  The motivation letter we wrote about the need for an administration clerk did no good.  All such positions are frozen and no hiring is being done throughout the district.

4. A woman from the Ed Dept came to tell our principal that they want to electrify the school!    Of course, no time frame was given but since that was going to be done by us with the MassMart grant, we now need to find another use for the money.   There are plans to build an admin building; perhaps it can be used there.  I just hope the grant doesn’t fade away because of lack of use!


**Another Funeral

I went to another funeral on April 17. The boy who died, Lindelani, was in grade 7 last year at our school.  He was 17 and had been sick a lot with kidney problems his whole life, missing a lot of school and spending a lot of time in the hospital.  He seemed to be getting the treatment he needed and seemed to be doing better.  But he didn’t make it.  The family is very large and poor and no one is working.  They survive only on government grants.  Teachers collected some “condolences” money (R400) and the family was grateful because then they could feed people who came to the funeral.  I went there at 5:15 am with Mam Ndlovu and we stayed for about two hours.  There was singing, praying, a calm sermon, chanting, a procession out to the yard for the burial, more singing, chanting, praying.  I was happy to see and greet a few learners from last year’s grade 7.

**Reading Competition

I helped to prepare a small group of learners (4) to compete in a district-wide reading competition.  There were six books, two in isiZulu, four in English (24-59 pages).  Obviously someone else (Mam Khabela) prepped them for isiZulu.  They did “Storytelling” which is summary.  Each school was allotted 15 minutes to cover all six books, about 2.5 minutes per book.  There were 26 schools participating.  We arrived “on time” at 8:30 a.m.  However, things didn’t get started on time and it took a very long time for the judges to listen to all the schools.  The children waited all day long in an outside tent.  It was about 100 degrees that day, April 21.  The teams were brought into the air-conditioned room at the Jozini Education Centre where the judges and teachers were sitting all day.  From watching other schools, I realized right away that I did not prepare them properly.  They did not win any of the top five slots. They were shy, too quiet, forgot their speech, sounded too rote, and had no gestures.  The winning school, Emanyiseni, put on a brilliant performance, with gestures, change of tone, hand movements, and a clear, loud, complete summary.  Food was served, finally, at 4:30, kids last, and we got home just before dark.


Before going to the Reading Competition, I got a photo of the team: Thembeka, Nkosingiphile, Senzeko, Olwethu and their Grade 6 teacher, Mam MKhabela.



Inside the Jozini Education Centre, our learners lined up and presented their six summaries before the judges.


Since term 1, I have been working with 29 struggling Grade 1 and 2 learners on a special phonics program called SOUNS.  It is funded by Rotary Clubs and each Kit of large sturdy plastic alphabet letters costs about $250.  I have been teaching the sounds of each letter in isiZulu, along with very simple directions in isiZulu.  IsiZulu is a phonetic language so it works well.  I also have them spell some English words with the same vowel sounds as in isiZulu.  The grade 2 learners are given time to make their own words too.  I have been hearing that some of the struggling learners are now catching on and being more engaged in class.  I have also been able to identify a few who need A LOT of extra help.  I work with these 7 small groups on the floor of our tiny library area.  The kids love to come see me but most have the attention span of a flea and do not always behave well.  I get stern and send them back to their class and they don’t like that much.  The hardest part for my ancient body is getting up off the floor after our 10-15 minute session!


A few Grade 2 learners are making words with the big plastic letters from the SOUNS Kit. I have encouraged them strongly not to put them in their mouth or sneeze and cough on them.


These Grade 2 learners are enjoying playing with the letters and making their words.

**Water Buckets

The SA Army folks were so impressed with our school after their “health” visit, that they wanted to know what else they could do to help.  They were advised that water is a big problem in our area.  They set a date and time to return and did exactly as they planned! With a donation from a trucking company, UNITRANS, they brought and distributed empty 25  liter water buckets (R43) to every child and teacher at our school.  They also brought water in a truck and filled our JoJo containers.   They gave a speech about water usage, took photos, and left.  Well-planned and well-executed! It can be done in South Africa!


The South African army team came early and were totally prepared to give water buckets to 530 learners for use at home.


After getting their water buckets, Grade R and Grade 1 learners posed for a group shot carrying their treasure.



Nomvelo helped with the distribution of the water buckets. Here she is giving buckets to some of my Grade 7 learners.

**Teddy Bears

Through the amazing work of Amy Berman who began The Mother Bear Project, I distributed hand-made teddy bears to all of the learners in Grade R, grade 1 and Grade 2.  This is a Minnesota-based nonprofit and the bears are made and donated by very crafty and artistic knitters and crocheters.  Postage to South Africa for our four large boxes was over $100 per box and the boxes all made it here in record time.  I only had to pay the SA post office fee of R39 per box.  What a deal!!!!!  I also had to take a photo of every child with their bear and email it to Amy.  She will make sure the bear maker gets the photo.  The children, especially the Grade R group of 71, looked miserable in their photos.  One explanation may be that they don’t have toys and are quite unused to being given gifts.  They may be afraid it will be taken away from them.  They don’t smile easily but I saw them loving and treasuring their gift.


Lerato is one of my SOUNS kids, Grade 2. She gives me hugs at the end of our sessions. She was reading to me the other day, sounding out each word carefully! Success!


Londeka, Grade 1, likes to hold my hand as we walk from her classroom to the office to do our SOUNS work. She has settled down a lot, pays better attention and her class teacher has noticed her improvement. Success!


The Grade 2 class is showing off their beautiful new teddy bears.


I have been busy at school this term.  That is a good thing because I am counting the weeks until I can get on that airplane and come home.  I miss my family.  I miss my friends.  I am lonely here.

I do have a good friend in Mam Zulu.  She didn’t go to her home in Nongoma last weekend.  Because she was in Jozini, she invited me to come stay with her and the kids.  I went to her house Saturday afternoon, shopped at Shoprite, made dinner for them, ate with them, slept in their house, and enjoyed being part of a family.


At Jozini Dam, I took photos of my dear friends: Nomtha (Grade 12 matric student, second rank in her high school), Siya (Grade 7 learner at Jozini Primary School and Mam Zulu’s wonderful grandson), and Mam Zulu.


Nomtha took a photo of me with my dear friend, Mam Zulu. She calls me Karen or Ms. Fine. I do not call her Thembeni. It isn’t done.

3 thoughts on “Two Months From Leaving South Africa

  1. What wonderful projects Karen! Loved the souns (with hygiene as part of the lesson), helping with the water buckets, and the teddy bears. Love at their faces. Whenever you write about the vast amount of time everything takes to accomplish something, it reminds me of the cultural differences I’ve experienced in developing countries. Takes awhile to get in the rhythm. You can take a lot of pride in what you’ve done and what you’ve started to do. Thanks for taking us along with you.
    Looking forward to you being back. Enjoy the time you have left,


  2. Dear Karen: I just went back to your blog “Two Months before…” and am so enjoying those lovely children, especially the adorable little Londeka holding her teddy bear. The pictures of you and Mam Zulu are delightful. All your wonderful photos help give me a sense of the people among whom you are living, which helps me better understand your present “world.” Thank you so much for sharing all these photos.

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