School in Capricorn

So we just finished our first week of school after the Easter break. It has been quite the experience for me, seeing and experiencing a very different way of life.

I’ll explain a little bit about the school day, and the school itself to help you understand what we are working with. The school is a primary school serving grades 1 through 7, but some of the seventh graders could be up to 16 years old, and the ages range for the grades below as well.

The school day starts at about 8 o’clock in the morning with breakfast. The school serves food to each child in the morning, because most kids do not get a meal before as their family is too poor to provide a breakfast. Then by 9 o’clock classes are in session, which means I could be teaching a physical education class by then or everybody may be occupied already by actual classwork. The first big break for everybody comes at 10:30 with a recess bell. The bell sounds nothing like a bell I have ever heard before either, it’s almost like a siren. A 30-minute break commences and quite simply, chaos is the by-product. The bell sirens once again signaling everybody to return to their classrooms, and by this time there are a few older kids trying to skip out on class. I like to walk around now and talk with these guys, trying to convince them to head back to class, but I really have no power and they know it.

One day the principal, who they are pretty scared of, was trying to talk with one of the boys that skips out on class and he kept walking away, not following the principals orders, so the principal grabbed for him and missed and knowing he could not catch him if he tried, looked around and said grab him. Nobody flinched, so the principal looked at me and yelled to come catch him, so off I go and I’m on a chase around the school for this kid. I guess the boy underestimated my agility and about 20 seconds later I was holding him pinned to my body to the principals office.

Once the dust settles and everybody is finally back in their places, the teaching resumes. Throughout this period as we approach noon, classes come out one at a time to receive a lunch. Now to explain what this breakfast and lunch is – it is nothing like a lunch tray that you would see back home in the US. It is like pourage, either corn or rice, sometimes meat will be mixed in to it. It is served out of a big steel container, with a spoonful put on each kids plate.

At 12:30 another break comes, very similar to the last one, then the same routine until 2 o’clock when the school day ends. On Mondays and Wednesdays we stay after and have practice for the school’s soccer team for another hour and a half or so. This past weeks practice was terrible though, as their attitude is nothing close to what it should be if they are trying to participate in a team sport. I was taken back when I couldn’t get them to do anything I asked, participate in any drill as simple as I made them, and much less not fight with each other.

I’m going to have to change the way the after school soccer goes, because they are wasting the volunteers time and definitely not growing or learning in any way from the time spent with me after school. It’s frustrating that they really have no structure in their lives, and I have to keep that in mind as I try and work with them, but if I can teach these kids anything it can be respect for themselves and one another.

That is a look at a day at school, a very brief and rudimentary account. Of course there is more detail within the classroom and the relationship with each and every child. They grow on you.

It is tough to think about what life is like after school for all of the kids. I know some of them do shady things that of course we would prohibit or halt if we could, but there are just some things we can’t really do. As the week came to an end and we left the school Friday, it was hard to stomach the thought that some of these kids wont have another meal until Monday morning at school. We really just never know what their circumstances are at home; some can’t afford food, others have parents that can but spend it on drugs and alcohol. What we do know is that they pay 80 Rand for a year of school, somewhere around 10 USD, and that feeds them and allows us the opportunity to work with them for that year. We can be excited about that, the opportunity to see them again on Monday. Like I said, we don’t know each of their circumstances, but that doesn’t change the fact that while we have them under our supervision we can love and cherish them, something they may not experience at home