Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069

5th November 2011

The Karate Kid by Maya Walker

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A Blank Canvas

Ill start with a blank canvas. I think that is the best way to start any journey, and to make it easier for you to get a feel for what the first 12 weeks of my year in South Africa have been like.

A blank WHITE canvas, in fact. I cant choose a colour for it to start with as there are no colours to describe the mixture of emotions I was feeling at that time, saying goodbye to my friends and family before heading off on the biggest adventure of my life! … excitement, worry, nervousness, curiosity, sadness.

Arriving at the project, I think the canvas could have been coloured PINK. Homesickness kicked in as soon as I entered my new, shared room, and it took a while to get used to my new surroundings and the unfamiliar smells, sounds and people. Meeting the kids and attempting to learn all of their ridiculously complicated, long names was a big challenge and took me about a month to accomplish! The language barrier was bigger than I had expected, and again I felt a little lost. I was comforted however, by the beaming smiles and songs that bellowed out the childrens lungs on my arrival, which assured me that this year was going to be one to remember!

Mthatha itself would paint (or should I say splatter) the canvas GREY. Walking through the streets for the first time with the murky, smelly water of the Mthatha river, the dusty roads, potholes, and litter strewn, stained streets, I found myself both amazed, intrigued and a little scared, particularly by the men who I still seem to be attracting a lot of unwanted attention from! Being white in Mthatha means you stick out like a sore thumb, but Ive got used to the stares, comments and strokes on the arm. Strangely enough Ive found myself growing to love the town for what it is, with its awesome music blaring from the shops and the laid back feel where people just jump on the back of a friends trucks as they drive past.

Teaching. WOW. It took me a while to get into and although I knew it would be tough, it was a much bigger challenge than I had anticipated. I think the grey murkiness of the canvas darkened slightly, into a BLACK hole where I lost all sense of direction. The children of Thembelihle have been subjected to abuse or abandonment and many of them display the scars of their abuse, which is also unfortunately reflected by their behaviour in lessons. Serious fights, shouting and bickering in Xhosa (the local dialect) dampened my spirits and made me feel as though my hard work was all completely pointless. There is no set syllabus here, and so its up to me to decide and prepare what to teach them every day. This was difficult to start with as I had no idea what had been taught before I arrived, so I found myself spending around 3 hours planning two hour long lessons in the evenings. Yup! You heard right2 hour long lessons! Thats a long time to keep a 7 year old entertained for, particularly with the language barrier in the way. The small classroom has very limited resources and holds three lessons at the same time, accommodating for the needs of children aged 5-17 of a range of abilities, so you can imagine what the noise levels are like! But Im proud to say that after 2 months of teaching, I have managed to find the right balance between making the lessons fun, educational and varied for the different capabilities within each group and lesson planning only takes a fraction of the time!

Teaching maths to Group 1 (7-11 years approx.) has been fun and more rewarding than I would ever have imagined. At the beginning of my teaching journey with them I discovered that most of the 10 year olds couldnt do 1+1 or 1+2 without using their fingers (no joke!). So to see them now, 12 weeks on, reciting their 6, 7, and 8 times tables better than me, is one of the most satisfying feelings ever! I am so proud of all of them and my red pen and stickers have become my new best friend. Saying that, they often come out of lessons with pins and needles in their fingers from sitting on their hands for too long its the only way to stop them counting on them! Shame they cant sit on their toes at the same time, as this seems to be their sneaky back up plan!

Recently, my life skills lessons have been filled with first aid classes, with most of the children now being able to treat a bleed to the arm, and put each other into the recovery position (apart from one or two boys who still like to bundle the pretend unconscious casualty lying on the floor boys will be boys)!

Group 2 have been an interesting lot to teach. Being a teenager, teaching teenagers is a strange feeling, but as well as their tutor during school hours I have also become their friend and weirdly enough, their mother outside of class! Blackboards and coloured chalk are not as bad as I remembered from primary school and I have found that they are very effective at drawing the solar system on the board! Natural Science is probably my favourite subject to teach Group 2 (13-17 years). They can now remember the order of the planets, say how and why Pluto is different and identify the location of the asteroid belt! Teaching the digestive system has also been a massive hit, possibly because it involved me handing out marshmallows to the whole group to show how salivation works. I wonder whether they understood it or just liked the marshmallow!

I really enjoy teaching the Preschool. Colours, shapes, letters, basic maths, and naming body parts has not only given me a chance to relax and have more fun, but also learn some Xhosa! For anyone who doesnt know, Xhosa has various clicks which are quite difficult to pronounce, but it is a VERY cool language and Im learning more and more by the day! The kids love teaching me the Xhosa translation of everything Ive been teaching them!

End of year examinations have now started and are going pretty well. I spent the last couple of weeks writing the exams, which has been quite stressful. Phrasing the questions in a way the children will understand whilst finding the right balance between the mixture of abilities in the class made it quite tricky, but hopefully the results at the end will show me that my hard work has paid off!

I think one of the things I have enjoyed most about my experience so far, is being given the opportunity to help one girl in particular. I have been doing karate for nearly 9 years now and to be able to help someone with their anger problems through something I love, really made my whole month, and will keep me smiling for the rest of the year as I look back to that morning when I got a little knock-knock on my bedroom door (something that is becoming all too familiar). I invited her in for a chat over breakfast and felt shocked and humbled as she opened up to me about her past and told me her story before begging me to help her and teach her Karate. Something which has not only helped her (the big grin on her face at the end of the sessions in the evenings tells it all) but has also filled me with a bubble of joy, knowing that I have been able to bring something that little bit special to the project. She is the longest resident at the home, of 6 years, and is an inspiration to everyone she meets. The bravest and most grown up 14 year old Ive ever met, who still manages to laugh and smile despite her past. YELLOW like a shining sun

Next is GREEN. Not for envy of people with good washing machines, but for the green Sunlight soap bar which is possibly the best invention ever! Hand washing has recently become less of a chore and more of something I look forward to in the evenings, strangely enough! Its become a form of meditation, turning my iPod on and drifting off into my own little world the only time and place where Im on my own to think about whatever I want that isnt work related! Living in the home with the kid

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