South Africa: My home on the other side of the globe.
Working with the entire community to improve student success
Eileen and her husband Larry and daughter Sara -both literacy specialists-are working to improve student success in A.V. Bukani Primary School in rural South Africa. On yearly volunteer trips to Nomathamsanqa Township in Addo, the Kuglers share research-based strategies to improve reading and writing. Eileen also works to engage families in the school.
In August 2010, the Kuglers returned to create a library at the school. With the help of many volunteers in the Washington, DC, area, the Kuglers collected, sorted, and labeled 25,000 books for the school! The books were shipped in a 40 ft. shipping container which was trucked to the school, fitted with doors and windows, and turned into the library.
Read The Washington Post article about the library project
See more at the Kuglers’ blog: www.KuglersInSouthAfrica.blogspot.com
Eileen shares some of the lessons learned about respect and valuing difference in South Africa:
Family Engagement at A.V. Bukani
In August 2009, Eileen worked with the school to engage the families in the community by making a school quilt, with each family creating a square (with thanks to The Tellin’ Stories Project of Teaching for Change). As the families sewed together, they learned how to become more involved in the school and advocate for their children. The moving experience with these incredible families confirmed Eileen’s belief that every parent has dreams for their child.
ENGAGING FAMILIES IN A QUILT OF DREAMS: Video from South Africa
- The Kuglers’ work with the school has been described in several articles in the Port Elizabeth Herald, the newspaper serving South Africa’s fifth largest city which is an hour away from the school:August 2009“Parents stitch up colourful dreams for their children”“Quilt of Dreams” multimedia presentationAugust 2008“Volunteers see ‘rich life’ at Addo School
- Listen to an interview with Eileen, Larry and Sara on VolunTourism.org – The Kugler Family & VolunTourism
- Read more about the details about the Kuglers work in South Africa on their blog – www.KuglersinSouthAfrica.blogspot.com
Video from the Quilt Project in South Africa!
From The National Education Association website, published June 2008
Gaining Far More Than What Is Given
By Eileen Kugler
My family and I went to South Africa to share research-based teaching and community building techniques with teachers who had been educated under the substandard apartheid system. On an earlier educator’s tour of South Africa, Larry and I met caring teachers who were eager to learn more effective ways to engage their students. We were committed to return to offer support. In the end, though, what we gained was far more than what we gave.
After careful research, we chose UK-based People & Places which connected us with South Africa’s Calabash Tours to help arrange our trip. I cannot recommend them highly enough. Both are ethical, well-organized, and well-run companies. It was made clear to us very early on that this wasn’t about creating some fun volunteer experience-it was about creating sustainable change. We, as well as the people in the community, were treated with honesty, respect and integrity.
While in South Africa, we had the wonderful opportunity to live in a Black township. We were surprised to learn that we were the first white people ever to stay overnight in the township, a testament to the deep vestiges of apartheid. We gained personal insight into the strong culture of the community, a notable resource often overlooked when people describe a place simply by its poverty level.
I am an educational consultant who works with educators and families on building vibrant diverse schools and communities. Through my company, Embrace Diverse Schools, I lead professional development workshops on fostering positive school culture and establishing strong partnerships with parents of all backgrounds. In my work I am now able to share insights from this strong Xhosa community, such as the way they look after the most vulnerable.
One of my favorite quotes from A.V. Bukani Primary School’s Principal Thambo (one of the strongest leaders that any of us had ever met) was when I asked him how the children received nourishment during school vacation, since so many ate their only meals at school. His reply: “People in the community know who is in need of food. They make sure that no one goes hungry.” A far cry from some American neighborhoods where people can remain anonymous and ignored for decades!
We kept a blog of our experience in South Africa, and there is a whole section on the many lessons we learned from this amazing community and school. One critical lesson that has had an influence on me professionally and personally is the way the faculty did not get frustrated by what they did not have. They just learned to persevere and move forward in whatever way they could. They were so optimistic, believing that under the new South Africa there are no limits placed on them. That is one of the reasons they were so open to new teaching strategies to help prepare their students for their role in building a successful nation. When I asked Mr. Thambo how he was able to develop such strong leadership skills while apartheid had deprived him of so many educational opportunities, he said, “What they didn’t know when they placed the yoke of apartheid on us is that it only made us stronger. We learned how to persevere and overcome any odds.”
While Larry and Sara modeled lessons in the classroom and coached teachers, I helped the teachers learn basic computer skills in their (literally) very dusty computer lab, which had not been used in several years. The teachers, many of whom had never touched a typewriter let alone a mouse, were thrilled to learn word processing. After we left, Mr. Thambo was able to use our volunteer commitment in the school to convince a local business to donate new computers. Our financial donation to the school is helping to pay for trainers and tech support. Not only are the teachers continuing to be trained, but the students are finally getting to learn computer skills. We are thrilled.
The powerful connection that we had with the teachers, the students and the community was so strong that I could not imagine never seeing them again. So we will be back this summer, when I hope to work with the faculty on increasing family involvement in the school. This has motivated me to upgrade my own skills on how to work with families who are not literate in their own language, as many of the families do not read or write in Xhosa. As with many American schools, there is a small, active PTA at the school. The president of the PTA is a dynamo who speaks eloquently in both Xhosa and English and is politically active for the improvement of the community’s living conditions. I am hoping to work closely with her this summer.
As I wrote in my journal before we left, my emotions see-sawed between excitement and anxiety, with anxiety tipping the scale as the plane took off. However, once we arrived in Nomathamsanqa, we never looked back. The risk we took paid dividends that far surpassed our expectations. We had a life-changing experience that has forever connected us to a community on the other side of the world in a way we could not have imagined.