Happy New Year from an islander volunteering in South Africa

  • Jan. 14, 2008 9:00 a.m.

Submitted by Elizabeth Condrotte-It seems that all I ever write about are vehicles but they are so vital to our work that our meetings always include who is driving what to where, when and why.Last Monday the question was “how?” as we were suddenly down to only one vehicle. The good news is that the only running vehicle was the new ’04 Toyota bakkie you helped us buy. The bad news is that on the previous Friday, one of the local farmers swerved right in front of the Land Rover as Puthlako was driving several patients to the hospital. It turned out that the farmer had a massive heart attack and was dead before he was hit. Luckily, except for bruises, none of our passengers was badly hurt. However, the Land Rover is out of commission for an undetermined amount of time.The other two bakkies and the Kombie all chose that weekend to break down in sympathy. The Kombie wanted a new battery and the Isuzu wanted clutch fluid so they are back on the road but the Mazda has something seriously wrong with the front end. That means we now have no four-wheel drive capability which makes it impossible to reach the sick people who are off the beaten path. Their families must bring them to the road in wheelbarrows. You can see why the vehicle situation is always foremost for us. It’s back to school in South Africa! The new term starts on Jan. 14 for registration and classes begin Jan. 18. Department stores are crammed with school uniforms and parents are wondering how they can afford them. We now have a Saturday gardener who started last week because he is sending three kids to school and the fees alone come to R600 per month. The extra work won’t cover them but it helps.Our own crèches won’t begin classes until Jan. 21 as our three teachers as well as the team and the health workers are taking a four-day course to become facilitators to provide workshops for parents. It’s part of the Family Literacy Project that we are initiating here and which we hope to tie into helping facilitate healthy families. I’ve been working on curriculum and the new space for the crèches and the reception (kindergarten) classroom.I have had a steep learning curve getting familiar with the South African curriculum. Reception is now part of the school system but it was formerly associated with the creche (early childhood education). Reception is now the responsibility of the Department of Education, and ECD belongs to the Department of Social Development. I am very impressed with the curriculum documents but not so much with their management and delivery. It will be a while before the reality catches up with the ideal.Now that everyone is back to normal after the holiday and kids are heading back to school, summer has set in. We are lucky to be as high in the mountains as we are because as hot as we’ve been, it’s hotter lower down. The mealies (that’s corn) are taller every day and some plums are ripe in the village. The community garden is lush and providing fresh vegetables for all the gardeners and their families. Spinach is a favorite but it isn’t spinach, it’s chard. I’m still not used to all the South African terms.Last Thursday, a reporter from Edmonton’s Global TV came out to the village with a cameraman from Capetown to do a feature on Edzimkulu. We postponed orphan feeding from Monday to Thursday so that they would have something interesting to film and the HIV/AIDS Support group sang one of their songs for the camera.This group has performed at various public events and their message is to erase the stigma so that people will get tested and treated. The choir’s leader was so keen on doing this that Fiona and I went to get her out of the St Apollinarus hospital on Wednesday so she could lead the choir on Thursday. The program is supposed to be shown Canada-wide sometime near the end of January, beginning of February, so keep an eye on the guide. I tried to stay out of the camera’s eye but I didn’t escape the sun so now I’m recovering from my sunburn. Now I’m missing the rain. Thanks again for all who helped with our new vehicle and I wish everyone the best in 2008.

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