When I signed up to volunteer at Ned Doman High School 4 weeks ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. On the first day, my program adviser Earl took the 6 other CIEE volunteers to the school to introduce ourselves to the class we will be working with every Tuesday for the next ten weeks.
The school is just a ten-minute drive from UCT in the direction of the townships—but it’s not in a township. The building has nothing fancy about it—yellow walls, blue doors, little decorations align the hallways. The school reminds me of Kentwood (my public elementary school back home). When I walked inside, I could not help but think about how white I am. All the students and teachers are either colored or black. I have no problem with skin color—people are people—but I kept wondering how many white people have stepped foot into this school.
We go meet the principal and the first thing that comes out of his mouth is “Are you guys crazy? Are you sure you want to do this?” And that’s when I knew the rest of the color in my face went pale. I put on a fake smile and chuckled with the rest of my CIEE volunteers—all of us thinking the same thing: This guy is nuts and what does he really mean?
Haha. This happened three weeks ago and now I just laugh at my initial reaction. Sure this school is unlike any other school I’ve volunteered at, but the principal has made significant improvements for just only being here for 2 years. The kids come from unprivileged households and the teachers have struggled in the past to ingrain lessons into their brains. But their marks are constantly rising with the graduation rate and the dropout rate is declining.
The first visit, I met my class that Mattie (my friend who will be teaching with me) and I will be teaching “life skills” to. I have the A class. In South Africa in grade school, each grade has three “classes.” The A class, B class, and C class. I think the levels are based on skill level—A being the highest or smartest. The kids just starred at us. They think we talk funny, dress funny, and they can tell we were nervous. There is a language barrier too. Even though all of the kids speak English well, they all also know either Xhosa or Zulu. Every now and then I could hear them speak in one of these languages probably saying something about me and the other CIEE students. It’s a little nerve racking, but whatever, I would do the same thing to a new teacher if I spoke a different language haha. Yet, my biggest fear was getting taken advantage of/not seriously in front of the class.
The second visit, Earl taught the lesson to show Mattie and me how a typical lesson plan and execution should be. This scared me even more than the first visit. Earl is a crazy guy with more energy then the kids. The lesson was on sexuality. I’m happy Earl took this one over haha. But I did not sign up to be a teacher! I am nowhere qualified to teach 15-17 year olds. I can teach soccer, but school…no way! I thought I was signing up to be more of a teacher’s aid, just helping the kids on the side—not teaching the whole lesson.
The third visit, Earl was in bed with the flu so Mattie and I were on our own today. My class is a little crazy, but all with good intentions. Mattie and I have come to learn that breaking the class into small groups is more efficient and easier to control. They have too much energy when they are all together. So we split them into groups and talked to them individually about their big project that counts for about 40% of their final grade in the class. Most of them are researching crime, poverty, or unemployment—some social justice. It’s really a simple project, probably too easy for 10th graders, but these kids don’t have the kinds of resources to do an extensive project like we do back home. So lessons are pretty basis here.
One group of girls had a section about shark attacks included in their project on Crime. I asked them why they put this in, what’s the connection? And one of them said, “Oh, my brother told me to put it in.” Haha. Her brother was playing a trick on her I think. After 5-minutes, they decided to exclude it from the final draft.
I can tell they are getting used to Mattie and me. I think they like us more and feel more comfortable around us. When we walked into the school today, they all come up to us to say hello, even kids who aren’t in our class. I’m starting to see that the goal of this volunteer project is not necessarily to be a Teacher, but rather to just be a refreshing change from their everyday, boring routine. And to form relationships and learn from each other. I guarantee that I will learn way more from these kids and this experience than they will learn from me haha.
After the 45-minute class was over, a group of boys came up to me and thought I was on a local soccer team. After talking about sports for a while, they asked if they could add me on Facebook. Haha so I wrote my name on one of their arms. Another girl asked if she could add me on What’s App. I informed her that my iPhone was stolen last month. She shook her head and said “That’s South Africa for ya. Crime!” Haha I guess I can be a real life example for the groups that are researching Crime for their projects haha.
These kids are so different from me, but I’ve found it very easy to form relationships with them. I still find myself watching what I say to them though, making sure I don’t offend them since I do not know what kind of background they come from. I mentioned to one group to do some research about apartheid and that maybe they would want to include it in their project about Violence. At first, I thought they didn’t know what I was talking about, but then they laughed, shook their heads, and said “No, no, we don’t want to bring that back.” Kind of funny, but shows a lot of differences between me and the kids.
All in all, today was a great day. I can’t wait for next Tuesday. These kids are funny :) This is going to be a great experience, probably the most rewarding that I have ever done. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know what I was signing up for. I might not have done it.