We are currently on a 3 week break in the UK, which has allowed us a more reflective perspective on our work in Margate. We can only see the empowering hand of God more clearly in all our efforts so far. The ecclesia through the Serving Team has been very involved in, and supportive of the work detailed below.
Summary of the report:
- youth work in the form of Sunday School and CYC continues to grow, and has been able to continue without us these few weeks
- our after-school club has attracted up to 30 local children, and has fed into youth club
- the first crèche teacher course has finished, with follow up planned over the coming months and a further course in June
- God’s Master Plan seminars ran with 4 people completing the course
- food garden training has been initiated at the Usizolwethu orphanage and Masinenge Soup Kitchen
- the purchase of eleven notebook computers by COPT has fuelled our exciting plans to run a community learning centre for adults and children
- contact has been made with a local special school
Sunday School has steadily grown in number to about 12-15 regulars. Since we started bringing the children from Usizolwethu orphanage we had to start an infants class, which Fezekile has thankfully taken on with gusto. These children know little if any English so it is more appropriate if a local sister teaches them. Cecilia has stepped in too when Fezekile has been unable to teach. It is lovely to see them help us in the youth work, as previously it had just been Nelson’s role. Now it feels like a real ecclesial effort. We have tried to integrate the Sunday School with the rest of the ecclesia by inviting the brothers and sisters to the ‘reporting back’ session at the end of Sunday School, on the monthly ecclesial lunch days.
The orphanage children initially gave SS the impetus and energy it needed, and we were dependant on them. However the orphanage is now having difficulties (see below) so those children are no longer attending. However other local children have filled their places so that SS is still a growing and lively event.
Since restarting after the Christmas break, Youth Club has steadily grown from 12-14 attending to over 25 regularly attending. A committee was formed with Ben, Caz, Manje, Sarah (two of Nelson’s children) and two other young people, to give the youth a sense of responsibility for their club and allow us to step back slightly. This was done earlier than might be thought reasonable, because we were anticipating our trip to the UK in the middle of March. We took the committee out to a restaurant and had a meeting about various aspects of Youth Club. They took their responsibility seriously and had very creative ideas about how it should grow, including advertising ideas and future activities, etc. A treasurer was appointed and an amount of money given by the ecclesia for the committee to decide how to use over the coming months. The start time and the name was changed (after a vote at CYC) to ‘Kingdom Youth’. The concepts of committee meetings and taking minutes were new to them, so we feel that the action of forming this committee is providing valuable life skills to those involved as well as giving them a sense of ownership of the youth club. They now rebuke us for not advertising Kingdom Youth enough at our other classes!
The Kingdom Youth committee
We have been gratified since leaving Margate to see that it is continuing to run, with Manje enthusiastically updating us by email including photos to tell us that 25-30 youth have been attending each week:
“Hey Caz what a great day we had today hey we were 31 today and we were all excited hope u also doing well send ma greetings to Ben everyone misses U down here cheers!”
(Sent 25th March 2011 19:00)
It is amazing that in such a short time the youth club has achieved an almost self-sustaining base. We will of course still be intimately involved in Kingdom Youth as long as we are in Margate.
Ben ran ‘God’s Master Plan’ seminars in the Good News Centre for 7 weeks, with between 3 and 8 people attending each week. Nelson was also on hand and bros Eddie and Alistair attended when they could. Attendance by visitors was sporadic, sometimes due to transport issues. Four people completed the course and received a certificate, with one lady coming to the Sunday meeting the following day. We hope to continue contact with these people when we return, including one man, Kevin, who seems to be pastoring a small congregation in Bizana (Eastern Cape, approx 1 hour away) with no allegiance to a particular church. He is very keen that Ben and Nelson visit his ‘tent’ and speak there.
Ben with those who completed the God’s Master Plan seminar course
Correspondence courses continue to be offered and administered by bros Nelson and Eddie. The seminars have meant that the preaching table in the local shopping mall has not run for the last two months, which has meant a reduction in the number of people signing up to the correspondence course. (The ecclesia wasn’t able to staff the preaching table in the absence of Nelson and Ben). The mall slot is important for maintaining a presence in the community as the location of our BEC means there is little or no foot traffic. However the hall is a great location from which to offer courses etc. so we intend to use it more and more as a centre of community learning and skills, the central tenet of which is Bible education (see ‘Learning Centre’).
Members & visitors at Margate at an ecclesial lunch
Usizolwethu Community Development Association (UCDA)
This organisation has undergone problems in the last 2 months, largely due to their lack of administrative skills. Their registration with the local Dept for Social Development was not submitted in time and so the children have been moved to other care centres. The NGO which sponsored the building has given UCDA until May to become registered or the building will be taken away. They are still running a crèche from the building.
We have known that they were not running efficiently and so have been holding back on investing much in monetary terms, although we have still been trying to support them in terms of skills and training. Before the children left we held a food garden training session in conjunction with the local gardening professional we had been in contact with, and a caregiver training session on ‘Safety in the Home’. When they asked for help with food donations I (Caz) wrote to several large food companies in South Africa asking for a regular donation to help feed the children.
Just before we left, Caz held a meeting with the chairwoman and a couple of other members of the board, to provide some coaching on how to draw up a business plan, which was one of the requirements of registration that had not been fulfilled. This naturally led onto a discussion about the future of the UCDA and whether they had the support of the whole organisation to forge ahead with running a Youth and Child Care Centre, which is essentially starting from square one. We said that we would try and support them whatever their decision, but suggested that without more than one or two keen people, to pursue registration and all the work that that entails, it may be better to concentrate on the crèche or other simpler community projects.
We feel that even if the orphanage closes down, we have gained a lot of experience from working with UCDA thus far, and as mentioned before their children made a big contribution to getting Kids Club and Sunday School off the ground. If the crèche continues we can still make an impact there through the CUDDLE project, and the board member I met have expressed thanks for our support.
Masinenge Soup Kitchen
We met with the members of this project at the beginning of February where they informed us of their priorities for the coming year, and we were able and thankful to help with a few of these. Their 3-ring gas cooker was burning poorly and they had been thinking of trying to buy a new one. However we were able to take it to a local gas mechanic who serviced and cleaned it for free, only charging for a small replacement part. Their monthly food donation was not lasting in the humid climate and so thanks to a Meal A Day donation we could purchase a second hand fridge freezer for them; the delivery van was greeted with squeals of delight and singing! (see our blog http://benparsons.posterous.com). They have a plot of land nearby which suffered from the dry climate and lack of workers; after a concerted effort on their part to clear the land we held a food garden training session just before we left. A couple of the patients who receive food from the project turned up for the training and they will receive a certificate if the garden is running well after 6 weeks. We hope that this motivation to get involved will improve their physical and mental well-being, and the members of the soup kitchen committee are keen to start other skills programs to motivate the patients. It will be interesting to see where that leads in terms of being able to support such things – we would like to start teaching basic literacy through the Bible for example. However they need a small building adjacent to the soup kitchen shed to hold these classes. We and other community members have been appealing for a shed or gazebo type building.
Food garden training at UCDA and Masinenge
After visiting as many as possible personally, fifteen ladies registered for and completed the crèche teacher course held during February and March. It has been gratifying to see these ladies turn up week after week, after a journey involving 2 or 3 taxis from the rural hills above the coast. They were usually there an hour early! They received the course with enthusiasm and were very grateful; all of them were keen for more classes in the future. Sister Cecilia (Nelson’s wife) also completed the course. Caz will begin the follow up work for identifying upgrade needs and starting to teach on our return. She has obtained several donations of teaching and story books and toys from friends and family in the UK. We will be so reliant on the car for this stage of CUDDLE as these crèches are in quite remote areas – it took Nelson and Caz 3 hours to find 6 of them when we were going round to issue invitations – so we are very thankful for the finances that allowed us to have our own vehicle.
We hope that we can use the P2P team in April to work on some upgrades.
The teachers who came gave 6 names of other teachers who would like to attend the course, so we envisage repeating the course in June, God willing.
The crèche teachers during their course
Singing at their ‘graduation’
Caz is using Nelson’s one hen as a prototype chicken project. Nelson and his children helped to build a secure run and it is intended to breed a small flock of 5-6 chickens to supply meat and eggs for his family. If it proves financially viable to feed and care for the birds properly (i.e. with commercial balanced feed and appropriate vaccinations etc) then it will serve as a model to offer other community groups in the future as a way of providing much needed dietary protein, and life skills.
Everyone helping out making the chicken run
After-School Club/Learning Centre
We have been running an after-school club once a week since mid February in the Good News Centre. Ben contacted two local high schools to ask for teachers’ support in advertising the club to their pupils: Margate Middle School is a government-funded high school consisting only of portacabin buildings on a plot just 500m from the Good News Centre. About 5 children from the school came the first week and the numbers have grown. Word has spread and we have had children from other schools attending, with the numbers at about 28-30 the two weeks before we left. Only Ben and Caz were teaching initially so we have had to offer subjects according to demand. The other school, South Coast Academy is a private school with many more resources and Ben had to undergo an interview with the principal to show his qualifications for providing such a club. Ben will be volunteering at their after school club for a term and in return they will advertise our club. (They run at different times). A maths teacher from the Academy came along to see our club and ended up teaching some higher level maths, he has since volunteered his skills every week.
The children attending after school club.
One thing that has become apparent is the lack of computer access for high school students, and the effect this has on their ability to compete with privately educated children for university places and jobs. Even South Coast Academy has only about 20 machines and so computer skills training is an optional subject only available to a minority. We see many young adults handing their handwritten CVs into the print/copy shop for typing up, indicating that this lack of access extends to adults too.
As a result, and after speaking to computer training centres in the area, we become convinced of the community need for affordable computer access for both school children and adults. A proposal was submitted to COP Trust at a trustees meeting in February and as a result we have been thankful to receive funding for eleven notebook computers.
This means our vision for After School Club has broadened to offer education/training in more subjects, particularly computer skills, and for adults as well as school students.
God willing, on our return, After School Club will open for two afternoons a week to allow more subjects to be covered, one of which will be computer skills. We may have to charge a small fee and pre-book students if demand is high. We intend to use the hall on Fridays all day for learning, meaning the Good News crèche will operate from the veranda as it has done during the crèche teacher course. We are currently looking for ways of weather proofing the veranda to ensure it is still usable in the winter. Friday afternoons will be unstructured ‘free time’ with computer access 2-4pm for school children, to allow them to type up assignments or go through worksheets on Word/Excel usage.
Saturdays, when seminars are not running, we intend to offer adults access to the computers for classes/self study/their own work. We are grateful for access to the computer training resources offered by Unischool by bro Tim Genders.
Ben had experience of supervising a suite of computers at his special needs school in the UK and we are putting appropriate security and conditions of use measures in place.
When Ben was teaching in Birmingham, schools had access to ‘City Learning Centres’. These advanced computer suites allowed children to be taught or to learn independently through fun interactive sessions with robotic Lego and other teaching tools. The CLC could be booked by classes for 1-2 hours at a time, meaning many schools had access to these resources. This model has influenced our vision for the ‘Good News Learning Centre’, so that many children in the Margate area would be able to benefit. At the time of writing (26th March 2011) we have arranged a meeting with the local CLC which Ben used to use, to obtain advice on the administration of such a centre. There is also a possibility of some material donations as the centre is restructuring – we will keep everyone posted!
Ben has also been able to source £360 worth of a valuable maths teaching resource from Numicon (http://www.numicon.com) which he intends to use to offer training in remedial teaching to local schools.
We are very excited about the development of this learning centre as it could lead to the Good News Centre becoming a real hub for the local community. It has already shown spiritual dividends as about 8 of the children who initially came to After School club have subsequently come to Kingdom Youth and Sunday School.
We have launched a Memory Stick Appeal (http://benparsons.posterous.com/) to our family, friends and ex-colleagues in the UK and elsewhere, to allow us to give anyone who uses our computers a way of storing and taking their own work away with them.
Lorraine Development and Skills Centre.
God brought us quite unexpectedly to meet the lady behind this organisation in the print/copy shop we regularly visit in Margate. She set up an informal school in her own 2 bedroom house in Extension 3, a couple of km from the Good News Centre. She is a qualified teacher and has a committee helping her to oversee the centre. It is a registered non-profit organisation and has grown over the last 5 years: there are currently 3 teachers teaching over one hundred children, many of whom have special educational (remedial), physical or emotional needs – they also provide lunch for 15-20 children. Facilities and resources are cramped and the teachers have no specific experience in teaching children with special needs. Two or three grades are taught concurrently in the same space by the same teacher.
We feel there are tremendous opportunities to help this school with skills and training. We held a meeting with 3 of the members and they were very enthusiastic at the idea of Ben providing training in remedial teaching, and their Foundation Phase volunteer attending the Crèche teacher course. There are simple upgrade tasks that could make a difference such as painting a blackboard on the walls or donating some of the Numicon that Ben has obtained. They are currently applying for a building or plot from the Department of Education, in order to give them more room. They appear to be well organised from an administrative point of view (unlike UCDA) and as this application is pending we have said we will not get involved in this process.
Ben has offered to teach for an hour a week at the school from our return. Two days after our first meeting with the centre (which bro Alistair attended) they brought 10 children in a bakkie to Kingdom Youth so we are already reaping direct benefits for the ecclesia from the relationship.
A typical class at Lorraine school
Ben is continuing to work 2 hours a week in the orphanage of ‘Give a Child A Family’, meaning he will now be working in 3 local institutions, as well as our development of the learning centre at the Good News Centre.
Caz continues to volunteer at the Margate Veterinary Hospital, and will start doing a Saturday morning clinic on rosta from April (approximately once a month). As the principal of the surgery was unwilling to employ her without paying, he has agreed to donate to the COP Trust in lieu of salary!
Caz is still helping Fezekile with her studies for a couple of hours a week. This will continue until her exams in May.
Summary of future short term plans for Margate, God willing:
- continue to enable Sunday School and Kingdom Youth to grow and become less dependent on us
- offer further Bible seminars later in the year
- increase After School Club to 2 days a week
- open Good News Centre all day Friday as a computer learning centre for schools to book in and for children to use individually after school
- offer adult computer skills and other life skills courses on Saturday mornings when seminars are not running
- build on relationships with crèche teachers through upgrades, donations and teaching support.
- continue to support local community projects (Masinenge Soup Kitchen, UCDA, Lorraine) with skills and training, and donations where appropriate
- continue to use our professional skills in local institutions to maintain contact with the wealthier Margate community.
Ben & Caz Parsons 27th March 2011