Monday in a Picture – School Farewell

Today, I moved out of my home in a rural southwestern nook in eSwatini. Later this week, I will officially finish my service to the kingdom of eSwatini. Similar to entering service, there will be meetings and paperwork

At school last week, I gave a farewell speech to the student body. Following my speech, one of our senior students spoke on behalf of the learners to thank me for all that I’ve done at the school. Some students gave written notes of gratitude. It’s amazing to know that the students are always listening, watching, and learning.

On my final day at the school, my school co-workers organized a farewell lunch for me. There were speeches as we enjoyed one of my favorite Swazi street foods, chicken dust. The staff presented a t-shirt they had made for me. On the front is a black and white photo of me eating a piece of meat. I was told that the reasoning for this was because I have introduced myself around the community on numerous occasions saying, “Nginu Sibusiso. Ngiyatsandza inyama”, which means “I am Sibusiso. I like meat”. On the back of the shirt, it has my Swazi name (Sibusiso) at the top, “eSwatini KuseKaya” meaning “eSwatini is home” in the middle, and my blog signature at the bottom.

I am thankful to have joined such an amazing core of teachers. The above picture was taken by one of our students after the farewell luncheon and features many of the teachers from our local high school.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – The G3 Summit, or eSwatini Scratch Day

In December 2017, fellow eSwatini PCV Deacon hosted a camp to teach girls and young women how to code using Scratch, the visual programming language. This past Saturday, he hosted a Scratch Day competition. The students returned to central eSwatini to showcase their cartoons and video games in competition. The theme given for the competition was solving a problem in eSwatini.

More than thirty students represented GLOW clubs from all over the country. While the cartoons and video games weren’t being judged by panels from Women in Engineering (of eSwatini), students participated in discussions about women and girls in STEM after watching a TED talk from Dr. Knatokie Ford. In another room, students were invited to explore electric circuits in unconventional ways among other things. The students also has the opportunity to participate in a typing competition.

I am happy to report that our students placed third in cartoon design, and won the video game design competition. Their video game featured a girl catching falling good advice and avoiding falling bad advice. Catching good advice granted the player one point while catching bad advice subtracted a point from the player’s score. For their efforts, they won a tablet, backpacks, and a laptop. The above picture shows Deacon (the man behind G3 and Scratch Day), my Scratch-coding students (from our local high school), Mike (the Deputy Chief of Mission to eSwatini), and me.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – That Time We Took a Field Trip

In January 2018, I was excited. The new school year was on the horizon. I was coming into a stride in my service. I was ready to introduce Wikipedia Offline to our students at the high school. As I was sharing this excitement with other PCVs and our Country Director, I mentioned the idea of a writing contest. I was trying to figure out how to gather prizes for the contest. In my mind, we would teach the students how to research and use Wikipedia Offline before they demonstrated mastery by writing brief research reports. Someone suggested a field trip. “Why not write a small grant to take the winning students to the (U.S.) embassy’s resource center and lunch?”, our director asked. Commence grant writing.

While the timeline was delayed, the essence of the project was able to shine through. In May, we announced the contest. All students were invited to use the Wikipedia Offline to write a one page report concerning the topic, “Strong Women”. Our students submitted reports about strong women that have inspired them and the world including Winnie Mandela, Jane Austen, and Oprah Winfrey.

Last month, we took that field trip to the U.S. Embassy in Ezulwini. The students were excited as it was their first time visiting the embassy. The head librarian prepared a presentation discussing what the resource center offers. He even spoke to the students about the importance of self-directed and self-motivated learning. Some students have expressed interest in getting membership cards and spending portions of the school breaks in the embassy’s resource center. The students being inspired has inspired me. I’ve very excited to see what the future holds for students who understand that they can do and become anything. The above picture was taken by embassy staff as I discussed some of the features of the resource center with my students.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Spotlight

For the second (or third, depending on how you count) time this year, I have been the main subject of a write-up in the Times of Swaziland. In January, there was an article about Parkrun, in which I was briefly interviewed. In February, the Times of Swaziland featured an article about the excitement I caused (among older women) as a super hairy umbutfo (pronounced oom-boot-foe), or warrior. Last Thursday (5 July 2018), the article pictured above was featured in the Times of Swaziland. In all instances, I received messages (from Peace Corps affiliated folks) alerting me to the write-ups. Unlike the other instances, I didn’t talk anyone from the newspaper so I wasn’t expecting this. The article did come after a post about my work was published on the Peace Corps eSwatini stories page on 3 July 2018.

My hope is that Wikipedia Offline (and Kiwix) get the much deserved attention, and that more schools, NGOs, and other organizations begin to use these products to unlock untapped potential.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – The Staff Room

As you may know, I spend most days at a local high school. You can read about my adventures as a teacher here. However, I don’t teach all day, everyday. While some teachers here have dedicated spaces (think specialities like computers, wood shop, etc), many other teachers complete non-teaching duties in the room pictured above. It’s our staff room.

The staff room is also where I spend most my time when not teaching. I have a desk and a chair that I usually sit in. This is where I read, prepare lessons, and have lunch. At times, the staff room is host to all staff meetings and other trainings. The staff room is also where many student textbooks are stored when not in use. Students will visit the staff room to find teachers for extra assistance or to turn in assignments for grading. Sometimes, teachers will grade assignments (known as marking here) in the staff room. The stacks of notebooks seen above have student work from various student classes. Once the marking is done, one or two students will pick the stack to return to her/his classmates if students don’t retrieve their own notebooks.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Bereavement

Last Monday, I arrived at school like I always do. I noticed the head teacher talking to another teacher. It looked as though they were discussing important matters, so I acknowledged them and proceeded to lock up my bike. The head teacher approached me and told me that one of our students was killed in a car accident the previous Friday. The student was also a fellow teacher’s son.

In Swazi culture, it’s proper for the bereaved family to receive delegations from varied aspects of the deceased and their lives as people offer condolences. On Monday afternoon, we travelled, as a delegation of teachers, to the bereaved family’s homestead to offer condolences. This is done in one of the homes on the homestead that has been cleared out to receive guests. Songs were sung. Prayers were uttered. Tears were cried.

In rural eSwatini, the memorial services start either Friday or Saturday night with a night vigil. This past Saturday, several students and teachers travelled to the bereaved family’s homestead for the night vigil. There’s a very large tent set up for this occasion. Starting around 9 pm, the night vigil is like an extended church service/praise and worship session. There’s singing and dancing followed by sermon-like messages from people in attendance. It’s a joyous celebration. Around 3 am, there was a tea break. Hot tea and refreshments were served. After the break, there were more songs and prayers before speakers from various delegations offer condolences. The obituary was also read during this time. Singing and praying continued.

Around day break, services wrap up in the tent. Shortly after first light, there is a processional (behind the pallbearers) from the tent to family’s graveyard. This is usually on the homestead or relatively close. At the grave site, there are prayers before the body is lowered into the ground. The family then proceeds to fill the hole with the recently excavated dirt. After the hole is completely filled, there are prayers of thanks and benediction before people disperse. The above picture is of the processional to the grave site at first light.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Testing

We are currently in the third and final term of the academic year in Swaziland. The biggest focus of term three is exams. Earlier this month, Form 3 (equivalent to grade 10) and Form 5 (equivalent to grade 12) students started writing their external exams. Think standardized testing with the highest of stakes. 

All other high school students will begin writing internal exams in November as schools prepare to close in early December. While internal exams are designed by a school’s teachers and vary from school to school, external exams are designed and written by the Examinations Council of Swaziland. Schools typically bring in external moderators, called invigilators, for the external exams while a school’s teachers will serve as invigilators for that school’s internal exams. 

Upon successful completion of the Form 3 exams, students earn a Junior Certificate. For this reason, the Form 3 exams are sometimes referred to as the JC exams. With a Junior Certificate, students can apply to various vocational schools around Swaziland. Upon successful completion of the Form 5 exams, students earn an ‘O’ level certificate. This is equivalent to a high school diploma, and is needed to attend university. In the picture above, the required notices are posted outside of one of the classrooms being used for external exams. Students are not allowed to bring extra materials into the exam room, and typically leave their bags lined up outside of the room. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Monday in a Picture – Sports Day

The school year in Swaziland is divided into three terms. During the first term (which we’re currently in), high school students participate in sports. There is special time set aside for athletics. Some schools compete against other schools. At my school, the students compete against other grade levels. The students compete in soccer, volleyball, and netball. 

Recently, our school hosted a series of sports days. The teaching schedules were pushed aside in favor sporting event schedules. When students and fellow teachers asked if I would be playing, I told them that I was unsure. On the actual day, there was tremendous encouragement for me to play netball. The teachers’ team needed players. I informed them that I didn’t know how to play. In true Swazi fashion, several teachers responded that it wasn’t a problem and that I would learn. 

I was told that netball is very similar to basketball. That’s true, as there is a ball and a basket. Imagine ultimate frisbee played on a basketball court. You have to put the ball in the basket (no backboard included) instead of putting it in the endzone. There are distinct positions on a netball team. 

In our first match, I played the position of Wing Defender. This position plays opposite of the Wing Attacker. I was responsible for stopping the advancement of the ball. I had to learn that netball is not supposed to be a contact sport. Old habits die hard. In our second match, I played the position of Goal Scorer. This position plays opposite of the Goal Keeper. As a Goal Scorer, I was responsible for scoring the goals (i.e, putting the ball in the basket). I learned that I’m not really good at this position. We lost both games. 

Be kind to yourself.
Onward. 

P.S. – Last week, Peace Corps Stories featured one of my blog posts! Tell your friends.  

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Monday in a Picture – School Assembly 

I spend most of my time at the high school. There are classes to be taught and conversations to be had. In addition, I genuinely enjoy being at the school. The students are engaging while challenging me to speak more siSwati. Fellow teachers bounce ideas around with me, and also encourage me to speak more siSwati. 

Most days, the school day begins and ends with an assembly. When the bell rings, all students come together and stand in line with their respective grade level. A teacher or administrator stands in front to lead the learners through the assembly. 

One of the older students will start to sing a song. The other students join in the singing at appropriate times. After the song, the students will recite a prayer. The song is always in siSwati or isiZulu. The prayers and prayer languages vary, and are sometimes recited in English. After the prayer, the staff person facilitating the assembly will say “good morning/afternoon, students”. In unison, the students reply “good morning/afternoon sir/ma’am. Good morning/afternoon teachers. Good morning/afternoon sisters. Good morning/afternoon brothers.” At this point in the assembly, staff make any announcements pertaining to the students (i.e., remind your parents about the meeting tomorrow, etc.) The assembly ends after announcements are made, and students go either to class or home. 

The above picture is of the students lined up for afternoon assembly at the high school. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward.

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