Reflections on my Pearson Global Assist Fellowship experience.
When I first arrived at my preschool, known here as a crèche, in Vrygrond, a settlement outside of Cape Town, South Africa, the conditions were shocking. That we knew what to expect didn’t lesson the raw, emotional impact felt when first touring the settlement or when first stepping into the crèche. Seeing 25+ toddlers in one dark, damp, airless and, by many standards, unsafe room was heart-wrenching.
A street view in Vrygrond, meaning “free ground”, outside of Cape Town.
Many students, we were told, are sick because it’s winter here. Some have HIV. “Head lice is quite common, so be careful not to rub heads when you hug the kids,” we were warned. I wanted to cry. And I probably would have were it not for so many runny noses that needed wiping, diapers that needed changing, and for the immediate and constant cry, “Teacher, ME! Teacher, ME!” from children who simply wanted to be acknowledged or held.
First impressions. Nourish’s baby/toddler room.
Add to the initial shock two very young, apprehensive, untrained teachers from Malawi, mothers themselves, who were nervous about the volunteer from New York joining their classroom for two weeks. I could feel my throat tightening, holding back tears. And while I was overcome by emotion at many points during this mission , that morning I told myself, “not today”.
After that first morning, it was difficult to imagine spending one more day in the crèche, called Nourish (ironically, it seemed at the time), let alone two more weeks.
Later that afternoon when all of the Pearson fellows regrouped and shared their morning experiences, I quickly learned that Nourish was much better equipped than most. While none of the crèches had more than one toilet for 30 - 60+ kids, Nourish boasted several toddler potties, an outdoor play area, toys, offered two meals a day and had the only principal with a college degree (many hadn’t finished high school). It’s all about perspective.
The play area for the 60 children of Nourish.
So on day two I started learning. I came to know faces, names, and personalities: Mahamoud (sharp and well-mannered), Fahe (intelligent yet craving attention), Aiola (innocent, quiet, delicate), Gavin (the youngest yet solid and strong), Gladwell (very naughty, but irresistible!), Zacky (nose always running and arms always outstretched, pleading to be held), Mercy (sad and crying daily; feeling neglected because her mom has a newborn at home) and of course Sasa (whose laugh makes everything right in the world).
Trinity, Sasa and Aiola (the “babies”) playing at the crèche.
On day three I woke up early and couldn’t wait to see them again.
My fellowship ended yesterday and what has surprised me most about this experience is how I started out feeling so sorry for the children of the crèches but later came to appreciate that they are the lucky ones.
Coslina and her class of four and five-year-olds at Nourish.
Because of True North’s work on the ground in Vrygrond, the funding from the Pearson Foundation and because of Pearson’s generous support of the Global Assist Fellowship program hundreds of kids are safe, fed and loved. It sounds cliché, but simple, focused improvements can make a huge difference. From hand-washing supplies and hygiene education, to bowls and spoons for each child, to baby wipes, tables, chairs, books, and to teacher training, it all matters. It matters to these kids, to their parents, to their teachers and to the community.
I’m extremely thankful for this experience and I’m grateful for the people of the world who dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others. This includes teachers everywhere but especially the teachers I’ve come to know and love at Nourish: Mercy, Maina, Coslina and principal Pretty. They are nothing less than extraordinary.
Vrygrond teachers enjoying our fundraiser walk last Saturday. Mercy is in white and Coslina in yellow.
On our last day I snapped a couple pictures of the little kids outside of our crèche. They oftentimes stop and stare through the gates. They always seem so alone.
A little boy walking alone outside of our crèche in Vrygrond.
If True North continues their mission in Vrygrond, if companies like Pearson continue to care about improving our world through education, if individuals continue to volunteer their time and to seek a better understanding of the core issues surrounding poverty, then I believe a better life is waiting for the kids of Vrygrond and for kids everywhere.
Outside, looking in.
I’m forever grateful for this experience.
Thank you Vicky, Theresa and all of the staff at True North. You. Are. Extraordinary. Thanks to John Warner from the Pearson Foundation for his passion, dedication, clear vision and leadership, and for that infectious laugh. Thank you Pearson South Africa for being incredible hosts. Thank you Pearson for hiring such inspiring employees around the globe, for allowing us to meet, form lasting friendships, and for your generous support of the Fellowship program. Thank you Faye and Aslum for welcoming us into your home, for your stories, lessons and for caring. And most importantly, thank you teachers and principals of the crèches of Vrygrond. We’re all better human beings for knowing you.
The lucky ones.
Pearson has committed to partnering with True North and is helping fund their efforts in Vrygrond for five years. While this website needs updating as of April 2013, don’t let that stop you from helping. Here’s how you can contribute.
You can read past blog posts here: www.intentionallyephemeral.com
Posted on Saturday, April 27th 2013