How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
-Winnie the Pooh
Sion Watkins from Lesotho May 2019
As usual whenever I travel things do not go smoothly. My holiday in Namibia was incredible but a luggage scanner fault at Windhoek meant that my flight to Johannesburg was late and the resultant connection to Maseru missed. I spent a night in the airport hotel fretting about a course I’d arranged for my first day back, trying desperately to contact Anne who was to meet me without wi-fi from either end. It’s at these moments that you realise how much technology has a grip on your life and also how even in Africa with so many differences, technology is where the catch up is greatest.
I made it by 7.00am with an early morning flight and by 8;30 Anne and I were back in a routine running the fourth of our courses in Maseru district. The 40 or so teachers were responsive and keen to embrace the ideas we were peddling. The key difference to what they’ve experienced before is a sense of fun, showing not telling and a verbal engagement.
We arrived back in Morija guest house here I promptly slept. It’s a joy to stay there, Brigitte is so unassuming, you have the run of the place, you meet a myriad of different people. Best of all it’s not an ex-pat scene. This time staying with us was an Episcopalian priest and his daughter travelling Southern Africa on a Sabbatical from the US. The German kids doing their year out were also there and as usual great fun. Food was excellent, I love the fact it’s just a set meal and we all sit around a large table chatting. I had an amazing chakalaka - home made something I’ll have to try making in Wales.
The big decision we made was based on Wednesday 1st May being a holiday. We decided to extend our stay not rush off after the course and use the holiday as a road trip to Thaba Tseka. The course the next day in Morija was interesting. Again around 40 or so, but because of a lack of communication we arrived for 9 whereas the teachers had arrived for 8. Now this is priceless as Basotho time and its flexibility is the most frustrating thing I experience here. They just accept it as people in the UK accept, they’re not good at maths. However, the fact we were not on time was an outrage. Honestly the grim faces didn’t bode well. In reality along with Semongkong it was the best course we had, loads of happy, engaged, positive teachers and such a sense of joy.
The journey back to Thaba Tseka was the first time for me to drive it and the experience is incomparable. Sitting as a passenger you don’t get a sense of the scale of the mountains, the tortuous roads and the perpetual code of conduct needed to avoid animals and casual walkers. The drive from Maseru starts on plains but then you hit the Maluti trail with three astonishing passes through them. I say passes but it’s really a" long and winding road” to quote the Beatles. The first is the highest climb from around 1550m to 2250m - this is Bushman’s pass and in a small toyota involves a lot of second gear. The second the aptly names ‘God help me pass’ is a series of winding roads similar to the Alps with spectacular views and sheer drops. The last the ‘Blue Mountain pass’ just takes your breath away. The whole journey is around 180km but takes around 3 and a half hours - if you travel with Anne add another hour for a coffee break and numerous photo stops!
It was lovely to return to Thaba Tseka, Anne was great company and we had some visits to see Lillian’s baby, some key people regarding the courses to run and catching up with old friends. Our time was just nonstop course provision. Two follow up courses at the college on practical maths, a series of 4 workshops for the district teachers broken into grades so that they could specialise and lastly some workshops on how to make and use resources. Anne specialises in the grade 1/2 course creating games where the teachers could interact on mathematics with the little ones. So glad she was there as even the idea of the munchkins breaks me into hives. We had some lovely walks, talked a lot of maths and when I returned Anne to Maseru it felt as if my time here was also finishing.
An interesting by-product of the resources course was that the teachers valued what they were making. last year we gave them resources, but I know they were never used. This was different, they were talking about how they would use them as they were creating them.
Bocheletsane gave me a fantastic send off, my local schools in TT were in celebratory mood when I went around. Maybe they were glad to see me go! What was nice was teachers showing me stuff that they’d learnt on the courses being used in class. It was heart-breaking saying goodbye to kids at Loti and Thaba Tseka who I’ve known from last year’s grade 6. There are just no words to how happy I feel when I see them in a class.
So, some reflections on this trip. It was certainly different to last year. Less social and certainly less involved with the schools. It’s the nature of second visits. I knew what I wanted to do and what I felt was most beneficial. The selfish option would have been just to spend time in two schools I was happy in and whose kids and staff I knew well. The reality was that what is needed in the Education system here is quality interactive training. The start of the whole year with modelling lessons in 7 schools and the travel involved was impossible and in hindsight not best use of my time. Although the strike played havoc on Dolen’s plan in some ways it opened the door to some genuine planned courses. The fact that over 1000 teachers attended with some travelling hours to get there reflects more on how much they want training than on whether what was provided was good. Remember that these teachers went on strike because they feel they don’t get enough training.
Some real advances were made at the college of education, students turned up, were motivated, asked questions. I think the relationship with lecturers was more professional and certainly working in LCE Maseru has been a big step forward. The DRT has also been more engaged, not always in terms of taking part in courses but certainly there are people there who want to change and redefine what they do and how they do it. The best news of all is that in Maseru District, Kwenene and Belinda have replicated the course we ran and have had a successful input to 45 teachers. The plan now is that they will take ownership of it and roll it out across the District.
The upset to the schedule meant working and planning on the hoof. All my visitors had plans to input into schools but failed to get in as they were shut. Looking back though, I still feel that if we take away the negative of not working with the children, what was achieved in terms of engaging in discussions on school improvement worked.
- My favourite bits. Two courses at Semongkong and Morija both as I felt it was going to be a tough audience, but they engaged. The walks with friends and on my own the countryside is fabulous and although my Basotho friends constantly asked wasn’t, I scared of herd boys, not once did I feel unsafe. The visitors - I enjoyed my solitude for 6 weeks but having a diverse group every fortnight or so at the end was a joy. Claudia, Mandy and Vicki were like a working holiday with my wife and friends. In Claudia’s case it was lovely for her to meet people I’d talked about all year. Vicki T and Niall was so much fun because I didn’t know them but instantly liked them. We did so much from building, to courses to a fantastic day on wash/water. Anne was all about maths, we ran so many courses and she helped so much. She knows so many people that I now feel inadequate. The main difference for me was having a car which meant access but also meant I felt less engaged with the community.
Would I go again? It’s difficult as there is still so much to do and maintain. The people here are just beautiful personalities. They value your help; they know what is needed to improve and are just looking for guidance. I know Dolen are looking at future plans and how best to have impact. Maybe we stumbled across some good ideas by accident this year. I know Sharon and Mandy will come up with something that is useful and sustainable.