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Thursday, August 28, 2008

We Can Learn from Each Other

It is late tonight in Cape Town. We are all overwhelmed. It is the mid-week and I know from experience that in an intense experience like this it is always the hardest part of the journey. So upfront I need to apologize to those we may have seemed distant from, short or less respondent that usual.

We have been conducting focus groups and one on two interviews. We have also been getting to know personally the teachers, learners (students), drivers, and staff at the various schools such as Sinethemba.  Our Champlain students have been masters of diplomacy and generosity of spirit.
We have been asking hard questions, have been asked hard questions, and have discovered truths uncomfortable to a Western frame of mind. What is wondrous is the openness with which the interviewees and those we meet talk about the issues of violence, abuse and issues surrounding sexuality. It is not a secret here.

It is quite evident that at this time in the culture of density that is the townships, discipline means reinforcing through physical punishment. It is also evident that "discipline " is routine from childhood on up through adulthood (this includes women). It is also evident that a man's duty is to produce heirs—this often means having many wives or partners. In the townships, teen pregnancy (age 14) is commonplace. Poverty also is overwhelming. Though we get to retreat from it in the evenings, we have been spending the last week within it and part of it. It puts another perspective upon it when that is what you see, and breathe, and eat.
This may sound to Westerners just plain wrong, but there are other things we have discovered that make us question the validity of our Western way of living. 

A key value to this population is community. In our Western world we actively are trying to find or create community. Well we from Champlain have found it abundantly here in the townships of South Africa. They embrace each other—and the possibilities open to them limited though they may be. And they have embraced us!

Another key value is respect—particularly respect for elders. All men older are honored as "father", all women older honored as "mother". Grandmothers are especially important in the life of the children. Children are desired but a few per mother, many per father. 

Hope for a new future and belief in the possibilities is strong unlike the fear that seems to drive the U.S. Though when we look, it is easier to see the odds against success, when compared to the rich opportunity available in America—especially when looking at the differences our educational structures offer. Here the odds against becoming well educated are high. 

For instance today, Champlain's IT guru, Ray McCarthy-Bergeron fixed the server of a school. The school is considered to have the best equipment in the townships. The equipment was 3 generations behind what is available in our schools. The server held 1 Gig and the electricity kept failing. The there is the teacher/learner ration. Teachers have 50 to a classroom and little to no text books of supplies—forget the internet as a valid teaching option. They teach 5-7 sessions a day with one small break.
But why should it matter to us you may ask? We shall soon return home. The thing is we've fallen in love with our friends in the townships: the learners, the teachers, the children. We want to keep up our ties, to invite them into our communities, to aid them in their reach for their dreams. We want to be their true friends—today and tomorrow. We want to see them succeed! We are the ones who need a dose of their hope.


Joan said...

Very inspiring. Now we can better understand how stars go through these experiences and then adopt children.

Raymond McCarthy Bergeron said...

Just a slight correction to Ann's post (technically)... The server held a failing hard drive of 120 Gigabytes and very slow 1 Gigabyte of memory. In an age where servers and desktop computers can be upgrade to Terrabytes of storage (1 terrabyte = 1000 gigabytes) for a mere $150 and 4 Gigabytes of fast memory can be purchased for less than $100, even a better, "privilaged" school such as Sinethembass cannot afford to meet the need for this necessary/vital upgrade.