Last week I returned from an amazing adventure to South Africa as an NEA Foundation Global Scholar. After online webinars, a weekend in Washington DC, and work on a lesson plan to be published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education our Fellowship culminated in a 2 week experience in South Africa. When I say experience, there was more than just one experience.
I met and interacted with about 45 other educators from around the United States as well as people connected to the NEA Foundation. Talking with them and sharing experiences and stories has inspired me to seek out further opportunities to increase both my personal and professional growth and to also keep being creative in the classroom as I try to open up our world to our students.
Another experience I had was with the people of South Africa. We met students and teachers, guides, bus drivers, waiters, and I was struck by their friendliness and general optimism. It is a country with a dark past and uncertain future but the people have a certain resilience that is admirable. The spirit of Ubuntu - "humanity" or maybe "I am because we are" or more philosophically "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity" is pervasive in the country and I want to bring that idea to our classroom. This idea of Ubuntu fits in well with the trait of empathy that we try to foster in our school.
I met students from two schools and the hardships that they deal with in both their personal and educational lives don't deter them from seeking out a quality education. It is a country where education is supposedly free but, if you want to be succsesful, you must find a way to go to one of the fee based schools. I met high school students who want to be accountants and elementary students who want to be authors and even a 1st grader who couldn't sit still - I felt at home. Students who were not just from South Africa but Congo, Ghana, Malawi, Zimbabwe and other African countries, brought to South Africa to join in the hope and aspirations that the country represents to other nations. I met dancers and singers and artists who were looking to expand their talents to carve out a place for themselves in the emerging society.
We learned about the days of apartheid, the struggle to overthrow it, and the consequences faced by many who resisted. We learned a little about Nelson Mandela and the others that fought oppression. We also learned about the power of forgiveness.
Of course the adventure everyone wants to know about is the safari. Many of us traveled to Bakubung Game Preserve north of Johannesburg for three days of wildlife viewing. It was a landscape where I could imagine the earliest humans foraging for food and learning to hunt. We saw many animals, springboks, and warthogs, hyena and jackals, baboons and monkeys, zebras and giraffes, wildebeest and water buffalo, hippos, rhinos, elephants, lions defending a meal, and a leopard on the hunt. We saw the full moon eclipsed in the southern sky, heard the roar of lions and the trumpet of an elephant. It was all that and so much more....
Now it's time to process my adventure and bring my experiences back to the classroom.
In the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Let's get started changing our world!