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:
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…
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.
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.