With a couple more meetings of the minds, some pulling together of research materials and organising of lives it was time to hit Nqileni and get going. Two weeks after our initial meeting, Jules and Laura meet up at the Shell Ultra City in Mthatha and make their way to Nqileni. The plan for the first two weeks is to meet with the community and educators. It is essential that we understand exactly what each group is feeling and also explain our role and what we would like to achieve.
And so we wonder the hills of this spectacular village, take a look at the projects that are currently happening, including the village restaurant and community vegetable garden and arrange meetings with key stakeholders for as soon as possible.
On Wednesday 16th we visit the school. This is Laura’s first time and although she was expecting something pretty atrocious, this can only be described as utterly dismal. The building is a hazardous, one-roomed dilapidated mud structure. You can actually see through the front walls and through the back walls to the very beautiful river at the other side of the valley!
There are a few kids hanging around in groups outside paging through books. Three of the teachers are sitting chatting on a broken bench. The fourth teacher is in fact attempting to teach the grade R kids. They are sitting around her while she tears paper into strips.
Julia and Des meet the No-ofisi teachers
They agree to meet us the following week. We leave them and decide to take in the action of “pay day” across the river. “Pay day” is the day that government grants (old age pensions, child support grants, foster care grants etc) are disbursed. This is an exciting day in rural South Africa and cause for markets and celebrations.
Next to the pay point is Qatywa School. We knock on the door and go in to meet the staff and the principal, Mr Gibe. We have a great meeting with Mr Gibe and his team, who seem to be at an exciting stage in their school’s development. Mr Gibe is an enthusiastic leader and has been principal of Qatywa for a couple of years now. He tells us that attendance has increased markedly since he started as principal, from 450 to 700 learners. The school was in a poor state when he arrived and had not had a principal for a long time. He explains how it is important as principal to show an interest in the community and that this in turn stimulates interest in the school.
Friday 18 May: Our first community meeting
There has been a community meeting scheduled for today to discuss a range of issues. Dave organizes that we will have time to introduce Laura to the community and explain the approach we would like to take in moving forward.
It lands up being an extremely educational day (for Laura). There is to be a funeral the following day and when we arrive Dave and Julia’s translator, Des, are asked to go and help dig the grave. Julia and Laura are invited into the huts where the women are cooking and cooking and cooking. They are made to go and fetch water from the river – and have to carry the buckets on their heads back to the rondavels. Jules is a pro and carries a full 20 litres but Laura is the laughing stock of the women who keel over watching her attempt to balance half a bucket on her apparently wobbling neck. We then are asked to sit in the mourners hut and very soon experience the three acceptable sitting positions – its hard to keep in one spot for a couple of hours if you are not used to it.
Eventually the men are finished (Dave says the grave diggers hit solid rock – blistered hands!) and the meeting is called. Plates of delicious umngqusho, veg, pap and bread are served and pertinent issues are discussed. We discuss our approach of moving forward with the school and there is consensus on the need to take things forward and try again to build a beneficial relationship with the government.
The Bulungula river mouth
Tuesday 22 May: Meeting the Teachers of NO-OFISI
We meet with the four NO-OFISI educators outside the crumbling clay structure. Again there are a few kids hanging around paging through text books, but not much teaching is evident. We have a frank and open discussion with the educators and learn much about the situation at NO-OFISI. There are three qualified educators at the school responsible for teaching grades 1 to grade 6. This means that each educator is expected to teach two classes simultaneously. This is a common situation in South African rural and farm schools. Although the teachers stay with other community members in the village during the week, their family homes are outside Nqileni, in fact many hours travel away owing to the lack of access road into the village. It is unsurprising that these educators do not wish to live permanently in the village as there are no basic services and there is no decent schooling to offer their children. Nevertheless, this creates a major problem as the educators go home on “weekends” – that is, Fridays and return on Mondays. This means the school week is only three days – an untenable situation. Two of the three teachers have been at NO-OFISI for more than 10 years and have therefore never been exposed to a functional school. None of them has ever taught anywhere else.
There is a fourth lady who is the Reception year facilitator. She comes from Nqileni and has been volunteering at the school for over two years. She was recently given an official post. Although she has no official training, she does have a senior (school leaving) certificate. She is extremely dedicated and works daily with the children who attend school.
Unsurprisingly, the educators listed as their priority needs a road and a school building. We asked them what would be helpful in the interim. They said they would like the community to make four rondavels available for teaching purposes, and would each like a desk and a chair.
Thursday 24 May: Our second community meeting.
We attend our second community meeting to ask about interim measures while we work through official channels to ensure school development. The community come together and select the four rondavels requested, all of which are fairly close to one another.
Things are moving quickly and everyone is very excited as we begin mobilizing.