Ubuntu: an ethical concept of African origin emphasizing community, sharing and generosity
‘One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity.
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.’
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
January 9th, 2010 will mark my 2 year anniversary in Cape Town. No one is more surprised at how quickly the time has gone by that me. It seems so recently that I was writing my first letter to my wonderfully supportive social network, informing them of the journey I was soon to be embarking on, to a city, country and continent I had never before visited, to do work that even then, I knew I would love.
Initially, I had committed to a year in Cape Town at Fezeka High, but as that year quickly came to a close, it became clear that I would stay on for another. And now, as my second year has officially wrapped up, the pull to return for a third is equally strong.
The past two years have not been without event. Not without personal and professional growth and experiences that have touched my heart, mind, being and allowed me a heightened understanding of the world I have been immersed in.
My students are the reason that I have been so addicted to this work. It is because of them that I am one of the few people I know who can say that they truly love their job. Their daily challenges…their struggles…the injustices they face everywhere they look, coupled with their desire and dedication to learning, are humbling in the deepest sense of the word. Bit by bit, they have allowed me into their worlds. They have trusted me, shared with me, cried with me, belly-aching laughed with me, taught me. In return, I have given them my time, my ears, my shoulders, my brain, my heart. In so doing, I have formed a relationship with many of them, with some of the members of their communities, with their families – a relationship that is novel to so many of them (my students in particular) in the sense that I am the only white-skinned person with whom they have contact.
Through the birth of the poetry club, the chess club, the photography program and the drama club that I have been so fortunate to have been asked to share in, some students now enjoy the opportunity to express and engage themselves in arts-based initiatives previously foreign to them. Having had the privilege of teaching two of my classes for both the years I have been here, I have witnessed the English-language skills of several students improve remarkably during that time, through in-class activities, their spoken vocabulary and exam results.
As any teacher can tell you, it is these moments, these acknowledgements and understanding that make our profession so rewarding. And for me, in this context, these moments are many.
The words of encouragement and support I have received from my students, their families, my colleagues never fails to floor me as I constantly feel that it is me who is so fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to work with these kids, to share in their energy, to encourage their growth, to push them to dream big.
I have committed to returning to Fezeka for just over half of the next school year, to continue the work I have started since arriving. Because of the overwhelmingly generous support of those who have provided me with moral support, as well as financial and emotional, I am in a position to be able to do this for that duration. It is difficult to put into words the gratitude I feel towards those who have helped me to be able to continue working with these incredible kids. I am ever-grateful to those who have helped to thus far for enriching my life in some way, for helping me to understand the true meaning of ubuntu through first-hand experience.
To anyone who themselves have a journey they feel drawn to, an adventure they want to embark upon, I pass on the words of one of my grade 10 students, a brilliant young man who I have no doubt will do great things:
‘If you want your dreams to come true, don’t spend too much time sleeping. Open your eyes and realize.’
half dutch, half guyanese, half-crazy and very inquisitive. born in toronto, educated at mcgill in montreal. have lived in australia and the uk, now located in south africa. high school teacher by profession, world traveller and hungry for education by choice. currently teaching at a secondary school in guguletu, a township just outside of cape town. what comes next is anyones guess. herein lie my thoughts, observations, questions, reflections, worries, joys, accomplishments, setbacks, hopes and everything else in between from yesterday, today, tomorrow and the next day. and the day after that.