Some of My Favorite Experiences

Most of my blog has been about Ubuntu because that’s definitely where I’ve spent the majority of my time and energy. I’m here as an intern for the program, not a tourist. I’ll admit that I haven’t done a lot of the tourist things, but Alyssa has gone out of her way to show me Durban and the surrounding area. I would like to share some of these things with you.

On my first day in Durban, Alyssa took me to the Moses Mabhida stadium. It’s a huge soccer stadium named after Moses Mabhida, a former general secretary of the communist party. The stadium holds almost 63,000 people and was built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The stadium looks like a traditional African basket and dominates the Durban skyline. It’s definitely one of the most architecturally fascinating and beautiful structures I’ve seen.

Alyssa, Siyanda, and I took Nelly, a girl who graduated from high school and Ubuntu last year, to check out some nursing schools. One was in downtown Durban so while we were there, Alyssa took us to a delicious shawarma restaurant called “La Pita”. Shawarma is basically a big pita bread piled high with either rotisserie chicken or beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, a sweet chili sauce, and a sour yogurt sauce. Each one weighs at least two pounds and is slightly bigger than a Chipotle burrito (plus they only cost $2.50 each). We took our shawarmas up to the top floor of the parking garage where the car was and enjoyed a fantastic view of downtown Durban.

Alyssa, Siyanda, and I went to Victoria Street market the other day. It’s a huge open-air market full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat; traditional medicine; clothing; and other goods. All the food is super fresh and costs mere cents. Seeing the traditional medicine booths was quite the cultural experience. There were spices and roots everywhere, all kinds of wood, and dried animals hanging from the ceilings. The animals ranged from bobcats to snakes to cranes to monkeys. Apparently it’s common practice to dry the animals, grind them into fine powder, and mix the powder with water to make medicine. According to Zulu practice, they believe that sprits are contained within the medicine and somehow if pictures are taken it reduces their usefulness. We headed over to the part of the market aimed more at tourists. The booths displayed an incredible array of goods from all over the African continent such as beadwork, tribal masks, ceremonial drums, intricate fabrics and tapestries, paintings, and wood and stone carvings of every kind. You can also see the Indian influence in Durban at the market with all the spices, curries, and clothing. I got some good deals on some souvenirs. My favorite being some maroon Indian pants with elephants on them. They look like pants from the movie Aladdin. They’re seriously so comfortable (and I’m shamelessly wearing them right now).

Two days ago we visited a beautiful baby blue Hindu temple in Verulam (VAIR-lum) that was commissioned by Gandhi right before he moved from South Africa to India. The temple has many intricate carvings and paintings; it is very clean and there is great attention to detail. It’s beauty and historical significance made the quick visit very worthwhile.

Yesterday, we went to the beach in front of the apartment. It was low tide so a bunch of really cool rock formations were visible. We climbed on top of the rocks and found a plethora of tidal pools teeming with colorful corrals, mussels, and tropical fish. Some of the tidal pools were small and shallow enough to wade in and some were wide and deep enough to swim in. We walked around, talked, and observed the beauty of the ocean until the waves began crashing over the rocks hiding the tidal pools from view and forcing us up onto the sandy beach.

This has been a wonderful eye-opening experience. I feel that I have gotten to experience some of the culture through observation, music, food, and conversations. You don’t need to see all the tourist attractions to learn a lot and experience South Africa, all you need to do is pay attentions to the little details and see the beauty in everything.

-Jacquelyn

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From Student to Teacher (thank you to all who taught me)

This week has been hectic. Ubuntu is continuously growing in number. It’s great in the sense that we can help more kids, but it’s bad in the sense that we can’t make relationships with them as well as we would like or spend one-on-one teaching time with them. Alyssa and Siyanda definitely understand the concept of limitations. They want to do the best job possible and truly make a difference in the lives of a few as opposed to halfway helping many. With as small as the Ubuntu staff is, healthy mentoring relationships cannot be made for a group over 25.

While at Ubuntu this week, I felt like I never had a spare second; there was always someone to help. A lot of the things these kids are learning are things I learned in high school. The difference is that I had good teachers, they don’t. I look back and I’m so thankful for all the people who poured into me. I’m thankful for teachers who stayed late to answer my questions, for older students who gave me advice, and for the plethora of wonderful role models in my life. I wonder how I might have reacted if in the place of these kids. What if I had teachers who tore me down instead of built me up? What if I was constantly told that I would never finish school? What if I was told to try was useless? What if I had to teach myself instead of having instruction? Truly, I don’t know what I would do.

Because of all the wonderful teachers in my life, whether formal teachers at school or people who taught me by example, I feel that I’m able to be a better teacher myself. What a difference it is to be a teacher rather than a student! As a student you learn and explain concepts in the way you understand them. As a teacher you must learn and explain things in a way that others will understand them. This is not as simple as I would think. It takes a lot of creative strategies, patience, and several attempts. It takes practice, an ability to monitor student understanding, and the wisdom to know where to spend more time and where to spend less time. Then combine all these things with several students all needing help in different subjects. It becomes a little overwhelming. It would be easy to just tell them the answers, but no one learns that way. Teaching the right way requires time and focus on the needs of each student.

Thank you to all my teachers. I didn’t even realize all the work you put in to help me comprehend and understand. Thank you for your patience and your willingness to help. Thank you for encouraging me when I felt burnt out. Thank you for all the strategies and tips you taught me. I’m able to remember all the things you did when I was a student and it helps me be a better teacher.

– Jacquelyn

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The Cycle of Poverty

Yesterday, on our way to Ubuntu, Alyssa and I took a detour to a few of the neighboring villages. I didn’t realize it, but the village in which Ubuntu is located has at least some government aid, but she took me to see some places that truly have none.

There is absolutely no order and nothing that will last. There are several large factories in the area which attracted migrant workers. They’ve settled in what I cannot describe in any way other than “shantytowns”. Their houses are made of old pallets, boxes, and any other discarded wood from the factories. These people will leave and move on when they no longer have a job. The more permanent residents live in shacks and huts made of sticks and mud. I could see many people laboring away to try to repair and maintain these buildings, but one big rain could wash it all away.

This is the cycle of poverty from which so many find it almost impossible to break free. These people need jobs in order to provide for themselves. Without a high school education, they look for labor jobs far and wide and if they find one, they have three options: walk to work if it’s close enough, pay for a taxi everyday, or move closer to work. Many will walk many miles for the sake of a job, but those with jobs farther away are at a disadvantage. Their paychecks are not enough for them to justify spending 30 R ($3) per week for transportation nor do they have enough to rent a room closer to work. These people have no choice but to collect materials and build their own homes. This is difficult and time consuming. Their paychecks are able to cover their most basic necessities, but not enough to allow for any kind of savings. So when a medical emergency arises they must take out a loan or get credit, plunging them into debt. Then they have children who are born into this situation and when they become old enough for school, the same transportation issue arises. From a young age, many children need to work, look after siblings, and do many other chores all on top of dealing with very difficult home lives. With no time to study outside of school and a corrupt school system, it makes more sense to drop out and work full time so that they can actually eat everyday of the week. Without a high school education, they begin looking for labor jobs and the cycle continues.

This is a very complex vicious cycle with no obvious solution. Poverty is more than material need; it’s a deeply psychological issue from which people feel they cannot escape. Each person’s situation is slightly different so there is no blanket solution. Handouts seems to be one of the most common responses from Americans. Again intentions are usually good and the idea sounds good on paper: supply their basic needs like food and water and housing so that they can save their paychecks and pull themselves out of poverty. The problem is that it never actually works out that way. They become dependent on the handouts and chose to spend extra money on things they don’t need leaving them in no better of a situation. There are all kinds of other solutions that might come to mind – have the government create more jobs, pay higher wages, or lessen the availability of credit – but each of these comes with other issues and obstacles. Really, the best way (though not the easiest way) is to finish school and get some form of higher education in order to be qualified for the higher-paying jobs. South Africa has a huge need for nurses, engineers, and technicians and their salaries reflect it. I’m so proud of the Ubuntu kids for actively working towards their goals. Because they have chosen the long, challenging road toward education, they may be the ones pulling their families out of poverty.

– Jacquelyn

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Who Do You Depend On?

Yesterday, after seeing the extent of the poverty here and learning about the many injustices, there’s nothing I wanted more than to help. I feel so blessed and I want them to live a more comfortable life. But after seeing the extent of the poverty, I felt overwhelmed. “There’s no way one person could fix this,” I thought. Even after being here two weeks, I fell into the habit of seeing poverty as a material state that can be fixed with material things. The problem was that I was viewing the problem through human eyes, not God’s. My love and resources are limited, but God is free from any limitations. Those people I saw are not a problem to be solved, they are human beings with whom relationships can be made. These relationships should be about extending love and encouragement and providing guidance, NOT handouts. For example, helping them find a job as opposed to giving them a job; loaning money to start a small business as opposed to giving money to meet immediate needs; providing a ride to the clinic as opposed to giving free health care. They have the ability to care for themselves, but we make them feel like they can’t when we meet all their needs. Sometimes help is needed, but don’t mistake handouts for help. A child who is given everything he demands only becomes spoiled, not successful. Giving these people all of my resources and money will only make them dependent on me. But God is the one with infinite love and resources and it’s Him they should be dependent on. God is the only thing we can depend on.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God… And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6 & 19

-Jacquelyn

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More Schools is NOT the Answer

Poverty. What’s the solution?

If you’re an American reading this, I’ll bet one of the first things that came to mind was education. And what’s the American way to address need for education? Build more schools.

The answer seems to always be “build more schools.” Every church’s fundraiser or event seems to have the goal of building a new schoolhouse in a third world country. Just on my college campus, there are several organizations whose sole purpose is to build more schools. If you’re in any of these committees or organizations, I know your intentions are good and I’m not trying to offend you. I want to challenge some of your preconceived notions and I hope you’ll finish reading this post.

Building more schools is NOT the answer. In fact, it may often cause more harm than we Americans realize. A school is just a nice building unless you invest long term in ensuring that there’s good administration, qualified and caring teachers, and a community that’s ready for it. In many tribal communities, those schools that Americans pay for and build become homes for chiefs. In the end, the kids are still without a school. Sometimes, the buildings are used as places to store drugs and become centers for violence and illegal activity – the exact opposite of what they were intended for. For anything to last, the communities must buy into the idea. They must be willing to work to pay for the school, to help build the school, and to work to maintain the school year after year after year. That’s a big job. Of all the schools that American money has gone to build, only a small percentage are being used for their intended purpose. And of the schools that are functioning, very few have good teachers to provide a good education to their students.

I can tell you what students in a third world country endure for an education and I can tell you what the education is like. What these kids need is not more schools. They need teachers who care and who are qualified for the job. They need organization so that they will always have textbooks and the materials that they need to learn. They need proper administration who will look at the needs of the students and correct any wrongs in the system. It would be far far better for fewer schools to exist and to make sure that the existing ones are run well. A little bit of gold is worth far more than a bucket of iron.

South Africa is a fairly developed country in a lot of ways. They have a democratic government (socialism really) and have basic freedoms. There are many big cities and tourism is an important industry. But for all this, the vast majority of people live in extreme poverty. It’s almost harder for the people here to pull themselves out of poverty because of the enormous gaping hole between the rich and the impoverished. There’s no middle class whatsoever.

The lives of the impoverished kids is riddled with difficulty. They have extremely difficult home lives which make studying at home almost impossible. In many cases, they are the adults in their homes and must be concerned with providing food or caring for siblings. Then they have to walk several miles to school because they can’t afford transportation. They know that a college education is the best way to get a good job and to get out of poverty, but the schools simply don’t do what they were intended to do.

Today Zoe told us about her government-mandated life sciences test that is coming up in a month. The only problem is that the life sciences teacher quit after only one week and they haven’t had anyone teach it at all since then! There’s a school full of students expected to pass a government-mandated exam without any kind of instruction on the subject. Failing the test could mean the end of their college dreams so they have no choice but to try to teach themselves. As a college student even I have never had to teach myself to the extent that they are required to. Another student at Ubuntu told us that he didn’t have a text book for his class or any class. No one in his whole school was given textbooks for the year. But I thought that textbooks were free to all schools in South Africa? They are. The problem is that the principal was too lazy to fill out a simple book order form! That’s how corrupt the system is. One student told Alyssa that she learns more in an hour and a half with us than she does in an entire day at school. That means Ubuntu is doing something right.

There’s not a shortage of schools, but there’s a shortage of education. It’s important to understand the difference between the two.

– Jacquelyn

South African Spirit

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

I found this quote written in one of the kids’ notebooks today at Ubuntu. I couldn’t think of a better quote to describe the attitude and resilience that they have.

– Jacquelyn

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More on the Ubuntu Kids

Fridays are game days at Ubuntu, so when the kids showed up, they began a big game of Monopoly – their favorite. I made sandwiches and juice for all of them and helped an adorable 7th grade girl with her religion homework and Lindane (lin-DAWN-nee), an 8th grader with a huge smile and an enormous USA sweatshirt (that he always wears), with his English homework. In a lot of ways talking to them and helping them with homework reminds me of helping my sisters with homework; they get confused at times, but we take it slow and the smiles at the end make it all worth it.

I would challenge anyone to have a conversation with them and tell me they aren’t smart. From the way they act and joke around, you would never know that most don’t have parents or come from very broken or abusive homes. One of them has lost both parents to HIV-AIDS. Many live with perpetually drunk adults and are forced to be the ones to look out for younger siblings. Most live in shacks by our standards and live on less than a dollar a week. But instead of making excuses, they become even more determined.

As I look around the room, there’s not a doubt in my mind that Ubuntu is healthy for these kids. I watch them laugh and play games and wonder if this is the only time they get to be real kids. I see their friendships and the tight-knit community students determined to rise above their challenges together. I’m so lucky just to be with them joking around. It all warms my heart. They have been innocent victims of so much. There’s nothing I want more than to hug them and tell them they’re loved. They’re capable of so much; I can see it.

I pray that Ubuntu is just the help they need to receive encouragement, create healthy relationships, finish high school, attend college, start their own businesses, and chase their dreams. Everything that they’ve experienced thus far screams that these things are impossible, yet they are determined to prove everyone wrong. And they will.

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– Jacquelyn