Summer Highlights | Fellows share their stories from South Africa


Molweni from South Africa!

As we pass the halfway point for our Fellows in South Africa, Maren Anderson spoke with two of our Fellows to learn more about their experiences. Upon their return to their schools at home, our Fellows will continue to work with the teachers they partnered with in their Leap placements to continue their professional development and the sharing of ideas in education.

BobThayer, placed in Leap 1 in Langa Township in Cape Town, reflects on his time:

“I spent a week in Johannesburg [for the] Global Teachers Institute Axis Summit. The experience was amazing and difficult to describe, but I will try…

Johannesburg is bursting with street art, singing, and politics, and the Axis Summit was no exception. Aspiring educators and experienced teachers attended workshops and worked toward making a positive and real change for a better South Africa.

I finished my first week at a high school in Langa Township in Cape Town where I’ve been observing, teaching and playing chess with the learners (students). I am staying with Sabelo Skanjane, who is a history teacher, and his family. We typically have lengthy conversations after dinner each night about South African history, hip-hop, and world affairs. I am halfway through my one month stay and I am feeling the time fly by.”

Clara Gurriaran, who has been given a Zulu name, Nukokhanya, meaning “light”, is placed in Leap 3 in Alexandra Township outside of Johannesburg.

“What I can tell you about my time at the Summit is the amount of interesting conversations that I was able to take part, was something that I had never experienced. Being able to spend 4 days surrounded by student teachers and experienced educators who shared their view on global issues, simple ideas on lesson planning and their amazing creativity, was something that I won’t forget. I now understand that this was the start of a lifelong relationship between educators from not only South Africa, but the States, Zimbabwe, and Spain.

I am amazed by the ability of the students to think critically, make connections to the real world and their choice of words when it comes to discussing social issues. [On] Nelson Mandela day, I was in grade 12 English and decided to start a debate on Apartheid and human rights. I had the students assume roles (for and against, representatives from the government, etc.) and the result was amazing. Such deep conversations, discussions, and ideas.

I have been recording my grade 8 students, or “learners”, as they say here, while they sing traditional Zulu songs. I love their culture, their positivity and that they want to share all of that with me. I have also been organizing and cleaning the library and found an Octavio Paz poem book (with English translations) and have been reading some poems to the kids. They love to hear and learn a bit of Spanish and I love to bring poetry a little bit closer to them.

I have also been buying breakfast with them. I tell my host to drop me off a couple of streets before the school and I buy “amagwinya” with them, deep-fried dough balls that I love. I chat with the learners, eat and walk to school together. I really enjoy spending time with them. I have bought some fabrics and they have been helping me to learn how to wear a “doek”, the headscarf. And they laugh a lot because I love to wear the South African look.

I am trying to write a very short speech in Zulu for the last community meeting this Friday to try to express how grateful I am to be here, all that I have learned and the impact that both teachers and learners have had on me. I will also try to make parts of a map of the world in the different classes and build the whole map all together on Friday. My idea is to have every class write on their “class piece of the map” what culture means to them. And then we will have a big map with words in Zulu, Xhosa, English, Spanish, etc. with many ideas about culture.

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