Guildford United Reformed Church

83 Portsmouth Road, Guildford, Surrey GU2 4BS


Ray and Wendy Dunnett’s South African Trip

Here is an account of the visit, giving you our impressions as volunteer teachers in Parkwood, Cape Town.

HydeParkPrimary7cHyde park primary class 7cWe settled quickly into a routine. School started at 8am and finished at 2.15pm. Although in a poor area it was reasonably well-equipped and had obviously made great efforts to try to be self-sufficient. By its own fund-raising it managed to pay for 5 extra teachers but, even with these, it appeared under-staffed. There were about 900 children, mainly aged 5-13, divided into seven year-groups (grades). There were 3 or 4 classes of about 40 children in each grade one being taught primarily in Afrikaans and the others primarily in English, although everyone was bilingual and many also speak Xhosa, one of the tribal languages.

 

Wendy was helping in a Grade 7 class of 11 -15 year olds. Space in the classroom was very limited and the “learners” were squashed into desks that were often too small. Ability was very varied – some could barely read and write but others learned fast and were bored. About 15 of the children were Muslims and went home early on Fridays to attend mosque. The hardest thing was adapting to a “chalk and talk” method of teaching with much yelling by the teacher and threats of punishment. Fortunately, corporal punishment has been banned in South African schools but the teacher Wendy helped has a cane that he waved around frequently. We were trying to raise awareness of the Football World Cup and the countries that were represented. There was an internal tournament for the classes and Wendy was able to use her geographical knowledge to teach about Portugal and Brazil.

Generally the children were well dressed in school uniform – the winter uniform is a tracksuit that costs about £12. In wet weather the poorest children miss school as they have no waterproof clothes – and it rained a lot in our first couple of weeks. The school had no heating, the roof of Wendy’s classroom leaked and the door handle was broken so it was difficult to get in and out.

HydePark-freelunches

A government feeding programme provided a simple free meal for any child – a bowl of rice with meat or fish – but there was no kitchen or dining room. The school was due to break up for 5 weeks during the World Cup and teachers were worried that children would go hungry during this extra holiday. The school had a field that doubled as playground and football pitch. There was as much bare ground as grass with no markings for matches and no proper goals. Another volunteer living with us was teaching sport so the classes usually get a PE lesson.

HydePark-free lunchesA government feeding programme provided a simple free meal for any child – a bowl of rice with meat or fish – but there was no kitchen or dining room. The school was due to break up for 5 weeks during the World Cup and teachers were worried that children would go hungry during this extra holiday. The school had a field that doubled as playground and football pitch. There was as much bare ground as grass with no markings for matches and no proper goals. Another volunteer living with us was teaching sport so the classes usually get a PE lesson.

The school was equipped with a reasonable IT room with some 45 redundant but useable computers given by a South African bank. There was a simple central file system but not a proper network so the software on individual computers was limited. There was very limited and quite slow internet access. Sadly the room itself was so small that it was almost impossible to get round there is a class in it.

The number in each class made teaching difficult so the syllabus was fairly limited (from use of mouse in Grade 1 to very simple word-processing and cut-and paste techniques in Grade 7) with little formal work. It probably dids not help that the person who teaches the IT was not a qualified teacher although he had good technical knowledge. For various reasons he was only in school for two days in our first fortnight so covering his classes was a bit hit and miss for Ray, the more so since it was a little random when or whether they turned up.

We lived in a relatively luxurious local house which was home to 5 other volunteers and a lovely couple, Lecia and Leslie, who had built the house on the site of the shack in which Leslie had been born. He ran a car repair business from the yard and an annexe housed a foster daughter and her family. Lecia was an excellent cook and fed us extremely well on a variety of African, Cape Malay and European dishes.

Parkwood, the area in which we stayed, is a township that was created by the apartheid government to house “coloured” people who were moved forcibly from the areas that were to become “white” only. Most were settled in blocks of council flats that are now very run down and squalid (see picture). Some people had built shacks which they later upgraded into small houses but some were still living in the shacks. We looked out of our relatively nice house onto an area of waste land that was the gathering point for local youths, the training area for horses and the place for dumping rubbish and burning it (the two pictures are of adjacent views although not taken on the same day). We didn’t venture there at night and taxi drivers did not like taking us home!

We went round the estate with Lecia, our host, who would not let us go on our own, although we felt quite safe with her. Much of the estate was far worse than the parts we could see from her house, although not as bad as the squatter townships. There were mainly two storey buildings with a flat on each floor, generally in a poor state of repair and virtually all with corrugated iron extensions (there was corrugated iron everywhere so someone must have been making a fortune manufacturing it!). Quite a lot of these extensions were actually the home to a family but many were also used as small businesses mainly selling a few sweets, some food or fruit – usually oranges. We went into a one storey home which had three rooms (two bedrooms, a small kitchen/living area) plus a toilet and a fruit shop in the corrugated iron extension. We are not sure how many people lived there but there were certainly children from the class Wendy was attached to, their parents, and a sick grandmother and probably others as well.
In fact, we felt we would have been completely safe going into this area on our own during daylight hours, since everyone knew that we were the white teachers from the school and children and their mothers rushed up to greet us all the time. Most of the children in the school came from this estate but some lived in better housing in the wider neighbourhood in the direction of central Cape Town. Near the school there were also some small supermarkets, two takeaways and a garage. There were at least eight churches and a mosque within the immediate locality.

One evening we visited Khayelitsha, a huge township of a million people living in informal shacks on the extreme edge of Cape Town. The volunteers with Projects Abroad were entertained by a local African lady in her shack and then in the local shebeen (bar) where she gave us a traditional meal. She works for women’s rights and goes into schools educating the children about AIDS. We met her daughter who has won a scholarship and is now at university in the USA – what a change of culture for her!

We managed to do lots in our spare time. We could pick up a Combi, the local small minibus taxis which are licensed to take up to 15 people but tend to be fuller at peak times and are never inspected for safety. These took us to the nearest railway station about four miles away. From there it was a 20 minute journey to the centre of Cape Town to the north or to the Cape Peninsula coast to the south. The Combi and train fares were very cheap (50-80p). We had to use taxis in the evening for safety but went out late each week to go to a local Scottish Dancing Club. This was an all white club held in a Presbyterian church hall. They were very friendly but could not understand why we were living in a township – they have never set foot in such places!

We went up Table Mountain on a glorious day with marvellous views, to the world famous Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, to the Waterfront in Cape Town and to the penguin colony at Simon’s Town. We finally managed to make a very moving trip to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The ferry only seems to run in the winter when the prevailing NW wind is not blowing. We had an excellent last weekend. On the Saturday, amongst other things we visited the very impressive Rhodes Memorial, the National Gallery which had a remarkable exhibition of 20th century S African art of every form, the new World Cup football stadium, although unfortunately we could not go inside it, and had a sunset cruise around the Cape Town coast. On the Sunday in lovely weather we did a round trip of the Cape Peninsula with 5 other volunteers. The highlights were Cape Point and the walk to the Cape of Good Hope where we saw eland, ostriches and dassies (creatures a little like a small beaver which are apparently genetically the closest relatives of elephants!).

Hyde Park school was busy with exams before they broke up for the World Cup. Wendy helped with marking papers and Ray entered huge numbers of results onto the data system and helped re-write it. The school celebrated the imminent World Cup with a “Waka Waka” dance competition and a soccer tournament, with each class representing a World Cup team. Ray spent much of his time designing and printing banners for classes for their teams.

Wendy also visited some younger classes. In one Grade 1 (age 5-7) there were 40 in the class + another 20 from another class where the teacher was late ( see picture). There are no classroom assistants or parent helpers and there are many interruptions. Four children spoke Xhosa and most of the others were way behind their British counterparts, still singing nursery rhymes and learning to count to 10. Wendy became an expert story teller, could explain the colours of the South African flag, the Union Jack and the England flag and control (?) 40-60 children colouring in flags and pictures.

On our last school day in Cape Town Wendy’s class arranged a farewell party with huge chocolate cakes and other goodies. Ray made flapjack and Wendy fancy cup cakes. The children were thrilled that we joined in their impromptu dancing. It was sad, but moving to see so many of them filling plates of food to take home to mothers and even grandmothers. The school was let out early so that the staff could say goodbye to us and we now have a bag of things to remind us of Hyde Park Primary.