5 March 2012
I get the question a lot. I'm finally able to put it in writing: My LSCE course was the biggest reason I came to South Africa. I think I’ve been hesitant to write about the experience so far because I’m still trying to make sense of it myself. Every day spent in Lynedoch is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. They are long days: waking up at 7 to walk a half hour to the train station, take a 10-minute train ride (which runs on “Africa time,” last week it was over an hour late), spend up to 7 hours at Lynedoch, train back, walk home. But these travel logistics aren’t even what make the days so exhausting; it is the experience of being in Lynedoch and working with these children that really pull on your heartstrings.
Lynedoch is located just outside Stellenbosch. I don’t think you can call it a town…there is a school, a train station, and 26 surrounding farms. The school building is multi-functional. It serves as the Church, the meeting center, and anything else the residents of Lynedoch need a space for. The students of Lynedoch are all children of the farm-workers who, on average, make R700 a month (~ $90). Domestic workers make a bit more, but at least one adult in a family has to work on the farm in order to stay in their house on the fields.
Lynedoch has the highest percentage of children with fetal alcohol syndrome in South Africa, and SA has the highest percentage in the world. Alcoholism is the biggest disease rooted in Lynedoch, followed closely by tuberculosis and then HIV/AIDS. When the Dutch settled in the Western Cape in the 1600’s, their rich white farm-owners only paid their black and colored workers with cheap alcohol. Lynedoch hasn’t been able to rid itself of this incessant dependency even today; there is no other vice after a long day of work. There is no entertainment, no alternative to unwind. This habit, in turn, throws the children into adulthood far too early. Our middle-schoolers have been acting as the parent in their household for years: getting themselves up and ready in the morning, taking care of the babies, making dinner, etc…
For as tragic as it all sounds and as difficult it is to see, I cannot talk about Lynedoch without emphasizing its resilience. I am constantly in awe of the children and faculty at our school. There are about 300 students and 8 teachers (one for each grade), as well as one principal and Grant, our LSCE teacher. The 10 staff members are passionate about what they do – I can’t help but notice the stark contrast to the teachers of Salomon Jorge Primary, the school I worked with last year in the Dominican Republic. The teachers here in Lynedoch are invested, caring, and love their learners. The students themselves appreciate being in school and welcomed us with open arms, minds, and hearts.
I work with two other American girls in the 7th Grade class. We spend an hour every Monday morning with just the girls, who are between 12-14 years old. This is our “Life Orientation” time, and Annie, Elyse and I decided to thread a “Womens’ Wellness” theme into the semester. We rotate each week between a focus on physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I love these girls. They are smart and curious and funny and sweet; sometimes it just scares me how mature they have to be.
In the afternoon, the boys join us for an hour and a half of “Arts and Culture.” We are traveling around with our “passports” this semester, stopping at a different country every week to compare and contrast human rights all around the world. Our first stop was the United States, where we focused on Martin Luther King Jr. They easily compared him to their own civil rights leader, Nelson Mandela. They then wrote their own version of the “I Have A Dream” speech:
On Fridays we are also in Lynedoch but are in our own classroom with Grant Demas, our teacher. LSCE stands for Learning for Sustainable Community Engagement. We’ve been learning a lot about Lynedoch itself and put together an extensive organizational profile of the community, but the course is so much more than that. We are challenged by new perspectives on social issues and how to handle them, especially within the context of poverty and community development. Grant is brilliant – I am inspired every day by his wisdom. I feel like he just has all the keys to happiness, success, and life in general, and I am so lucky to be learning from him.