Saturday, July 21, 2007
More Donations from Generous Americans!
The nicest part of American culture that gets exported overseas is our tradition of charity and our recognition that most of us are fortunate as Americans and live in a world where there are many who are far less fortunate. Most of the residents of Tweeling, and definitely the students at Refeng-Thabo, are far less fortunate than all of us who are reading this, and I've been blown away by how much Americans have wanted to do to help the school and the community.
One of the most impressive demonstrations of the American tradition of charity came from Maria Ade, a close family friend who works in Allendale Schools in New Jersey. Maria learned about the conditions at Refeng-Thabo and started collecting donations from teachers in her school. Maria collected $375, which goes VERY far when I buy supplies here.
Maria did this as a completely altruistic, unsolicited gesture because she wanted to help.
Most students here honestly cannot afford to buy a new pen or a box of pencils. Students "repair" their broken pens by stuffing paper into the broken end and sharpen their pencils by rubbing them fast against the brick wall of their classroom. With some of Allendale Schools' donations, I bought a new pen and pencil for all of my students, which I distributed to them in April. Some of them are still using the same pen.
Refeng-Thabo supplies each student with a subject book (like a blank workbook) for each class, but ran out this year and could not give books to the 8th grade. I give my 8th grade students PILES of work to keep them under control, so they finished their small workbooks, that were meant to last all year, in 4 months. With both Allendale's donated money and the last of Booth-Fickett's collected funds, I bought a brand new workbook for each of my grade 8 and 9 students.
The smiles are for real, they were extremely thankful and relieved that they did not need to find a way to get enough money to buy a new workbook. (A new workbook costs the equivalent of 50 U.S. cents)
I spent the last of Allendale Schools and Booth-Fickett's collected money on equipment for the Drum Majorettes (it's like a dance squad or a drill team). I was nervous to spend donated money on pom-poms and batons, and when the director asked I initially said no, but these girls practice every day after school for HOURS. This team is also one of a very few ways that Refeng-Thabo's kids get to leave Tweeling and brings alot of joy into the girls' lives.
The teachers and students at Booth-Fickett have gone the extra kilometers and, as a team, have made a huge impact at Refeng-Thabo. As soon as I showed Booth-Fickett's faculty the conditions at Refeng-Thabo, several teachers offered to make large donations to get computers installed (the strike held them up, but they are coming this month), to collect books for the empty library, and to collect money for anything that I think the school might need.
Booth-Fickett's librarians have collected and shipped hundreds of books to help fill Refeng-Thabo's empty library. I asked these 8th grade students to help me unpack the books when they arrived last week (they were shipped in April!) and they were so excited that we were starting a "real" library.
None of these students have books in thier homes and they asked if they could each choose a book that could be "theirs." I started to try to explain that, if the books are in the library, they could check them out anytime, when I realized what they were asking. These kids wanted to have a book at home that they could read, so I helped them each choose a book that would be right for their reading level (and gender). I've seen these kids walk around with their books all week.
Fulbright had asked Refeng-Thabo what Booth-Fickett could do to help and one of the things that I didn't think we'd be able to do anything about was Refeng-Thabo's request for uniforms for the sports team.
I was COMPLETELY wrong. Deanna Harris came through HUGE and is now every Refeng-Thabo soccer player and netball (it's like basketball) player's hero.
Deanna and her brother purchased, printed, and shipped t-shirts for the boys' and girls' soccer teams and the girls' netball team. The shirts are the school colors of powder blue and white.
On the sleeve (being modeled by Nani, one of my 9th grade students) is printed both the Arizona flag and the South African flag and the words "Arizona and South Africa, working together to achieve success."
The students were allowed to wear home the t-shirts on the day that I turned them over to the coaches so that they could show their parents. Students were told that they needed to turn them back in so that they could be kept nice for the matches. Every single t-shirt came back.
Mr. Radebe, Refeng-Thabo's principal, called the shirts "an incredible blessing."
When Amy and Todd Whited were planning their trip to visit us, they asked if it would be OK to bring some of their children's (Drew and Aidan) old clothes to give out to the neighborhood kids. We said that it would be wonderful and they brought an entire HUGE suitcase full of clothes, shoes, crayons, bubbles, candy, stickers, clay, and colored pencils.
And, of course, Cleveland Cavaliers t-shirts. The Cavs have never had so many international fans.
Fana and Mandla both dug the "light-up shoes" out of the giant bag of shoes that Amy and Todd brought. They stomped around our house to light up the shoes until their little minds exploded.
Andy took some of the art supplies to the township's preschool. He was treated to an art show and a sticker party as a thank-you.
The kids had never played with bubbles before, and had an absolute blast.
We've re-filled the bubble containers with soapy water several times.
All of these donations have had a great impact on the community and the kids that received the clothes, uniforms, books, or school supplies were genuinely grateful. Very few of them have a real idea of where the donations have come from (America is VERY far away from Tweeling), but they do understand that they are gifts from people who want them to succeed, and that means alot to them and to Andy and me.