Volunteering in South Africa Day 1: Meeting the Children
August 10, 2014
Volunteering in South Africa - Day 3: A Rainy Recess
January 20, 2015
Rainbows are something that I haven't seen in a while considering that it never rains in California. I had seen them plenty of times in Florida, even a double rainbow once in Greece, but the rainbow that I saw on Wednesday morning in Muizenberg, South Africa on the way to Christian David Primary School was unlike any rainbow I've ever seen before in my life.
It was vibrant and pronounced against the dark gray sky behind it, but what was the most notable was that you could actually see where the end of it led. "Hey Karl, can we take a detour and go find that pot of gold?" Party boy joked, but for once I didn't disagree with his idea. Karl stopped for us to take photos in an open field where we attempted taking "jumping pictures", and partially succeeded.
Blinded by the beauty of the rainbow that the rain had caused, I didn't take into account the toll that the weather had taken on the play area of the school. The dry dirt was now a massive mud pit that stained anything and everything that came in contact with it. Meaning the majority of the kids.
It seemed like none of the volunteers really knew what they should be doing since the rain had disrupted our daily agendas. We waited in the teacher lounge for Charles, the PE couch and (awesome) unofficial volunteer coordinator, to tell us where we were needed. I ended up joining in the sports program since one of the volunteers was out "sick". Some people didn't understand the importance of the sports program and PE, but the activities not only keep the kids healthy (and extract some of their energy surplus), but they also learn coordination, how to play on a team, and not to mention it's really fun for them.
"Teacha? What is your name?" One of the little girls in the third grade PE class asked as she nuzzled under my arm. "Alyssa, what's your name?" I replied. "Sasha," she said with a shy giggle, "Can you hold my jacket for me?" She asked, peeling off the top of the school uniform jumpsuit and handing it to me. "Sure," I replied, tying the tiny garment around my shoulders like a cardigan. She smiled excitedly and turned on her heel to join the rest of the class, but then spun back around, "Can you hold my money too?" She asked, struggling to pull out a few coins from her pocket. She dropped the coins into my hand; it was about 6 Rand, which would roughly equal .60 USD.
"Ok! Everybody get in a circle!" Charles ordered. They all scrambled to grab onto my hands first, and when they were each protectively occupied, they grabbed onto each other's to form a circle. When they were all evenly assembled Charles waited for them to be quiet to start one of their favorite warm-up songs;
"One day, one day!" He chanted.
"One day, one day!" They all chanted back in their tiny voices.
"My mama say!"
"My mama say!"
"Sooooozie," they chirped, accentuating the high pitch at the end after the long 'o's.
"Make me some porridge!"
"Make me some porridge!"
"By uuuuuusing!" Again with the adorable noises.
"Your right hand!"
"Your right hand!"
After repeating the song's instructions, they all starting pretending to stir an invisible pot of porridge with their right hands. This continued on to adding in their left hand, right foot, left foot, head, and bum until finally concluding with "by uuuuuusing, a spoon." That song is known to spring up out of nowhere at any given time and will have other volunteers chime in out of nowhere as well without fail.
We continued to sing and wiggle around to more extremely catchy songs like "Baby Shark", and "Hi, My Name is Joe", until they were all warmed up for the first activity - capture the flag. Except the first round was us against them. They all patiently waited in line for their flags, then tucked them securely into the front of their pants and lined up against the fence. After Charles explained the objective, I crouched down in a ready stance as if I were prepared to catch all of them on the first try. Pfft.
I caught none. They're not just teeny and agile, but they're wicked fast too! Luckily after some of them got caught they had to switch sides and catch the others who still had a flag. I was too scared I was going to break one of them anyway so would just swoop them up in the air then let them go as they giggled hysterically to the other side of the "safe zone".
Next was a relay race, which was both highly amusing and highly difficult to organize. All kids are sneaky and all kids want to win, but it's just so not fun to tell them to start over because you blatantly saw them cheating.
After the third grade PE class was over, we were supposed to have first grade, but Charles decided it was too wet and muddy outside so gave us an indoor activity to do with them instead - more coloring puzzles and worksheets. But since they weren't expending their energy outside, they were twice as energetic inside. I literally got mobbed, mauled, yanked, crawled, and jumped on the second I opened the colored pencil box.
None of them stayed seated (wow, now I really sound like a teacher), and the only way to get them to do so was by telling them they couldn't have any more colors unless they sat down. Little Chloe was in that class, and of course after checking my wrists for more bracelets, she continued to sneakily steal more colors from the box when I wasn't looking.
One kid jumped from chair to table to my back so quickly that he almost knocked me and the entire box of pencils over. You would never think that colored pencils were that big of a deal until you open a giant box of them in a classroom of kids who don't have any. After I finished passing out what seamed like double handfuls of pencils to all of them, I then had to make sure they were actually completing the work part of it (circling the word that was shown in the picture they colored), which none of them wanted to do unless I was sitting there helping.
For some reason I no longer know how to sharpen a colored pencil, because whenever I would try to sharpen one for them, it would break or come out jagged. I gave one of the little girls, Kohtah a pencil sharpener to sharpen hers and she came back with a perfectly sharpened pencil. "How did you do that?!" I said in all seriousness. She looked at me as if she had done something bad. I held up my jaggedly sharpened pencil to show her and said, "You're really good at that! I can't even sharpen mine like that!" She half-smiled and swayed back and forth, then gently tugged the pencils in my hand whose tips I had broken and scurried back to the trashcan to continue sharpening. It was tiny little encouragements like that that I think affected them the most. She continued sharpening all of the pencils for the remainder of the class.
Since I pretty much had to handle the classroom by myself since the other volunteer kept finding excuses to leave to "go get things", I decided it was time to offer a little incentive. "The best pictures that have all the words circled right get their pictures taken!" I shouted, trying to stand up with a little girl hanging from my neck.
That almost worked until they then rushed to finish and got back up to wave their completed worksheets in my face until I checked them. They pretty much all got A's and their pictures taken…except for the kids who decided to start using the colored pencils as darts that they launched at each other from across the room…
To my surprise, about five minutes before the bell rang, they all started coming up to me and shoving their colored pencils in my hands. If only it were that easy to hand them out. After everything was put away I routinely flowed out the door with my little guides from the class, only to be met by more children outside.
I may reiterate about the pulling, hugging, and handholding, but it's only to emphasize how incredible it is that all of the children want to be near the volunteers at all times. They will cling onto you as you walk, and push each other away to be closer to you. They spend their entire recess where they could be playing with each other, latched onto you and loving every moment of it, which really shows how the tiniest efforts to volunteer with them can make them so, so happy.
Since they weren't allowed to play in the water, and only a few of them had rain boots to walk around it, we mostly hung around the asphalt driveway where there wasn't much to do except play "try to avoid being picked up by tiny little kids". Playing on asphalt, as you can image, isn't much fun, but without the funding to fill their play area and buy playground equiptment, they don't have many options.
One little girl took my hand and pulled me (and the little boy who was attached to my hip) towards a series of tires that were planted in the ground like a fence that the kids liked to walk along. She jumped up, holding her hand out for me to guide her along the makeshift balance beam, and I took it willingly.
"You don't have to leave," she said sweetly, looking at me with a hopeful smile, "you can just stay here with us!" She added as if she knew that the volunteers never stay and that I only had a few days left. My heart crumbled into a million pieces, "I'm going to try to come back," I said weakly, trying to force a smile and hold back tears. She gasped excitedly with a huge smile and launched herself into my arms.
I caught her securely (I became good at this after being knocked over several times) and held her as she hugged me tightly. If only everyone had this much love, I thought to myself sadly. Even with nothing, they gave everything, making my stomach turn at the thought of how many people with everything give nothing.
I knew time was all I had to give, but to them, time was enough. I just wished that my time with them wasn't running out.