Jonathan Field - Maker of Random Stuff

South Africa 2012 – Week Two – Thalana

First, let me get your attention with a picture of Alan & Donna’s lovely new roommate.

Overall I’d say that such encounters are rare here, but this lovely female did hang out quietly in their kitchen for a couple days. Alan & Donna are the type to name it rather than kill it, so feel free to say “hi” to Pilly the rain spider. Relax, those legs are only about two and a half inches each.

But back to school…

I was pleasantly surprised when I got to Thalana High School. The computer lab I helped set up last year was still working and in use. I don’t take that kind of thing for granted, so the fact that it didn’t disappear or disintigrate exites me to try taking another step forward this year.

Some of the things that set Thalana apart from other schools in the area are its large size, the fact that they charge no fees (many public schools here charge a small – or even not so small – amount), and the fact that they have no acedemic requirements: they will take in any kid that walks through the door. That may not seem like a big deal, but in a community with as many deeply disadvantaged and broken families as Sibongile, it brings with it serious challenges. This school ends up collecting a lot of kids who simply can’t go anywhere else.

I wrote a bit more detail Thalana last year. It’s the same password as before – if you want it, just email me.

There was an article in the local paper recently about the school’s distressing pregnancy rate. There’s a short and sloppy blurb on the topic at their blog. The full length article was written better but had the same salacious tone. Unfortunately they didn’t blog the well written rebuttal by one of the teachers that was printed in the paper a few days later.

So we’ll start with the bad news: despite getting the lab up and running, the computer course had a dismal pass rate of only 16%. That is an improvement over the 8% that passed the year before (without the benefit of actually having computers) but is still quite disappointing. I never thought computers alone would ensure success, but I admit I was hoping for a bit more improvement than that. I won’t lay blame, but suffice it to say that the principal hired a new computer teacher this year.

And it so happens I know this new teacher! In fact I jammed with him in 2007. Since then he’s been travelling the world and performing, though it appears now he may settle in Dundee to give a little back to the community. He is the guy who started the local pirate radio station, for example, and he still DJ’s there. I’d go so far as to say he’s a bit of a local celebrity: Mr. Lucky Mathambo.

He is also the one who authored the impassioned response about the Thalana teen pregnancy rate I mentioned above. I can’t reproduce the whole thing here, but I particularly love his last line: “Let us not gossip about children but rather ask ourselves every time we hear of something disturbing: ‘What did I do to stop it? What can I do now?’” Tell it brother!

And so the process begins: I’ve got paperwork from the local ISP submitted to the principal. He’s going to try to get the governing body to sign off on it next week. Lucky put together a proposal to get more computers from the municipality. Together we went to speak with the mayor’s office and it turns out the lady in charge is the principal from Hlubi, the first PC-based school we helped back in 2010. She’s the one in the striped top in the second to last picture. Now she manages the Mayor’s office in Dundee. Small world!

When she ran the computer classes at her school the pass rate was around 80%, so she knows how to make things work. She also understands the value of getting the lab networked, which was the main thing we her helped with. She also knows that I will make it happen if we can get the resources. I think we have a good chance.

Making friends and influencing people? Tentative check!

Other than getting those things rolling, I met up with a few old friends. Raza, who runs the local Pakistani DVD shop and does a mean chicken tikka, made us lunch as we discussed life and a little religion. I find it pleasantly counter-stereotype that talking openly about my beliefs with this Muslim kid often feels lighter than discussing it with some Christians back home.

I reconnected with the kids who made the movie last year. They haven’t done anything as ambitious this year, but I’m trying to inspire them with some new ideas. More on that in the coming weeks.

Finally, we went to Tugela Ferry for the weekend to spend a couple days with Andile’s family there. I’ve mentioned before that South Africa is considered “Africa for Beginners”. That is certainly true of Dundee, and maybe even the neighboring township of Sibongile. However I think Tugela Ferry might be level 2.

Here’s last year’s writeup with lots of pictures. Email me if you need the password; it’s the same as before.

This year I felt a bit more like family there and a bit less like a tourist. To that end I took far fewer pictures. But here’s one of Alan and pretty much all the kids. I did get video of them playing in front of my webcam, but it’s not as compelling as the dance number I caught last year.

Andile is helping her family build a new larger house. Here’s a picture of it in progress. Check out those cool twisty-brick columns! And her cousin Sphilele striking a JC Penny pose!

I’m already back in Dundee, and about to head out to get my Monday started. Until next week…

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