Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Teaching in South Africa

The pictures are a repeat--sorry-and of my primary school kids. I like these photos and they are related to the blog: I will speak of my first year in Africa, my year of teaching.

A family member has said to me, all of my life, "It takes a good year to feel used to any new job." Every time I've taken a new job and struggled with feeling overwhelmed, I've thought of this advice. The problem I’m having in adjusting to my Peace Corps job, is that, after my first year, I’m finding my work is changing.

When we come to our service positions in joining Peace Corps, we're advised not to take on any commitments for a couple of months until we get the feel of the community and get a feel for what services the community needs. My group came to South Africa knowing that we would be working with the schools. We also knew that some of us would be teaching and some of us would not, and that it would be up to individuals to decide for themselves.

Peace Corps has come to South Africa to work with South African schools for a decade. However, 2010 was the first year that PC Americans were allowed to teach in the schools. Prior to this year, the South African labor unions fought to keep Americans out of South African teaching positions to save the teaching jobs for South Africans. During the past decade, instead of teaching in the schools, Peace Corps volunteers have worked with the schools in the capacity of building school and community-based projects. From 1999-2009 then, Peace Corps volunteers might be developing projects to help with libraries, obtain computer equipment, obtain books, etc. In this way, Peace Corps volunteers have been working to improve their schools and their communities.

In 2010, Peace Corps volunteers were allowed into South African schools to teach because of a critical shortage of teachers. It was the hope, I believe, that in 2010, Peace Corps volunteers would be able to teach AND take on community projects.

And some of us have been able to do both, but I am not one of these. In teaching in two schools (as all of us are), I found I could barely keep up with the teaching load, let alone trying to take on community projects.

However, it is often with community projects that Peace Corps volunteers and their communities derive the most satisfaction. With several discussions with my Peace Corps supervisor, supervisors from my schools, and with community members, I have decided to lessen my teaching load to make time to develop community projects.

Truth be told here too, one of the reasons I’ve avoided “taking on” community projects is that if you commit to them, it is expected that you’ll “be around” to see the projects completed. It’s taken me all of this year to decide on whether or not I want to remain in South Africa.

So, I’ve decided to remain in South Africa and I’ve decided to change my work focus from teaching to community projects, so my work is changing. During my second year in Africa, I will find myself teaching one college class (I’ve let go of teaching in the primary school) and find myself developing community projects.

So what is this new animal, this new work of developing community projects? Well, I find myself again, trying to adjust to a “new job.”

In developing community projects, the first thing you need to do is find out what the community wants. Well, what I’ve learned is, that the community “wants” whatever the individual I’m talking with at the time wants. As there are many individuals in a community, the “wants” list can become quite long.

So, the college seems keen on the idea of a “movie club” that will bring the addition of a “movie house” to the college campus and give the students (and surrounding community members) an avenue of entertainment. My college project is to make this happen. How do you make a community project happen? Peace Corps has funds to assist with project building and we, as volunteers, write a grant proposal asking for funds. I’m in the process now of asking for funds to “build” this movie house (which is actually only asking for funds to purchase the equipment: screen, projector, sound system). If funded, the movie club will give the college kids something constructive to do with their Saturday nights (the currently engage in all kinds of unsafe activities), bring an enrichment opportunity (film studies), and the project calls for a pre-viewing HIV/AIDS education session that will allow “free admission” to the film. (So, if they come to the safe sex talk, they get into the movie for free. Killing two birds with one stone, so to speak)

So, that’s one project I’m working on.

The primary school is ambivalent about their needs and is currently requesting assistance with building a “sports/recreation facility” or a “community hall.” Everything happens very slowly with the primary school so I’m not as hopeful here. But they need to hurry, because one of the stipulations about receiving grant money is that the Peace Corps volunteer needs to be around to help with spending the money! And hello, I’m outta here in a year!

And lastly, I’m kicking around the idea of raising funds to build a “tool-share” scheme with my community gardeners.

So, my work is changing. I’m finding myself running to the computer lab every day to work on grant writing instead of running to school every day. We’ll see how it goes.

And remember, it “takes a good year to get used to any new job.”


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