Monday, 30 July 2012


Many of you will probably have heard the term Malteaser/Crunchy to describe brunettes who act like dumb blondes. Well, South Africa has it's own rather more sinister version of this - coconut, a black person who acts white.

One of my Year 11's explained to me today, that she and her friends are called snobs, or coconuts, for speaking English amongst themselves. As schools, and more importantly exams, are in English, it's absolutely crucial for the kids to practice since even if you can do the maths, if you can't understand the questions, it's hopeless.

Speaking to our driver, Lewis, later in the day he explained that it's seen as snobbish to speak English to other black Africans, since you are bound to have a traditional language in common and speaking English is seen as giving yourself airs. The trouble is that this includes in-class interaction. The English teacher at my school added that many kids at Namedi are AIDs orphans, living with their grandparents or other relatives and receiving very little emotional support or encouragement to work hard at school work. Obviously, this makes fitting in at school even more crucial.

Sunday, 29 July 2012


I feel really sad right now. I want to go home and it seems like a long way away.

I can't see myself really making a difference for these kids, all I seem to be doing is fighting a losing battle to get them to speak English. They're so far behind with work, and I can't work on catching them up because of the stupid schedule that I'm supposed to stick to. Tempted to ignore it, and, if we get government inspectors, point out that the kids are too far behind for it to matter. Probably end up getting sent home in disgrace.

It looks like we won't be meeting the Alex group for the rest of our excursions, so I probably won't see Thea again either.

I feel really lonely.

Pirates, Chiefs and Pandemonium

Last night our drivers, Lewis and S'bu (pronounced See-bu), took us to the Orlando Pirates v Kaizer Chiefs Carling Black Label Cup football match. These are the two big teams in Johannesburg, and all my kids spent Friday trying to persuade me to support their team.

I'd been told that, in Africa, football is a black peoples sport, and rugby is for the whites; but despite this, I wasn't prepared for the experience of last night. The game took place in the World Cup Stadium, with over 92,000 people attending the match. I'd say we saw about 5 white people who weren't with Warwick in Africa during the entire event.

We arrived early for kick off at 7.30pm, since getting in the stadium is no small feat. As the Alex group came with us there were around 25 people to try and herd into the stadium. As we queued to get into the car park, we were surrounded with busses full of avid fans, screaming, singing and, of course, playing vuvuzelas. Interestingly, these sound slightly less painful in real life than on TV, but still probably not my favorite instrument in history. South Africa is very different to England in terms of football, while we carefully separate our fans to avoid rioting; here, fans are free to mix as they wish. Often groups of friends will go to the game, supporting a mixture of teams. As Lewis explained, "We don't fight, we just laugh as each other."

After parking, we had to try and cross the bridge to the stadium grounds, which was when things began to get hectic, the huge crush of human beings squeezing onto the bridge quickly tore the group apart. My voice is currently gone, and yesterday I was only able to speak in whispers, I had no phone and was quite terrified of getting lost in the throng. I managed to cling to Thea to cross the bridge, but it was unpleasant, being pushed and shoved as everyone was herded together and into the stadium, while the mounted policemen cutting off anybody trying to take short cuts into the stadium. Once over the bridge, we went to find our gate. The group quickly became separated, as people were cut off from those ahead of them by the crowd. The feeling of being alone in a sea of people is always quite terrifying, but when you're totally out of your element, and cannot speak it is extremely unpleasant.

Having finally found the queue, we got to the front to find our tickets needed stamping, so we got back out of the queue and went back to the kiosk to try and resolve this. As the ticket collectors had torn some of them, we had a harrowing wait during which it would be unclear whether these would be stamped. Finally the issue was resolved, only for someone to snatch the final ticket from Lewis as it was being stamped. Lewis ended up sending us in with S'bu, but was only able to see small parts of the match himself.

Once inside, it was no better as we chased around looking for our seats. After rushing up and down stairs, and being hassled by various sketchy characters, including the guy who pushed infront of me, and slipped his hands into both of Natalie's coat pockets, before being gone so quickly that I hadn't even registered what I'd just seen - luckily all he got for his trouble was some dirty tissues. We had more trouble, with people going for the rather expensive cameras that some of the group had naively brought along on the night.

As most of our group had picked up either Pirates or Chiefs shirts, and as, let's face it, we stood out we got quite a lot of attention. For the most part it was enthusiasm, people wanting to know who we were supporting and where we were from. But some attention was nasty, aside from the attempts at theft, we had girls being pulled away from the group by men wanting to photograph them and the general melee made most of us, especially the girls quite uncomfortable.

The match itself was a lot more exciting to watch than I had expected, given that I'm not a particular lover of football. The atmosphere in the stadium was excited and happy, and after the Chiefs scored first, the Pirates (who I was supporting as the guy in front said I should) managed to equalize in about the 95th minute. The Pirates ended up winning the game on penalties - if you care for more info about the game I recommend googling it, as I am not capable of anything more exciting. The only uncomfortable moment was when a fight broke out between two guys a few rows down from us. The crowd around them managed to separate the two, and S'bu said it was probably alcohol fueled, but it was quite scary. The consequences of being a group of mostly white students in the middle of a football riot in South Africa don't really bear thinking about.

Getting out after the match was a little less harrowing, but I think we were still all grateful it was over. The match was a life experience, but not one I necessarily want to repeat.

Pete was absolutely invaluable all night, having tried to keep the group together, staying at the back to make sure no one was left behind and physically pushing one guy away as he went for a camera. He spent the whole night watching over everyone, especially the girls, with the sort of fierce protectiveness that I have never seen in anyone except for my brother. So on the off chance you read this - thank you so much again Pete, it meant so much to me, and all the others there.

Rose Bank Roof Top Market

Today a handful of us went to Rose Bank Roof Top Market, there's a whole group trip there scheduled for later in our stay, but I'm really glad we did go today. Rose Bank is quite touristy, with different sections selling African Arts and Crafts, clothing and food, as well as The Mall and the Zone which has more upmarket Westernised shops.

It's quite overwhelming at first, as there are so many things on sale, and you want to start shopping as soon as you walk in. I was very good though and restrained myself from buying anything until we'd had a good look around. My plan is to go back through and buy gifts and souvenirs when we go back in two weeks.

Aside from from having an amazing lunch of steak sandwich, and an enormous amount of window shopping. We also saw the Soweto Marimba Youth League performing the kids are absolutely amazing and so enthusiastic that I just had to buy their CD. Also proceeds go not only to continuing their work teaching music to kids in underprivileged areas but they also help support other local charities. Music and videos are available on their website - go watch!

Friday, 27 July 2012


Today has been a day of absolutely fantastic food. But to give you a proper appreciation of why this was so amazing, let us take a short trip into the world of food at our guesthouse:
  1. Sandwiches - I am never a particular fan of sandwiches. I am certainly not a fan of sandwiches which are full off cheese, mayo or, you know, cold tinned sweetcorn. So far there has not been a single sandwich I eat, which has worked well for Pete, who is permanently hungry.
  2. No you may not have dietary requirements - The guesthouse has a set menu which has no choices and is often either strangely full of sweetcorn (we think the owner may have shares in a sweetcorn factory), involves burgers containing bananas, or is something several people in the group don't eat. Because she won't "cater to individual tastes" as she has pre-bought food (for six weeks? I hope not!) and, other than Vijay being a vegetarian and Hope's dietary requirements, nobody else's food info came through.
  3. 1100 calories a day - what Hope worked out we were being served everyday. We all wanted to go on a spontaneous six week diet, yes? No, not while teaching and being totally sleep deprived actually.
  4. Don't be Max - after Max has asked for special food not once, but twice (no fish, and could he have his burger in a plain bun)!! He has earned a special place on her list of most hated people ever.
So, after all this, you can imagine that when Vijay forgot his lunch today and we were about to tuck into half a peanut butter sandwich and a shared bag of crisps for lunch, we were absolutely thrilled when it turned out that the African Language teachers (who seem to have decided to adopt us now that we are a fixture in the staff room) brought us lunch. We had vetkoeks (or fat cakes) which are essentially like savory donuts, which you cut open and put a cut of chicken a little bit like Austrian extrawurst except cut about half a centimeter thick and with chili inside it (if you're Vijay and are vegetaria you omit this and fill your fat cake with sugar instead). It is amazingly yummy. Apparently this is an extremely common food for the poorest of people as fat cakes are very cheap to make, they cost about 60 cents (5p) each to buy.

After school we went to an oriental mall, where people were looking to buy football shirts for the match tomorrow. So Jack, Pav, Alex and I wandered off and found a shop selling fresh samosas in batches of 12 for R34 (£2.75)... Amazing.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

You don't need to be scared of us ma'am.

My first diagnostic test was a raging success - mean mark: 11%, taking out the kid who got a whopping 19/43 this left us with a mean of 9%. I've got my work cut out it would seem. So many of the kids have gaping holes in their understanding, they're on schedule with the curriculum but they don't actually have any basic understanding of, well, anything.

Otherwise, my day was relatively quiet, after quiet a busy starter getting the kids ordering themselves by height to do measures of dispersion and such, I ended up talking to them about myself and answering their questions. They want to know everything from where exactly I'm from, to what football team I support (awkward, Man U being the closest thing to team I support since Grandpa likes them), we had: what is teenage pregnancy like in the UK? Substance abuse (massive problem even within the school), Is your hair real? Can we touch it? Your legs are really white, Miss (did you expect me to turn darker half way?) Are you looking for an African husband? Why not? We hope you marry your boyfriend soon! You have the body of a black woman, Miss (hoping this was a compliment).

And finally, why are you so nervous? You don't have to be scared of us. It was somehow heart breakingly sweet, I thought I'd been doing a better job of covering up my general worry about screwing up as a teacher, but obviously they saw straight through that. It just highlighted the difference between here and home. The kind of "Are you scared of me, Miss?" that was asked at Westwood Academy was threatening to say the least, here the kids are actually concerned about us being happy during our stay. I talked to them about how I was really new to teaching - You're 22, ma'am! You look like you're at least 27! - and how it was really important for me to help them as much as I can while I'm here and that I want them to talk to me and work with me to get as much learning done as we can. They were thrilled by this idea.

In general the kids here never cease to surprise me, Mr R who was absent yesterday decided to make an appearance at school (not in my classroom or anything), but had lost the key to his classroom. Losing keys seems to be quite the fashionable thing at Namedi. So I sent one of the boys off to find me a room (which he did long before the staff sorted it out) he then proceeded to go on a hunt for chalk for me to write with, while someone else carried the armful of whiteboards I was lugging around to the classroom for me; when I insisted I was fine, I was told that "This is not how we do things in South Africa."Later, the kids who were on a free period next door was being so noisy it sounded like they were in my own room, someone else went over to get them quiet. And succeeded. It's amazing how much they care, how hard they work, not to mention the look of horror when told that children in England don't want to learn.

I also had my first extra lesson with Mbali (my struggling Grade 10 girl), we're slowly getting to grips with graphs but it's difficult. Turns out Mbali speaks 10 of the 11 official languages here. And she understands the 11th one. It makes me really sad how she's being pushed into doing things that she will most probably fail at when she's obviously a really gifted student.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Exit The Teachers

I decided to split this up into two separate posts, as a) it was getting hideously long and b) I will be writing all about my experiences teaching today in this post so it seemed sensible to give it a post of it's own.

So after feeling quite horrified about the day ahead of me, as well as rather unhappy with how much I was going to be able to help the kids I'm working with and having spent last night planning for 5 hours of teaching, today actually went quite well.

My first class, was a Grade 11 Maths Literacy class. Essentially, over here, the kids who are more able do Pure Maths, while those who struggle to Maths Literacy, which is maths applied to real life situations they may require in later life. In total, I am completely taking over two Grade 11 Pure Maths classes, along with doing three out of five lessons a week with two Grade 11 Maths Lit sets, and a Year 10 Pure Maths class. As we're working by a strict schedule, the advantage here is that I can plan more or less the same lesson for the two pairs of Grade 11s, so that's only three classes to plan for. As expected, the teacher resumed his seat in the back of the class with his Blackberry, so we played a game involving everyone throwing a big foam dice around and then using the data to find the relative frequencies of different numbers, followed by using tables to find probabilities. Weirdly, set E was really enthusiastic but didn't get much done while the second set I took was a bit unwilling but moved through the work at a rate of knots. I ended up teaching them hangman at the end of the lesson; it's not something they've ever heard of before but they're all getting quite into it.

Grade 10 was probably my best class, working on gradients. The got quite into the material and were working well. On a slightly sad note the lesson finished with one of my girls in tears because she wasn't understanding, I'd been working with her at the end of the lesson and we worked out she was really behind, and I'm going to try to teach her graphs from scratch as she currently can't even plot a coordinate. She and her best friend/spokesperson came to find me at lunch time to explain she was upset because her parents were pushing her to do Maths and Physics, which she struggles with, in order to be employable and that since she can't understand she's being teased by the rest of the class. We have a graph learning date in my free tomorrow.

Finally there was Year 11 Pure Maths, the first class did a lot of giggling behind my back, which was a bit off putting. I'm going to have to enforce more English in the classroom. I understand that for many of them the language has nasty connotations, and have been told that furthermore kids who speak in English are accused of giving themselves airs, but too much of what happens in lessons is incomprehensible to me at the moment. The second class was a lot louder than any of the others, which is a good thing in some ways, since the kids generally mumble and are quite unconfident, making it difficult to understand them - working on enunciation and speaking up is a definite plan for the next six weeks. I had quite a lot of trouble with talking from the start, and told them that I expect them to be quiet while I'm talking, as well as to respect each other when answering questions. There was still a fair amount of commotion, which finally escalated while I was righting on the board. I don't know exactly what happened, but from what I understand, one of the girls said something about one of the guys in the class, and he went for her. When I turned around several other boys were holding him back and yelling and there was general commotion. I separated the two of them, then stood in silence until the kids stopped talking, before laying down the ground rules that we will have respect for each other within my classroom, I will not waste my time trying to talk over them and I expect them to show each other the same respect. I told them that if they don't show me that they want to learn, I will refuse to teach them and they actually bucked up considerably. They got a little talky again later, but as soon as I stopped and was silent they got that I was being serious. Anna: 1, Kids: 0.

I also feel a lot better about the impact that I will have over here, actually working with the learners, it's quickly become obvious that they are not actually at the standard they should be. Simple things 1-2= -1 and simplifying 4/8 really threw them. So while they're on schedule, there are several patchy areas which I'm hoping to pick up and work on.

So, you might have noticed that I haven't mentioned what the teachers were doing aside from sitting at the back with Blackberries. Well this is because none of the other teachers showed up today. One was not even in school, meaning that his classroom was locked and I had to hunt for a free room; the other failed to attend our lesson at all. Obviously, the point of the programme is to work with teachers to help them improve their own teaching ability making the project sustainable after we leave; clearly, this will not be happening in my school. While I was warned about this, and am capable of going on on my own, what has impressed me less is that the teachers who's classes I only see some lessons a week actually expect me to set work for the lessons I don't take. The fact that I am a volunteer at this school, teaching 18 hours a week hasn't struck them. Having spoken to Corin, our coordinator about it, my solution is essentially that I have not set work and if challenged, I will point out I'm a volunteer, it's not my capacity and I haven't got time to plan their lessons. Nothing like unpaid holiday for the teaching staff during Warwick in Africa. Also I got into trouble for not coming to take Grade 10 Set B this morning. Which is funny because they're not my class and I wasn't timetabled to take them, so essentially he is just hoping to be completely shot of all his classes for the next six weeks. Not happening. Unlucky.

To sum up - kids, generally amazing, teachers not so much.

Day One

Hi everyone,

Sorry it's taken me so long to post, but the last few days were hectic. We met up in the evening on Saturday at Birmingham Airport, flew out to Dubai (7 hours) and then on to Johannesburg (8 hours) overall this means 24 hours of traveling, half an hour of sleep and catching a cold while I'm at it!

Miraculously we managed not to lose anyone in the airport, and after waving goodbye to the Alex Group, found our buses and drove to the Guest House.

Jean Jean Guesthouse is beautiful, and probably one of the more luxurious places I've stayed. Each room is equipped with a double bed, ensuite bathroom and heater - because Jo'burg gets cold. During the day, in the sunshine it's quite pleasantly temperate, and the teachers at school have been laughing at us for wanting to go outside. However, as soon as the sun sinks it becomes cold, dropping down to maybe 3-5 degrees celsius alarmingly quickly. Also, as we're rather far South, in the winter, sunrise is around maybe 7am and sunset (which is happening as I speak) is rather beautiful but sadly around 5.30pm. The good thing about that is by 10 you feel like it's really late and are ready for bed. Which, if you're getting up at 5.45 in the morning (might be graduating to 6 tomorrow - watch this space), is really rather necessary. I will be posting a whole lot of pictures sometime soon, but as I've, rather stupidly, forgotten my camera lead I will have to borrow an SD card reader from someone, so please bare with me.

Jo'burg from my balcony.
Jo'burg itself is a strange city. Arriving in the dark, the airport reminded me of Italy, the same type of manic driving and somewhat decrepit parking lot, followed by long stretches of motorway with arid grass on the banks beside - for those of you who have been to Malpensa airport, picture this. We drove through the city, which lit up at night time is really quite beautiful.

By day it's a strange mix of beautiful luxury homes, expensive cars with thick brick walls, barbed wire fencing, and guards often quite prominently visible. The drive to Soweto in the morning is maybe half an hour, although by the time we had dropped people off at all the other schools this morning, Vijay and I had been in the bus an hour and a half. Soweto has over a million inhabitants and driving around it we have gotten extremely lost. The South West Township varies between brick buildings with the compulsory barred windows to basic thrown together shacks. In some ways it is sturdier and richer than you would imagine when you consider a township, but even then the area is obviously one of extreme poverty.

The racial divide is clear, expensive cars are predominantly driven by white people while every single pedestrian is black. In my first lesson, one of the kids asked us about the weather in England, when I explained how it's much colder than South Africa, and how we rarely have sunshine, he grinned at me and answered, "So that's why you're so white!" Other Warwick in Africa teachers have had a much harder time of it, and have come home with stories of deep underlying anger and hatred which the kids still hold for white people. Trying not to accidentally cause insult is quite high on everyone's list, generally after you've said or done something really stupid. While explaining the rules of hangman, I had a sudden moment of wondering how appropriate the game was, Pete on the other hand managed to announce "I'll go first, because I'm white" during a game of chess mentally slapping himself in the face. So far, I haven't had much chance to chat to the kids about their lives outside of the maths classroom (other than to tell them that I'm not single, I'm not on facebook and I'm not giving one of them my phone number :S ).

I really regret not updating my blog yesterday, as I feel I would have been able to capture my emotions more purely after my first day. But I will try to recap before I tell you about today. After our first night of, frankly, far too little sleep. We woke up bright and early to go to meet the delegates from Ernst&Young who will be teaching alongside some of us during our stay here. EY are an important addition to the programme, providing more man power, the hopes of continuing our work during the entire year and a massive amount of stationary, whiteboards and pens to take to school. Corin, our on the ground contact met us and talked to us about the ups and downs of being in South Africa, the hardships involved in experiencing such poverty as well as warning us of the crises we are likely to face being frustrated with staff, each other and the importance of trying avoiding "the little seeds of romance blossoming in the Savannah" which are allegedly a key byproduct to working in a stressful environment like this for six weeks.

After this it was off to school, Namedi Secondary School is smaller than I imagined it would be, and actually a better structured building than you would guess using google street view. The school is split into a collection of different blocks, most of which are unlabeled - "We assume people will know where to go" - we met the head of Maths, spent a while discussing timetabling, arguing over how many lessons we would be able to teach (as far as the school is concerned - all of them) as well as being told about the class schedule for our time here. Gauteng Province issues a strict schedule, detailing exactly what should be taught each week for the entire year. This was somewhat disappointing news, as I was hoping to be allowed to structure my lessons according to what I felt the kids needed. Then, after lunch (a banana and some toast I had stolen from breakfast since the Guest House doesn't seem to have received the message that I don't eat cheese and have already nearly killed two people for not having informed them that they don't eat fish in advance, today's sandwich was something to do with sweetcorn, it looked like cheese so it was the second of what I expect to be a great many sandwiches that I am going to donate to Pete), Vijay and I went to observe two lessons with one of the teachers we are working with. We introduced ourselves to the kids but the teacher immediately sat at the back on his Blackberry, giving a fairly clear indication of what his input on our lessons was going to be. The kids seemed to be getting the maths, which was really positive; however, I finished the day feeling rather low about my chances of having a positive impact on either the learners (who seemed to be doing fine) or the teachers (who obviously see this as a paid holiday).

Yesterday evening left me feeling a bit like a tourist, going in to gawp at the poor people living so differently before coming home to my heating and my cushy double bed, rather like a Victorian lady at a freak show full of siamese twins and pygmies.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Leaving tomorrow

How I feel right now:

  • Scared of being in a foreign country with a group of relative, if very lovely, strangers for 6 weeks.
  • Nervous about making the journey and being out there on our own.
  • Worried about my abilities as a teacher, so much has gone into this project that I just feel that living up to the expectations is going to be totally impossible. Also I'm not a teacher, I've taught two lessons and they were rubbish, I feel completely unready and incapable.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Piloting with Confidence

Apparently searching for "how to pack a suitcase" online generates a guide to how to fly planes confidently. As the passenger, I rather hope my pilot has more than just a self-help guide to get us there. Apologies in advance to the person stuck next to me while I bite my nails in terror for the entire flight.

While I don't really want to admit to it, right now I'm actually a bag of nerves. I have no idea how I am going to survive 6 weeks in Africa with no "grown ups" to look after me. Let alone how I am going to plan for and teach hundreds of lessons. During my WinS (Warwick in Schools) Placement, I taught two lessons. Both of which went fairly badly, if I'm completely honest.

So, my coping mechanisms right now? Oh, you know, DENIAL.

In the mean time, things that I am about to try to fit into my suitcase:
  • Underwear
  • Tights
  • Socks
  • Teaching clothes
  • Jumpers
  • Slippers
  • PJs!
  • White t-shirts
  • Shower gel
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Face wash
  • Cotton pads
  • Contact lenses & solution
  • Teaching things
  • Free time clothes
  • Swim suit
  • Mini sewing kit
  • Laptop & charger
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Shoes (trainers, teaching & boat shoes)
  • Flip flops
  • Bank card & internet banking thing & internet banking number
  • House keys
  • Important phone numbers
  • Torch
  • Batteries 
  • Shoe polish
  • Suncream
  • Insect spray
  • Adapter plug
  • Medicines etc
  • Passport
  • Wet wipes
  • Insurance documents
  • Important numbers document
  • Photocopies of documents for Natalie
  • Starter Problems
  • Post it notes
No pressure.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Welcome to the World Baby Girl

Earlier today I came across this:

I've always rather liked, their cards have a lovely tendency to hit the nail right on the head. Or, you know, amuse me. But this one strikes quite close to home for me.

I went to a tiny sixth form, there were seventeen of us in our year group, my largest class (Maths) had seven people in it. Having chosen sciences and Maths as my higher options, I found myself being the only girl in Higher Chemistry, the only girl in the year who did any kind of Physics, let alone higher, and one of two girls in Higher Maths. When I started at Warwick my tutor talked to us about how 80% of our department was male. It's not that unexpected, "Girls are bad at maths" is generally accepted as a truth.

Earlier this year the European Commission Released a Promotional video "Science: It's a girl thing!" If you haven't had the misfortune of watching this, brace yourself. If someone wanted to win a competition to make women look like vapid, superficial ornaments; parading around for the delectation and delight of some man (who one notes is the only person in the video who is wearing a lab coat and actually seems to be doing anything vaguely scientific) you might as well submit this video straight off. It's pathetic. It totally undermines women as autonomous human beings. And this is in Europe.

South Africa isn't the worst country in Africa as far as education for girls goes, however even so people who have been part of Warwick in Africa before have told us about how in many supposedly mixed sex schools, girls are a rarity. Teaching staff expect girls to get pregnant and leave schools. UNICEF reports that:
“Many schools are not child or girl friendly. Some are situated far from homes, exposing girls to danger when they walk to and from school. Girls trying to stay in school are also at risk of being sexually harassed and exploited in schools by teachers and fellow students.”
The same prejudices which women in Europe and America face exist for children in Africa, the assumption that men are simply "better" at certain subjects and, as a result, the jobs these lead to. The expectation, or need, for women to be mothers and primary care givers, at the expense of their own education, their careers, their dreams and aspirations.

In my life I have been so lucky, I have a family that supports me, helps and encourages me to reach my aspirations regardless of my gender. Not everyone has that.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

8 math sets..

Obviously, we all know about the dire situation in South African townships and their schools, we've been told about the lack of qualified teaching staff, the lack of chairs and space. But the first time it really hit me just how bad things are is when we were given "maths sets" to take with us, just a basic box with a pencil, ruler, compass and protractor - the kind you might get at Tesco's for a couple of pounds. The kind that my mum would never have dreamed of buying for me when I was in school, because obviously I deserved much better. Not to mention how much inferior it was to the sets that I routinely lost or broken and mummy dutifully replaced each September. Each of us has been given 8 sets to take with us, to give out as prizes, or to donate to teachers at our schools.

That's 8 sets for hundreds of kids.

8 sets which will be loved and treasured and be an invaluable asset for people. 8 sets which I would have tossed aside as a child their age. Somehow, these 8 maths sets have brought home the importance of what we're doing with a sudden violence which I have not seen so far. It's scary, and it's sad and it really makes me hope that what I'm doing is actually going to make a difference.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Hi there,

As you probably know, I'm going to be spending six weeks this summer in South Africa, teaching Maths as part of the 2012 Warwick in Africa Team. This blog will be my humble attempt to share my experiences with those of you back home, as well as hopefully to help give people in future years a better idea of what going to Africa really is like.

If you do know about Warwick in Africa, please feel free to stick your fingers in your ears and hum for the rest of this paragraph, for anyone not humming - Warwick in Africa is a grassroots charity set up by the University of Warwick only a few years ago. Essentially, the program is designed to enhance education in deprived parts of Africa using a sustainable, replicable and scalable approach. A combination of student teachers, including undergraduates in a variety of courses from Maths and Physics to Politics, as well as those currently on teaching courses such as PGCEs, as well as fully qualified teachers are sent to Africa to work as Maths and English teachers in deprived schools, as well as to run fantastically successful teacher training courses. So far, Warwick in Africa has helped over 90,000 children producing a 50% increase in both attendance and performance in schools we have worked in. This year, we are going to Alexandra and Soweto townships, in Johannesburg, as well as Stellenbosch in South Africa, as well as running a summer school in Ghana and sending volunteers to deprived schools in Tanzania. If you want to find out more please visit Warwick in Africa's Website.

Things that have happened so far: After finding out my housemate, Thea, and I had both been chosen to go to Johannesburg sometime in term 2, we were given several intensive training for our trip, including fundraising tactics, classroom activities and teaching methods and relationship management. (Let's all be friends/avoid each other, chaps).

The rest of term two and early term three was a maelstrom of fundraising activities, working with Thea, as well as Natalie, who will be coming to Soweto with me, we hosted a cake sale at a competition hosted by Warwick Archery Club. Leading to an unfortunate hatred of cupcakes that I still have not been able to shake off. On the upside, Cookie Monster Cupcakes:

The three of us also hosted a fundraising event at Kasbah nightclub in Coventry, working together with Sugandha (going to Alexandra Township, in Jo'burg), and Jack who will be off to Tanzania this summer. As well as organising a raffle with prizes kindly donated by Stormstudios Photography, Le Bistro Pierre, Vinology, Graze and Rubiks Cube.

I also received many kind donations from my friends and family, all of which will be invaluable towards the continuation of the project.

In term 3, we were given our specific placement schools, I will be in Namedi School, Soweto; while Thea is off to teach in Alexandra (Alex) townships, which is sad as we won't be living in the same accommodation. In spite of that, things aren't all bad since I was able to actually meet and start getting to know some of the other people who are coming to Soweto with me, all of whom have been absolutely lovely.

So where am I now? Well, currently, I'm sat in my living room surrounded by boxes, which my boyfriend is attempting to transform into a fort (highly conducive to packing, I think not). But more importantly, I am busy preparing the resources and activities to take to South Africa with me. This includes as many low threshold, high impact tasks as I can possibly remember -
If I have 9 gold coins, one of which is fake, looks exactly identical to the other 8, but has a heavier weight, and I have a pair of scales which I may use precisely twice, how can I find the fake coin?

Answers on a postcard, please.

As well as teaching resources such as maths kits (kindly donated to Warwick in Africa), mini whiteboards, stickers, stamps and giant playing cards.

I'm also trying to decide on the oh so important issues such as, should I cut my hair before I go? Shall I take my hair-straighteners? What on earth am I going to wear? And many others... First world problems.

So, hopefully you'll be hearing more from me again soon, until then, take care!
x Anna