One of the first things to be learned upon arrival in Johannesburg is that the Scheepers family has one speed, and that speed is full-speed. My introduction to South Africa has been filled with numerous full days, and I’ve had a chance to contribute to a broad range of on-going projects. Most days we’re working from the home base of the Aphiwe Good News Centre in the Tembisa township, but time has also been spent in Delmore Gardens (the location of the new Tswelopele GNC), Pretoria, the Heckport Valley, a quick jaunt down to Durban, and even a venture into downtown Johannesburg for a donation pick-up (daring, daring).
These courses have been running both at Aphiwe (Thursdays) and Tswelopele (Saturdays). The idea behind them is to educate preschool teachers so that they can run more efficient businesses, and teach the children they supervise more effectively. Each of the six weeks a different topic is addressed, such as lesson planning, budgeting, creative resource use in the classroom, games and songs, and how to appeal to students with different learning styles. There are between 25-35 women in each class, and they build a sense of solidarity and teamwork over the weeks. It’s impressive to see how their learning empowers them to feel more competent and useful as teachers, and the positive impact can be seen in crèches across Tembisa. Both of these courses have now come to a close, but more sessions are planned for the new year, and the waiting list is already several pages long. The crèche courses also serve as a way that community members develop an awareness of the GNC’s, and marks the beginning of relationships that spill over into many projects.
I did a lot of observing and dish-washing at the crèche courses this time round, but did get to lead a craft-making example session (artistry at its finest).
One project that came as a result of the crèche courses was the request to take photos for the end-of-year graduations. Grade R (kindergarten) graduation is a huge deal in the townships, and the project allowed us to visit a lot of the crèches and continue to strengthen relationships with their teachers. It also provided a great opportunity to interact with the kids there. Usually one person would take photographs while another entertained the rest of the kids with songs and games. One crèche we dropped by a week later to drop the finished product off, and the kids ran into the yard, all singing “Jesus’ Love is Bubbling Over,” which we’d taught them during our visit. Super cute.
The photography process in itself was quite a challenge. The kids rarely smile on demand, and struggle to stand still for more than 3 seconds. Several were also super tense—Leona suggested that it was probably a result of sheer terror, because they’d had so little exposure to white people before.
This project also offered me some insight into the flexibility that is required here—at some schools, we’d show up with information that we’d be photographing 7 kids, and then find out the real number was closer to 47. Chaos.
Visiting so many crèches also emphasized the importance of the crèche courses. Some were great facilities, with energetic teachers, and lots of colourful resources and play space. Others were super-crowded, with dozens of kids squeezed into tiny rooms. One crèche had about 150 kids in 3 classrooms. Definitely a major contrast to the preschool I worked at in Canada, where strict 1:3 or 1:8 ratios were enforced.
Once a month, we embark on a shopping trip of monumental proportions to purchase food for approximately 150 food parcels. They are delivered to various groups, including an elementary school in Tembisa, our Sunday school kids, our Congolese brethren in Pretoria, and a house of refuge (crisis foster care). It takes a bus and an open trailer to hold the haul, which includes an array of root vegetables in addition to pantry staples such as rice, maize, sugar, soup, and soy protein. Once we get back, the food has to be unloaded, then sorted and bagged. I had envisioned countless trips to and from the car; the Scheepers have a more effective system:
I learned quickly, mostly due to the very real threat of being beaned in the head by a sack of potatoes. Then comes the sorting, in the area formerly known as the Scheeper’s lounge (I think in my time here, the chairs have been empty of “stuff to be processed” for about 7 days total):
Once the bags are loaded, there’s a distribution day, where they’re delivered to the various recipients. This is at the elementary school:
Fifty students who have been identified by a local teacher are each given a full bag of vegetables, and a full bag of dry goods. Something neat to come out of the feeding scheme (which addresses the immediate need but not the root causes) is that the corporate donor who funds it has been impressed with the outcome, and is looking to donate more money, as well as fund the educations of some students, even offering them jobs at the end of their educational journeys. This means that many of our Sunday school students could potentially obtain a free education, and walk right into a steady, well-paying job. It’s amazing how God works.
Another example of the way that God’s hand is active here was the stationary incident. Leona identified the need the many students have of new stationary for the new school year (which starts in January here). Most families cannot afford this added expense, and the lack of simple materials can have an impact on the student’s school performance. She approached the corporate food parcel donor about diverting some of December’s funds from food to stationary. Then out of nowhere, a call from a sister who works at a department store: “we have 10 boxes of stationary to donate, can you come pick it up this afternoon?” So off we went in the Isuzu to downtown Johannesburg. Apparently this was quite an adventure, it’s an area that locals usually avoid because of the high crime rates (not to mention the crazy traffic). And indeed, 10 giant boxes of stationary awaited us. A preliminary examination once we arrived back (goodbye again, Scheepers lounge) revealed a haul of thousands of pens, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, calculators, rulers, scissors, hole-punches, glue sticks, crayons, and coloured pencils. One sunny morning, we made about 200 stationary packs, with an additional 40 super-big ones for our kids at the Braambos youth camp. Some additional corporate funds were secured to add notebooks and portfolio folders.
The remaining supplies were sorted into giant packs for some needy crèche teachers that we support. Others are being used at the GNC’s for workshops and activities there. God definitely responded to this need with an outpouring of abundance.
Australians arriving in Joburg after a red-eye flight, beware. A full work day likely awaits you. With the company of James and Eloise Caudery who had just flown in minutes before, we did a crèche upgrade at the Early Bird Daycare Centre for a woman named Julia, a crèche course attendee. A couple of her classrooms were bare concrete, so we set about transforming them into more comfortable and stimulating learning environments. Mostly this involved a lot of painting—a base coat and then some murals, and the installation of curtains, shelving, and a desk for the teacher, as well as some fabric draping for the bare- beams ceiling.
When we returned at the end of the week to drop off the newly-hemmed curtains, the room was also filled with colourful, child-sized tables and chairs, as well as educational charts and toys. Leona said this is very typical of what happens after an upgrade—the owner takes greater pride in their facility, and continues to invest further.
Julia was in tears when we finished at the end of the day. She expressed her gratitude to God for such a blessing, and made the statement “you’ve made me feel as if I’m a rich woman.” Philippians 4:19 in action.
Camp Braambos was a definite highlight in my time here so far. It’s a youth week that we ran the first week of December, from Friday-Tuesday. (Due to budget constraints, it wasn’t realistic to run it for a full week). Sunday school students came from Tswelopele, Aphiwe, Kempton Park, Kensington, Pretoria, and Yoville. The days were full of classes, swimming, and feats of strength during the afternoon team competitions. I taught the 8-12 year old class on “lessons from my body,” where we discussed the importance of our eyes, ears, mouths, hands and feet, and looked at what the Bible said about how we use them. In one activity, they had to eat and play certain games without their hands:
They were a great group to work with, and we were so impressed to have no behavioural problems with them the entire time. They all seemed to have a lot of fun, and managed to make new friends and learn more about God’s word over the week. Some even had a chance to build serious muscles, as Hendri ran a late-night boot camp for those caught breaking curfew.
The past 2 months have flown by, and been filled to the brim with activities and learning. It has been so exciting seeing the many ways that God is so clearly working here, and see such active, visible faith. I face the coming months with great anticipation.