Road Construction

It’s no secret that Kenyan roads are a bit difficult to navigate. I can’t speak to the cities too much — we’ve done most of our traveling in rural areas. But you really have to pay attention when driving in Kenya. The roads themselves are generally dirt or dirt mixed with stone. In many places, there are concrete culverts under the road to allow water to pass across and improve drainage. Between these culverts, though, the road has eroded over time, making them enormous speed bumps. Add to that the occasional deep ruts, basketball-size stones laying in the middle of … Continue reading Road Construction

Educating the Girl Child

I knew, before arriving in Kenya, that there were differences in education between boys and girls. Most girls don’t complete school. Of the few that do, practically none pursue higher education. Of the 51,000 students enrolled in the Suba district last year, 134 enrolled in university this year. Assuming an equal distribution of students among the grades (which is not at all the case because of dropouts), this would be about 3%. Of these, six were girls. So, roughly speaking, one out of every 1,000 girls in this area goes to university. In reality, most don’t finish high school. At … Continue reading Educating the Girl Child

Social Networking on the Mara

We spent a few days this week on safari in Kenya. Masai Mara is an amazing place. It’s the northern part of the Serengeti, encompassing 600 square miles of grassland. Each year, millions of animals migrate to the area from the Serengeti plains, and it’s a wonderful place to see the big animals. On the mara, you get the distinct feeling that you’re on the wrong side of the fence at the zoo. Here’s how the safari works. The group gets in the van. In our case, we had two vans with seven people in each. The top pops up … Continue reading Social Networking on the Mara

Top Two

Last night, Terry asked us each what our top two moments from South Africa are. After three weeks here, there are many. I’m sure I’ll be boring friends and family with stories from South Africa for many years to come. But this has not just been a vacation. The best moments were those that an ordinary tourist wouldn’t have seen. The township tour probably had the biggest impact on me. It was our first full day here, and seeing acres and acres of infomal housing — literally shacks made out of scrap wood and metal — cannot fail to have … Continue reading Top Two

It's Not About the Tools

As we wind down our stay in Cape Town, we’re visiting teachers in the schools and working with them individually to try to take the next steps after the workshops. I haven’t really blogged much about the actual workshops. We started with five days of sessions for teachers at Liwa Primary School in the Phillipi township. The teachers represented 20 different schools, with at least two teachers from each school. A big emphasis was on moving away from basic instruction on using the tools in favor of more help with planning and integration. We started with the basics — why … Continue reading It's Not About the Tools

Robben Island

We went to Robben Island yesterday. This small island was used as a prison from the early 1800’s through 1991. It’s probably most famous for the political prisoners who were housed there during apartheid, including Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 years on the island. For the first 45 minutes, we took a guided bus tour around the island. We saw the prisons (there were four), the quarries where the prison labor worked, and the town where the warden and guards lived. In the limestone quarry, the prisoners worked with manual tools to quarry the stone, eight hours a day, seven … Continue reading Robben Island

Teachers and Laptops

There’s a movement in South Africa to equip every teacher with a laptop. The plan has undergone a number of major changes over the last year or so, but in the current incarnation, teachers are eligible for a stipend from the government if they purchase a laptop to use in preparing and delivering instruction. In the schools, computers are scarce. A school might have a computer lab or two, but there aren’t any computers in the classrooms. In many cases, I’ve seen SMART Boards and mounted projectors, but no computers connected to them. It’s unclear whether there are laptops available … Continue reading Teachers and Laptops

The Minority

We went to the mall yesterday. It’s amazing how similar South African shopping malls are to the ones in North America. Sure, all of the store names are different. But there are the same kinds of things. Lots of clothing stores, a few anchor department stores, electronics places, music and video shops, book stores, and food. Lots of food. Unlike most of the places we’ve been, nearly everyone shopping at the mall was white. I thought we would blend in more with the locals than we have so far. It’s pretty hard for someone like me to blend in when … Continue reading The Minority

Not So Similar

We started our experience in South Africa with a township tour. The townships are an uncomfortable place to visit. Created during apartheid, they are now home to hundreds of thousands of people in Cape Town. Most live in very simple dwellings — either basic government provided housing or tiny shacks they’ve built themselves out of whatever materials they had on hand. There’s a lot of corrugated steel, a lot of scraps of lumber, and even some plastic tarps in some places. Of the homes we saw, the largest was about 400 square feet. This was space for a family with … Continue reading Not So Similar

Not So Different

In the first session of our workshops in Africa, we asked the teachers to identify barriers to effective technology use. Then, working in groups, they had to determine which of the barriers they identified was the biggest problem. Each group wrote their top barriers on poster paper. Then, they exchanged lists with other groups and brainstormed possible solutions. The most interesting part of this process was the list of barriers they came up with. What are the major challenges facing technology use in South African schools? Lack of technology skills. Not enough technology. Too little time. Those three showed up … Continue reading Not So Different

A Different Perspective

As we rode through Cape Town on our township tour this week, our guide told us about District 6. District 6 was a community where whites, blacks, and coloreds all lived and worked together. It’s only a few blocks from the industrial and port center of the city. It was easy for people to walk to and from work. It was a place where everyone lived peacefully together. When apartheid came, it was decided that the races couldn’t live together in the same neighborhood. The blacks and the coloreds were forced to leave their homes. Those who weren’t out by … Continue reading A Different Perspective

Ready or Not…

“Are you ready?” I’ve been asked that question at least a hundred times over the last few weeks. I usually respond with a laugh. They’re talking about my Teachers Without Borders – Canada trip, on which I leave tomorrow. I won’t be ready until I get back. If then. The truth is, I don’t know what to be ready for. I’m so far out of my element with this thing that I don’t know what it is that I should be doing to get ready. But the bags are packed, and I’ve collected everything that I can think of that … Continue reading Ready or Not…