So to my friends who have no idea how an idiot like me ended up in Lesotho – here is the history. Then to follow it this week’s update.
Retirement is fun, fulfilling and wonderful, but also a little scary. Everyone says that you can plan for retirement but in my mind I don’t think you can. The three best bits of advice I’ve had came from an old friend Roger who said he sometimes felt that his whole social life was with people his own age after a staffroom career of no generational differences. My brother in law Ashley also told me that the winter’s days were long. Lastly a colleague Moira told me that you knew when you were ready.
In May I knew I was tired, wanted to finish and just go, so September after 37 years I was finishing. I knew I wanted to do something different and stay active and feel a sense that I still had worth. Greg my old Pennanians rugby buddy e mailed me recently saying he wished he’d done something similar. He nailed it. All my life I’ve been wishing I’d been on an adventure, taken a risk in my career. I’d regretted the fact that when young Claudia and I got straight into the house, mortgage treadmill and not tried VSO.
Dolen Cymru have for years sponsored visiting teachers going to Lesotho and working in a variety of educational environments. I’d heard about it through Claudia, when she went to see a friend teach out here in 2007. The chance came up and I took it. It’s teaching in a hilltop primary called Thaba Tsekha three days a week, another remote hillside school called Loti every Wednesday with an additional brief of working with the Principal, (who has visited Welsh schools) action plan. Lastly a day working collectively in the local College of Education lecturing for three hours to students on Education in general, and Primary Teaching skills in particular.
My two colleagues are the best. One like me has retired from secondary education – but in her case early. The other is an excellent primary practitioner, young, enthusiastic, with a whole career path in front of her.
We get on. Help each other when moody or feeling we miss home. We work together on projects and lessons. I have learnt so much in 5 weeks I honestly feel I’ve had a new lease of enthusiasm in my life.
This week has been the change week. For the first time I have felt that I am making a difference to maths teaching. People are using methods that I have modeled. Resources that a friend called Carol has given me are now in full play in the schools. Teachers and both principals are kindly saying that their staff value what is being done. It’s genuinely refreshing to see children light up with a smile as they understand something, or when you praise them.
Separately, we had a ball in the local college taking them through ideas and resources and strategies for Numeracy teaching. Students were thin on the ground, maybe 30 as there is a strike but along with the 6 lecturers I think they came out having had fun, having got some ideas and maybe having understood some mathematics.
I guess the biggest challenge has been the fact that Basotho teachers think that you are an expert in all subjects. This week I was challenged by Vicki, my primary colleague to deliver a Pie Corbett version of the story “Gelert” which we hope to integrate into the St. David’s Day celebrations. Out of my comfort zone would not begin to describe sketching out pictures of the story and then delivering the story with actions. I’ve been asked to do finger painting with grade 1 and painting portraits with grade 5. Thank God for e-mail and Claudia who is full of ideas at home. That said I have honestly never had so much fun. Singing songs like Heads shoulders knees and toes, 12345 once I caught a fish alive, doing actions for Gelert, taking a class on rates and measuring flow rate or speed as a practical with 70 kids.
Wednesday I arrive in Loti at 7 to take their Grade 7 children through a walk through assessment. These kids walk up to 5 miles but they are all there. School is fun in both institutions. I’m still teaching chess and helping read at lunchtimes. Every week there is a new astonishing find.
Assemblies, which are outside, allowing a little girl the chance of her monologue where she had taken over the mantle of a proper noun, explaining who she was, how she worked. Another where four grade 6 children acted out the story of the “Wisdom of Solomon”. Imagine my horror when the first thing I heard was “oh no my baby is dead” – it took me a few minutes to get up to speed with what was happening. I’ve seen kids bring guitars and play them. There seems nothing special in that, until you realize that they have made these from planks of wood and bits of metal. Yes they were in tune! The most astonishing was a session of warm up athletics where the whole school were in a co-ordinated group slow warm up, jog easy jog. Patterns interweaving as the classes snaked in differing directions and gradually after some 30 minutes interwove again for the warm downs. Smiles, beams as they just enjoyed the sheer beauty of their surroundings and the joy of exercise and freedom. No sick-notes everyone, from all shapes and sizes took part.
Outside our work , which is hard we are loving the sheer expanse of the area. Walking to school, our weekend hike and talking with locals. On Thursday evening we were fortunate to experience our first African sunset. The sort you read about as a child. I love this country and this opportunity. Claudia said, “you sound really happy”. I am – it’s lovely to be able to feel that my teaching career is finishing with me having a genuine smile on my face.
Ok I’m sure it’s been a little boring, but I guess it puts why I’m here in context.
It’s hard to believe that I have been out in Lesotho for five weeks already. The local Basotho people are very welcoming and keen to help us learn more Sesotho! We were surprised this week to find that Valentine’s Day is a big event in the Basotho calendar from a dress down day at school (where the sea of green turned to red, white and pink) to a parade of local college students in their finery.
The school routine is now established and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my days which start, without fail, with an assembly to share and celebrate learning and march to traditional songs followed by collaboration with teachers in lessons across the school. The children are so eager to learn and communicate with us in and outside of the classroom. One of my favourite moments of this week was singing phonics songs with some of the younger children in the playground when out and about doing a water audit!
A highlight of the last few weeks has been working with four classes (of over 100 pupils in each) within two schools to retell the story of Gelert using Pie Corbett strategies in preparation for St David’s Day. The enjoyment of students and staff alike made the hours of drawing storyboards worthwhile! Next week’s challenge… to remember the actions chosen by each class!
It’s been a pleasure collaborating with teachers and student teachers in maths over the last few weeks and to use practical, interactive approaches to teaching probability and equivalent fractions; seeing the children’s excitement and satisfaction when provided with resources to carry out their own investigations was priceless.
Part of our remit for our time here is supporting the schools in teaching their pupils about water sanitation and hygiene. One of the elements of this has been creating wash stations for use at the schools (as running water is scares in several of our schools). The sourcing of materials for this has been more challenging at times than we had foreseen! Nevertheless, with the guidance of my Principal and the help of the school carpenter we have prevailed and are well underway with the tippy tap construction!- thank you to those who have donated via our just giving page, this work would not have been possible without your help! (Pictures of the completed taps will follow shortly) : https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/vicki-alyson-sion-ltpp2018
Last week we began our work at Lesotho College of Education working with student teachers in their first and third years. The students and lecturers are enthusiastic and keen to participate and are making our Friday working an enjoyable experience.
Since our arrival in Thaba Tseka we have settled into our spacious accommodation and routine reigns- with washing weekend rituals quickly established! We are becoming accustomed to a varied (vegetarian) diet which we enjoy sharing around our dining table, coupled with tales of our adventures at school.
Only this weekend did we discover that our TV has cable! Cue 80’s and 90’s chick flick revival, interspersed with the odd football match for good measure- we are looking forward to watching the Wales match next weekend (provided the electricity holds out!). Over the week we were surprised to see that the local shops were slowly being painted red- we wondered if this was linked to our arrival, imagine Siôn’s face when he was told it was due to their Vodacom sponsorship!
Week one in Thaba Tseka schools has flown by with lots of new experiences and stories. We began our week with a tour of all our schools, where we were treated to morning assembly marches, many ‘Good Morning Teachers’ and even renditions of ‘Bore Da!’. The warm Basotho ways were clear and continued into our first few days at our respective schools. That is in spite of the first impressions when Vicki arrived at her school early on Tuesday morning to find that all the children stopped and stared at this ‘stranger’ arriving in their midst (just like an old cowboy movie!)… this soon changed however and now no matter where we go, someone knows Me Vicki- from pupils in the street (or hospital) to parents in the local shop. We have told them, that every fourth person in Wales is called Vicki! (She is the third to take part in the LTPP!)
Daily we now find ourselves walking to and from school like 21st century pied pipers followed by an array of smiling faces and questions about how we are today.
We have been spending time in various classrooms and have begun to collaborate with the teachers and learners. This has been a positive experience (if not frustrating at times, given the constraints of large classes (upwards of 150), not enough desks and limited space available in some schools!). Nevertheless, no matter which school you go to in Thaba Tseka, the children are smartly dressed and eager to learn some walking upto 2 hours to get to school. Their thirst for knowledge is not just limited to the teacher hours either it has transpired, even at lunchtime children flock to the library at Paray Primary to share a story with Mẽ Alyson. Ntate Siôn discovered that his lunchtime chess club was an instant hit!
WASH leaders at Thaba Tseka:
Thaba Tseka’s toilet construction project got underway this week with parents coming together to meet with representatives of TED Biogas and agree on their role in building. On Wednesday 6 members of Grade 7 began their work as ‘WASH Champions’ to document the journey that has just begun and acting as advocates for water sanitation and hygiene within their school. Head over to our Youtube channel to see the first video instalment.
Immigration, immigration, immigration:
On Friday the day came for us to meet with the Education office and arrange our permits, this got off to a speedy start and we were dreaming of taking an afternoon stroll up one of the local Thaba (mountains). It soon became clear that this was not to be however when after two visits to the police station and three visits to the immigration office our mission was only half complete!
What lay in store was a trip to the local hospital for a health check… where we were treated to visits to every department (even the mother and baby clinic!). This was far from dull with Siôn deciding to try to blame his high blood pressure on the young nurse who took the initial reading- this was greeted by hilarity from the older nurse who took the second reading and much eye rolling from Alyson and Vicki! 8 hours later our mission was complete!
With our aim to ‘Climb every mountain’ scuppered on Friday, on Saturday, we woke early and began our ascent. It was lovely to leave the hustle and bustle of the town centre and head off into the wilderness. We soon discovered however that we were not alone… echoing over the mountains (with not a soul in sight) came several little voices singing “ Bore Da, Bore Da, Sut wyt ti?, Sut wyt ti? Da iawn diolch, Da iawn diolch, Bore da! Bore da!” To say we were surprised was an understatement and shortly afterwards the local children began to appear to greet us. When we reached the top of the mountain and took a quiet moment to reflect, we again were greeted by shouts from afar and mountains stretching out into the distance in all directions as far as the eye could see. This really is the Mountain Kingdom in the Sky!
We are maintaining links with our fourth amigo, David, who is continuing his meetings with the movers and shakers of Lesotho education- most notable story this week was his visit to one establishment where the adjoining office door still had remnants of a failed assassination attempt several years ago… eek. David laughed it off and is still in one piece.
Three and a half hours of windy roads through beautiful rugged countryside as we made our way up into the mountains. Each corner you turned, a new panorama- highlights including: ‘God help us pass’, little settlements of rondavels and the sight of blanket shrouded herd boys with their cattle in the distance.
Expecting a quiet serene rural town, we arrived in Thaba Tseka to find that Friday, is party day! Locals gathered round in the centre of town to watch a visiting well known Lesotho rapper perform some of his top hits… sadly we couldn’t join in… didn’t know the words :s
Having said this, the biggest surprise was the difference in weather. After leaving the 35◦c heat of Maseru in the morning appropriately dressed in shorts and t-shirts; we now understand the similarity between Lesotho and Wales extends to the weather. Rain and thunderstorms greeted us as we drove closer to Thaba Tseka. Luckily, we have come prepared with umbrellas (admittedly we had intended to use them to block the intense sun, not the rain!). We have been settling in to our new home at a local guest house and making much needed tea and coffee (between the power cuts!)
Since arriving, we have met some of the locals that we will be working with (including the Local Chief of Police, the Principal of the Lesotho College of Education and the Principal of Lotti Primary school) and are getting to grips with the Lesotho greetings!
Our team of four has now become three for the next few weeks as David has left this morning for the ‘big smoke’ to carry out some important educational reconnaissance work with Manyanye.
What a busy week we have had!
After a rather long plane journey to Johannesburg we were met by a larger than life Lesotho gentleman with the world’s smallest Welsh flag(no wonder we missed him). The next problem... how to fit all our luggage (16bags!) and us into his people carrier. After a short pit stop for Wimpy (welcome back 1970!) we made our way to the border of Lesotho where Sion and David were perplexed when offered a place at the front of the queue. David's immediate reaction was that their charisma and charm were the reasons... imagine their dismay when our driver told them that in fact their white hair was the significant factor!
Since arriving in Maseru we have met some wonderfully warm people including: the staff and hosts at the Haven of Peace Guest House, our Wales Lesotho Link colleague Ntate Manyaye and our language teacher, Principal Ntate Setempe (patience of a saint!). Thank you for making us feel so welcome.
One interesting difference noted immediately is the Basotho way of straight talking as Vicki found when asked if she had seen the guest houses iron!
Our provision shopping is complete, we won't mention the receipt! Tomorrow we head into the mountains to our new home of Thaba Tseka. Let the teaching and learning adventure begin.
LTPP 18: Alyson, Vicki and Sion meeting Jon Kidd from Hijinx Theatre Company to discuss skill sharing in Wales and Lesotho prior to their departure
Over 2 weekends in October and November 2017, our new Lesotho Teacher Placement Programme (LTPP) 2018 volunteer recruits came together in Cardiff Bay to start their training and preparation for living and working in Lesotho for 5 months. The weekends consisted of laying the groundwork for action planning, information sharing, and making connections with LTPP past participants to hear their stories. From the very first day, their enthusiasm, energy, ebullience and positivity was undeniable. The diversity and depth of knowledge, skills and experience that they bring are certainly a recipe for success and as a team, they will undoubtedly take Dolen Cymru’s educational partnership work on to yet another level of impact across the two cultures of Lesotho and Wales.
The LTPP 2018 team will be the third team of Welsh teachers to work in the remote mountain town of Thaba Tseka. The educational community there are working hard to raise standards to improve outcomes and increase the chances for their learners to reach their potential. However the Thaba Tseka District is still 10th out of 10 in the district league table for results so the need for continued support and collaborative working is still high. The impact of the LTPP 2016 and 2017 on the teachers and learners of Thaba Tseka schools has been evidenced and reported. With LTPP returning for 2018 the aim is to strengthen the working partnerships and to empower the teachers of Thaba Tseka to make the changes that they want for themselves as professionals and for their learner’s outcomes. The LTPP team will progress projects already started in literacy, working with the Lesotho College of Education and the teacher trainees, working with the Education Officers and promoting interactive teaching and learning to deliver the new curriculum. They will also extend the programme remit to start introduce new projects and to put their own stamp in the placement.
Our new project for 2018 is WASH – Water Sanitation and Hygiene. This is a multi-faceted programme funded by a Hub Cymru Africa Grant for Thaba Tseka and the Welsh Government Wakes for Africa Grant for Dolen Cymru activities. This ground-breaking project will involve working with an on the ground partner, TED Biogas, who will be building brand new and innovative, Amalooloo waterless toilets in one of our partner schools. Combined with this construction element, Dolen Cymru plans to facilitate of a sustainable educational package in our partner schools. Our Welsh teachers will train and collaborate with identified Basotho teachers to deliver an exciting, interactive educational programme about health, hygiene and well-being through engaging lessons, quizzes, songs, games and fun practical activities. These identified Basotho teachers will then train their colleagues in their schools who will consequently deliver the lessons in their classes. We are also introducing a Digital Literacy element to the programme so that the groups of learners can digitally capture the progress of the WASH project using a tablet computer to ‘vlog’, take photos and record the impact. This will hopefully take the work of the project to a wider audience who will see the important work that the schools are doing to promote awareness of good practise in sanitation, hygiene and health and the positive impact on the well-being of the children and the community.
We are also incredibly fortunate this year that in addition to the LTPP 2018 team of 3 – Alyson, Sion and Vicki, who will be based in our partner primary schools, we have been able to build in another dimension to our Lesotho Educational Programme. One other teacher – David, will going out to Lesotho for 3 months with the remit of conducting a research and needs analysis project. The aim of this is to gather information and evidence from a variety of educational professionals in order to assist Dolen Cymru in identifying and investigating potential areas of need within the Lesotho education system which will meaningfully inform the shape of Dolen’s future education programmes in a targeted and relevant way that responds to the need identified by the people involved on a daily basis. This will include working with existing and longstanding partners as well as developing new links and nurturing new relationships within the educational system. With all partners, the key question we are asking is, “How can Dolen Cymru be more effective in supporting you?”
Our 2018 Team with leave the UK on 14th January from London. During their time in Lesotho they will gain wider experience and skills – both professionally and personally, from this opportunity. Overcoming the challenges of living and working abroad (such as dealing with bureaucracy, accepting different working practices and surviving without the usual support network of family and friends) will be a test of their resourcefulness and resilience and we at Dolen Cymru have no doubt that this team will rise to this challenge and ‘nail it’. Alyson, Sion and Vicki are going to be blogging about their LTPP experience and all it entails. Follow them on their journey and read about it right here on the Dolen Cymru website. Watch this space!
Here you can read about how our three teachers from Wales are getting on in Thaba Tseka in Lesotho. Sion, Vicki and Alyson are there for 5 months from January until June.