By: Bethany Pitt
School … check.
Work … check.
Me time … check.
Friend time … check.
This was me at the beginning of the new semester: running through my ‘to do’ list with a vengeance and creating new goals for university work, taking on projects and committing to different activities. I was on a mission to make the most of the next six months, squeezing every ounce of delicious life out of them like a fresh orange. I was going to make every minute count.
In the aura of excitement, I realised that my amazingly jacked up checklist had no outreach opportunities or projects on it. I decided to change that fast. So I jumped headfirst into the idea of helping out at a school for underprivileged kids called Nokuphila. I booked an appointment with the headmistress, booked out a morning before lectures so I could go in once a week and planned what I wanted to get involved with.
The first Wednesday morning I half-heartedly put off my alarm clock at 6am and prepared for a day of demanding work and involvement. I arrived at the school with classes in full swing. I headed to the grade 1 class that I had been assigned to help out with and introduced myself to the teacher. She handed me a bible book to read to the kids who were all sitting on the carpet and so I nervously sat down and began the bible story. The few kids’ attention that I had, stared at me blankly with big eyes. Others either sat with their backs faced towards me, picking their noses or just stared into the distance. Still, others moved around in circular helicopter movements on the floor, totally disintegrated in hearing about the whale swallowing Jonah whole.
Great start. Whoop, I was a natural! NOT!
The next obstacle was colouring time. This involved me having to sit uncomfortably next to the kids’ desks and help them colour their fish pictures. Some kids had a definite idea of what colour I should use where; the upcoming doctors, teachers and engineers I guess. Others didn’t mind as long as I was helping, while others let me do most of the work quite happy to look on or chat to a friend … uhm … our upcoming politicians maybe. I was yanked and pulled and dragged and embraced from desk to desk and child to child. The kids then realised I had a cellphone and all demanded I give them my number. As a naive twenty year old does, I went right ahead and wrote my number on at least 15 slips of paper. Only afterwards did I realise that I knew not where my number was going to end up. I’m still waiting for some strange phone calls from confused people.
I was getting into the swing of things when the teacher pulled out her number chart and with that, we began were reciting numbers from 1-100 backwards, forwards, upside and downside. Sometimes there were prime numbers, sometimes odd numbers and sometimes even. I felt comfortable sitting next to a child who barely knew any number and so I felt I was not out of my depth giving a bit of guidance. Maths was never a strong point, but counting to a hundred is a necessity in everyone’s life.
The teacher handled her rowdy grade 1 class with firmness and humour, mostly relying on a team A and B system. It went something like this: ‘Musa, you are talking. Minus one point from your team.’ This one point was taken magnificently off the board with one swipe of the white board eraser and the guilty child was silenced by the angry voices of his or her team members.
At this point, the secretary came and yanked me out of the classroom to help her with administration matters. I found mother’s waiting for interviews with the headmistress to enrol their kids at the school. It was a sad state. With such limited space and such strict guidelines as to each child accepted, many of these women were turned away before they even filled in the enrolment forms. I felt helpless but got focused on the job I was meant to be doing: sorting out enrolment forms, personal documents and receipts. In between the many parents and running up and down, the secretary and I had a hearty chat about life in general and she answered my many questions about the school.
By the end of the morning I was shocked to realise how much I had accomplished in such a short space of time and how much I had learned and enjoyed myself. I had honestly loved every second. There is nothing quite like a little kid making you the hero of his/her world and loving you madly. Nothing can quite take away that feeling of achievement and the realisation that you have done something for somebody else today.
I now go every Wednesday morning to help out. The kids know my name and I now know most of theirs. I have been encouraged to help out by reaching to resources beyond the school and am in the process of planning some projects, such as a book drive, with the guidance of the headmistress. The staff and children of Nokuphila inspire me each week to better equip myself with the tools I need to empower others. Giving back into a community sees me looking beyond my needs and totally focusing on a bigger picture. I Am Blessed!