January 21, 2009

The missionary who now knows what he’s doing

One of the great things about staying in a place for an extended time is that you get to do things more than once. You might recall a story from last January when I spent most of a day dashing around town with a group of new high school students to ensure they were registered and ready for the first day of school. You might recall I didn’t really understand what had to be done and I didn’t even know where the school was.

Well, it is the beginning of the school year again and there are more new high school students. But now - informed by the experience last January and everything in between - I have a much, much better idea of what needs to happen, when, and why.

Yesterday I drove our six new students around town, copying the necessary records to accompany the application, getting the ID photos taken, and getting them officially signed up at school. I even used a personal connection I’ve developed over the past year to ensure they didn’t have to spend hours (literally) waiting in line to register at school. In all, it was a much smoother and enjoyable process for me than it was last year.

Remember, the reason I get involved in the education of these students is that it costs money to go to high school, about $75/year just for school fees. In addition, there are fees to get the ID photo taken and to actually submit the application. That doesn’t count the cost of the uniform or the necessary pens, paper, and so on. I have been bleeding money all week, all for legitimate reasons.

And it’s exciting. There are six new students in grade 10 (the first year of high school) with the possibility of a seventh. Here they are.
What’s great about this picture is that there are two young men in the group. This is fantastic! Last year, I despaired of my gender every time I realized there were no males from Itipini in high school. To have two is wonderful. Of the young women, I don’t think any of them have children.

Meanwhile, there is still last year’s group of students to be concerned about. A couple who failed are dragging their feet about going back to school but the ones who passed are ready and willing to go.

My English class last year ended up attracting about five students who don’t live in Itipini but heard about the group from their friends and came along. Ziyanda was one of them.
She’s going into twelfth grade and is really smart - she did well in school and she speaks great English. She came to me yesterday and it was the first time I had seen her since last November because she had spent most of the break in her family’s rural village. The reason she wanted to talk to me is that she needed help paying school fees. While I am happy to help anyone learn English, we have to draw the line somewhere on paying school fees and that generally means we don’t pay fees for anyone not living in Itipini. Of course, in extenuating circumstances we could be a little more pliable so I asked Ziyanda why, when her family could pay the fees last year, she needed help this year.

Her circumstances definitely qualify as extenuating. Her father worked in the mines near Johannesburg and sent money home. But he was killed in a mining accident late last year and the funeral was in December. (When someone matter-of-factly tells you this story, how do you respond?) It sounds like her mother is working but there are other children in the family to support as well. I said we’d work something out. It seems fair and she is a very talented student.

Coming up next is the excursion into town to purchase new uniforms. Last year, when the students confirmed every stereotype about women and shopping, it nearly killed me. We’ll see on Friday if a year’s worth of knowledge and experience helps me endure it any more easily. Stay tuned...