I have less than one week before my flight back to the US, which I'm still wrapping my mind around. This year has taught me much and pushed me in ways I could have never expected. Yesterday was my last Friday at Itipini, and I got to spend time with some of my greatest teachers. On Fridays after the clinic closes, high school students from the community come for Study Skills sessions. Over the past several months a "regular crew" has formed, and we gather to talk about what's going on in school, at home, and to work on homework together.
I'm grateful for our time together and look back happily over our mutual growth. Starting back in November with the help of Ben, who was a fellow volunteer at Itipini for three months, we began meeting on a regular basis. Megan Berry was also a huge help in tutoring, working with local schools, and reminding us all to have a good sense of humor. Awkwardness around language barriers and my inability to remember trigonometry surrounded many of our first gatherings. Since then, we've come to know more of each others' stories. Many of these kids have less than ideal home situations and attend schools lacking in resources. Siziwe (pictured below) and her sister Khayakhazi are attending 11th and 12th grades respectively. This year they have lost both of their parents to AIDS and tuberculosis. They now care for their younger brother along with their own children with the help of neighbors. The pain and loss they have experienced this year is great, and their responsibilities have jumped tremendously. However, they are working to not let this pain define them, and continue showing up.
Classroom at Itipini Junior Secondary School where most children from Itipini attend grades 1-9
Drop out rates in the Eastern Cape are staggeringly high, and this certainly rings true in Itipini. Home environments not conducive to studying (no electricity, no running water, lack of privacy, sometimes little or no parental support) and school environments that are also challenging (few textbooks, teacher-less classrooms, no school transport, socio-economic discrimination) make the path to passing the matriculation exam in twelfth grade a daunting task for many.
Figuring out how to best support and encourage our students has been a challenge, and I think in many ways it is about showing up. Showing up on Fridays to provide a space for them to work together on homework. Showing up at school to talk to their teachers when a parent has died. Showing up when they come to me with a problem at home or school, and listening. They have taught me this through their own living examples of continuing to show up--at school, on Fridays, and to responsibilities at home that are many. Consistency and presence are sometimes all we can offer, but that is a great gift. They return that gift to me by continuing to come on Fridays, and by sharing their joys and sorrows during the week. These young men and women have been some of my greatest teachers this year, and I am humbly thankful for our time together. They have taught me the importance of showing up and not giving up, and that has been a great, great lesson.
Luleka, Siziwe, Nonzaliseko, Nocwaka, Baliswa, and Zukile