Thursday, July 31, 2008

Agnes & The Books

Dear Friends and Family

Wow! What a great day! Today we were truly blessed.

We worked at Stepping Stones, a preprimary facility in Cape Town, for people who live in the townships and work in the city; a very special place. To get to school, some of the children arrive by taxi (think Dodge van with nine people riding in it); some are brought by their parents. A child’s day often starts by 5 am. They arrive at school at 7:15 am and leave the school at 5:15 pm, a long day for any 3, 4, or 5 year old. It probably takes them at least another hour to get home. But I digress.

This preschool is special in that it has a library; five shelves of books, a very unusual thing in a country where books are a luxury and many government funded schools do not have any. Each Thursday, each child picks out a book and takes it home until the following Wednesday, when they are returned. Almost all the books are in English. In many cases the parents read to the children. If they don’t read English, many make the effort to look through the books with their children. In the Cape Town area, when children reach primary school age they are, most often, taught in English, and the parents want them to learn English so they can get jobs. In rural areas, the children are taught in their native language in the early grades (by law) and then switch to English around fourth grade. This would be a lot easier for teachers if there were actually texts and reading materials in the tribal languages, but there are few. The debate over this practice rages on just like our debate over whether or not children should be taught in Spanish when that is their primary language.

The amazing thing about these children at Stepping Stones is they speak to each other in Xhosa, and are taught in English with some Afrikaans thrown in. So they can speak to you in three languages by the age of five. It is very intimidating the first time you are in a class.

Anyway, what made this day special was that our friend and fellow choir member Agnes Royster (seen here with the book “What Comes in a Shell?”) and her firm, Scholastic Press, donated over 180 small, pre-school books to Stepping Stones. We carried them in a suitcase on to the airplane to get them here. Some of the books went into the reading corners in each of the three classrooms. Others are going into the library. A very few are going to children in the informal settlements (more on that later when I know more.)

On Thursday each week, one of the young men from Langa township, Sopelo, donates his time to ensure the library is ready for the children’s use, the returned books are checked in and put away, and the children get books to take home and read.

Today Floyd, I and Bryl Hewiston, a retired teacher from the school, helped Supelo organize the books and put cards in them so they can be checked out. We had to make every card pocket and every card out of regular paper and cut and paste until we could use them in the books. Sopelo is presently in the process of typing the names and authors into an acquisition spreadsheet. Then the cataloging process will be finished. Next week the books should be ready for circulation. Things move slowly in Africa.

Thanks Agnes. Your donation increased the number of books available for reading by 25%. It was really appreciated. I will send pictures of the children reading them next week. In the meantime, I thought you would enjoy this one of nap time. These are the four year olds. There are over twenty children in a very small space. That is their entire classroom in the picture. How they go to sleep with people talking over and around them I will never know, but they do.

Blessings to all,

Monday, July 28, 2008

Peace, God & Love

Those who do not believe in God, or Peace, or Love should probably not read any further. That would be a Boolean decision – if you believe in any one of the previous, then read on. It is my unshakable belief that you cannot have true Peace without some form of Love and understanding and anytime Love is present, so is God.

I recently submitted the photograph below to a contest sponsored by the College of DuPage. The judges felt it good enough to award a prize. It was not a staged photo – I was simply in the right place at the right time. The photo, as I interpret it, illustrates my beliefs on where the world is moving.

Children are not born with prejudices. We adults teach them how to hate. Why do we do that? Because that’s what we learned from our parents, peers, drill instructors, or life experiences. Look at the two innocent children in the photo, one white and one black. They have not yet learned that they are supposed to fear/hate those who are not like them. What a shame that we will soon educate them.

“Not like them” comes in many flavors. Race is obvious, although becoming less so as the world’s population turns brown; religion is not quite as obvious. Christian, Jewish, Muslim – all people descended from Abraham – all believe in the same God. My choice works for me and I am happy to tell others why. I cannot restrict the God that I believe in to only my set of beliefs. So I choose to express my God by the Love that I show to others. It seems to be amazing how people of all colors and beliefs react to that approach. Try it.

Another flavor is economics. The homeless in Glen Ellyn or Cape Town are still homeless, needing food, shelter and compassion. The Love approach works in this case as well. We handed a stocking cap to a barefoot child on Sunday. It broke our hearts, but at least his head will be warm. We’ll be cooking soup this Saturday for the Sunday distribution – it’s a small thing to us but an important one to those who are hungry.

Here comes a somewhat controversial topic, so be careful. Remember how we held up Abraham Lincoln as an example of how a person could rise from a log cabin to the White House? And then we would tell our child that he or she could be anything they wanted to be? (And Hillary almost made that true). The African world is poised to tell their children that they can be anything they want to be. This depends on us having the guts to elect Barack Obama as our President.

It seems obvious to me that the last eight years has brought us the TSA, Homeland Security, 9/11, the Iraq War, $4.50/gallon petrol, food hikes, economic issues, etc. Damn right it’s time for a change because I’m not interested in more of the same. Obama is a well-spoken, Christian (although that is not relevant to his qualifications), intelligent, relatively young person who commands the respect of people throughout the world. Find me a comparable candidate and I will consider him or her.

In the meantime, Floyd Rogers, a dedicated Republican up to and throughout the Nixon years, wholeheartedly supports Barack Obama.

“Electile Dysfunction?” If, and only if, you are self-medicating with status quo pills. Try looking into the future. Ask me how I really feel on this subject.