Friday, July 18, 2008

The Kids

Or Cindy Teaches for the First Time

So a lot has happened. It seems like a week's worth of events take place in each day here. If only I could pop online each night and share it all, but it's just not possible, given the internet situation at the hotel.

Once I get the 800 plus photos I've taken situated there will be more talk of Capetown and the end of Travel Week, but I want to skip forward now to the past week, and the kids, those amazing kids. Also there will be pictures of them as well. So check back maybe tomorrow.

I fear that any words I use here will seem trite or overly sentimental, but if you could know what I am feeling, what all of us are feeling you'd know it's all very real. Sandy told us during Travel Week that as amazingly beautiful as South Africa is, it's the kids you come back for. We all sort of poo pooed that. We felt she was being a tad over sentimental. We were wrong.

Tuesday was our first day at the high school, Ethembeni. The kids are, for the most part, township kids, mostly Xhosa (prounounced with a click and then Kohsa). Most of them are on waiting lists for more prestigious schools, but their parents have waited in line for a day or so to get them into this school. The pass rate is 100%. They are not allowed to be absent and there parents must be active in their education. Those are the rules.

We all wait for them in a small seatless auditorium. 80 or so kids file in. I steel myself for jeers and teenaged attitude, but it's just not there. They are thrilled to see us. We teach in teams and are all introduced as such. We talk about what we'll be teaching. The kids are very excited about the puppetry and drama, but very nervous about drawing. We only get 8 students the first day. That's okay as I've never done this before. A small group is fine with me.

We all file into our classroom. Alyssa, my teaching partner and roommate has been teaching in Brooklyn for a year. She takes the first class which is still life drawing. She speaks to them about what she wants them to do as she demos for them. Then they start to draw.

It strikes you how quiet and focused they are. Alyssa whispers, "This situation you're seeing now doesn't exist in the US." And, I notice as I am going around helping them that some of them are trembling. This breaks my freaking heart. I go around and I ask one girl in a whisper, "Are you nervous?" She looks up at me wide-eyed and grateful. "Yes, I've not done this before." I touch her on the shoulder and tell her she is doing very well. "Just relax. It's okay. We're all learning here." And she does relax. She's smiling now. It's amazing!

More amazing than that is how well they draw. My teacher, Sandy comes in and I whisper, "I think some of this have done this before." "No, most of them have never drawn in their lives. They haven't had the classes and they usually don't have paper or materials." I'm floored.

I tell the principal later how focused they were, and how nervous. She comments, "Failure is not accepted in their culture. They'd rather not try than fail." However if an adult tells them to do something, especially a teacher they will give it their all.

Yesterday was our second class, and my first as a teacher....ever. I am teaching them about storytelling in art, and as an introduction I talk about cave art and I decide to have them do a simple story about an animal or animals in two scenes. First, we talk about their homework which was to draw an object that has significance to them. They each tell us what it means to them. One girl is shy about her drawing and will only show it to me, but explains proudly that she drew a calculator and books, because she loves school and is "a bit of a bookworm." She is beaming about telling us this. School is important to these kids. It's not something they have to do. It's a chance at a better life, and this is not a platitude here it's reality. Education is the only way to something better for these kids and even then only 10% will go onto college. They fight hard and study hard for what they get.

Then, I demo the drawing using my dogs, Tobey and Max as example. I get a little choked up when I say their names. I miss my boys. But, Alyssa says that wasn't noticeable. I'm told they enjoyed hearing me talk about my dogs and my silly story drawing about them.

Then we tape up paper for them on the walls. They immediately get into it. They really seem to understand the concept and are natural storytellers. I believe all kids are, really. Two kids are having a hard time because they are frustrated about how their animals look. I spend a few minutes with them and presto, they get it too!

It was the most amazing feeling ever. I wasn't sure about teaching, honestly. But, it's very rare in life to have that feeling that you are exactly where you should be. I felt that yesterday.

My post tomorrow will focus on the kids at the Steve Bushcemi* school. Also, come back as there will be pics on this post and much much more! :-D

*Okay so the name just sounds like Steve Bushcemi, but for the longest time we pictured there being a oil portrait of the actor in the front hall. There wasn't though.


Liana said...

You made me tear up. So inspirational. So proud of you.

The General said...

Yeah, this entry and the one you did after it are both wonderful!

coolgirlsar said...

When they have the comic/sport relief shows on here in the UK they always show the kids in South Africa and the like and in schools and how much it means to them, it's wonderful enough to see just on the tv I can't imagine how it must be to be a part of that teaching them. You are as Liana said so inspirational.