Monday, December 15, 2008

Volunteer Grateful for Service Opportunities

Dear Global Volunteers,
I so appreciate your updates, for I am a devoted volunteer and supporter of Global Volunteers! My late husband and I first went with a team to Rota, Spain in 1998 - then had planned to go Italy but had to cancel because of health problems for him. He died in June, 2007 and I felt I needed to be away for that first Christmas. That is how I went to Chennai, India - with a remarkable team - there were 8 of us. We still keep in close contact and one team member visited me in July. She is returning to Chennai in January 2009 and will be there for the baptism of the baby son of our team leaders, Stephen and Sheeba - so I am crocheting a shawl for her to take - that perhaps can be used at the christening. It is a project of love!

I have signed up to go to Hanoi in May of 2009. Like many - I have a limited income and budget very carefully, but this is a neccessity. Vietnam has special meaning for me as my husband and I volunteered at our neighborhood high school - a class taught by a friend who works with students coming in from different parts of the world - with limited English. I share your concern about the present economy - and also feel the programs of Global Volunteers are more important than ever. So I'm cutting corners on expenses in every way possible to look ahead to my next service program - maybe Christmas 2009.
- Aleatha Scholer, devoted volunteer

Monday, December 08, 2008

Finishing Up our Work in Hanoi

Millennium Development Goals

Achieved by this Team:
720 hours of classroom instruction by
14 volunteers, six hours/day
140 hours of preparation time
One high school;Two universities
4,100 students impacted

These excerpts from our team journal provide a brief glimpse into unique volunteer opportunities in Hanoi, Vietnam. We're all very grateful to be able to serve in this way, at this time, in this city. If you've ever considered visiting Vietnam, please contact Global Volunteers to learn how you can provide a truly needed service at the high school and university levels. Who knows? You may end up teaching a future leader of this developing country!

Thursday, Dec. 4

This being my second trip with Global Volunteers, after one month I’ve become a true “Hanoian.”
The pandemonium that is the streets and daily life of Vietnam is actually a controlled chaos, and finely tuned orchestra. From our vantage point above the street, we watched as the various performers played their parts…sometimes solo, sometimes in group, with the occasional cymbal crash….all without a conductor. In the school, we’re teachers….not in the sense of the tenured nine-month professionals back home, but as the old-time storytellers, passing down wisdom and knowledge to the next generation. We’re grandparents and uncles and aunts teaching what cannot be found in books….our life experiences.
Sometimes I get frustrated with the excitement and noise which follows the children from the streets through the gates and into the classroom, but I keep in mind that my main objective is to help out, and our grass-roots diplomacy provides lessons and memories that will last all their lives. - Leo Pyzynski

Friday, Dec. 5
(With apologies to Dr. Seuss): Our trip is done; Our trip was fun; Let’s hope to do another one!
Leo and Ruthanne approached their morning with a rambunctious gang of first-graders with some trepidation. With mixed feelings, we spent the last morning with the smaller first-grade class, which was fine for all. The children colored and sang songs. Leo and Ruthanne joined with them in a rousing rendition of the Hokey Pokey. We’ll miss them. After dinner, the 6th graders threw a surprise “party” for Leo and Ruthanne, complete with confetti, beautiful gifts (framed pictures and edible goodies) and undeserved adulation. Very special. Finally, our “Last Supper” as a team we began two weeks ago as individuals and now we truly have become a team. We are all very sorry to say good bye. Really “au revoir,” certainly not “adieu.” Ciao,
-Ruth DeWolfe

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Second Week of Service Vietnam Team 3

Millennium Development Goals Achieved:
14 volunteers, six hours/day

English conversational skills
One high school;
Two universities
4,100 students impacted

Monday, Dec 1

Awakened again by what I like to call the “dawn horn” – by this I refer to the incessant traffic noise, of course. The Vietnamese are early risers. Must be all that snake wine they drink.

Monday morning in Hanoi – quite the contrast to the weekend in Halong Bay. A switch from yesterday’s calm waters, caves, karsts, coves and kayaks to today’s chaotic cacophony of car horns, classrooms and kids.

The fact that I’d overeaten at breakfast became all to apparent when I sat on a classroom bench and it collapsed. What little credibility I had with Group 7A was clearly gone now!

Our high school Global Volunteers seemed to get back into the flow of teaching without too much trouble, although some groups (of students) tend to be easier than others.

Highlights of the day included classroom discussions about World AIDS Awareness Day, and Patrick being hugged by a 12th-grade girl, followed by Jenny teaching the verb: “to blush.” And, let’s not forget the overly friendly security guard whose daily big smile and handshake for me have been augmented by puckered lips and an expectant lean. It all happens in Week #2!

After a team meeting and another lesson in “survival Vietnamese” the majority of the team dined al fresco while watching the crescent moon descend (and listening to the car horns, of course). – Emma Pedgrift

Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008
The team met at 7:3o to start the 7th day of teaching. Michele, our kind and knowledgeable leader, shares our meeting schedule and attempts to reach into each volunteer’s head. Most acknowledge their understanding of the times for events.

Emma read her journal entry for Monday in her wonderful British style, and her humor brought much laughter to the team. The NBK Group’s bus arrived at the hotel at 8:15. There are nine of us volunteer teachers making the 30-minute trip to school. We normally arrive while a class is going through their morning exercise routine. We then split into 4 ½ teams (Amelia is working solo) to review the day’s agenda. Each class is jammed fully of teenage energy, noise, confusion, frustration and – hopefully – joy.

Today’s lunch break marked Leo’s baseball class attempting to hit a real baseball. Leo’s teaching of the Vietnamese girls and boys is priceless. Imagine a batting tee, a 12-year-old boy swinging a bat and driving a line shot into the middle of 500 bicycles! The show goes on today!

The bus arrives back at the hotel each day around 3:45. Today, Michele leads a group on a 40-minute adventure from the hotel through Hanoi’s maze of rush-hour traffic to the Temple of Literature, an area honoring Confucius. It’s an impressive site for intellectuals from all over the world.

Dining at the Koto restaurant and shopping at the nearby Handicraft Link is rewarding. These are both non-profit ventures to serve the needs of thousands of Hanoi’s “street kids.” The Koto Training Center teaches them skills in cooking and restaurant management.

Another trek back “home” through the evening streets…this time encountering Hanoi’s kids in their pajamas outside the storefronts getting ready for bed. Lots of smiling faces as we return to the hotel, tired but satisfied with our job well done for another day. Three more to go!
-Dick McKenney

Friday, November 28, 2008

The View From Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam.

Nov. 28, 2008

As our first week of teaching came to an end, we enjoyed another beautiful, sunny day.
Millennium Development Goals: Primary and Secondary Education
14 volunteers, 490 hours instruction; 4,100 students impacted

Tim, Jim and I had a wilder than usual taxi ride to Foreign Trade University this morning. Tim and I spent the morning in a 2.25-hour literature class assisting Ms. Huong and her 70 first-year business students. The topic was esssy writing, and Tim and I had the opportunity to brush up on our rusty knowledge of style, tone, rising action and phrasing. Many of the students have an impressive command of English, as one asked Tim and me the difference between "discrepancy" and "incongruity."

Tim, Jim and I had a brief 35-minute lunch of noodles and beef from styrofoam takeout boxes, while Mr. Tri, our Director at FTU, solicited our advice on the English language greeting to be included in the University's annual Lunar New Year greeting card. The pressure was on.

I spent my afternoon in Ms. Hue Chi's 2.25-hour marketing class for first-year international business students. I taught alone straight through the period. We asked each other many questions and discussed various topics. They taught me Vietnamese history and culture and are fans of Michael Phelps, Britney Spears, "High School Musical," and most things American or British. I told them about American education, politics, driving and traffic, geography and Vietnamese-Americans. One student asked how she could learn to think in English. Another wondered if everyone's vote was worth the same in the U.S.

Before returning to the hotel after our afternoon classes, Mr. Tri wished to further discuss the greeting card. I'm sure we will continue working on this Hallmark moment next week before it will be presented to the President of the University for final approval.

When I return home, I look forward to standing at the end of a crosswalk as six lanes of traffic part and I safely walk across the street to enjoy a big bowl of pho. I believe I can now join my fellow fun-loving team members as a veteran Global Volunteer.
- Donna Young

First Week at the Foreign Trade University:

The week went well. The students are friendly and enthusiastic, and the reception by the program director was well-organized. Other reflections: Big thrill riding on motor bike; young professor took me to her favorite dress shop -- helped economy by having six dresses made for women in my family!
Saturday, we needed R&R after a busy week. Most volunteers headed for Ha Long Bay, and Mary, Donna and I take the City Tour. Most noteworthy was the lake where (John) McCain crashed. Water puppet show; two pagodas also visited; Ho Chi Minh masoleum probably was the highlight. Our tour guide gave us a thorough history of Ho. Donna arranged a photo for me with an attractive bride at the memorial. (Young man to email photo tonight to my wife.) My previous emails home described "hardships" for volunteers doing their work....oh, well!
We've now seen Hanoi as tourists and are ready for our final work week. Dinner last night as the only man with three lovely women was fun! New expression coined: "Fox and the turtle."
- Jim Wilson
Tuesday, November 25th

Day Two with our service at Mguyen Bing Khiem High School, Hanoi University, and Foreign Trade University. After a full, confused somewhat stressful day of adjustment on Monday, we felt more confident in our teaching skills when we arrived at our mission on Tuesday eager to give of our time and talent.

The van was a bit late due to traffic congestion. We have to be on time because of the van blocks the flow of traffic on an extremely Narrow congested street. Horns blast continuously as motor bikes, cars, pedestrians slip thru dangerously narrow spaces. There are no rules to the road except to keep moving slowly and steadily without stopping.
We arrived at the school having enjoyed a 20 minute ride thru interesting Hanoi. The Van passed thru iron forged gates into a court yard where the kids were playing badminton but mostly fooling around. They were waiting to learn how to play baseball with Leo and Dick

School has five floors, no elevators and it is a challenge not to forget any teaching items.
The team congregated in the teacher’s room where we pooled our materials and resources.
A computer sits on the table next to the printer waiting for a cable and connection to the internet. A huge flat screen TV hangs on the wall playing some “action movie.” Mr Quy, our director, is most helpful and grateful for the team’s flexibility with the programs and assignments. Figuring how works is is another challenge but going with the flow seems to work
The students welcome us enthusiastically. They are eager to have us entertain them with our English and humor. I wonder how much they really understand. We try to be simple and make it fun..

Lunch is served at 11:15 in the basement of the school. We join the students at the tables after we are served rice, soup, fish fry, chicken, noodles, stir fry veggies and ice cream. After clean up, we return to our conference room for a nap. The entire school takes a nap until the gong is bonged..A cacophony of sound occurs, chatter, yelling horsing around, pushing shoving, talking, yelling as this massive student body of 2400 kids move to their assigned classes.
We do our thing….we try to represent a positive image from our country as ambassadors of good will to the Vietnam people..

At the end of the day we all exhausted and spent for putting forth 100% effort. Our desire to bring awareness and understanding between the two different cultures.. to build a positive relationship as we bring good will, friendship to our good neighbors. At three we pile into our van, quietly going over the day, sharing little vignettes of the day.
Everyone felt this day was a good one and how special to share our time and talent. Each day bringing about a closer bond with the Vietnamese people and team members.
-Amelia McKenney
Monday, November 24th, Hanoi, Vietnam

Our first day of real work. The pink-hued clouds and clear blue accents signalled a change -- not only in the weather but in our lives as volunteers and with hope, those of our students -- as we start our service in Hanoi.

Ruth Ann inspired the team with a quote: "To the Man of Goodwill, All the World is Home", Socrates.

And off we went to universities and high school waging peace and encouraging conversations.

Donna, Jim, and I headed to Hanoi's Foreign Trade University to support the faculty of the "English for Special Purposes" department. Our first large class of at least sixty represented the highest achievers in the English entrance exam process. They are 18 adn 19 year olds beginning their four-year journey towards specialization in Business Administration, Finance, or Economics.

A lively group of articulate students, eager to ask questions (with some prodding) and offer insight into their view of life in Vietnam and Hanoi. We encourage questions about our lives in the states as a springboard to questions specific to Vietnamese life. The students explained that most families consist of parents and two children. We also learned that time abroad is a common expectation in completing their BA education. Australia and the UK are the most common destinations.

Of course American movies and television have colored the student's conception of our reality and Donna and I attempted to ensure them that Los Angeles is not the violent world of Hollywood blockbusters!

I believe our time while short, can be a catalyst to encourage greater understanding and a willingness to explore the English language.

It is almost unworthy to mention that Global Volunteers has again maintained the alias "Teach 'n Eat" with the great food consumed overt times of fun and laughter. A noble start to our Adventures in Service. - Tim Cunniff

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Report From Portugal

Team Four in Beja, Portugal

Monday, Sept. 29
Bom Dia! We had our first breakfast at the hotel before we set out for our various assignments. Scott and I had a walk of ten minutes or so to our school. In our first class, three girls were selected to show us around the school. One, who came from Mexico, had a good command of English. Perhaps being bi-lingual already made it easier to pick up another language. When we returned to class, we found that they were learning about choosing foods from a menu. Maria asked us the name of a food she described and drew on the board—sort of a pasty with one side scalloped and the whole deep-fried. It didn’t look like anything either Scott or I was familiar with.

After this class, we went to the cafeteria for lunch—We came back to school to a most interesting 5th year English class. It started out with an open discussion of the roles of parent and child, and led into the responsibilities of parenthood. Then our teacher gave each pupil a slip of paper with a problem a parent might face—“Your teen-age daughter is pregnant”—“Your son was caught smoking a joint”—“Your child wants to drop out of school”—and the student had to tell the class how he/she would handle it. In all the classes the students were very interested in the American presidential campaign, and wanted to know who we favored. They were overwhelmingly Obama fans.

On our way home after school, we found a group of our teammates enjoying afternoon tea at an outdoor café near our hotel, and joined them. Later, we had a discussion on the goals for our team. Paula came in to inquire how our first day at school had gone. Everything was great until we turned on the TV. Most of us were quite disturbed by the news on CNN of the failure of the congressional bailout, and the plunge of the stock market. Boa Noite!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
It's Tuesday of our first week in Beja and most of the team members are already familiar with their schools, assignments, and schedules. Michele and Paula have worked hard building this young partnership with Beja while the City's (and the country's) educational system has been dealing with its own challenges brought on by some new and controversial changes. In the classroom however, the students and the volunteers focus on the task at hand - improving conversational English and gaining a better understanding of each other and our cultures.

Loretta, Eileen and I arrived at Mario Beirao Middle School at 10 a.m. and they were quickly whisked away to teach an 8th Grade class. My 9th Grade class began at 10:50 and we spent the full 45 minute period discussing all aspects of the United States and its similarities and differences to Portugal.

After class, an excited student came up to me to say she had recently visited Mexico. I was pleased to have this additional conversation with her -- but I was even more thrilled several hours later when we recognized each other as we were passing on the sidewalk in a different part of Beja. Her face immediately lit up and she said, "Hello!" as her friendly smile welcomed me to her community. This small but significant gesture, from a 9th Grade Portuguese girl on a narrow cobblestone sidewalk 3000 miles from my home, will stay with me long after the trip is over.

This evening at dinner, Michele finally got her broccoli, we identified SOME of the delicious seafood we were eating, and Brian provided a wonderful spontaneous tableside serenade at Susie's urging (and Eileen's embarrassment)!

As the night air finally began to cool, a Port wine nightcap and some interesting conversation with teammates at an outside café was certainly a fitting end to another great day.

Wednesday, October 1
A new month has begun. Things seem to be going better. Some of the glitches have been worked out or worked around. The Volunteers are becoming more comfortable with their assignments.

In the morning, we heard about a possible teacher strike. No one reported cancelled classes. However, Eileen and Susan both went up to the castle in their free time and it was closed because of a strike! Several folks have taken advantage of the Lavandaria and it is reported that the owner speaks French – a help to those who “nao falo portugues”.

Late morning found Dennis, Beau and me in a vocational class with Ines. These are young adults studying Information Technology. We asked where they were born and most were from Beja, but there were also several from Cape Verde and one young man from Ukraine. We invited the students to return for tutoring at 17:15 and several said they would. We were talking to some of the students in the hallway after class when students from another class joined us. Beau and Dennis’ enthusiasm enticed one of these students to join 5 of the class at the tutoring session. We thought 6 a nice turn out for an afterschool class and we were able to encourage 1:1 some of the more shy students.

Friday, October 3, 2008
One week of teaching has gone by in a flash. Beja continues to reveal itself as a beautiful city inhabited by warm and friendly people. Loretta and Scott walked this afternoon to the super, supermarket in the shopping center to see Beja's interpretation of the American Dream. Huge food market with a very interesting meat and produce department--you can just about buy anything there.

Once again, TGIF. Much excitement is generated by the team in planning for the weekend. Going to the ancient city of Evora is planned already (thanks to Helen), along with the possibility of going to the south coast. Since we're a "trusting, tolerant, patient and flexible team," whatever plans are implemented will result in a lot of fun. A Haiku is offered:

Be that as it may
Language can be difficult
For us to convey

Saturday October 4
After breakfast, we were off for a day of sight seeing. Roy and Suzie stayed behind in Beja to tour the city while the rest of us boarded a bus bound for Evora. Thanks to Helen with the assistance of Hugo, the desk clerk arranged the bus and a tour guide in Evora. Our first stop was the villa Romano Pisoes; Roman bath ruins located a short distance from Beja. We marveled that thousands of years ago people walked on those same mosaic tiles. We also were fascinated by the snails that covered the stalks of grass surrounding the ruins. A couple of motorcyclists stopped as we were leaving to check out the ruins as a possible stop for an upcoming trip for their motorcycling group. We traveled through scenic fields of cork and olive trees and arrived at the Esperao Winery which was surrounded by hectares of grapevines, according to Ruth much larger than the vineyards in California.

We arrived in Evora in time for lunch. Evora is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. We met Maria our tour guide after lunch. Maria grew up in Evora, studied tourism in Lisbon, and now gives Evora city tours. She guided us through the Church of St Francis with its Chapel of Bones, the Cathedral, and the Temple of Diana. The grounds around the Temple offered a panoramic view of the Roman aqueduct and the surrounding countryside. The walk back to the bus through the narrow streets gave time to window shop and purchase postcards and purses made from cork.

It was a sleepy bus ride back to Beja. We ate at the Restaurante Churrasqueira where we feasted on plates of salad, pork chops, salmon, sole, and grilled chicken. After dinner, some retired to their rooms while others gathered at a local café for port and dessert.

More to come soon!!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Global Volunteers
Hanoi Diary – July 27-Aug 8

Millennium Development Goals Achieved by this Team:
1,980 students and 30 teachers taught English language skills

390 hours of English language instruction provide by volunteers

On our first work day, we gathered in a room where we met the headmaster and English teachers and Joe presented opening remarks along with the headmaster. Spirited music from the Bridge over the River Kwai and the theme from Rocky accompanied a video introduction to our new school. The staff and students are very proud of their school and want us to be happy during our stay. As honored guests, we were assigned one of only two air conditioned rooms in the entire school.

We were greeted in each classroom with smiles and open hearts that more than compensated for any temporary inconveniences. We enjoyed lunch served to us in the staff dining room with the best saved to the last – ice cream cones! Sheer luxury on a sultry day.

Thought for the Day: In New England, the settlers enthusiastically took to their new lands and started plowing only to discover to their dismay, large rocks in their way. They dutifully piled the rocks into walls surrounding their fields and continued plowing. Each season, there were fewer and smaller rocks and the plowed fields finally yielded to the crops for which they had been planted. Today these rocks have become the unique fences that charm visitors to the region and the plows upturn only pebbles. Be a plow. Start a legacy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
It’s the second full day of teaching and we are in the thick of it! Newness jitters are starting to fade and we are truly starting to operate as the team we need to be. It’s impressive to see how far this group of former strangers has come in such a short time.

Gone was the dread of the unknown – we knew we at least had a sense of what today would bring and we were prepared to face it, together. You could feel the increased sense of confidence in the air. Most of us then went off to teach – Rebecca and Leah spent two periods with the same students while Bob, Joan, Claire, Barbara, Norina and Brownson did their best to engage a group of VERY rowdy teenagers while Joe observed the classes, got to know the inner workings of the school and the teachers a bit better. We are feeling more in synch with local culture and this was evident during lunch/rest time. All the mats were filled with volunteers resting, while others relaxed on the desks. Still others spent the break preparing for the afternoon. Leah, Rebecca and Jessica had a detailed conversation with Ms. Ngoc, one of the teachers, really trying to understand more about teaching methods, and how we could help. Claire, Barbara and Joan held a strategy session on teaching the concept of volunteering – getting ready for the 11th graders that afternoon, with input and wisdom from Joe. Norina was deep in conversation with Ms. Hong, planning and sharing ideas.

The afternoon went by very quickly. Songs were sung, we danced, laughed with the children, taught what we hoped was close to curriculum and generally did our best. It was all about teamwork, and having fun along the way.
Thought for the day: “The high note is not the only thing.” Placido Domingo

The first week:
This week is supposed to be focused on “higher education”, a topic we tried to explain anew in each class. One girl said she wanted to be a singer after graduation and delighted her class and the Global Volunteers – Barbara, Norina and Claire – with her perfect American accent and stunning voice. We are learning that one of the best opportunities for communication with the students is simply be available in the hallways. They were very eager to take photos of us with their phones. Most of us are discovering the value of the noontime nap which really energizes us for the afternoons. While waiting for the van depart, Bob and Janelle played jump rope with the students to the delight and amusement of all.

In the spirit of environmental consciousness and conservation, the electricity is sometimes shut off in the afternoon. This gives us the opportunity to be flexible, with no electricity to make photocopies, use the CD player for music and songs, or cool our sweat-drenched bodies under the ceiling fan – just like in the good old days. The air-conditioned van and cool hotel rooms are a welcome relief at the end of the day.
Thought for the day: “The visitor might knock on your door, but you can choose not to let it on. You can decide to be happy or not to be happy. Which do you choose?”

The second week:
As we are now into the second week the days have become more routine, which is to say the scheduled classes for most of us are subject to change, and we adjust to the changes! A number of visiting teachers appeared to observe and learn, arriving from outside of Hanoi, I believe a place called Victory (??) having left at 5 am that morning in order to meet with us and our respective classes.

Leah, who teaches high school English in Washington, has been asked to teach a class of 40-50 students while about 10 English teachers observed. The students appeared enthusiastic and engaged, and the teachers intently scribbled notes during the class. My Quy later said her teaching was “excellent: and that the teachers learned much from her methodology and pronunciation.

We’ve been able to sample a new restaurant every day – several members of our group remarked that their clothes were starting to fit a little tighter than usual!
On Wednesday, we were picked up at 6:10 and taken back to the school for a farewell celebration hosted by the headmaster, Dr. Nguyen Van Hoa. What a lovely party. Tables were set up in the school courtyard and the school administration, English teachers and selected students were waiting to greet us. The Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Hung, Mr. Hoa, Mr. Quy and the head of the English department, Mrs. Hong gave speeches expressing their appreciation to us in excellent English. Joe spoke on our behalf, expressing Global Volunteers’ admiration, respect and gratitude for their efforts to our hosts at Nguyen Binh Khiem school. Led by Rebecca, we then sang the customized version of “It’s a small world after all”. Our hosts graciously presented Joe, Dana, Brownson and Claire with flowers and the other volunteers with gifts. After many photos were taken, we sat down to a deliciously prepared selection of traditional Vietnamese food. It was a special evening and I think, a memorable experience for us all. Thought for the day: “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward.” Vernon Sanders Law.

Thursday and Friday:
A fond farewell was bid to Claire, the perpetual volunteer who is headed off to her next Global Volunteers assignment in the Cook Islands.

Even though there was rain most of the day (on Thusday), the humidity did not adversely affect the weather and everyone seemed a bit more comfortable. After their arrival at school, and careful planning for their day’s schedule, Joan and Bob were separated into two different classes for their first period. Both were turned away at the classrooms for the second period, so they were able to receive an expanded lunch period and double nap times.

Janelle, Brian, Dana and Jessica thoroughly prepared for a full day of teaching but their teacher insisted there would be no class at the end of the day. Their students prepared a surprise celebration and feast with lots of fruit and gifts.

In the van on the way back to the hotel, several people expressed frustration with the discipline and decorum in many classrooms, particularly those with older children. No true solution was found, but everyone will maintain an open mind while agreeing that ALL 15- and 16-year-olds want to express themselves and rebel a bit.
Thoughts for the day: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
If you want happiness….
For an hour, take a nap
For a day, go fishing
For a month – get married
For a year – inherit a fortune
For a lifetime – help someone else!!
- Bob and Joan

While this group’s journey of waging peace comes to a close here, we watch while the world begins to come together in the spirit of friendly competition in Beijing.
The kindness and generosity of the people we worked with on this project and with the students we taught and learned from was remarkable. It will be my strongest memory and my greatest lesson. Thanks to everyone for all they did.
– Brian

Monday, September 15, 2008

South Africa as a "Lesson Plan"

My Global Volunteers Service Program in South Africa was a surprise 50th birthday gift to me by my family and friends. They knew that service to others is something that I value and that for many years I also had yearned to travel to Africa.
Six years ago, I embarked on the journey of returning to college while raising four incredible children. It was during this time I discovered a deep desire to learn more about Africa, a place and history of which I previously had known very little. The opportunity to delve more deeply into the intellectual study of Africa, its people, history, diverse cultures, religions, economic challenges, etc. presented itself and I became an African Studies minor while majoring in Religious Studies at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. The one piece missing from my studies had been the experience of actually going to the continent. My senior thesis had been on South African feminist theology from a post apartheid indigenous perspective so when I received the Global Volunteers gift I at once knew that South Africa would be my first choice of where I wanted to go. Lucky for me, the organization was preparing to send their first team to Malungeni -- a rural village in South Africa. I signed up immediately and anticipated with great joy the July 2008 departure.

Many of my friends asked me what I hoped to accomplish by taking this trip. I replied that my desire was to learn what I was meant to learn from this whole experience. While this might sound a bit New Age it was intended to mean that I wanted to stay open to the people I would meet, places I would visit, and work I would be asked to do. Volunteering has been the primary way I have experienced being within a community during my life. From my earliest memories I can recall accompanying my parents as we helped in our schools, church, neighborhood, and larger community. To go to Africa was only expanding my scope of where my volunteer experience could take me

As the first team to go to Malungeni, I knew there would be some unique opportunities to help form initial relationships and discover a bit more about this place and its people than later teams might encounter. I found this an exciting prospect. What I discovered from my initial encounter with Michele Gran, our team leader, was that she had our backs covered during the entire experience. I have worked in many volunteer settings in the past, some with international components to them, but I have never before experienced the consistency of vision and commitment to both the volunteer and the host community in the way that that Global Volunteers does. Michele never once promised something that she could not deliver, either to us as volunteers or to the community that had asked us to come work with them. This provided the volunteers as well as the community with sense of safety all the while being embraced by a high degree of true integrity.

The community of Malungeni extended one of the most hospitable and gracious welcomes I have ever experienced. The entire village from the elders, their chief, to the teenagers and young children embraced us and quickly formed friendships that made our time one of great joy and real hope. Many meaningful projects were begun by the community and our team during our two week trip. I can confidently say that future teams will find this community to be one where good things will happen.

The part of the Global Volunteers experience that I was pleasantly surprised by was how our team quickly bonded and formed friendships that I know will extend far into the future. The ten of us were from all parts of North America with an age range from the late teens to the seventies but we found so much common ground that friendships were easily formed and the team quickly found ways to use everyone’s unique gifts and talents. I will never forget the laughter that my roommate and I often fell asleep to. While although I was far away from my family I had found wonderful people to share this journey with. The work and team time made the whole experience one that I will hold in my heart forever.

The community school was my primary work site. I assisted the grade 4 through 9 Social Science teacher. It was exciting to be teaching their curriculum of social science from a human rights perspective. I found the teacher and students to be engaged learners with the classroom being a place of respect. The kids were great students and have high hopes for their futures. I learned a great deal from them and have a new respect for how difficult it can be to live and educate children within a remote village when technology and access can at times seem very far away.

As I reflect upon the two short weeks we spent with the community. I find myself wanting to return. I found a strength and character in the people of Malungeni that I admire. The women are working so diligently to bring change and opportunity to their village. They have the same concerns and hopes for their children as my friends and I have here at home. The miles might separate us but our hearts hold the same desires for healthy, educated children who will have good opportunities for their success filled futures.

My college studies enabled me to understand some of the history of the enormous continent and more specifically South Africa while my Global Volunteers service gave me the opportunity to begin relationships which moved beyond the pages of books and into our big world where we are called to be global citizens. Waging peace is such a noble goal, one that Global Volunteers embraces, but it is only through the forming of human relationships that we can discover who each other really is. I am grateful for the gift my family and friends gave me to travel and serve in Malungeni and look forward to serving with Global Volunteers again in the future.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

100th Team Celebration in the Cook Islands!

Kia Orana!

With over 100 teams of volunteers supporting the Cook Islands over the last ten years, we can truly say we've had something to celebrate.

Over 100 people joined together at Takitumu School last Friday evening to celebrate this wonderful milestone. The night was a brilliant success with community partners such as Takitumu School teacher, pupils and PTA, Te Kainga Mental Health, Cook Islands National Council of Women, the Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation, Immanuela Aketemia School, Tereora College Learning Support Unit, the Red Cross, the Ministry of Health, the Disability Action Team, the Virtues Project, the Cook Islands Library and Museum Society, the Takitumu Conservation Area, St Josephs School, the Whale Research Centre, and Te Uki Ou School all sharing interesting stories of how Global Volunteers has supported their organisations in differing ways over such a long time.

We heard stories from painting the whole of the Tupapa Medical clinic, through to teaching reading in schools, to helping eradicate the Crown of Thorns starfish. Stories were told of doctors, dentists, psychiatrists, teachers, physiotherapists, mental health workers, speech language therapists, painters, plumbers, electricians, builders, journalists, magicians, students, children, elderly, librarians - you name it - people with those skills have probably been to help with one project or another!Photos were displayed on powerpoint reminding those present of the different teams who have contributed their time, energy, wisdom and service to the Cook Islands. The Global Volunteers goals of waging peace and promoting justice in the world were certainly met with the fun way Cook Islanders, Americans and Canadians all enjoyed each others company and celebrated the friendships made during the time that Global Volunteers has had the honour of supporting so many different partners in the Cook Islands.

The current team of 18 was thoroughly entertained with dancing from the Takitumu School cultural group, with parents supplying a string band and singing during the enormous kaikai. Global Volunteers wishes to thank all of the community partners who made the evening such a wonderful night, without you it would not have been possible. We look forward to continuing our work together in the future. Special thanks must go to Takitumu School and PTA for hosting the event and the Ministry of Health for their generous support for the kaikai!

Meitaki maata e kia manuia!

-Debi Futter-Puati, Global Volunteers Country Manager

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

As We Say "Good Bye"

Friday, July 25:
Final Day in

As if we aren’t already on “emotional overload” as the service program winds down, we all attended a “farewell” celebration at the primary school this morning. The children sat by grade outside and were already in a chorus of song as Nkuli, Danice, Michael, Erin and I joined the rest of the team in front of the assembly.

Solomsi announced the agenda and led the prayer. Each class then presented hand-made cards to the team – many with personal notes to “their” teachers. Mr. Qwaka spoke of the numerous contributions the team made, and how he hoped many (if not all) of us would return on future teams. I heard a few sniffles….and not just from among the volunteers.

But, most of us were brought to tears as each team member reflected on the many ways the students and teachers touched their hearts…and souls. I wasn’t certain either Ryan or Molly would be able to complete their remarks. We all recognized how fast the time had gone, and how deeply we were affected by the children’s accomplishments…and needs.

After a birthday song to Linda, we moved on to the “picnic” portion of the event: Steak, sausage, bread and coke for the adults, and oranges for the children. The food was so good, we hardly realized how hot the sun was!

The 1:30 “talent” show was delayed as students gathered slowly at the community center. But, as none of us were anxious to end this final day, we waited patiently, chatting with parents and playing with the children. When the cast arrived, Chan announced the acts, and we were treated to a lively play about HIV/AIDS in Xhosa introduced by a number of songs, and followed by a short scene written by Olga and acted out by Chan, Erin and Ryan. What fun!

We reflected on the significant contribution we worked together on with our local friends....solidly in five areas of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals:

Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty: 29 volunteer hours in capacity-building
Achieve universal primary education: 416 volunteer hours teaching in the primary school
Promote gender equality and empower woman: 204 hours assisting women with sewing and crafts projects
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases: 12 hours helping to restore HIV/AIDs library
Develop a global partnership for development: 792 hours working hand-in-hand on critical community development projects

We packed and planned our early departure tomorrow morning. All evaluations were completed! The roundevalles were buzzing as suitcases were stuffed with memories…and souvenirs…and return flights were compared. The atmosphere was more of a large, happy family than 12 individuals from cities spread across North America. Yes, we’ve formed a very special team!

Thank you all for your extraordinary patience, compassion and dedication on this very important pioneer team. You have been as much a support to me as to the people of Malungeni. Your indefatigable spirit remains as an inspiration to those who’ll follow us in many years to come. Never, ever doubt how important you have been in the history of this resilient, resourceful rural village. I hope to see you all again, and I wish you all the very best in life. Continue to challenge the status quo and to reach beyond your grasp. Together, we can indeed build a world of peace and justice one day at a time.

-Michele Gran (“Mama Mlbuwana”)

Ending a Beautiful Week in Malungeni

“And none of us need feel any shame at all at using help, since we all help each other.”

The reality of time passing is in full force for us all. We’re starting to say our good-bye’s and plan our thank you celebrations. The Community Center bleachers are complete, we’ve practiced our songs for the thank you ceremony and Chan and Erin are getting the drama club ready for tomorrow’s performance. In the middle of the commotion we received another resident to the guest house -- "Happy" -- a flea invested, scruffy, starving puppy.

As the majority of the team headed off to school, Erin and I were on our way to the Community Center when we were summoned by two local ladies – the real Joyce – asked if we were going to go with them to the river to carry could we say no? The women filled the buckets in the pond and set us up with head gear, then placed the buckets on our heads. I had to make an adjustment, placing the bucket closer to the front of my head then set off with both hands on the bucket - there would be no hands free moments from this amateur. With concentration and determination, we made it to the road without drenching ourselves in the valuable resource and happily handed the buckets back to the ladies at the road. Joyce had a baby strapped to her back as she hoisted the bucket on her head and used her hands to carry scraps of sheet metal she had found in the field. The weight and placement of the bucket wrecked my neck, a constant and painful reminder of one of the many hardships the women of Malungeni encounter on a daily basis. Even our hauling in of water for drinking and washing from the storage tanks at the guest house this week pales in comparison to the realities of local life.

This afternoon Global Volunteers hosted a thank you celebration for Malungeni. Wendy opened with a lovely invocation and we led local people in a rendition of “Morning Has Broken”. Not possessing a harmonious voice, I was thankful for the iPod accompaniment. Michele gave a very heartfelt speech to the local community as Solomsi translated in Xhosa, which included reference to Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech where he quoted Marianne Williamson’s poem of “Our Greatest Fear.” “Our greatest fear is not that we are not strong enough, it’s that we’re powerful beyond measure.” The people of Malungeni are just that…powerful beyond measure. As their partners in development, I hope we have, in some small way, reignited that belief and desire in them - we’ve certainly been witness to it time and again during our stay.

After we all took a moment to express our gratitude to the community and heard a touching thank you from a community leader, we closed with South Africa’s National Anthem, the same song Malungeni used to greet us two short weeks ago. The local women then got up and started singing, dancing, and hugging us, telling us the most important thing is love. For the fourth or fifth time today, I was moved to tears.

Dinner was scrumptious once again thanks to Danice. Perhaps Global Volunteers should consider marketing these fine dining experiences for its South African teams. We were “treated” to a drop-in by Nyaniso Magokolo after dinner, who wanted an update on what we did while we were here, and to offer us a safe journey home. He was open and gracious with suggestions on how to get children to read and the importance of childhood development through daycare programs. He left us with the challenge to continue what we started and continue to help Malungeni. From the conversations we’ve all had, I know we’ve all come up with our own ways in meeting that challenge.

In the spirit of being in the moment (a personal goal on this journey), the day was filled with flashes I will carry back with me in my heart…Vuyo, Rebecca, Nkuli and Gwen singing “Oh Happy Day” in the kitchen, the livestock rush hour, the magnificent sunset, walking the village with Chan to create a map, the kind well wishes followed by the extra yummy birthday cake, the dishwashing jam session, and Olga and Gwen bringing us our good-as -new laundry. In one day alone, these images captured so much of the complete experience in Malungeni.

We are all now faced with the inevitable farewell. Our Malungeni friends will carry on in the same environment as we head back home to our modern day conveniences. They will continue to be challenged…and hopefully uplifted with possibility. As for us, the volunteers, may we take with us another line from the Greatest Fear poem, “Your playing small does not serve the world.” Just as we’re hoping for big dreams for our new friends, may we continue ourselves to grandly dream, serve on a large scale, and remember we, too, are powerful beyond measure.

- Michael Kithcart

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 in South Africa

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5

We awoke to another chilly morning in Malungeni which by afternoon evolved into a sunny, lovely day. We all enjoyed the bright, warm weather. Yesterday, Cromwell told me that spring is on the way. This certainly seems to be the case. I so enjoy walking to school and sharing morning greetings with the local community members. We arrived at school to the smiling faces and the cheerful waves of the school children. I wish I could bottle this joyful, hopeful enthusiasm and take it home with me. Linda, Chan and I prepared a reading comprehension lesson on “World Heritage Sites.” Some children did extremely well, while others seemed to struggle. Yesterday, Cromwell “lectured” (for lack of a better word) on the importance of reading and writing. He strongly encouraged the children to read every piece of paper that they could get their hands on. I hope that when the library is up and running it will be a resource for the children and the community at large.

Cromwell told Chan, Linda, Wendy and I about the Premier who was set to resign today. Cromwell shared his fears of a potential civil war. Year 2009 will certainly be an interesting election year for South Africa.

We had a team effort of covering the grade R as the teacher was unable to attend school today. The little ones are such a delight. I think it is fair to say that we all hope for a successful, happy future for each and every child. Wendy enjoyed her morning with the little ones. I on the other hand experienced chaos – not certain what happened…maybe it was just because it was the end of their day or the children decided it would be fun to “play” the substitute. This is the first time I experienced frustration due to the language barrier. But, at the end of the day, the children’s smiles get to you.

Cromwell taught a class today on the changes in South Africa. He noted the change in the government – how it was going to build low income housing, it was assisting with brining a water system into the local community, etc. Cromwell also hopes there will eventually be more resources, such as, additional classrooms and libraries. At Linda’s suggestion, we had a raise of hands of those children who when they grow up wish to move to the city as opposed to remaining in the rural community. There were quite a few who wished to move to the urban areas with aspirations of being doctors, teachers, policemen, lawyers and soldiers….what an inspiration!

Michael and I set off to the Community Center for the “community project workshop” (bakery, poultry and piggery, community garden, beads and crafts). I must preface this summary by saying words cannot express what transpired at the workshop. Per Michael, it was on her “top ten list” of things she has done in her lifetime. I must admit, it was an extremely powerful afternoon. We had 14 attendees (12 women and 2 men). Michael and I were stunned and extremely proud when the community members asked when they could stop calling it a project and begin calling it a business. Ideas were hatched, thoughts were shared, dreams became a possibility in a little over 2 hours. It was truly amazing. Jagged by corporate America, so many people have unlimited resources at their fingertips but no vision. Vision is certainly what the community has. Given the time, I have no doubts that goals will be met, businesses will succeed. I do not think that the community members grasp the power in their hands to forge the community forward. I however, am impressed by their vision and am hopeful for a prosperous future.

Back to the guesthouse for yet another yummy meal. Danice certainly does spoil us…what a disappointment when I go home to frozen meals!

We ended the evening with music practice for our upcoming events. Thank God for Chan. He is such the director. Hopefully, we will be a hit! We are all looking forward to expressing our heartfelt thanks to the community. We will take a little part of each and every community member home with us. What a truly awesome and comforting thought!

- Molly McGuire

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 - Malungeni, South Africa

"Perhaps the World Ends Here" by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Day 10
The morning began with Ryan and his faithful followers doing a workout and run before breakfast. Danice made delicious bran and fruit muffins for us. Over breakfast Wendy read a Joy Harjo poem and Linda shared her journal entry from yesterday. We are all aware that our time in Malungeni is quickly coming to a close and there is the desire to accomplish several tasks before we all head back to our own lives and challenges.

Chan will return the rental van today which has become our primary source of transportation outside of the village. The challenges of transportation or more specifically the lack of quick or easy transportation to town, gives one the realization of how difficult it can be to complete, what can be viewed as simple tasks within the spheres of our own life experience.

Nkuli and Linda are accompanying Chan to Mtatha where more food will be bought, US dollars converted to Rand, school supplies requested by the principal will be purchased, and other small errands run. This task could take much of the day. While 12 km is not an enormous distance it is one that can add unforeseen challenges along the way.

Cara, Ryan, and Erin are teaching Math today because the regular teacher will be away due to a need to address some personal issues. Mavis the Social Science and Xhosa teacher will be arriving at school via a combi today because the math teacher is her regular way to get to school. She did arrive about 9:30am. Transportation for her to get to work is one of the big challenges of her job.

Elsa and Mary Juan are busy helping to meet the needs of the grade 1, 2, 3 students and, while walking to school, discussed strategies of how they might use their day to help it be a productive one for the students.

Michele spoke with Cromwell, the school principal, about a farewell ceremony at the school and he was pleased to learn of our desire to mark this first trip to Malungeni by the Global Volunteers.

Molly is spending the morning assisting Cromwell with the English class. The children in her class smile easily as she works with them and respond well to her praising their work. The trip to the restroom is the universal break from class regardless of where in the world school children are. Molly attempts to help avoid a mass exodus from her classroom.

I give a test to the grade 7-9 students on Nazi Germany and the violation of human rights by the Nazi government. We spend the morning grading papers, doing math problems, assisting in teaching lessons and generally helping where and however we are requested to do so. The children seem comfortable with the rhythm of the day even if the volunteers don’t always know what’s going on.

Michael and Molly are preparing for the business workshop which will be held tomorrow. They hope to facilitate conversations that will lead to the ability to organize the steps in order to set the groundwork for the many business ventures the people of Malungeni desire to initiate.
Organization skills appear to be one of the concepts which the leaders of Malungeni are most grateful to learn about. Most of the groups are struggling with this issue in order to move forward with their hopes and dreams. Michael and Molly are helping to develop relationships that will hopefully assist them in moving to the next steps in their visions for their lives in Malungeni.

Chan reported that the shopping trip was typical of their other ones. As he says, “their on African time” and “no rules or laws just suggestions and guidelines”, adjusting to the pace is something that challenges us as Westerners. While on the trip Linda found the school supplies that have been requested and she said they’ll be presented to the school on Friday.
The late afternoon was abuzz with several group meetings. What was thought to be a meeting of the soccer coaches was actually a meeting of several players from the here at Malungeni who walk one and a half hours on Sunday to play without a proper field and very little, if any, equipment. Cara and Michael helped facilitate the meeting and hope in the future they can help point the guys in the direction of coaching and funding equipment needs.
The women were back with t-shirt dress project. Wendy and Elsa assisted them and by the end of the afternoon 16 dresses of various sizes were now part of their initial inventory. The women laughed and chatted and good work was the product of their time together.
Danice prepared yet another feast for us. A West African spicy chicken dish was enjoyed by all along with yellow rice with raisins and a colorful medley of peppers and cucumbers. Homemade oatmeal cookies were our sweet treat.

As we finished dinner the conversation shifted to the programs which will occur at the end of the week to let the community know how grateful our hearts are for the opportunity to live and share with them for two weeks. The young people from the school have a talent show in the planning phase and a program of thanks to the school teachers and students is on the agenda for Friday.

Thursday afternoon will be time to have the community gather at the house where music, words of gratitude, and our photo will be presented to them. Their radical hospitality has touched our hearts and minds. Michele has begun her taped interviews of each of the team members with the hope that our experiences here will inspire others to come to this wonderful place to help in the future. We will later tonight gather to review our goals which we set upon arrival in Malungeni.

The days have slipped away so quickly. We all are already anticipating how difficult Friday is going to be when we prepare to go back to our homes. We have made special friends in just two short weeks. We have found that we share some common hopes and dreams for our lives and communities. On Friday, I hope we will say, perhaps with tears in our eyes…not good-bye my friends, but see you soon, my friends. For as the Zulu proverb says “I am because we are”.

Much peace, Wendy

The Start of our Second Week - South Africa

Monday, July 21, 2008

We all gathered together again this morning after our various weekend adventures. Most of us were in freshly laundered clothes thanks to the substantial efforts of Olga, Kwena, and the other ladies. The work involved in hand washing all that clothing was appreciated and I know I will think twice before complaining about doing laundry at home in the washer and dryer in my basement. Loubabaloo joined us for breakfast and graciously handed out wonderful gooseberries for us to taste.

Molly, Chan, and I had a wonderful day at the school. We taught English to the grade 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 students. We also taught electricity to the grade 7, 8, and 9 students. The discussion of positive and electric charges somehow led to a discussion about gay and lesbian rights in South Africa, Canada, and the United States. Cromwell has really opened up with us and is eager to discuss a variety of political, social, and educational issues. He also seems to enjoy some of our different teaching strategies and has become much more relaxed with the students. Today, he picked up a boy so that he could write an answer on the board. This set the class laughing and Molly and I darting for our cameras. Elsa and Mary Juan worked diligently with the grade 1, 2, and 3 students who have more needs than can possibly be met by two people, even two remarkable ladies like Elsa and Mary Juan. I think Wendy was pleased that her teaching partner actually showed up at school today. They continued to work on social studies and Wendy experienced the teacher’s displeasure with a few students who had not completed their homework.

Next, Molly and I headed to the daycare. We passed Ryan and Cara who were walking to the school for soccer practice. The kids at the school were very excited with the new soccer balls that Cara bought in East London and they ran off kicking the balls in all directions. Cara tried to set up drills to develop soccer skills but the students were too excited and unorganized to really focus on that right now. Erin had everything set up at the daycare after spending the morning sweeping and mopping the floors. Michael, Mary Juan, Erin, Molly, and I spend the next couple of hours entertaining the children with bubble blowing, Duplo blocks, skipping ropes, balls, colouring, story telling, and songs. The children also had a delicious pasta dish courtesy of Danice.
Back at the guest house, we discovered that once again there was no running water but that there is not a water shortage so we just needed haul water into the bathrooms. Just another small glimpse into daily life in Africa.

Elsa met with the sewing group and worked on the t-shirt dresses. A fashion show broke out as Nkosi, Vuyo, and others paraded around in the beautiful fabrics that were bought for the children’s dresses.

Back at the guest house, Michael continued to work on business plans with community members. She was pleased to discover that they had followed through with the planned next step and returned to her with new information. Chan made yet another trip into Mthatha to work on Olga’s computer and buy yet more groceries. We enjoyed another delicious dinner of pasties, corn chowder, and bean salad prepared by Danice as she was serenaded all day long by Vuyo’s operetta.

After dinner, we discussed ideas for a culturally relevant and meaningful final celebration at the school and with the community members in order to thank them for all they have given us and to say good-bye until the next team arrives. It is sad to already be discussing leaving Malungeni. It seems like we have just arrived and have been here forever at the same time. The evening ended with a birthday party celebration for Ryan. They was singing and dancing and well wishing by all. I’m sure we will all leave Malungeni with heavy hearts as many friendships have been forged with the people here and among the volunteers.


First Week in Malungeni

“Ubomi Bunzima” (Xhosa for “Life is hard.”)

I’m running late for school this morning. As I walk I hear only the sound of my footsteps in the road. The road is dirt and rocks and feels rough and uneven under my shoes. As I walk I pass the houses of the people of Malungeni. The people of those houses laugh as I butcher their language – “Molo” (Hello), I say. “Unjani?” (How are you?) Malungeni always seems to be full of laughter and joy and my impression is that people here are genuinely glad we are here. It’s hard for me to quiet the cynical voice in the back of my head that says, “You can’t change the world. You’re such a spoiled American. Your only hardship is that you don’t have the latest generation iPod.”

A small herd of cattle cross the road in front of me. I wait for them; they are on Africa Time. I admire Africa Time – it is time without time, a heartbeat without a measureable pulse. Time here does not stand still, but instead glides along and surprises me. The time taken for a smile and a wave of the hand takes an eternity while a lifetime flashes by in the blink of an eye.
I walk into the 4th Grade classroom and am greeted by the students standing to say, “Good Morning, Teacher. How are you today, Teacher?” And I blush.
After we are told that the teachers are leaving today because of a fee they must pay or traffic (I’m not sure which) and that we will be teaching the kids on our own, Linda, Molly and I are giving a lesson on pronouns: he, she, it, they. I am he; we are they; you are she. Comprehension is limited. We gently push one of the 4th graders to put an index card under the “they” category by saying, “Are students a girl? No!! Are students a boy? No!!” They seem to be under the weight of a scholastic burden to always be right. Or maybe they are just pre-pubescent kids who don’t want to look bad in front of their peers. So they smile blankly and say, “Yes.” Yesterday we spent a half hour trying to explain that pigs don’t say, “Woof, woof.” It seems that only ¼ of the students can really even understand English at all.

I have decided to stay with Wendy to teach what turns out to be a rather psychotic geography/astronomy lesson in which Wendy is the sun and I am the earth revolving around her. One of the students raises his hand to say “I don’t understand” and I feel so proud. It is the first time this week that any of the students has admitted to not comprehending what we say. I feel a rush of joy. And suddenly the bell has rung for school to end. “Are we having drama class today?” I’m asked, and I say that we don’t think we’re supposed to be at school after classes are over today. I’m a little sad because the kids all love drama and I actually feel like I have a purpose teaching drama.

At 3:00 we have a meeting with what seems to be the ladies social circle. The women leaders of the village really want to use their ability to do bead work and traditional dance to fund activities for the youth to keep them from drinking, drug and a general life of crime. The difficulties they face are enormous in a country that seems to be without hope. In my egcentric world it’s hard for me to imagine life without the internet, hot water, easy transportation. It’s hard for me not to say, “Here. Here is everything I have. Take it.” But that’s not why we are here. Thank God for Michael and her left brain. The meeting is over and we get ready to leave for East London for a weekend of comparative luxury.
We did a lesson earlier this week about needs vs. wants. I’m not sure I know the difference anymore.
-Chan Harris

Our First Week in South Africa

July 17, 2008
It's interesting for me to sit down and think about all that we did as a team today. I’ve always tried to keep a journal, but usually what I write seems insignificant and repetitive when I read it later. Interestingly enough, I have confidence that to sit down and write about a day in Malungeni will bring nothing but reflection upon challenges that have been faced, memories that have been made, lives that have been impacted and countless laughs in between.

After the now routine breakfast and morning gathering around the coffee pot like it is a watering hole, Erin and I embark on an adventure that we would have had no way for which to prepare. Providing day care was our team’s idea for the smaller children of the community and we knew it could have literally gone in any direction. Olga assured us that the mamas were all coming and that it would be a success. Armed with the plethora of supplies and goodies from Elsa, Mary Juan and Wendy, we head over to the community center with Michael to set up for the day. When the first two children arrive we try to encourage hopscotch but it seems that the only person interested in that game is our old and friendly toothless friend who came in from the road to see what was going on inside the center. Although we got a lot of blank stares and tears at first, it seemed that once more kids came and they warmed up to us a little bit, both the mamas and their children were really enjoying this break from their regimented lives. We used paint, crayons, chalk, colored pencils, little spiky balls, stickers and songs to entertain the children and when it was time, Michael saved the day and relieved the kids with a snack of PB sandwich-quarters and water. Ryan and Elsa also made cameo appearances to film, attempt the hokey-pokey and hold babies. It looks as if we will be doing this again with the children and I am definitely confident that it will be a lot easier the second or even third time around.

The work on the community center, in other news, looks truly incredible. After a little more than two days of work, it seems that a little motivation and cement was all it took for some of the “soccer boys” to get working on the bleachers of the center. I was truly amazed to see this progress.

After a little break back at the guest house, Ryan, Erin and I went back for the “extra-mural” activities at school. Chan flaked on the drama class, so Erin would be joining us to help with “the sport.” From the start, Ryan made clear I was the coach and it was pretty funny to see the expression on the boys’ faces when they discovered that a girl would be the one directing them. Ryan led a quick warm-up and we divided up the 30-or-so young boys into teams and just started to play. I was so pleased to see the skill that they have and sincerely hope that someday it can be channeled and they can go as far as they want in the sport. With a little refinement and direction, these boys all seem to have the talent to go very far in the game. As Rebecca was explaining to me, they all wish so deeply for a coach to provide this for them in their after-school activities. It was incredible to even see the conditions that they played on: the field was scattered with huge rocks and at some points the grass was knee high. Most of the kids didn’t even have proper cleats and just played in their school uniforms and bare feet. It is clear that they all have a clear and unrelenting passion for the “greatest game.”

After a little sun shower experiment, Danice treated us all to another brilliant (but lamb-less) dinner and we were all able to recount our experiences from the day and unwind. Olga and Nkulie definitely got a kick out of seeing Ryan’s footage from the day care.

Everyday here is such an opportunity to learn more and more, not only about myself but also a culture so different from what I am used to. It will not be the showers, the school’s questionable teaching methods or what kind of ride we got into town that truly matter in the long run. I can only continue to hope that the work that I am doing with these children that I am so enjoying, is truly something that will leave a lasting and positive impact for them as well.

-Cara Daley

Day Four in Malungeni, South Africa

How to Build a Global Community

Think of no one as “them”
Don’t confuse your comfort with your safety
Talk to strangers
Imagine other cultures through their art, poetry and novels
Listen to music you don’t understand – dance to it
Act locally
Notice the workings of power and privilege in your culture
Question consumption
Know how your lettuce and coffee are grown: wake up and smell the exploitation
Look for fair trade and union labels
Help build economies from the bottom up
Acquire few needs
Learn a second (or third) language
Visit people, places, and cultures – not tourist attractions
Learn people’s history – re-define progress
Know physical and political geography
Play games from other cultures – Watch films with subtitles
Know your heritage
Honor everyone’s holidays
Look at the moon and imagine someone else, somewhere else, looking at it too
Read the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Understand the global economy in terms of people, land and water
Know where your bank banks
Never believe you have a right to anyone else’s resources
Refuse to wear corporate logos: defy corporate domination

July 16, 2008

We all woke to no running water. With this group, no problem. Some hauled water to meet basic needs and no one missed a beat – yeah team!

Ryan had a full day – he spent the morning at the school teaching math to grades 4 – 9. Since the children don’t have textbooks, he made sure they were copying what the teacher wrote correctly and stopped to help those who weren’t quite getting it. He also tagged team with the Math teacher and they filled in for each other if one missed anything. Nkuli said she talked to the kids and they told her how much they love Ryan and how it’s easier to ask him questions than the regular teacher. She also said all the kids were very happy to have the volunteer teachers because they are so friendly and it’s easy to ask questions. She said it motivates them. In the afternoon, Malungeni was treated to a new scene with Ryan displaying his white skin while hoisting rocks for the community center bleachers that were created today by the locals (though Erin and Michael stirred up some of the cement).

Several others have had great moments and learning experiences in the classroom. Chan and Molly helped grades 7-9 with “Kissing Whitney”. Not a book that would be used in the U.S., the book deals with teenage sex HIV/AIDS with a focus on abstinence until marriage. Chan and Molly had each child go around and read from the book with discussion in between. Chan focused on the slang in the book and explained the terms for them.

Wendy, when sharing a U.S. map with a teacher, was asked where are the natural disasters are. When Wendy pointed out all the various places disasters have recently occurred, the teacher said, “No place is safe.” One of the funnier moments of the day was Elsa and Mary Juan reliving how they were asked to help the young children with their book…in Xhosa. Rumor also has it Mary Juan does a mean hokey pokey.

Several commented Solomsi (Cromwell) the principal appears to be getting more comfortable with us and has said he thinks our presence is impacting the students and teachers. His gruff exterior is showing signs of cracking – he’s even joking with the students.

There is a new drama club in Malungeni! Forty-three sixth through ninth graders showed up to be coached by Chan and Erin who kicked things off by sharing childhood stories and then having the kids share familiar stories, which were in Xhosa. The club was such as hit that they want to have it every day!

Molly and Michael had a meeting with the bakery members and got them started on creating a realistic budget for reopening the bakery as well as discussed possible resources they could pursue to get the needed funds. They will provide us pricing by Monday so we can help them develop a budget and create next steps.

All in all it was another great day, capped off with a gourmet meal by Danice – butternut squash, a traditional South African beef dish and chocolate cake with Wendy’s yummy buttercream frosting – what a way to end!

South African National Anthem

Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo,
Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa la matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso,
Setjhaba sa South Afrika – South Afrika.

Uit die blou van onse hemel,
Uit die diepte van ons see,
Oor ons ewige gebergtes,
Waar die kranse antwoord gee,

Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.

Lord, bless Africa
May her spirit rise high up
Hear thou our prayers
Lord bless us.

Lord, bless Africa
Banish wars and strife
Lord, bless our nation
Of South Africa.

Ringing out from our blue heavens
From our deep seas breaking round
Over everlasting mountains
Where the echoing crags resound…

Day Three in Malungeni, South Africa

“They might forget what we said but they’ll never forget the way we made them feel.”

As we wait to start the work on the community center, Rebecca explains to me how government-contracted controllers will be coming in trucks to distribute money to the ‘grannies’ and to the pregnant teens. The controllers travel throughout Malugeni and surrounding villages all month. It takes them to the 25th of every month to make one stop in each given area. After talking with Rebecca and one of the controllers, Michael and I were informed somewhat of what this process entails.

You must meet with a social worker first and then apply for the money. Examples of how to get approved to receive the money woman must be 60, men 65 and out of work, pregnant girls 14 and younger also qualify, among other special circumstances. Rebecca finds that the girls intentionally will get pregnant just to qualify to receive the govt issued funds. It seems the money given to the girls goes towards their “selfish wants” for better or “smart clothes” as Rebecca refers to them. This could lead to more boyfriends and more pregnancies, more money in a repetitious process. It’s questioned whether the young mothers use the money to feed and care for the babies. Rebecca says that unfortunately, this irresponsible behavior is too common here.

While cleaning out the pit (aka cell) in the community center, Michael, Rebecca and I were surprised by a policeman who peeked in….curious as to what we were doing in this storage area. He joked that we were looking for money! His purpose for being at the community center at this time is to protect the elders in line waiting for their money because men have been known to rob the elders of their monthly payments. While cleaning out tires, shoes, beer cans and bottles and much other debris and waste, I am again impressed with how mature and well spoken Rebecca is. She agreed to do an interview for the documentary my brother and I are working on. I am confident that her point of view on her community and South Africa in general will resonate with the young adults in the USA, which thrills me.

My brother Ryan tells us of how things went at school with his math teachings. He never thought he would be doing this, but is delighted and made a positive and effective influence on the children. He especially enjoyed helping the children who needed special attention.

In the afternoon, some of us went on quite the adventure with Vuyo into Umtata for groceries. We trekked down the dirt road hoping to hitch a ride to the main road to then get another ride into town. The first ride was “interesting” because there were holes in the floor -- apparently eroding -- where we were sitting, and the roof of the car was so low we all were scrunched and hunched together like sardines. We laugh the whole way though wondering if this is what Michele meant when she had suggested “waiting for the better ride to come along….” Vuyo took us to the mall to use the bank and bumped into old friends, enjoying being our tour guide.

Later, we discussed options for transportation to get to the ‘Pick and Pay’. It does not look hopeful. As we begin to feel discouraged by Vuyo’s negotiations, out of no where Mazwai appears!!! He saves us! A familiar face in a crowd of so many! We all are so grateful and relieved.
We all are fully taking notice to the pace we must adjust to. Now we must find and meet with Chan who has successfully rented a car for the weekend.. A new, safe, comfy VW, yay! We have now named him our “chief.”

After all the groceries are collected, an executive decision was made that we must get the exact bread we had from “day one,” yet we don’t even know what that is! What we do know is that we must get it at another yet another grocery store on the way back. This is when traffic has completely jammed up and the people are everywhere in the streets. It’s utter chaos. Chan and Vuyo are elected to ‘run in’ and grab the bread. HA HA ….an hour later they return. While we had been waiting in the car, all white woman loaded in a van, hysterical laughing from being tired… alongside Ryan listening to an IPOD. The ride back was even better as we missed one of the turns due to distracting chatting taking place in the van. We do have a moment of silence as we all take in the vast land and gorgeous sunset. It was an experience all of us won’t forget!

All of this confirming that I am in the right place at the right time!

- Erin O’Connell

Our New Partnership in South Africa

Our first team in South Africa was an amazing success by all measurements! We had so much fun, and made such a significant difference in the wonderful, warm host community of Malungeni on the Eastern Cape. We invite you on our journey....and to learn about some of the most resiliant, resourceful people in the world!

Quote: “Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” - Rumi

July 13, 2008 – Elsa Singh

After 19 to 23 long, grueling hours on various planes, we were met by an enthusiastic and relieved Michele at East London airport. Packed with luggage into a comfortable mini van, we embarked on our personal journey to Malungeni. Stunned by the beauty of the veld, we marveled at the vastness of the countryside, the villages around were octagonal homes, and the blue clarity of the sky which eventually darkened to produce a canopy of stars and full moon.

Arriving at the conference center, we were warmly welcomed and embraced by some of the local women who were all dressed in abundant layers. Dinner was displayed and enthusiastically explained by Vuyo whose delivery was every bit as entertaining as Emmerol.

To bed, to bed, perchance to sleep? The cold was our bed fellow. By the end of the week we too will be walking around in short sleeves and flip flops like the natives. The morning dawned…sunny, cold and soon. After breakfast Michele helped us to collaborate on the 15 characteristics of an effective team and then went on to setting personal team goals for our time here which ranged from experiencing the culture, being of service to the community and sharing the legacy.

By noon we noticed community people arriving for the welcoming celebration. Inside we sat with the community leaders, including the tribal chiefs, an endeavor to formulate plans to live up to the community’s expectations. The Global Volunteer philosophy was verbalized over and over that we were there to support their plans – not impose ours.

One of the tribal leaders put up and action plan chart with projects, who would work on them, expected outcome and timeframe. This was a bit frustrating for us all for the community did not seem to have clear projects to support and Michele did not want the ideas to come from us. But the spirit of working together as a team came across and being the first team here, groundwork will be established for the future. Many of us were impressed by the experience and exchange of this meeting and how diplomatic Michele was with the tribal leaders. For those of us who have been on other established trips, this experience greatly enhanced our appreciation for those who laid the groundwork on those trips for us.

Moving outside, the welcoming committee began with men, women and children gathered in a circle with us – the honored guests – and leaders seated in the front. The festivities were awesome, beginning with a prayer followed by speeches from the elders, the police chief, and introductions of the Global Volunteers. Several spoke of the lack of crime in Malungeni, although recognizing it’s endemic in the country. We were assured we were safe and welcomed. We were welcomed everywhere in the community and having us here and an honor to all.

There was singing with melodic harmonies, raucous dancing by the women and humorous skits by the children. The children were extremely well behaved throughout the afternoon and very patient. The women were so excited to share their dancing and performances with us and we were all thankful to have such a cultural experience. After awhile, delicious food was served inside and out and then more entertainment outside with drums and music providing the festive background. I have never welcomed more eloquently or with more exuberance by a people whose joie de vivre is a staple of their everyday diet.

The bitter cold of late afternoon drove the people home and us inside. But the warmth of the welcome was a soothing balm to our chilled beings.
Day 2
Right! This place is amazing and all, but when are we going to start working with these people? All of the volunteers got a guided tour of all of the facilities that need development, and. I realized they all need a lot of attention! Many steps would have to be taken to start the developing.

So the meeting was set for 3:00 for all of the volunteers and the project heads of the village to plan how to get things started. And it isn’t just developing facilities, it’s also types of activities. I was getting very curious how this meeting would go.
Oh my, did we start to plan! We got down to specifics on what supplies were needed, when to begin certain aspects of the various projects, who would be assisting in the various projects and how much time was needed for them. I was pleasantly surprised how well the communication seemed to be going. We all got off to a very organized start and I now believe that the leaders of Malungeni and the Global volunteers are on the same page. Or, at least, I really hope!

Ryan B. O’Connell