2014 reflections: Jim Metz

“Exceptional” truly describes the team that Yunus assembled for the Teachers Across Borders project this year.  The support staff of Yunus, Laurie, Thokozani, Nadia, Tenzin and Aliya made our work easy.  When the second week looked bleak for science, Yunus found a way not only to have the science teachers involved, but also to offer two maths/science workshops at two sites, splitting the group and switching at mid-week.  You can imagine the logistical nightmare, but he pulled it off, as usual.  Week two workshops were an unexpected surprise as we worked with grade 6 teachers and enjoyed the rural settings and truly remarkable teachers.  The teachers face incredible obstacles, yet they have a cheerfulness and a resolve that is unmatched, inspiring indeed.

We all worked well together and all 6 workshops were resounding successes.  The first week was intense as we worked until after 6 every day.  Whew!  Doing workshops in Swaziland for the first time was a thrill, but we all felt the time was too short.  A highlight was visiting Kelly’s school where she had taught when she was a Peace Corps Volunteer.

 There was much going on behind the scenes that Yunus managed to control so that we could focus on our work.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with Brad and Kelly. I’ll always remember the smooth way Brad handled the probability experiment with colored beans.  Pure class, Brad! Kelly had interesting puzzles to entertain and inform the teachers. Carl and I have worked together on 4 previous projects, so it was wonderful to again work with Carl.   We were fortunate that no one insisted that zero is not even.

Veronica and Alison, veterans from 2012, were anchors for the science team with Andy and Claire adding much life to the sessions.  I know that Veronica stayed up very late making her plans for each day and Alison managed to deal with a wicked switch of week 1 and week 3, a change that would have distressed anyone else.  Who can forget Clair’s bottle rockets or Andy’s magic tops and light ball?  We would have all been lost without Michael, who not only found my bag and my coat, but also ran computer sessions and did fantastic science experiments, often involving fire.  I’ll always remember us watching the hippos running to the water.  Beautiful.   Sisters Nadia and Aliya were such a joy to be around.  I sure miss their smiles! Tenzin always had something interesting to say. Good guy! I especially enjoyed his entertaining beat box at the closing ceremonies of the first week – brought the house down!  I wish that Laurie could have stayed longer as she added so much life to the party!  I can honestly say that the teachers who attended the maths and science workshops were dazzled and inspired.

Thokozani deserves an entire paragraph.  He drove so many kilometers!  He was always so pleasant with a quick laugh that made everyone around him feel important and welcome.  I enjoyed riding shotgun with him in the bakkie, listening to gospel music and talking about life.  I will miss watching “Generations” with him.  (Remarkably, he was able to catch me up on 2 years of the show in about 15 minutes.)  He organized the wait staff at the restaurant for a rousing rendition of Shosholoza the night before Aliya and Tenzin left.  The man can sing – and dance!  (Just ask Claire and Veronica.)  Thokozani is a class act, a true friend.  I miss that guy, a lot.

Accommodations and meals this year were also exceptional.  We were comfortable and the weather was very cooperative.  We were able to see may animals on the several game drives.  Many thanks to Yunus for taking care of us and understanding how demanding our task was.

I want to thank Yunus and his mother who supported our work in so many ways.  When the teachers were hungry, Mrs. Peer fed them.  She understands what people need and she never fails to help.  I think Yunus will agree with me that she is a major reason the program has been so successful for so many years.

A highlight of the trip for me was our visit to the orphanage on the holiday in Swaziland.  Playing with the little ones was such sheer joy!  Knowing that these children had been abandoned, some in very cruel ways, made us all appreciate the good work that the people are doing there.  Words fail me.  You just had to be there.

I think that sums up how I feel about the entire experience this year.  Such a great team, such wonderful teachers at our workshop, so many things going just right – amazing. I was so proud to be part of such a fantastic group of professionals and genuinely nice people!  Yes, you just had to be there.