Impact of Caring: Post 7 – Tinny and Vernice

This is the final post in a series about my experience while teaching and traveling this summer in South Africa. Here are the links to the previous posts:
Impact of Caring: Post 1 – Faaidah and Mahavia
Impact of Caring: Post 2 – Fiona and Cheryl
Impact of Caring: Post 3 – Kannemeyer Primary School
Impact of Caring: Post 4 – Julika Falconer
Impact of Caring: Post 5 – Desiree
Impact of Caring: Post 6 – Phuti

When I think about teachers who give their hearts to teaching, these ladies are at the front of the line. Tinny (left) and Vernice (right) teach at Pula Madibogo Primary School in Limpopo Province. Tinny and Vernice began the Reading Club there and we have been connecting ever since. We  send their students books and then we  Skype and their students talk about their reading. These are some photos of our calls through the years.

After I visited their school in 2015, I knew I would have to come again. Unfortunately with my schedule on this trip, I was only able to come for a few hours. We did see each other at Phuti’s Community Reading Club Project launch party so we were able to re-connect before I got up to their school.

Tinny teaches 6th grade and believes with her heart and soul in the saying Readers are Leaders.

She also knows how to make a person feel special.  When I arrived on campus, I saw some drum majorettes practicing in front of the school. I thought they were practicing for a competition. No, they weren’t. The Drum Majorettes greeted me and led me into the school where the student body was waiting for a special ceremony.

The students were in charge complete with a ceremony leader and a schedule of events.

From beginning to end, I was touched and overwhelmed with emotion. My students and I send this school books, but the kids at Pula Madibogo are the superstars because they are using the books to improve their reading. Yet they were treating me like I was the superstar as they shared their gratitude.

All morning long, the students impressed me with their passion for reading and school. I have been able to live a life where education was something I expected and I have at various times taken it for granted. By many standards, I have lived a life of privilege. From my small town in rural Massachusetts to California, Oregon and Washington, I have been able to live and teach in areas with quality public school districts.

The ability to have access to a quality education is not always possible and certainly not in rural Limpopo Province. Yet at this school where the women still cook in an outside cook shelter using traditional cooking pots, the teachers are determined to make things different for this next generation of learners.

Women like Tinny and Vernice, as well as the other teachers at Pula Madibogo do everything in their power to bring the best out in their students. I felt honored to spend time with them and share teaching ideas. I loved hearing the students read passages from books, sing songs,  or tell fun stories. They have passion for learning.

In the classroom Tinny’s students continued the presentation with story-telling, posters, a lovely embroidered towel and a heart-felt plea for more books. Honestly as I looked at the books they were holding, I realized they had worn them out from reading love! They even had a book that I had sent at least three years ago.

As I walked around campus after the presentation, students came up to say hello. One girl I recognized immediately from when I was at her school in 2015. I had a selfie with her then, and we did it again!

Photo from 2015

Photo from 2017

Another boy, Nathaniel and I had a longer conversation. He is now in 7th grade, which is a critical grade in South Africa. Very often children do not have the opportunity to move on to secondary school. He remembered my previous visit and really wanted to assure me that he is taking his studies seriously.


I shared my card with Nathaniel and sincerely hope he stays in contact with me. He has the drive to go far in life. I just hope his dreams don’t fade with age and the hardships of life.

I will be boxing up some books this month and sending them so they have some new choices before the end of their school year. I can’t forget these teachers and students and their needs for materials. The thing is, we can’t do it alone.

This is the last post in the series and I hope that other teachers and students will consider joining our program or starting their own. Anyone who is interested can contact me through the Books to Africa Partnership website. Books can change lives. I’ve seen it come true and so can you.

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Impact of Caring: Post 5 – Desiree

This post is the fifth in a series about my experience while teaching and traveling this summer in South Africa. Here are the links to the previous posts:
Impact of Caring: Post 1 – Faaidah and Mahavia
Impact of Caring: Post 2 – Fiona and Cheryl
Impact of Caring: Post 3 – Kannemeyer Primary School
Impact of Caring: Post 4 – Julika Falconer

Thoughtful, dedicated, generous, sincere and a true friend – these are just a few of the words I can use to describe Des. She and her husband Rod welcomed me into their home two years ago, and once again they opened their home to me, for which I am so completely grateful. While we live the world away from each other, we are lifelong friends. From sunset beach walks in Durban, a Bunnychow dinner, political discussions, long drives to Johannesburg and Limpopo Province as well as an unforgettable Safari experience, my trip would not have happened without their help. I can’t thank them enough for sharing their time, home and willingness to transport me near and far to help make my trip come together.

Bunnychows aren’t for rabbits, nor are they rabbit meat. They are a popular Durban meal made from a hollowed out loaf of bread that is stuffed with curry. The meal originated in the Durban Indian community

Des has been my liaison with Highbury Preparatory Primary School for many years. This private school believes in helping other less fortunate area schools and my Books to Africa project has been able to contribute to this relationship. Des recently retired from her technology teaching position there, but still works tirelessly to make sure the gardens are maintained. In addition, although retired, she is committed to helping the teachers and students with reading at Inchanga Primary School.

This government school in the Valley of a Thousand Hills serves a very disadvantaged community with high needs for extra support. She has been providing guidance and support for the administration and teachers who have started the school’s very first library. We have been able to donate some of the books for this library.

Having a library at a school with over 1,000 students and classrooms of at least 50-60 students brings a different set of issues to solve. The room is small, so 50 students can’t come at the same time with their teacher. There isn’t a librarian to oversee the children when they come without their teacher either. With some mobile carts or boxes and a willingness to figure it out, I know these teachers and Des will find a solution. Reading and literacy is key in ensuring that these students have a quality primary education and a solid foundation for secondary school.

I was able to visit Inchanga on the same day that some of the 7th grade boys from Highbury Prep came to visit with their teacher Lynette. Armed with over a 1,000 sandwiches made by the boys back at school as part of their Mandela 67 minute community project, we handed out lunch to the entire student body. After I was able to meet with their Headmaster and the language arts teachers to talk about how our reading program can further assist their literacy initiative.

It is always special to see books that our teachers or students donated in the hands of young readers thousands of miles away. Witnessing the impact that our students have on their peers by donating books and sending them overseas gives credence to the term agents of change. They are making a difference one book at a time.

* For further information about our Books to Africa Partnership program, please visit our blog

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Impact of Caring: Post 4 – Julika

This post is the fourth in a series about my experience while teaching and traveling this summer in South Africa. Here are the links to the previous posts:
Impact of Caring: Post 1 – Faaidah and Mahavia
Impact of Caring: Post 2 – Fiona and Cheryl
Impact of Caring: Post 3 – Kannemeyer Primary School

Julika Falconer
I am very fortunate because I have enough food to eat on a daily basis. I have a job that pays enough for my shelter, food and extras that I need. However, there are thousands of children who wake up hungry everyday.

According to a 2014 blog post published by Bordon Project, a nonprofit agency that addresses poverty and hunger,  over 11 million South African children are unsure when or where they will get their next meal. Jobs are scarce or pay very little and directly influence the amount of food parents can provide for their children. When children come to school undernurished or suffer from the effects of a lack of proper nutrients, it makes learning even more difficult. Without proper nutrition, the full capacity of what a child can achieve educationally is dramatically reduced.

I had the great fortune to meet a person who have devoted a major portion of her life helping feed vulnerable and impoverished children. I believe she is a  lifesaver for many needy children. Julika Falconer is the CEO of FutureLife Foundation, the charity arm of FutureLife, a company which has supplied over 9 million nutritious meals to needy children since 2009. She has been instrumental in finding financial sponsors so the children at Inchanga Primary School where I visited can begin their day with a nutritious breakfast. Having breakfast has positively impacted the learning for the children at Inchanga. Instead of starting their day hungry, they are able to have a quick nutritious meal and then have the capacity to concentrate on their lessons and do better in school.

What was most striking about the food packet was that nothing else was needed to eat. Children didn’t need a separate spoon, cup or dish. They could simply compress the packet to open the middle seal, rub the pouch, tear open a corner and drink the contents. The plastic bags are then collected, recycled and made into hard plastic benches which are donated back to the school. The program is a winner from all sides of the table. I look forward to working more closely with the staff at Inchanga knowing that they are linking forces with as many agencies as possible to make sure their students can achieve their full potential.

This blog posted was cross-published on my Books to Africa Partnership blog site.

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The Impact of Caring: Part Two

This post is the second in a series about my experience while teaching and traveling this summer in South Africa. The first post can be found here. It is also cross-posted on my Books to Africa blog.

Fiona and Cheryl-

​These ladies are part of my Microsoft Educator Network and shared their time and homes with me. I am so fortunate to be part of this organization where I can go across the world and meet up with friends.

Fiona entertained me on my first night in Cape Town and made sure I wasn’t homesick. Our friendship dates back to 2011 when we met through blogging. I had started my Bulldog Reader Blog and was meeting different people around the blogging world. Fiona also had a blog, and a comment here and a response there, led to a friendship across the miles.
​We first met in person in 2011 when she came to Seattle with the Microsoft in Education program. We met again at an ISTE conference in San Diego. Now we were meeting on her turf in Cape Town! Our love for technology kept our conversation going for hours. I loved hearing how Fiona’s desire to help others is taking her around the country leading technology training with teachers.

Cheryl and I met in Budapest at the Microsoft Global Educator Conference. She teaches Biology at a private high school near Cape Town.

  Cheryl took me around her school where I could see how they are integrating the Global Sustainable Development Goals at a school level. She inspired me to introduce the program at my school. I think it’s important to teach our students the impact they can have on their world. I think with the work that our school is doing with education already, learning about the goals is a natural fit.
​We also had great conversations about the work the students are doing at school regarding water conservation. In the Pacific Northwest with our abundance of rain ALL WINTER LONG, it’s a completely different mindset to think about how you preserve this resource. We have too much and they have not enough. The students have brainstormed and created posters to hang around the school reminding everyone about water conservation.
Cheryl and her husband also showed me around the Constantia wine farms which are known throughout the world. Even though it is winter and not much was in bloom, it was easy to imagine how beautiful the grounds must look in the summer. Seeing the Cape Dutch design buildings with the thatch roof is not something we see everyday here. I was also very amused by the baboon sign. Not really something you see in Seattle!

It truly was special to have two women in Cape Town with kindred spirits who were will to share their time and homes with me while I was there. Click here if you would like to learn more about the Books to Africa Partnership. We are always looking for more people to help support our partner schools in Africa.

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The Impact of Caring: Part One

I just returned from a month long trip to South Africa as both a volunteer teacher and visitor to our partner schools in my Books to Africa partnership. I generally write about this program on a separate Books to Africa Partnership blog.

However, today I started a new blog series about my thoughts about this trip. Words like amazing and heartfelt can describe my experience, but they don’t even begin to capture the depth of what I went through. Instead I decided to share through the lens of the people who made my trip meaningful. This post is also published here.

Words are usually my friend, but I’m finding it difficult to write down my thoughts about my trip to South Africa. As I was thinking about how to write about this experience, I realized what made this trip so amazing  was about the people I encountered along the way.  I have decided to share my trip through a series of blog posts about the people who made my trip memorable.
​The people I met all share a common trait. They care. This simple act of caring is having a longstanding impact on many people.. That may not sound so profound, but the reality is huge. By talking to parents, volunteers, teachers and students, I witnessed first hand the difficulties they face everyday. Huge class sizes, lack of resources, old computers, no internet, no paper or pens, and hunger are daily problems. Yet, in the schools and places I visited, I saw multitudes of people who care and by doing so are making a difference in the future of their country. They are the future of South Africa.

Faaidah and Mahavia 

Faaidah and Mahavia opened their home to me and 13 other volunteers while I stayed in Cape Town. Their belief that it’s important to give back to others drives them to give people opportunities to help in their community. Our conversations filled in the gaps of knowledge I had about the history of Cape Town during the apartheid years where thousands of people were displaced from their homes and forcibly moved to new areas.

She made sure we experienced the joys of a sunset on top of Signal Hill and see the colorful huts at Murzenburg Beach.

She urged us to visit Robben Island to understand about the history of Nelson Mandela’s life. We learned about the politics of the Cape Town region and the complexities of racism that still exist in both of our countries.

They took another volunteer and I to one of the squatter camps where we passed out pens, books and other materials to children living there.  Children pushed and shoved to make sure they could get something and were disappointed when we ran out of supplies. I spent the rest of the day contemplating the reality of this living situation and wondering how it could change. Obviously if there was an easy solution to get families out of squalid living conditions, it would have already been accomplished. I was saddened by the reality of the fact that there are no easy solutions. Seeing how down I felt about the experience, Faaidah shared that she heard one boy walk away with a book and a pen saying, “This is enough for me.” At that moment in time, I hope it was enough, but I also hope the future will bring him more.

We also talked about religion. While I have met many Muslim people, I had never had the opportunity to really talk in depth to a Muslim about their faith. Faaidah opened her heart and faith with all of us, renewing my belief that it’s not a person’s faith that defines them necessarily. What matters is within the person’s heart and soul. I left Faaidah’s home knowing that while we might be different on the outside, our commonalities on the inside matter more. Her family’s desire to make sure volunteers have a safe place to live while they work in the area speaks volumes about their desire to care. I truly was fortunate to have to opportunity to live with Faaidah and Mahavia while I was in Cape Town.




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