Monday, March 16, 2009

Saturday's Cool

"Saturday's Cool" their T-shirts proclaim. If you say it fast, it sounds like something your kids probably want to avoid. But four hundred and fifty learners grades five to twelve are eager to participate in the Rose-ACT tutoring program run on the boarder of Alexandra Township by Rosebank Union Church, Hurlingham, South Africa. There's even a waiting list of a hundred and fifty to pay the fee of sixty South African rand a term (about US$6). Classes are taught by 115 volunteers, about half of whom are from Alexandra Township, home to most of the students. Many are graduates of the program. I arrived in time to wade through the jam around the "library"--a tiny office lined with bookshelves and bins of books.

"This is nothing," said Anneke, the Dutch volunteer who works for IBM during the week, and runs the library on Saturday. "You should have seen it a few minutes ago!"

The dance club was just getting started after the academic classes ended. Later I checked out the science club where learners were engineering balsa wood structures for a coming competition. There's also a chess club.

I was there to meet with student volunteers who help in various creches (pre-schools) and after school programs in this community deeply affected by poverty, unemployment and HIV. There was a good bit of confusion getting started. (This is Africa, after all, and a North American like me needs lots of flexibility.) But eventually we were eight teens, Anneke and me. We read sample stories and talked about what to look for when choosing books to read to little ones and how to interact with them in the reading. (See my notes.) Although a couple looked like they were wondering why they were there, most were interested. One girl came to find out about reading with her five-year-old brother. It was exciting to see eyes light with understanding as if a proverbial bulb had been turned on.

During the week the facility is a technical college. The room echoed terribly, and it was hard to carry on a discussion, but I read Rosie the Brave and demonstrated different ways to involve listeners. It is the end of term or I would be eager to go back and meet with them again. I would love to hear them practice reading with each other. Next time...

The Rose-ACT website is being up-dated but check it out for more information. The entire program has one paid employee.

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