Service Learning Day 1

All of a sudden I find myself in front of forty 4th graders speaking about children’s rights.  I’m speaking English to students whose first language is Xhosa, although some speak a little English too. Looking at all the attentive faces I try to be exciting so those who don’t understand what I am saying at least enjoy watching me.  I point to Chicago on the world map on the wall and explain that it takes two days to travel to my home.

“Do you drive?” a student asks in Xhosa.

I explain that one has to fly to get to my home country.

Portia, the social worker leading the discussion, stands next to me and translates my words so the students can follow and vise versa.

“What am I supposed to say?” I ask her.

“Talk about child rights,” Portia responds.

I pause and think, “How am I going to do that?”

I have no experience leading a group of 4th graders. I don’t know much about child rights or specifically what I am supposed to focus on. I don’t know what the students already understand, but I don’t have all morning to create a lesson plan so I begin by asking, “Who likes to play?”

Portia translates. All the hands go up in the air.

“Are there times when you are playing where you feel the game is unfair or people are being unfair?” I ask.

Portia translates. There is a silence and some respond “no”.

My leading question led to nowhere. So I try again. “Are there times where you feel cheated, sad, or angry?”

They nod yes.

“What do you do when you have those feelings? Where do you feel safe going to talk about your feelings?”

They all give great answers like their family, a social worker, a teacher, and the police station. Then they all start to sing the telephone number for the child abuse hotline. I didn’t know my own phone number when I was in 4th grade. I didn’t even know my address until high school.

I tell them that those are all great places to turn to and that they can also feel safe coming to Portia and the people working for Ilitha Labantu, the agency I am working with.

My mind goes blank. I look at Portia hoping she will bail me out and she does. I have no idea if that conversation fit into the program, but it sounded intelligent in my head.

I stood in the front of the classroom looking at all the students sitting straight in their chairs with their green and yellow uniforms on listening to what I had to say. It was a privilege to just be sitting in on their class nonetheless participating in the lesson. However, next time I hope to be better prepared to discuss the topic.

It is hard to explain, but I felt like I was part of something very special speaking to all the kids. When Portia and I began to leave the class stood up and sang a farewell song thanking us and wishing us to return.

I put on my sunglasses and said, “I’ll be back.” (Not really, but it’s amazing that The Terminator made its way into this.)


~ by Austin on February 3, 2010.

One Response to “Service Learning Day 1”

  1. This makes me laugh… and smile. For lots of reasons. Well done Austin! Sounds like one of the most successful first days I’ve heard. (:

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