“No Matter Where You Go, Remember The Road That Will Lead You Home”
It's hard to believe that the last time I wrote a blog was before our Easter explorations with family. The opportunity to spend 10 days with some of my nearest and dearest exploring the coasts, mountains and wildlife of Durban and the Drakensberg Mountains was fantastic.
Collaboration and Progression
The last 7 weeks have been packed full, weekdays have been busy working with my Basotho colleagues on a range of lessons and teaching approaches; a range of painting techniques, practical maths, storytelling and creative writing and creating PowerPoint presentations with two large groups of excitable grade 6's from Katlehong and Thaba Tseka primary school were definitely highlights!
It has been very rewarding to see the WASH champions from both schools share their knowledge of the 5 F's and how to utilise their new hand washing stations with their peers across the school and the excitement of both pupils and staff that they had somewhere central to wash their hands during their school day (and to be able collect water without trekking up a mountainside at Thaba Tseka primary school!).
As well as all of this, we have been lucky enough to have been in Thaba Tseka during their cultural competitions for dance, drama and poetry. The talent of this group of young people never fails to amaze and delight!
One of the unexpected areas which has been a driving force for this second half of our time here had been that of running courses for groups of teachers and DRT(district resource teachers) in Maths and Phonics. Working with a very eager and enthusiastic group of ladies I have delivered 5 phonics courses and watched the teachers grow in confidence in their knowledge and ability to share with their colleagues. As for the maths course, it has evolved and grown since our first course in Mazenod near Maseru and now (6 courses later) to become the well-established routine. It has a pleasure to work closely with my Welsh and Basotho colleagues, bouncing off each other in the preparation and delivery- enjoying a laugh or two along the way.
Sights and Sounds
Weekends since Easter have seen us travelling to some of the sights that we have heard so much about- the tranquillity of Katse lodge overlooking the water reservoir and the chance to marvel at the enormous dam (after a 2km hike from the town) was in direct contrast to the taxis that we took, all of which are chocked full of people and have music blaring.
Our visit to Mazenod meant that we were able to leave the hustle and bustle of Maseru and visit Thaba Bosiu- sight of the founder of Lesotho, King Moshoeshoe I's settlement on top of a steep mountain side, it's not hard to see why it was such a successful location to hold off enemies. We had a lovely few hours looking around and enjoying the view of the mountain across a valley that inspired the shape of the Basotho hat with the sound of cattle bells echoing around us. While there we visited the cultural village that has been established with people in traditional clothing and traditional rondavel houses.
No Goodbyes Just Farewells
As June draws closer the weather in Thaba Tseka has grown colder and on our final journey down through the mountains we were treated to a spectacular drive through the snow and mist.
The last few days in Thaba Tseka have been full of fun and festivities as I've said my goodbyes to those I've worked with and built friendships with over the past 5 months. The effort that each school went to, in order to celebrate our time together in terms of dances, songs (that are now stuck in my head!) and speeches as well as their generosity in the gifts that they presented us with was humbling. It has been an honour to have had this opportunity to come and work with such a warm and supportive group of teachers and such an inspirational, determined and funny group of children, who have accepted me and all of my ideas and approaches (no matter how strange they seemed!). I will miss the mountains, the balance and mostly the people as I return to Wales and will always look back fondly on my time here in Thaba Tseka where I have learnt a lot about myself and about what is important from my Basotho colleagues.
I'm thankful to Dolen Cymru for providing me with the opportunity, to my school in Wales for allowing me to go! To my LTPP team mates, Alyson and Sion (without whom there would not have been nearly so much fun and laughter or so many brilliant memories!) and mostly to those I've worked with during my time in Lesotho who have made it such an unforgettable experience.
Lesotho Culture, Activities and Goodbyes
Since the Easter Break I have been lucky to experience Basotho culture both in school and during a visit to Maseru.
I was pleased to be invited to accompany the youngest children to the Thaba Tseka area Cultural Celebrations. In preparation, preschool and reception children had fun practicing their dances, the girls in lines singing and stepping, the boys chanting and kicking up their legs. The little ones arrived on the day of the event, excited and wearing traditional costumes, the girls in skirts made of maize bags, like grass skirts, the boys in jewel decorated panels, like skirts. The celebrations involved hundreds of tiny children dressed up, performing in their schools, definitely a high cuteness factor. The teachers dressed up and danced too, enjoying themselves. Even I wore an outfit but choose to be official photographer instead of dancing. The event concluded with a picnic, Basotho style, with children sitting in circles eating plates of rice, beans and chicken.
For older pupils, their cultural event, Macufe Day was very similar to a Welsh Eisteddfod. It was spectacular! Hours went into preparation; making skirts for the girls’ dance out of maize bags. With four bags for each skirt they were very time consuming to make but both girls, boys and teachers worked hard. Every night after school, large numbers practiced the different dances or singing in the choir. On the day, the older children from all the local schools arrived at the venue in their uniforms, covered in their traditional blankets in the dark blue and black of the Thaba Tseka design. All the dances were incredible, everyone had amazing rhythm, moving in time to the sound of their own choirs. The girls flicked up their skirts and the boys jumped and kicked up their legs. There was an amazing standard from all schools, each school excelling in different areas. Paray boys’ tribal dance captured the audience, they were so athletic, agile and powerful. All the dances represented part of their history and culture, along with poems and a play. The children have such a sense of pride in their customs and history. I am looking forward to the district finals.
Recently we travelled to Maseru take a Maths workshop and explore the city. It was good to be in a larger town, a treat to visit a coffee shop, the first time since January, and stock up with cheese and bacon from the Supermarket. A highlight was the visit to Thaba Bosiu, heritage site of King Moshoeshoe, founder of the Basotho people. We climbed the steep scared mountain, sat on the King’s stone and explored the remains of his villages from 1800’s. The view of surrounding villages and the distinctive Basotho Hat Mountain was spectacular. It was interesting to follow this trip up the mountain with a visit the museum, walking around the replica of the original village and learning about the different tribes.
It is ball game season so I have also been involved with Netball practice. It is very different to my Welsh school, on a dusty court with no official markings only the ones the girls make with a stick. The girls wear school uniform, with school shoes or bare feet and no bibs with positions. The standard is good, they are so athletic and enthusiastic. They would give my old teams in Penyrheol a very good match.
It is almost time to say our goodbyes, it is going to be an emotional time at the end of May, leaving Thaba Tseka. Over the last four months, we have each been accepted by the children and the staff in our schools as one of them. Last week I was touched when at the end of the day, four children of mixed ages came into the library and said “Mme Alyson, please will you read to us?” No way could I refuse.
I am going to miss my early morning walks to school and standing in morning assembly looking at all the smiling faces, listening to prayers and singing as I lookout over at the valley and mountain. Also feeling part of the community; the children calling ‘Mme Alyson’, Nnte Sion, Mme Vicki, as we walk around town and up the mountains, the locals calling ‘Lumela Mme.
I am going to miss the Welsh colleagues I have lived and worked with, the Basotho children and teachers. I am looking forward to going home; to warm weather, to see my family and friends and to work with the Basotho teachers during their visit to Wales and their stay in Llanelli.
I have so many memories, I am never going to forget my five months here in the mountains, the opportunity I have had to experience such a very different culture and be welcomed and accepted by the people of the community and the schools. I like to thank both the teachers and learners in Thaba Tseka and Dolen Cymru for this experience.
Judgments, Journeys and Reflections
This is likely to be the last of my blogs from Lesotho; with only three or so weeks left most of our time will be tidying up loose ends. The last few days will be in Maseru finalizing an overview of our time here and perhaps, at last getting some time to see the waterfall at Semongkong!
The last blog was written just before our Easter break. Arriving back after a wonderful rest in South Africa for Vicki and Alyson and in my case Zimbabwe, we were straight into a full on monitoring and evaluation week. The general consensus was that the work we have been doing was having an impact both in terms of the teaching and also the changing of teachers’ methods in the classroom. There was also visible evidence of the work we have done in helping schools with the hygiene programs and the physical impact of sourcing sustainable water supply and wash stations from money donated by friends.
It was great to see the team here and a really fun week cooking for them, being able to chat and exchange stories. The star for me was Anne Loughran who can immediately put a smile on your face with stories of her experiences in this wonderful country. She has so many connections and friends it is often disconcerting to see how she remembers all the names, particularly to an imbecile like me who finds the sheer volume of m’s in the names an impossible hurdle. Having the team here allowed us to realize what we had achieved. Having Mandy here gave us the chance to vent some frustrations and maybe talk our way through some individual concerns.
In my case I was seen teaching 4 lessons, something I’d promised I’d never put myself through again. In all honesty though these children want to learn so much that being there, guiding and challenging them is an absolute pleasure.
One of the more difficult experiences was a visit to the local teachers training college for a meeting regarding the impact we have had. This has been an area where as a team we have felt under utilized. There have been some mitigating factors, student strikes and clashes with other meetings meaning that lecturers could not come. The meeting however was positive, and they understood our frustration and the fact we felt they had not had best value from the program. It ended with a really good open dialogue and a commitment to maximize what we could provide for them including staff training. “Well done” Mandy for guiding us through potentially turbulent waters. The funniest incident on the day was when the meeting started with no sign of Vicki. She had decided to visit the ladies and closed the door without realizing there was no handle on the inside. After failing to get anyone of us to answer our phones, she decided to re-enact a Bond movie, clambered onto the cistern and eased herself out of the window.
The other highlight of the visit was Anne bringing two teachers round for some English and Maths training. Again I have to say it’s so refreshing to see how quickly they embrace the alternative methods available for teaching. They spent four hours with us and to be honest would have carried on longer.
With the team gone and no common focus, the second stint is very much what we feel our own schools need. In my case the focus is to my strengths. I’m spending time with teachers in grades 5, 6 and 7. Looking at topics they find difficult and finding visual ways for them to see how easy they are. We are gradually coming up with good understanding, introducing the idea of class discussion and integrating much more practical work. There is never a lesson where I’m not smiling at the end. I’ve loved the pure joy on the children’s faces when they understand a concept. Marking is now much more supportive showing what maybe to do to help if something is misunderstood. Children also seem much happier to collectively go through some examples and even though red pen fever is still a strong Basotho affliction, they seem more amenable to accepting that they can self mark. What they love, is having a comment on their work, they treasure that.
The college lecturers wanted a session on assessment and we were pleasantly surprised to see around 16 of them with us for a two-hour workshop after school finished. We basically took them through some ideas using games and questioning to highlight the key points. I think the reality hit us how much more we could have worked with these lovely people and how that this is the path to change future teaching methodology.
We trained a group of teachers in Mazenod the other day. Our so-called friend Setempe had given us some indication that there would be a few! The course ended with us facing 70 teachers from 15 schools! In fairness they lasted through 5 hours or so on a Friday. The response we got was positive, and backs our general feeling that these teachers are desperate for quality in service support. They do not need to be told, they need to be shown that there are other ways and methodologies. They also need to see the importance of mental strategies. Setempe of course is now a local hero for arranging this course! He deserves all the plaudits; he has great, organizational skills. From a personal perspective it was an exhausting 4 or so hours as they are so noisy when they get excited, as I get older I find excited chatter hard to cope with!!
Again the shock in Lesotho is the lack of available resources. Quick nipping out to photocopy some additional materials is an impossible dream, as is access to an “all singing all dancing powerpoint on the whiteboard”. I’ve learnt to prepare without sheets in front of everyone, to think hard about how I want to visually engage these children and the language I need. The resources for the course including a hundred square with stick on numbers, a counting stick and other maths tools were all made by us at home using Blue Peter approaches! In every classroom there are now signs of posters that can be used for lessons, with children looking at them and using them.
Enough of work; the main difference in our out of school life has been travelling. Having seen little of Lesotho, the last two weekends have been on the road in lodges or guesthouses. Initially at Katse, and last weekend at Maseru. Both have come with painful reminders of the sheer tediousness of public transport. Katse was a 4 hour drive in a minibus overfilled and blasting music. That sounds OK until you realize the journey is only 60km. Admittedly this is across 4x4 roads where the phrase African massage makes sense.
Katse itself was breathtaking. The lodge was functional, the food was good and it was lovely to sit down and share a mealtime with some French people talking about Brexit. Our time was spent chilling; the Saturday was a visit to the Botanical gardens and then a 3km walk to the information center for the dam. Having paid our 40 Maluti, imagine our surprise when they asked where is your car? They did not seem to cater for parts two and three of the tour being impossible if they had backpackers. Luckily a Dutch resident of SA was there with friends and offered us transport to the bottom of the dam and then to the top. It sums up the tourist industry though, stunning views, wonderfully happy people but no infrastructure. There is so much potential; all of it untapped. The return journey was surreal; we were there by 8 to catch a taxi. The driver was there the minibus was there but like some Mexican based Clint Eastwood movie we did not move till 11:30. So there was the three of us sitting on the verge, Eli Walach (aka the driver) sleeping in his minibus. It ended up with a lot of photos of locals and the “big as tarven” as it was called. Making conversation with a sow and her two piglets, three very large chickens, a couple of donkeys and a horse!
Our training day in Mazenod coincided with a visit to Maseru, so we stayed 3 nights in a guesthouse. Again the drive was long and we were dropped in the middle of the market, no idea how to get to our destination. There was one scary moment where we felt “followed”, you suddenly realize that it is not always safe here. That said in general we have had no issues. It’s easier for me as I am male and old. White hair is an instantaneous magnet for a level of respect. The two females constantly get marriage proposals and in Vicki’s case she wears a false wedding ring, not that it seems to make any difference!
Maseru was fun. Alyson was in a sphere of bliss being able to see a Mall, have decent coffee and generally nose around shops. We did spend the Saturday visiting Thaba Bosui and the cultural village. Our Taxi driver had a penchant for country and western. I can you tell you that even though Dolly Parton is a personal favourite, there is something weird about listening to her lyrics as you’re crawling through African markets. The birthplace of the Basotho nation was well worth the visit and climb. Again the return journey was harrowing. The general bustle as sellers parade up and down the aisle selling bananas, chips, packets of corn, mobile phone gatgets…anything; followed by six hours in a bus of 70 with an hour and a half stop by a roadside for no known reason. While I was preparing some maths lessons Vicki commented I had an audience and the next hour I ended up teaching some high school students which helped the time go by.
There are so many things I’ll miss here, so many happy memories, so many beautiful views. The reality of our time and impact here is that it has been a drop in the ocean. I hope that some of the stuff I’ve done will have a legacy. I remember the young girl in Morija running up and remembering her Welsh teacher’s name. It would be good to feel that in three years, some of these wonderful little kids remember us.
What will I take back; some memories of stunning singing, from both staff and children. I’ll remember the genuine kindness and interest shown by Basotho people. The pure joy these children have in collective achievement and success. I have a video of Thaba Tseka going nuts singing, dancing and clapping just celebrating that 13 of their own were representing the school at regional level. I’ll recall beautiful singing from school choir at Loti, organized by local youths. The haunting song sung at Mazenod primary, which we just happened on as we were leaving after running the course. Each and every assembly but maybe most memorably trying to contain my laughter at the re-enactment of the “Wisdom of Solomon” starting with those classic words “Oh no my baby is dead”. All those faces in the classes of 50+, wanting to please wanting to succeed. The St David’s day work but in particular reception dressed as daffodils. Most importantly a sea of 60+ little faces in the morning, all smiling as they greet you with “good morning teeeecher, how are you?”
I’ve become more patient, fitter, healthier and ready for retirement. We still have a fortnight’s contract in Wales, guiding Basotho teachers on a reciprocal visit in the Llanelli area. After that it’ll be time to catch up with friends and family and face up to what I do with a full retirement!
Thank you Lesotho and thank you Dolen Cymru.
“Water water everywhere”, a beginner’s guide to Thaba Tseka and self-reflection male style!!!
So as the time flies by we are gradually realizing that life in Thaba Tseka is OK. There is the odd period of time when you wish that there was a local play, or that you could go to a concert, but generally I’m never bored. I think the hardest thing is the isolation. Planning any journey or visit involves the sort of logistics needed by Scott of the Antartic. A 120 km journey to Maseru involves the taxi ride from hell as detailed previously. Booking accommodation starts with paying a deposit through the bank as invariably plastic isn’t used. It makes you wonder when life got so detached in the UK.
Buying food in the stalls or supermarkets and looking at butternut squash, cabbage, beetroot, onions and potatoes in the veg section, makes you realize what an amazing choice we have in whatever supermarket you visit in Wales.
Thaba Tseka itself is a unique experience. Sort of Dodge City circa the goldrush, only in this case the Katse Dam project created the opportunity. Everyone here tries to sell something. You walk along the road to be faced by a large woman with a big pot of peas, or the white flags flying above certain houses indicating that the local brew (untried by us) is available. The town has two parallel roads but is then littered with small mud paths with shops on them. The shacks can vary from being pharmacists to selling kitchen utensils. All made from corrugated iron. There are some demountables, which are the more upmarket sections – our favorite and most frequently visited store – the book shop is one of these. By bookshop I mean a stationary store, which caters for school books as well. We invariably spend a fortune here buying paper for wall displays and posters and sketch books.
Over the last few weeks I’ve sensed a change with the classes I’m working with. There is a better working understanding, they are more inquisitive and happy to look for more challenging examples. They are referring to previous work and using classroom resources to help them. It hasn’t been reflected in their assessment scores, but I think this is due to them not really being used to revising or knowing any strategies for helping them to do this.
Weather wise it’s been a complete change. Thunderstorms, torrential rain and a general drop in temperature. It’s caused a level of claustrophobia because we are in the house far more. It has also resulted in tragedy. The infrastructure here is new, roads and bridges alternate between genuine tarmac and paths. One such path crossing a gully with a short bridge was covered in water due to a flash flood. A taxi was swept away resulting in numerous deaths. The area is still in shock.
This last week we ticked off our third joint challenge after HiJinx and St. David’s Day. On the 22nd we set up the WASH challenge. The four primary schools were invited to put forward 6 children to become WASH ambassadors. After training they would take on a role of trainers in each year group on issues of hygiene and sanitation. Most of this was linked to Dolen’s support for new toilets at Thaba Tseka school. Having been trained the day itself was a competition between the schools involving quizzes, problem solving and a relay. The event was mirrored in Wales through the support of Vicki’s school at Ninian Park. Before the event the competition had been promoted with insights from Paray’s WASH champions on the local radio. In the end torrential rain limited the competition to the indoor Quiz elements. Seeing the children’s faces when they walked into a government building with tables set out with water and biscuits and every chair displaying their free t shirt was worth all the effort. The competition was tight with a mere 5 points separating the teams. In the end the handwash exercise was the difference. Thaba Tseka school won with an impressive 40 from a possible 46.
Our walks varied this last fortnight. A week or so ago with us all struggling with colds we went towards the airfield and then meandered past a prison. Inmates were shouting so we took a gully towards the secondary school. Not challenging but a lovely ramble. Last Saturday though we headed up the mountains again, so quiet and isolated with stunning views over towards Loti school and in a different direction the gorge and further the Drakonsberg range.
With only a couple of days in schools this week and assessments on there’s been an Alice Cooper “schools out” feel about the time we’ve spent there. It’s been nice to tie up loose ends. The resident quantity surveyor has sorted out the old water wells in Thaba Tseka, I think when Vicki gets back WAG should seriously take her on in terms of new build infrastructure for school. Local businessmen cringe with fear when she enters, and wilt when her 10% discount glare is released. Vicki’s mantra is that we maximize how much we can get for the children.
So I’m looking at the wheel of fortune (reflection) update and suddenly I’m riddled with self doubt. Why is it that unless it’s from a magazine or Facebook self reflection is such a painful process. Those where it’s what sort friend are you are so much easier! You are always wondering what your strengths are and possibly worrying as to how your perception of yourself matches others.
One thing I’ve discovered is that I can live with other people and keep my feelings tempered even if in disagreement or tired. This will probably surprise to Claudia and most of those that have worked with me. We are bound to have some disagreements but we know that mutual support is essential. I’m not sure if we are a “dream team” maybe more a “turbo triad” but I think the general mantra is that we want to make a difference in this wonderful place and we are as the Welsh football team stated “together stronger”.
I’ve also learnt how much better I could have been as a teacher and how if instead of having merely to judge lessons as a member of SLT, I’d sat down and really understood what people were doing, my own lessons could genuinely have incorporated so many great methods. I’m thinking about really great teachers I’ve seen at my school like Kath, Bethan B, Alex, and in his own idiosyncratic style, Byron. I could go on with so many others but maybe I should say how much could I have improved. Working with Vicki a primary practitioner has been an eye opener and a complete new learning experience.
Next week I meet up with Claudia in Zimbabwe. It’s been hard being apart but thanks to whatsapp manageable. Mandy at Dolen has come up trumps with helping the journey and assuaging pre holiday concerns regarding the M&E experience. I’m happy going for a break and after her kind words knowing that we are doing an amazing job here building links and sowing ideas.
What do I do when I am not in Paray Primary ?
Thursday and Fridays are team work with Vicki and Sion
I am with Vicky in Katlehong Primary School, the biggest school in Thaba Tseka. Large classes are an understatement; many classes are over 100 in size with 2-3 teachers, some children sit on the floor or take their own plastic chairs to school. Despite this, the pupils work very hard and achieve very well. Assembly is a sea of green, their marching and singing is very powerful. The Grade 7 enjoyed Vicki’s interactive Maths lesson with dice, it is a pleasure to see the teachers repeating Vicki’s lessons with other classes.
Friday – is team teaching in Lesotho College of Education.
We leave at 7.30, clasping all our resources, ready to deliver lectures to 3rd and 1st Years. Attendance varies from 100 students to as little 30. Some of their time keeping could be improved! Fridays are unpredictable, from student strikes to cancelled lectures. We have delivered a range of sessions on topics, teaching styles and activities. The students seem to enjoy our interactive sessions, getting involved in the activities and discussions, even the lecturer wanted to become involved in the Maths activities. We have also tried to involve the 2nd Year students in our schools to share some of their experiences.
We spend the afternoon reviewing our week and sending the appropriate paper work to Dolen Cymru.
What happens at weekends?
Saturday - Walk and wash day
We set of early in our walking gear to explore a hill or a gorge. At first we became very light headed as we walked higher, needing to take regular breaks, now we are acclimatised to being more than 2000m above sea level. We pass herd boys with their cattle and donkeys, families washing at the rivers, blankets drying on the rocks, young boys looking after their grazing cattle. The views of the mountains and valleys are amazing, the town looks so small it is like a Lego village. We have seen a variety of flowers and butterflies. The locals look at us confused as we ask directions to the footpaths. We hear a variety of things depending on direction of our walk; music from the shops in the village, or children singing to us from the distance, ‘Bore Da’. We felt like Maria from the Sound of Music on our first walk!
When we return, the town is busy with locals shopping and teenagers socialising, dressed up like their Welsh counterparts in their jeans and trainers, they look so different from when they are in their traditional school uniform.
The rest of the day is washing chores and school prep.
In the evenings we are happy to relax with a classic movie on tv. The 6 Nations Rugby unfortunately is blocked on the cable TV so we rely on i player radio, but Sion can get all the Man Utd games live.
Sunday- Run, prep and meat day.
I look forward to my early morning run, pleased I have built up to over an hour. I could only manage 15 minutes, 7 weeks ago, the high altitude having a major effort on the beach girl! The usual bustling town is eerily quiet, no shops open and no music. My favourite route takes me up the valley road, it could be a footpath, more animals pass me than cars. Every week I see; ladies and girls in their Sunday best going to church wearing colourful dresses topped off with decorative hats; herd boys with their cattle and donkeys, (I actually manged to outrun a donkey up a hill!) families in the river washing clothes, children collecting water from shared taps, boys playing, making bridges or constructing metal cars. I have numerous “Dumelas”, (hellos) from the Sunday spectators, they don’t see many people running. Young children often join me for short bursts. It was a challenge when two lady litter pickers dressed in high viz blankets and wellies joined me for the last mile one morning. I had to work hard to keep up with them in my bouncy trainers and light running gear.
School prep is followed by a welcome visit to a local guest house for dinner, grilled meat and chips along with a Meluti beer.
Highlights of March
Birthdays Besotho Style
Vicki and I both had birthdays in March we celebrated with Pizza, takeaway, beer and dinner out. I was treated by the teachers in Paray, to a very gooey cake, they sang “Happy Birthday”, chanted and danced around a balloon decorated office. It was lovely to have presents from Sion & Vicki and some from home. Whatsapp is a life saver, for birthday telephone calls and messages from family and friends.
Saturday 10th - Inter school athletics.
What an experience! The schools arrived in their uniforms and the spectators (it was amazing to see how many pupils came on a Saturday to support) set up camp in an in an area around the outside of the field, no track just a football field. The runners got organised, taking off their shoes and warmed up in the middle of the track. I was pleased to get involved and lead a warm up. When we started, the atmosphere was amazing the spectators sang and danced in true Lesotho style to motivate the runners. The celebrations by the teachers and the spectators congratulating the success of their athletes were incredible.
Moshoeshoe day celebrations
Monday was a bank holiday, National Day in Lesotho, what an honour to witness the celebrations and experience and learn about the Basotho culture and history. The celebrations included: a Military and Police salute to the Prime Minister, speeches, splendid performances from the Primary schools, Secondary schools and local choir. A variety of traditional dances were performed in traditional dress, and choirs sang with amazing harmonies. The locals wore their traditional blankets with the ladies in colourful dresses with matching scarves and the men Basotho straw hats. The schools once again identified by their school uniforms and matching hats. I really felt that I had been accepted into the community as they welcomed us, their Welsh visitors to observe their celebrations.
World Water Day 22nd March -WASH DAY Event
This was planned as an International Olympiad a quiz and water based activities between our schools, with a competition some Cardiff with the similar activities.
The theme was WASH (Water and Sanitation and Health) we prepared 6 pupils as WASH Champions in each school teaching about the F’s of hygiene and importance of hand washing . Posters were made use when they peer mentor each class. The Paray WASH Champions debuted on the radio station spreading the information they learnt in English and Sesotho wide into the community. They rose to the occasion, the presenters were impressed by their knowledge and confidence, I was very proud of them.
WASH Day dawned with torrential rain, no outdoor activities possible. Indoor quiz and hand washing challenge was an excellent substitute. The four school teams looked smart in their WASH Champion t shirt’s and were excited to be in the Education Office meeting room sitting around tables. The competition was tight as all the learners recalled the information in detail. Thaba Tsaka won with Paray in 3rd.
After Easter their task is spread the information to all the classes in school using their posters a challenge they are looking forward to. Hopefully the message of how to keep healthy will be a life long one.
When left school today for my Easter break, I felt so different from my first day 10 weeks ago. I have learnt so much about their life and culture and I definitely feel part of their school family, a number of pupils high fived me and the staff wished me Happy Easter. I also feel part of our own LTPP family.
So it’s off for 10 days R &R to South Africa, beaches (I have missed sea and swimming), Zulu Battlegrounds and Safaris.
Water Water Everywhere!
The words of the last few weeks are definitely water and sustainability! WASH champion working, World water day, progress with our water harvesting work and lots and lots of rain!
Over the last few weeks Thaba Tseka has certainly had its fair share of water in the form of rain. This has been great for harvesting of water in the newly finished water butts proudly positioned on their new concrete stands at Loti and Thaba Tseka primary schools.
However it has also made us aware of the dangers that severe downpours can have, with rivers that usually trickle peacefully along now becoming roaring torrents. This sadly led to the loss of several lives in Thaba Tseka last week as a taxi bus was swept off a river pass. This event has shaken the community and certainly made us all reflect on the power of nature.
At schools the usual work has continued but with the focus in grade 6 and 7 moving to water sanitation and hygiene, hand washing and the 5 F's. This culminated last Thursday, world water day 2018, (after weeks of planning and preparations in our little team- including trekking across town with bottles of water, collecting up bottles to be used as tippy taps and drawing more pictures of faeces and flies than you'd find on a farmyard!) in an inter school, and international, WASH Olympiad. The WASH champions of our four schools met at the education office in the middle of Thaba Tseka, while at the same time, Welsh WASH champions from three local schools met at Ninian Park Primary school in Cardiff. The aim this international learning challenge was to raise awareness of issues related to water, sanitation and hygiene education on a global platform between 2 countries.
Sadly due to heavy rain, the rest of the pupils from grades 6 and 7 were not able to attend to support and learn from their champions. It also meant that the outdoor elements of the day (relay racing and water transportation problem solving) could not take place. Nevertheless, the WASH champion’s faces lit up when they entered the room to find team tables complete with individual t-shirts, their very own bottles of water and biscuits.
Each team worked co-operatively and did their schools proud with their level of knowledge. The scores were neck and neck coming out of both the quiz and the memory rounds and the deciding round was hand washing; hearing choruses of 'Happy Birthday' (or in Loti Primary's case 'Happy Birthday ntate Sion') and seeing the team members offering advice on technique or strategies for the tippy tap was a lovely moment. The victors in the end were Thaba Tseka's WASH champions (and this year’s digital leaders).
By all accounts the Welsh event, (including Herbert Thompson Primary school, St Cuthberts Primary and my own Ninian Park Primary school) went just as successfully. As well as improving their understanding of hand washing and hygiene, the children learnt about life in Lesotho, how precious water is and the importance of having access to it. Fortunately they were luckier than us with the weather and had great fun participating and working together to complete each event. The victors at the end of the day in another very close event were St Cuthberts Primary school. A huge thank you to all those who made the Wales event possible and fingers crossed that this event can become an annual event!
Reflecting on my time here so far I am awed by the willingness of the teachers and children that we work with to go with us and try new things. This has again been shown in comments from WASH teachers from my school asking whether they could repeat the events from World Water Day at a school level so all the children could join in the fun.
As we reach the Easter break, I am definitely ready for a rest and to meet up with family for a while in Durban, but I am also hopeful that the work we are doing here will be sustainable and perhaps enrich the learning experiences of pupils in the schools through the teaching strategies we are using in the years to come.
The last fortnight has been tougher than usual and yet filled with so many great memories. I think the eighth week was always going to be a hard one. Teaching is usually 7 weeks till a half term, the Lesotho experience has extended that and to be honest I feel I’m on my knees.
The work is gradually narrowing to a Maths focus, I still get asked to help with some drawing or when they are absolutely bonkers they may ask for some help on English. The main focus in school though is trying to make Maths teaching more engaging, pacey and structured. I can’t praise the teachers enough. The initial impression I had was that I would be some provider and they could do some other stuff, the reality is that every lesson they are taking notes and happily taking part when I want them to
These teachers are so keen to provide the children with a good learning structure. I already know how caring they are and wellbeing and welfare. but seeing them so open to new ideas so lacking in any envy of other people is a joy
Waiting outside the Education office last week provided me with one of the most enriching dialogues I’ve had. “What are you doing here and how long are you here for?”. Then “What will be the sustainable impact of your work?”. When I replied that we saw it as training people and not providing technology, the reply was, “Good, developing countries have no infrastructure for technology. It is just a waste!”. Pretty insightful and this guy was just a caterer
The children are amazing, so many but so shy and cowed. I loved one asking me to re-explain an idea. That took a lot of confidence. Gradually they seem to be getting more done in class, a bit of group work with a carousel, faster starts, notes which give the ideas characters not just characteristics.
Wash Day is looming on the horizon. The ideas are good and important. The children keen to participate. I’m hoping that there will be some legacy not only on hygiene and sanitation, but also using pupils to help convey messages. The big event will be a competition between the four schools, a quiz, a memory game, a relay and lastly a problem solving challenge
The tippy taps and the water buts are now ordered and materials in place. In fairness Vicky could double up as a quantity surveyor. The hope is that when we finally leave the messages of cleanliness and hygiene can be practically borne out in the schools. Poor Loti and Thaba Tsekha did not have any water supply at all for everyday life. Thanks to the just giving page that Vicki set up we have covered the cost of 11 tippy taps, 2 water buts and bases. I can’t thank our friends enough, even small donations make such a difference.
Vicki in her usual primary fashion has seamlessly bridged the St David's celebration day so that Katlahong’s celebration of Moshoeshoe day is now replicating the ideas she introduced a fortnight ago. How do these primary teachers do it?
Talking about Moshoeshoe day we went to the local celebrations on Monday. It was long but enlightening. OK some of the speeches seemed never ending, but I guess when all you understand is the odd word anything feels long. It brought back memories of chapel as a child. The schools’ contributions were amazing though- singing, drama, cultural dancing and poetry. As usual the children were astonishing and the level of noise quite unreal. What did I learn? That Moshoeshoe binds the Basotho in a reverential way.
The Saturday was a huge athletics competition for the local schools. As usual, we took them at their word and dutifully turned up at 9:00. Of course Lesotho time is not really a measurable quantity, an hour later we sort of had some semblance of an event occurring.
The Basotho love athletics and by that I mean running. They had 100m, 200m, 400m and 1500m. A final event was put on for 3000m. In reality they could have called that steeplechase bearing in mind the variety§ of rocks and other objects needed to negotiate. The surface was grass, littered with stones. There were no lanes and as they ran the corners for the 400m they had to skirt around a pile of rocks that marked the turning point.
The children ran barefoot in skirts, shorts often their school shirts. Maybe one or two had a semblance of an athletics kit. What was noticeable though was the ease with which they ran and the joy in the experience. The pure celebration was mirrored by the crowds. Whole schools turning up on the Saturday with their songs, chants and animated dancing. Choreography and conducting provided by teachers. The way that children even in defeat congratulated opponents and the feting of winners by their schools – all I can say was tribal and stunning. Four hours shot by
For the first time in years I’ve struggled with a cold. When I return I will definitely take my flu injections from the GP. Here there is no such thing as a cold. I am constantly asked if I am suffering from the common cold. Even young children walk up as I’m sniffing away and ask “Ntate Sion are you suffering from the common cold?” I’m hoping it will disappear before the Easter break.
College on Friday remains the biggest challenge on how to judge our effectiveness. The students are great, a bit cheeky but once the lecture starts they are completely involved and I think engaged. What is throwing me a bit is the continuity, a student strike here, the need for a lecturer to have additional revision time there. Suddenly the plan of delivery has been decimated. I hope this week we can get back on track with a story writing session for first years and numeracy for the third years. Training these youngsters is by far the most effective way of changing educational practice.
As a group we still do our walks. The other week we risked a fairly hairy gorge ascent. Friends like Adrian Hopkins will be well aware of my complete lack of any sense of direction. It’s a miracle that we got back safely, but I have to say that with the ground underneath unstable and a steep drop we were all conscious of how dangerous it was. Food is good, again mainly vegetarian but I am seriously contemplating writing a recipe book called a ‘a hundred things to do with a butternut squash that is not in any form violent”!
With only a single full week to go until the Easter break, it is dawning on us that we are half way through this adventure. Easter time we split for a fortnight and my next blog will come from Zimbabwe. Again over Easter we will be saying a fond good bye to David a key group member who entertained us and amused us in equal measure. The sight of this Omar Sharif lookalike sitting in the VIP tent on Moshoeshoe day celebrations, or the distant panoramic vision of a red shirted visitor slowly meandering up the steep path to Loti, will always remain in my memory – straight out of Lawrence of Arabia. The funniest incident was when I was surrounded by Thaba Tsekha staff concerned and quizzical “ Ntate Sion there is a white man in the school”, only to realize that David was visiting and that presumably I was not being seen as a white man. David’s contract ends in April, he is returning as is another volunteer Owen, who again has been a pleasure to keep in touch with.
We have a series of monitoring and evaluation days after Easter with the Dolen team, and also the college will sit us down for an interim report. I guess these sessions force you to reflect on whether you have been effective, whether your work will have any long-term value and perhaps most importantly would you have done it again knowing what you do of the country. I know that I would certainly have done the programme, just for the experiences and insights it has given me. There is not a day where I don’t smile. The other questions are more difficult to answer.
This week has been a week with many reasons to celebrate with: not one but two birthdays in the LTPP house, Moshoeshoe day celebrations and athletics competitions to boot!
Alyson and I have been fortunate enough to have our birthdays while in Lesotho and to experience happy birthday being sung on a whole new level! Thank you to friends old and new for your lovely messages, cards and gifts, we had a lovely time.
This week at school along side the usual maths, science and phonics fun, was the build up for Moshoeshoe day where the staff at Katlehong decided to use some of the approaches developed during our st David's day work for the children to share their learning.
The Amalooloo toilets are almost complete at Thaba Tseka primary school!
Take a look at the wash champion's reactions here:
Thanks to the generosity of family and friends back in Wales, we have been able to purchase a water butt for Thaba Tseka primary school to enable them to conserve water from the regular downpours. This will mean that the children and staff will be able to access clean water for drinking, cooking and washing their hands (without having to journey to the local village to gather it).
Saturday saw the beginning of athletics competitions here in Thaba Tseka with the sub-centre competition. The children from the local primary schools all showed amazing team spirit and motivation both as competitors (running barefoot on a less than ideal terrain) and as supporters-cheering, singing and dancing for 3 hours straight!
The 11th of March is King Moshoeshoe I day, this year celebrations in Thaba Tseka took place on Monday 12th, when the whole community and local schools (primary and secondary) gathered together to sing, dance and perform in celebration of their country's founder. It was a brilliant experience that we were very glad to have been a part of!
Head over to Dolen's YouTube channel to see clips from the weeks events:
In March 2017 I was Head of PE in Penyrheol Comprehensive, Swansea, now March 2018 finds me celebrating St David’s Day with an outdoor assembly in the sun in Paray Primary School, Thaba Tseka, Lesotho, Africa.
When I applied for early retirement a year ago, I intended to work as a fitness and running coach. Although after 33 Years as a PE teacher, the challenge of doing something different, using my teacher skills and experience to help in a developing country did appeal to me. In 2010-11 I was involved in a Sports Inspiration Project working with schools in Indonesia and thoroughly enjoyed the experience especially the interaction with teachers and children from a totally different culture, I said I wanted to repeat it.
The circulation of the Dolen advert for teachers to work in Lesotho, couldn’t have been better timed, it was July, I was clearing out my office, attending retirement functions and still deciding what to do with my life. After speaking to Mandy in Dolen, encouraged by my family I applied. After a successful interview in September, Autumn was spent preparing; attending training courses, volunteering in various Primary Schools to gain some primary teaching experience and shopping for resources, clothes and gifts. I don’t think any amount of preparation could have prepared me.
In January I said my good byes and set off for my adventure feeling both excited and very apprehensive about the next five months. Luckily I am part of a team and have the support of my two Welsh colleagues Sion and Vicki.
What is my week like in Paray?
Monday to Wednesday - I spend in Paray Catholic Primary School,
Setting off at 7ish for the 20 minute uphill walk to school, often I feel like the Pied Piper as when I arrive I have trail of children walking behind me in their maroon and yellow uniform, topped with their matching Lesotho style hats or bennies. The day starts in the Principal’s office with prayers which include some lovely singing. I find it a good form of meditation to start the day. School assembly is a highlight of the day for me, all the pupils lined up in their classes outside, in silence except for the sound of running footprints of the late comers. Prayers are led by a different Grade each week. My favourite part is the marching, the whole school sing a song and then march off one grade at a time to their classrooms still singing. Looking at their faces they are all in the zone singing, what an amazing way to start the day, it puts me in a good mood.
My timetable involves visiting all grades during the week, leading the lessons, team teaching and supporting small groups. I have taught a variety of topics, Phonics Maths, English, Art lessons, trying to include some interactive activities in every lesson. I really enjoying reading stories and singing songs with the younger pupils. I was so pleased to be asked to teach Long Jump to Grade 6 last week. We set up 8 mini long jumps to accommodate a class of 85 pupils, everyone was engaged trying to improve their jumps and teach each other. The challenge is definitely the class sizes they range from 34 to 85.
My base is the Library and when I am not teaching and at lunchtime, heads pop around the door calling ‘ Mme Alyson’ and they wander in to read books or to just say hello. At the end of the day sometimes they don’t want to go home.
The walk home is similar, I often have a group of children accompanying me, the older ones give me Sesotho lessons, they are being very patient with me. My favourite conversation was with a girl about making a cell phone out of a piece of cardboard. At times the walk home has been in a thunder storm, watching the lightening over the hills.
Ash Wednesday Mass- Paray Primary is a catholic school next to the Church. The whole school attended 10am mass including the preschool. I felt proud to be a teacher in the school, the behaviour of the pupils was excellent during the two-hour service. I was not prepared for the singing, Grades 5, 6 and,7 led the mass conducted by the Grade 7 teacher. It was like being in a professional concert, the harmonies were incredible especially when the congregation joined in. The whole experience was amazing.
Athletics Practice. This was unlike any of mine in Wales I was so impressed. All of Grade 4,5,6 and 7 walked 15 minutes to the playing fields accompanied by teachers and students. The 100, 200 and 400m practice took place on a very rough stony grass. They ran in their school uniform, some in school shoes, many in bare feet. No one complained or moaned they just got on with it. It is a pleasure to see how naturally the majority run, so relaxed and effortless.
Next day, prepared with my running kit and trainers (I’m a softy I can’t run in my school shoes and dress), I joined in with the long-distance run. It was organised like an army run, 200 pupils in lines with an older boy at the front running back and fore across the lines setting the pace. We ran down a road into the valley up and down the hill. I ran with the girls, singing songs to take their mind off the hills, they loved the interaction and encouragement of a female teacher. Thirty minutes later we arrived back. I am sure some of the older pupils could have repeated the run, others found it challenging but still keep going. We have the Thaba Teska District Athletics Competition next, I hope Paray do well.
Watch out 3M’s running club, I have some new ideas for training when I get back in June.
St David’s Day - We had fun week of Welsh themed craft and singing and poems learning about Wales. Grade 7 enjoyed their first taste of rugby, they want me to play with them every lunch time. We celebrated on March 1st with an assembly led by Grade 7, each grade presenting the activity they had completed during the week. The children marched off to class singing the ‘Bore Da’ song. I also had fun making the paint and preparing the activities and learned facts about Wales I didn’t know.
The activities included singing Mr Hapus, making a field of Daffodils with potato prints and Daffodil finger painting. We painted a Welsh Dragon and leeks, read Dragon poems and retold the story of Beddgelert with actions ‘Pie Corbet’ style, designed Love Spoons and made a graffiti wall with facts about Wales. I think we celebrated more than some Welsh Schools as their St David’s Day was cancelled due to snow.
What a difference in a year!
Seven weeks has flown. To some extent it’s because we’re all so busy, however I think the whole experience has become a part of our life. What will we come home with from being in Thaba Tseka? I’d like to feel that I’ll slow down my pace of life, spend the time cooking food instead of buying packaged stuff, walk that mile and a half to the shops rather than jump in the car. I’m not naïve enough to believe that everything can transfer, my ouzo from a Greek holiday never tasted as good back in Wales. That said I hope I’ll take that Basotho attitude to honesty and friendship, maybe give the time to people and lastly just enjoy the fact I’m healthy and happy.
Work is ever changing bringing a new sense of adventure and a playful attitude to teaching. How much fun can you have with primary children? Perhaps we’ve forgotten with exams and constant comparisons how intuitively inquisitive and creative young minds are. These children make their own wire cars, can use packaging to create little worlds. They have little formal technological development, but give them the opportunity and you can’t but embrace their joy. Using paint for the first time on their hands, building castles with draw bridges that work, potato stamping. If I’d been told I’d be in a class doing this a year ago I’d have laughed!
That said the maths is tough. They are so used to repeating a question before giving an answer, have little or no experience of practical applications or investigational work. When they get the chance we are fighting a reluctance to engage in anything where the information is not just given. That’s the challenge to let them see how cool a subject it can be. Grade five over the last weeks are looking at special numbers – Primes, Square and Pascal’s Triangle. We are learning ways of maybe giving these numbers characters as well as characteristics. Once it becomes, “I am a prime, I am one of the kings of numbers.”
Anyway over the last fortnight we went on our first outing. We’d met the HiJinx team in the chapter Cardiff last January and spent a day with a group of young adults with learning difficulties. Four had the chance to go out to Lesotho and work with some Basotho children putting on some dramatic work. In this group were Victoria from Tenby and Gareth from Cardiff. The amount of times that you hear “It’s a small world” in this case Victoria is known to a school friend, Gareth Evans, and Gareth is known to another friend from Aberystwyth, Lindy Martin.
The production was terrific, outside in a grass auditorium. A crowd of 400 primary school children saw one showing and later a secondary school. One excited youngster rushed up saying she’d been taught 5 years earlier by a Welsh Teacher from Dolen.
Morija was amazing. We saw the museum where we learnt that its better to have a daughter than a son as when marrying the local custom dictates that the future groom’s family need to pay 21 cows a certain amount of goats and one sheep. We also saw the first church in Lesotho built by the French, a lovely craft center run by a Canadian and best of all Dinosaur foot prints from – yes the Lesothosaurus! We took a 7 mile hike to the top of the highest local mountain, I have a photo of me as Rakiki on pride rock. Our Lodge owner was a lovely French lady called Brigitte, who had married a Lesotho man and lived there most of her adult life, investing in the local community through youth projects and education. Again how small is Wales. Brigitte is friendly with Anne Loughlan ( Dolen stalwart) from Carmarthen. As a note of interest Brigitte was enthusing about a group from Plas Mawr, school in Cardiff, saying how courteous and well behaved they were on their visit supporting local schools.
As for the journey, unforgettable is perhaps the best description. On the way down we caught a taxi. This is like a white van with 14 seats. It cruises around until they’ve filled up and then starts the 5 hour journey. After half an hour we were 19 and a baby listening to blasting gospel music. The return was a large bus from Maseru with a religious program on the radio, constantly punctuated by the statement “Quality time”. The roads are dangerous – a bit like the Alps but in battered buses. Ours was climbing some 40% gradient when we heard an enormous bang from underneath. Our last 4 hours was spent on our knees praying that it wasn’t the brakes and promising to spend some quality time. Interspersing all this was the constant shouting in my ear from a manic herdsman. He was leaning over grinning at me and saying, who knows what in Sesotho. After he had finally gone, and I wasn’t deaf any more, a young student told me that the gentleman really wanted to find out who we were and what we were doing. This is where you see the fact that these people love visitors.
From Monday it’s just been St. David’s Day. We agreed on a general mix of activities trying to combine songs, crafts and some research. Throw in a little storytelling through drama and you get the idea. Again it’s been amazing. Not just what they bring to the table as children and teachers but also how much I’ve learnt from Vicki and Alyson. I’ve drawn cathedrals, celtic crosses, dragons and infographics, but the most fun has been with the little ones adding daffodil potato stamps, hand prints on a dragon, a graffiti wall covered by sayings like “11 million sheep can’t be wrong”. The two highlights were grade zero singing Bore Da dressed as daffodils interspersed with some in Welsh costume and a manic inflatable leek, additionally the story of Gelert which was developed from Vicki’s Pie Corbett but narrated live with a troupe of actors acting out the key roles. The Basotho teachers were amazing, a short introduction on Welsh love spoons and suddenly grade 4 were presenting their designs and what they meant. “This shows I love God and I love my Teachers.” Another typical Sion concoction, a cardboard box castle, was trumped by these creative monsters with designs incorporating stairs, water towers, flower gardens and even a washing line! My friend from Ardwyn days, Michael Hogg commented on Facebook that it was like Patagonia transferred to Africa. I guess he was right. We are building on two years of global links in this area.
Alyson cooked the population of Wales in Welsh cakes the other day. Everything is a new learning experience for me. Never had I realized the importance of the proper margarine, why they may not rise, how much chaos a little flour creates. My designated role was quite basic as washer up, enviously looking at Vicki, enjoying turning over the cakes, while Alyson made the mix and generally barked orders at me!
We’re still living in harmony. We still eat together, cooking is mainly vegetarian ranging from pasta to risotto to soups. It’s a bit like being back in university halls. Today after Saint David’s Day the Thaba Tseka school invited us out for pizza as a welcome and a greeting. To say that we felt humbled is an understatement. We feel welcomed and appreciated and that’s a stunning emotion. These people don’t take us for granted, they tell us straight if they agree or not, but today they brought us into their family.
There are customs we are still getting used to. They think nothing of referring to each other as “you know the fat one” or telling you that it is ill mannered not to eat when others are. The children are just wonderful, from those who walk with you to school, insisting on carrying your bag, to those who sing along with you on the walk. The latest favourite is the Alyson Krause version of “Down to the river to pray”. We were fortunate to see some local youths teaching Loti school children a choral piece with a four-part harmony. These young men looked as if they were gangstas from the ghettos but boy could they sing. One had a full range from bass to alto.
It’s taken me the seven weeks to get used to the little people. By that I mean the little monsters under 1 metre who reside in reception and grade 1. These munchkins have a fascination with the hair on my arms, stroking them constantly as if I were an angora goat. They originally seemed like characters from Lord of the Flies with me as piggy, but I am now getting used to them rushing up and hugging me.
I wouldn’t have survived the prep for this week without Vicki who came in on my only day at Loti school to work with all the classes. Again it was lovely having finished at Thaba Tseka to walk over the mountain to Loti and tell them that Mme Alyson and Ntate David were going to see them all explain their work or perform their songs. We are still a team, still good friends and very focused on leaving our legacy. The next two challenges are the sports day and the WASH challenge. After that it’s a quick run down to Easter and our trips to either South Africa or Zimbabwe. I’m going to miss my three mates.
So back to Saint David. I tried in both schools to give his message about the “Small things in life” and at the end of the day reflected that it’s the small things that are helping us assimilate here.