If I could sum up our month in Africa with one word, that word would be Care. Everyone who participated in the four weeks of workshops cared profoundly about education. Taking our cue from our dauntless director, Yunus Peer, we all strove to make a difference.
We can say with regard to just about anything that we either care or we don’t. In this case, we all certainly cared. We were motivated by the knowledge that our work mattered and that, moreover, our task was essential for building a brighter future. Yunus’s passion and compassion inspired us all. Consider this spontaneous, candid outpouring of optimism as warrant to the contagious, determined energy we all felt (loose translation of the above song: Yunus and Mr. Motha will be ecstatic if our learners pass the science matric, so let’s get to).
And let’s not forget to thank our colleagues abroad for their dedication. Those who attended the workshops showed great pride in and concern for the work, as they selflessly and voluntarily relinquished a week of winter holiday away from their homes and families to interact with us (some who teach multiple grade levels even gave up two weeks of their valuable time). All this toward the end of trying to realize benefits for their students back home. How can one not respect that level of commitment and care?
The common cause that joined us all was care for the children and care for improving the educational environment. This ethic fully permeated the work we did.
Throughout our time in South Africa and Swaziland, teachers across borders shared in collective challenges and triumphs (epiphanies in the classrooms!), strenuous effort (over 580 teachers attended the workshops), and mutual invigoration (did I mention over 580 teachers attended the workshops directly impacting 100,000+ learners?!). It was a beautiful rush. As I was previously advised, it truly was the toughest professional challenge of my life.
The math and science team members worked tirelessly to develop instructive and engaging lessons that the local teachers could in turn take back to their pupils. On their part, the workshop teachers demonstrated open-mindedness, astuteness, and sacrifice. It was fulfilling to know that our service was well received, which was mostly a result of the spirit shown by all parties. We worked till we were all drained. This was the path we chose.
Fulfillment and gratification arrived when rich discussions were sparked; when inaccuracies were clarified; when new approaches were introduced; when they formulated brilliant ideas all of their own (things which I had never known–e.g., that the inflection point of a cubic polynomial occurs at the midpoint of the segment joining the local extremes if the function has them). Our simple reward (costing not less than everything) was found in a teacher telling us, “you really did your homework and prepared properly, because you really know our curriculum;” it consisted in the local math district inspector shaking my hand and saying, “I thought I understood probability–but you showed us something new;” I melted when another colleague gratefully told us, “it really is true that we learn until the day we die;” yes, I want to say to him–that applies to me as well. We weren’t any better than anyone. What privileged opportunities we had in life we shared that’s all. The ultimate gratification comes when we were able to go home at the end of the day knowing we all did our part to improve the situation to the best of our abilities. These were the modest though thoroughly satisfying fruits of our labor.
The friendships forged will last forever. I was elated to receive a few emails from some new connections in South Africa. Their contact really made my day, especially since they included a picture of us that we took last month. We were younger then–though no wiser. For just as we helped them grow; they helped us grow–as professionals; as humanitarians; as people. I cannot thank the people of South Africa and Swaziland enough for their contributions to me.