Friday, November 30, 2007


Our literacy programme, ABC FOR LIFE, has just been officially launched, gaining momentum and awareness in the community!

Although the programme has been running for a few months now, we held a cocktail fundraiser yesterday for the first time in the community.

Despite the demands of planning for the venue, sending out invitations, organizing catering and bartenders, and then on the day of the event, dealing with the vicious Cape wind which blew tables and chairs around like cotton balls and having several glasses and vases broken, it was all worth it in the end.

See pics of some of the kids doing a mini drumming circle at the function, the picture-poster collage of the students and Gailyn (dedicated teacher and good friend of ours) with some of the students.

Right now we are only working in one of the township schools in Hout Bay, Sentinel Intermediate School. It is by the fishing harbour, and so the make-up of the students are mainly coloured children.

ABC FOR LIFE is a programme designed to help those who are struggling in basic literacy skills in all grade levels. We take students from various ages who have been passed up the system each year, despite the fact that they can barely read simple words.

The fact that a teacher in the South African education system cannot fail a student twice in a "phase" (period of 5 years) results in a classroom with students with wide-ranging abilities. And as the old story goes, with class sizes ranging in the mid-40's, it is impossible for teachers to address every student's needs.

Questions burn in my mind: How have thousands of schools around the WORLD managed to find themselves in such a similar state of being mis-managed, mis-guided, ill-equipped and ill-funded? What went wrong in both the education systems in wealthy, cosmopolitan Hong Kong and in a tiny informal fishing harbour settlement on the Western coast of South Africa? Different but so similar.

I guess no one problem is ever isolated. And illiteracy is definitely no exception. Although one can probably hypothesize the deeper issues of illiteracy, it's become very real and raw to me since I've started working with the project.

Illiteracy stems not just from not having enough resources and trained professionals to deal with the problems, but it goes back to poor social conditions, family break-downs, domestic violence, crime and drugs (tik is a common, cheap, addictive drug - used and abused by toddlers and grandparents alike) in the community and home, and illiterate parents (due to the apartheid era).

The holidays are coming up but come January when the new school year starts, we will go ahead full-force with new resources, equipment, teachers and trained volunteers.

It should not be a struggle to offer good quality education to children. But our world has made it so that it is not only a struggle, but a continuous and exhausting full-armored battle.

Monday, November 26, 2007

South African lingo

Government Bread: White rectangular loaf bread in plastic bag; sliced to about 1.5 cm thickness; ridiculously cheap, bland and most un-nutritious.

I came across this term tonight while dining out with some Afrikaan friends in Hout Bay. It is apparently beyond rude to offer "government bread" to anyone, especially at a restaurant, which is exactly what happened to one of my friends when, dining in a posh eating establishment, they had run out of rolls for her ostrich burger. She was beyond horrified.

Up until tonight, i was under the impression that SA service and hospitality was top-notch, food was served with a smile and within reasonable time.

Oh, but not tonight.

We arrived at the restaurant, just a 2 minute drive from home, at 5:45pm, famished and ready to try one of their famous oven-baked pizzas.

FOUR HOURS LATER, we were still sitting there without much more than a glass of red wine in front of us. Thinking back, i can't believe we didn't walk out. At least we had lots to talk about (when 5 females get together on any occasion, that tends to happen) and i suppose if it weren't for the ridiculously unforgiveable service (the food - when it did eventually come - was half decent), i would have never learned my new word of the day.

More South African words which I have adopted quite fluently into my vocabulary...

Shame: pronounced "Shhaaaame!" - common expression used to denote pity or sympathy towards a person who has had to endure a horrendous/meaningless/boring episode in their day.

Hectic: to be busy; to describe something or someone as busy, "I've had just an absolutely hectic day, i've been running nonstop from here and there!"; to describe something as busy-looking, "That lounge suite is too hectic, there are too many colours and patterns."

Monday, November 12, 2007

WII fun

One day in Hong Kong, on the spur of the moment (as it often is with us), we bought the Nintendo WII.

It's a fantastic interactive video game where you have to use your hand-held controller to swing, punch, hit and basically move your body to control your "man".

We spent one evening at home playing tennis, bowling and boxing on the WII, projected on our wall.

Good ol' family fun indeed!

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Today, we woke up in the early morning darkness, drove a few hours north of the city, witnessed a glorious sunrise as we zoomed through mountain passes, and arrived at the Aquila Safari just a little after 8am.

After a scrumptious breakfast buffet, we boarded the big jeep (which seats about a dozen people) and off we went, in search of "The Big Five": lions, buffaloes, rhinos, elephants and leopards.

Although our guide couldn't guarantee we'd see any animals at all, luck was on our side. We even spotted giraffes, ostriches, springbok, water buffalo, and others.

Over 3 hours later, and a short stop to see some San rock art, our tour finished back at the Lodge with a very impressive lunch buffet.

I have to say the whole tour was much better than I imagined, seeing as Aquila Safari is basically a big private reserve fenced off for the sole purpose of getting tourists in to see "African game". It was very well-organized and highly informative.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

visitors ahoy!

So much happens in one day, and so little time to sit down and write about it all! But I love immersing myself into this busy life, a weekly routine taking shape.

Our first visitors to South Africa will be arriving in just a little over a day. Matt's parents and Aunt Jan (from Melbourne) and Aunty B (from Perth) will be touching down shortly. How exciting to be entertaining visitors already, just 2 months since we touched down in the Mother City!

It makes me realize how in the past 2 months how much i have learned about South Africa's history, politics, culture and people. And how much more i have yet to discover and experience - so much!

Besides coordinating the fundraising cocktail for the Literacy Programme "ABC for Life"at Sentinel Intermediate School and teaching/tutoring with the HB Music Project, I've found myself two private piano students (brother, 7 yrs, and sister, 11 yrs) whom I teach weekly.

We're enjoying our new home a lot and over the past couple of weeks, we've been whale watching (Southern Right Whales, to be exact) from our balcony while we eat our cereal breakfast!

It really is incredible, seeing their flippers and tails fly out of the water. On one occasion I counted at least 10 whales in the bay! Can you spot em in the pic?

I am hoping they (the whales) stay around for at least one more day, so our guests can see them too.

Oh, and several of the eggs have hatched! See pic of mamma and pappa goose with their 4 cutie babies.

Monday, November 05, 2007

yearning for closure

I attended Ahkona's funeral service last Saturday at his family's home in Imizamo Yethu (IY), the black township in Hout Bay. I had reservations at first about going, not wanting to intrude and be a bother, seeing as I barely knew him. But in the end, I'm glad i went.

It was a drizzly, cloudy day; scores of people crowded under the tarpaulin to pay respects to the jolly boy who lost his life so tragically.

After many hymns, prayers and speeches from family members, the HB Music Project played a couple of pieces. I was designated videographer and due to the limited space, i was literally pointing the camera in the kids' faces.

What i saw through the lens was heart-breaking; the kids played and sang with all their hearts, tears streaming down their cheeks. They performed like there was no tomorrow and only at the last few closing bars did their voices waver. As the last note was played, there was a serene silence, like the end of a prayer.

The kids had practiced diligently (for once!), without arguing or messing around. They knew this was for a special purpose; they even took initiative and took their instruments to the outdoor amphitheatre (about 10 kms away from IY) to practice before the service. This totally shocked Leanne and I. Kids do have a deeper understanding of life's ongoings, more than what we give them credit for.

IY is like so many of the other townships: crowded dwellings, potholed streets, lack of drainage systems, etc. Privacy is a luxury and word gets around quicker than I can possibly imagine. Akhona's family lives only a few yards away from his murderer's house; how the two families will continue to live so closeby is anyone's guess.

This is a difficult entry for me to write, more than i expected. It's enough now. There must be a sense of closure and of moving forwards.