Langa, South Africa Part 2
By Lauren Drake
Clarksville Academy teachers spent three days interacting with teachers and students at a LEAP school in the Langa township of South Africa. In this short time, we learned that despite geographic separation, all kids are endowed with certain inalienable characteristics. We also found a place that most Americans would pity but is actually filled with a strong sense of community and hope. Lastly, this time enabled us to build a partnership between CA and LEAP that will hopefully last a lifetime.
Our vision for this visit was to learn from LEAP’s teachers and share our own expertise. We would go in and interact with students during lessons, bring some extra school supplies, and help fill some small needs of the school. We did, but that sentence seems too simplistic. It doesn’t capture the excitement of students who watched Ms. Lium write their names in Mandarin characters. It doesn’t quite convey the eagerness in the students’ questions about AP level science concepts for Mrs. Lindsey. Each teacher- and there were 13- who embarked on this trip to LEAP can share a rewarding encounter with students and faculty. We are not ready for these moments to come to a close.
Do these moments have to? Is this the fulfillment of our vision? I hope not. We need to revise that vision to include a longterm partnership with the school. Imagine bringing LEAP teachers to CA or sponsoring the fees for a student in the township. The possibilities are endless. This trip was a moment that should be a catalyst for an even greater impact; this trip should not exist in isolation and as just a fond memory. I don’t think our work is done here in Langa. Instead, it is just beginning.
Langa, South Africa
By Lauren Drake
I Am Because We Are
When company comes over, I often shuffle dirty clothes into the linen closet and close the door. I make sure you can’t see into a disorderly playroom. I apologize profusely for not vacuuming the rug. I never want to seem proud of my home because I want to be humble and never mistaken as arrogant. Residents of Langa Township don’t conflate pride with arrogance.
They invite you to see their humble (or rather– to be honest– destitute) homes because they are proud of what they can do regardless of these situations. Langa township has four homes: the hostels, the informal homes, government homes, and “Beverly Hills.” A hostel, similar to a dormitory, consists of one small common area with two tables and bench seats. There is a sink and a window; the one we visited had a few small and simple houseplants growing in the window; these are the only decor. They also have four or five rooms and one bathroom. Each room has three beds and three families typically occupy three rooms. Privacy is clearly not an option. For families wishing for privacy, they often build informal houses. Think of the Great Depression-era “Hoover Home.” Tin roof pieces or scrap wood with a tarp roof. Families may have space, but they do not have a sink, toilet, or shower. Falling asleep with the oven on puts the entire group of informal houses in jeopardy. Government houses are for people who have spent most of their lives in Langa. They get homes with privacy– both extra bedrooms and a family bathroom. Yet, they still are smaller than most apartments in the United States.
The last homes are called “Beverly Hills” and are a point of pride in Langa. It is the white collar residence, but again smaller than some of our smaller homes. They seem in better shape and have fences around the property. The residents have a yard perhaps (and this is a generous estimate) of twenty square feet. These homes encompass a motto of Langa township: “Ubuntu.” It means “I am because we are.” The doctors and lawyers who live in Langa’s Beverly Hills literally share a street with the hostels and informal homes. They find their housekeepers and nannies in the township.
In the states, people look at education, the military, or sports as a way out of a disadvantaged environment. The people of Langa aren’t like that. The residents of Beverly Hills are role models and the students of Langa LEAP want to be like them and, in their own way, inspire others. Education is not a way out but a way forward. In the township, the difficulties and obstacles of living in Langa is not a source of shame. Instead, the students know this is a part of history and heritage. Their work in school paves a new path that shows all the goodness of Langa. Their work highlights how Langa residents will lift each other up by sharing a smile, a good word, or even a piece of bread.
Cape Town, South Africa
Kids Are Kids, By: Lauren Drake, English Teacher
Cape Town, South Africa’s miles of breathtaking views, abundant vegetation, and precocious wildlife appeal to any traveler. However, behind every gleaming and enchanting appearance are grim and sober realities. The same is true for South Africa.
Several teachers at Clarksville Academy have been blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime: visit South Africa’s cultural landmarks… and learn about the grim and sobering realities of township schools.
Perhaps some of us ventured into this expedition images of starvation and poverty pervasive in the school yard. Others came in with a take-charge and can-do attitude; whatever challenge faced us in a township school, we would fix. Yet, only half an hour inside Langa LEAP school and the students and teachers shattered every preconceived notion.
Pull back from South Africa for a moment and imagine your favorite campus spot; mine is a bench just outside the Academic Building. I can see and wave to every passerby; I can work on grades and planning or simply eat my lunch in the sun. It is refreshing and serene.
This is not the case at Langa LEAP schools. Students have the same breathtaking views as the tourists– Table Mountain is practically in their backyard. Yet, they cannot see the mountain without the sight of razor wire around their school buildings in the forefront. Still, the students and the school has such a mood of hope and optimism that arises from more than the bright, cheery orange paint on every window and door trim.
In fact, that hope and optimism may face and overcome poverty and other obstacles but it is the same hope and optimism that I see in our students. In just half an hour of interacting with the faculty and staff of LEAP, we all saw that their kids are the same as our kids. We are separated by income, opportunities, and a giant ocean. Yet, they hold doors and demonstrate the same level of respect and integrity as our students. They have goals to become doctors and lawyers, just like our students. And, just like our students, they occasionally bend the rules about food and cell phones in class.
This trip is full of promise for Clarksville Academy teachers, but in the end, Langa and LEAP schools will likely teach us much more about the craft of educating the whole child than we could teach them.