Bye Bye!

Day 14: Friday was our last day in South Africa. None of us wanted to leave but we were all looking forward to spending our last few hours with the staff and learners at Ikusasalethu.  As we only had a few periods left, we were finishing off some of the project work we had been doing with some of the Grade 11 and 12 classes (4th and 5th years).  Mrs Gilchrist had been teaching lessons on Gender Respect – a joint project also carried out by 4th year Stonelaw pupils and which was inspired by the protests in India after the gang rape in Delhi in December 2012. It was an issue that was important to us as well as to the learners in Ikusasalethu.

The previous week, we had been in a class when there was a heated discussion that related to the responses on the anonymous attitude questionnaires that pupils filled out regarding ‘Gender Issues.’ We were surprised to learn about the patriarchal attitudes expressed by boys in the class which are widely accepted in South Africa. Many of the girls, in particular, voiced strong views against these attitudes and Jill vehemently joined these outspoken girls.

After this debate we were apprehensive about reading the anonymous evaluations on the lessons and to see what they would highlight. However, every single one of the 205 pupils who had taken part, voiced respectful attitudes. 88% of boys and 86% of girls said yes to the statement: “The lessons helped to change my attitudes to the issue of gender respect.” The following typical response was given by a boy: “I thought that gender respect was a waste of time and that men should be superior to women because they’ve got the strength. It’s what I grew up knowing from my family. Now I know that everyone is equal before the law, everyone should be treated with respect regardless of gender.” One girl wrote, “I was having gender stereotype thinking that one part is better than the other part and thinking that men have power to rule us. Now I know that I can make things happen.”

These lessons had a massive impact on us as we were given a true insight into another culture. These anonymous questionnaires allowed the pupils to write their views openly which meant we were able to discuss the topic thoroughly.  One pupil stated: “It makes me feel free to write, it makes me feel anonymous, able to write the truth as it is.”  We were able to share different points of view with the pupils. It was interesting to see how our cultures differ but to also reinforce the importance of respect for everyone. The lessons made a significant impact on the Ikusasalethu learners also with one pupil saying: “I like the fact that everyone gets to be taught to respect one another. We get to exchange ideas and express our views. We get to change the world and make it a better place for this and the next generation since we are facing the same crisis of gender inequality globally.”

Having the privilege of being a part of these lessons made us realise their importance. “We share different ideas, but all in all, our bottom lines are the same – increase humanity and respect everyone. Also unite as people.” (Ikusasalethu learner) The project has allowed the pupils of both schools to understand one another more and grow as a partnership.

We love this quote from a girl who summed up our feelings, “What I like most about this project is that Ikusasalethu and Stonelaw High School work hand in hand and nobody thinks they are better than the other but we are equal and we love one another.”

 

Grade 11 learners complete their evaluations using their new pens:

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We had the opportunity to visit each class on Friday and hand out all of the pens. We would like to take the opportunity to say a huge thank-you to everyone who supported us by donating pens for us to distribute in Ikusasalethu. Although it is something we take for granted here, it was clear just how appreciated this was by the learners and each of them was extremely grateful to have a choice of a new pen. Resources are scarce and so the donations we received made a huge impact. We were thankful to have the opportunity to see all of the classes before we left and enjoyed helping the pupils choose a pen…

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Snothile with her special pen

During lunch-time on Friday we held an art class with a select group of talented pupils. We asked them to draw a poster of what South Africa meant to them. Each pupil drew different things such as: The Big Five, African landscapes or the South African flag.  They don’t have access to any art materials apart from pencils and a few rulers but, despite this, their drawings were extremely detailed and skilful. Wandering around the classroom and talking with the pupils, it was clear just how talented and determined they are.

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Hard at work

The two weeks in Ikusasalethu were extremely life-changing. We made lots of new friends and were very grateful for the opportunity to represent Stonelaw High School’s Fairtrade co-operative. It was a privilege to witness first-hand where the profits go and we really appreciate all of the support we were given from both the community in Scotland and the staff/learners at Ikusasalethu. We are confident this partnership will continue to grow from strength to strength and we look forward to developing all of the projects further.

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“Oh education…”

 

Day 12: Here we are in assembly. We really felt a part of the school community and loved joining in with the pupils each morning.

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One of the teachers, Mr Mathonsi took the assembly on Tuesday and delivered an inspirational speech about the importance of education, enthusing all of us and encouraging us to work hard, “Oh education, life is a dark room without you. Your roots are sour, your roots are bitter but your fruits are so sweet. Even though it’s very challenging to learn, at the end of the day, education bears wonderful fruit.”

The learners were in agreement with Mr Mathonsi’s advice. His assembly was very motivational and summed up the widely held attitudes that most teachers and learners have towards education in South Africa. They really value its benefits and appreciate being able to learn.

 

We then spent the day helping learners to finish their ‘Inspire Aspire’ projects.

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They were proud to be completing their glossy posters which we will enter into a U.K. competition.

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Playtime

Day 14:  Thursday morning began with a ‘goodbye’ assembly. We were called up to the platform to watch some of the learners perform traditional songs and dances and recite poems they had written. Everyone was excited and didn’t stop cheering and clapping all morning- Mrs Aitken’s ears were ringing for the rest of the day!

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Snothile Gumede, grade 11, read aloud one of her poems entitled ‘Humanity,’ wearing traditional dress! She addressed her audience stating, “I was a flag flung high but today I’m like diamonds in dust.” The talent at Ikusasalethu is unbelievable. We really appreciated all of the work that went into the assembly and loved watching all of the learners perform. Mrs Gilchrist made a wee speech afterwards on behalf of all five of us to thank them: “Siyabonga kakhulu bangani!”

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After assembly we were directed over to the new media centre conversion which was built using funds raised by friends in Scotland outwith school.

Grand opening.

Grand opening.

Mama G had the honour of cutting the ribbon in front of the whole school to officially open the centre for use of all the learners. This media centre provides alternative learning resources for the pupils and is a comfortable place for small groups to study.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200We celebrated the opening by taking lots of photos. The room is filled with symbols of our schools’ partnership, like the flags behind us in the photograph.

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Snothile came to see us in the media centre.

Later in the day we held a partnership meeting to discuss reciprocal visits in the media centre to put it to good use.

In the afternoon we joined a few classes for P.E. It is quite different from P.E. at home. The learners are allowed free time in the playing field at the side of the school and are given access to the skipping ropes and footballs which we provided in previous years. We had a great time joining in with the learners and were taught some traditional games.

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Miss McKenna brought along a frisbee too for everyone to play with!

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This free time allowed us to get to know lots of the pupils outside of work and we were able to share our interests and meet lots of new learners.

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Ndukabandla

Day 13: On Wednesday we had arranged to make a visit to the high school’s neighbouring primary school, NDukabandla. Here we gave out the money, raised by Stonelaw High School Fairtrade cooperative, to the carers of vulnerable children to help them buy uniforms for school.

It was interesting to get an insight into another school in the area. Although the classrooms in the primary did seem better resourced than Ikusasalethu; they had cupboards with textbooks and even colourful posters on the walls, the structure of the building had deteriorated. The nursery classroom had a large hole in the roof which the teachers said, made it hard for them on the days when it rained.

We were introduced us to some of the learners we help. Most of them only knew a little English so it was harder to communicate with them, however we had managed to learn a few isiZulu phrases over the past week and so it was good to put them to use. A few of them had no shoes for school so it was clear how much they appreciated the help.

(On Thursday Thandi Buthelezi, one of the educators, told us of the pride of one of the wee primary one girls who came to school that morning in full, new school uniform and shoes.)

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In the nursery class there were over 100 children and three teachers.

photo Although it had been a quick visit, we loved meeting some of the younger children and experiencing another aspect of school life in South Africa. After Ndukabandla, we returned back to Ikusasalethu to deliver the money there to the most vulnerable children. We felt really lucky to have the opportunity to see, first hand, where the money raised by the Fairtrade group actually goes and it really emphasised the importance of the group’s work and showed how much people rely on our profits.

One learner, who lives with his cousin and grandparents, unfortunately lost all of his possessions in a house fire. It was great to be able to provide new uniforms for the two boys from our profits.

After school, the teachers took us on a boat ride in St Lucia to see hippos and crocodiles.

Posing for a group photo!

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A whole crowd of us went and we took up most of the boat. The sun was still shining and we  all enjoyed looking at the views from the top deck.

Hungry Hippos

Hungry Hippos

There were hippos popping up everywhere in the water and we were determined to see one yawn. We caught this guy in action. We even managed to see a few crocodiles!

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uMsombuluko

Day 11: Monday- we were into our second week! We were spending another day visiting various classes, joining in on their lessons. In the morning we attended another maths class with a grade eleven. They were doing higher level work and it was interesting to share different methods of working and learn new techniques. Their teacher, Andi, was brilliant at motivating the class and was really enthusiastic about his subject. He delivered the whole lesson in English; there wasn’t a word of isiZulu. It showed how difficult it must be for the learners to understand complex concepts in a second language. It’s hard enough for us!

Bench Buddies!

Bench Buddies!

Bench Buddies!

Bench Buddies!

After maths we were with Mama G, joining her in her Inspire-Aspire lessons. The learners did the homework Jill set for them on Friday-YEBO! It was really interesting to hear them delivering their talks.

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We spent our afternoon in Miss McKenna’s classes. She was teaching healthy tourism to the learners and focussed particularly on Loch Lomond. We were learning about the advantages/ disadvantages that tourism brings to this area and we enjoyed talking to learners about the similarities with South Africa. During the classes we helped Miss McKenna give out maps of the area in Scotland and helped to explain a bit about the activities there. This proved to a learning experience for Amy too who, we discovered, has never been to Loch Lomond much to our surprise.

We spent the rest of the day and night relaxing after a busy day and a very busy weekend!

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Circle of Life!

Day 10:  Sunday was safari day! A 4.30am start didn’t sound so painful when we knew we had a fun day ahead of us; each of us couldn’t wait to get going! Miss McKenna had even put on her proper safari gear- it was agreed that she won the best dressed award for the day! It was exciting to think about seeing wild animals in their proper habitats rather than in a cage or behind a glass screen and we were all determined to spot ‘The Big Five.’ In Africa, the big five game animals are the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros- completely different from our ‘big five’: sheep, cows, goats, pet dogs and more sheep!

Break of dawn

Break of dawn

Upon entering the park we were just in time to witness a beautiful sunrise, South African style! It looked exactly like a scene from ‘The Lion King.’

African sunrise

African sunrise

A quick fuel stop of tea and rusks was all we needed to prepare us for the busy day ahead. By this point it was daylight, despite it being just after six in the morning, and we were able to take in the scenery properly. We were surrounded by miles of beautiful greenery and mountains and found the perfect picnic spot which overlooked a nearby river. As we were on their territory, there was signs everywhere warning you to look out for elephants  or monkeys etc- definitely something you don’t see at home! (We made sure to eat our rusks fast!)

photo The white rhino was one of the first animals that we saw in the game park which pleased us all because we could officially check them off of our big five list. We learned a lot about them from our guide who told us that they are commonly seen with little birds perched on them who keep the rhinos clean! However she also told us that rhinos are becoming endangered due to the high levels of poaching in the area. Hundreds of rhinos have seemingly been killed in the park for their horns.

These two were having a lie in!
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We certainly didn’t need our binoculars to spot this guy! Driving along, we turned up a gravel path only to be startled by him at the side of the road eating his breakfast. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He led us to a whole ‘journey’ of giraffes and we learned that although it doesn’t sound like it, giraffes do communicate with each other. They speak on such low frequencies that it’s impossible for humans to hear them making noise. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Are zebras black with white stripes or white with black stripes? Even seeing them this up close in the wild it is impossible to tell sadly! Still, they were beautiful all the same and posed expertly for photos. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The Big Five

The best part of the day was our cheetah sighting! We were no longer thinking about the big five and agreed that seeing a cheetah topped everything! Even our guide had said that she had never seen one in the park, so it was a real rare sight- luck was on our side.

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On our way out of the park we even managed to catch a herd of elephants at bath time which is another rare sight to see!

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And where there’s an elephant, a dung beetle is NEVER far behind…

It's a bug's life!

It’s a bug’s life!

We all had an amazing day at the game park and it is clear why it is such an attraction. Although our guide told us that it all about timing and luck, there’s always something around every corner and the views alone are worth seeing- true African landscape. It was exciting to see wild animals roaming in their true habitat and this is one of the reasons that South Africa is so special.

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‘Your Majesty!’

Day 9: We couldn’t believe it was the weekend already! The first week had gone in so fast and we had all enjoyed every moment of it. On Saturday, the teachers had organised for us to meet the third Zulu queen! Just as we were leaving Mtubatuba, we spotted some learners from the school in their uniform. It was explained that the Grade twelves and their teachers work on Saturdays as well as much of their holidays to ensure that the pupils get the best grades possible and there was no resentment as far as we could see. Back to the Zulu Queen! Of course we were on South African timing so we arrived late, yet she still happily welcomed us into her home where she served us breakfast- not many people can say they have eaten breakfast with a Zulu queen! We felt really lucky to have the experience, teachers included. Although it did seem quite surreal to be meeting someone of importance and affluence in such an informal manner.The atmosphere was so different compared to what would have been experienced if we had visited Buckingham Palace. We were honored that she spent time talking to us and welcoming us. She even gave us all t-shirts which were in support of her husband, the king! These became the teachers’ school uniform on Monday- officially true Zulus!

Royal Rondavel

Royal Rondavel

This was the main palatial rondavel used by the Queen to attend to her visitors. All in all, there were about eight rondavels. For anyone who is unsure, they are old, traditional homes with curved walls. Now many people use the tardis-like structures as kitchens, however, the Zulu Queen told us that each of the rondavels at the palace contains a kitchen, bedrooms and living room! They are bigger than you think. Even the one pictured above had enough space left in it for the King’s stuffed lion which took PRIDE of place next to the dining table!

The Queen B

The Queen B

As part of the Royal protocol, the Queen is not allowed to have a photo taken on her own for security reasons, so the only option was all in- one big group photo with the lady herself taking centre stage.

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Behind us lies hundreds of thousands of reeds left by the ‘maidens’ of surrounding villages. This is another old tradition used during the ‘Reed Festival.’ During this festival young girls from all over come and dance for the King who, historically,  picked one of them to be his wife. The reeds were bundled together and used to repair the reed windscreen which surrounds the royal village and were left there as a gift to the queen by the thousands of girls who come to perform this ‘reed dance.’ From the large numbers of them sitting in the background, you can only imagine how many girls attended last year’s festival!

On our way home from MEETING THE QUEEN, we came across a small waterfall where some locals were doing their weekend washing. We stopped to say hello.

Chasing waterfalls.

Chasing waterfalls.

On the way home we went to an Arts and Crafts market. It was run as a workers’ cooperative. Each item was labelled with a price and the name of the craftsperson. The craftworkers take turns to chaperon the market, without pay. They ensure that all payments go directly to the creator of each item.

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There was just stall after stall of unique, handmade items, typical to South Africa and we all really enjoyed browsing at the various crafts.

We thank the teachers for organising such an enjoyable day for us- we had a great time and will never forget that time we ate scrambled eggs with the Zulu Queen!

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