Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Leaving Jo-burg today

I thought it appropriate as the last person to leave Jo-burg that I should send the last post from Africa. It's difficult to put the experience of the past several weeks into words. As you can tell by reading all of the previos posts, we covered a lot of ground, met many wonderful people and saw amazing landscapes. I also learned about being human. As an American I have so much and can take it for granted. It blew me away to meet a person who did not own a blanket until he was a teenager, that's not even getting into all the other things he still does not own. To meet small children orphaned by the scourge of AIDS, at best living with their grannies or at worst living alone. Despite the circumstances, each person I met was open, warm and joyful at meeting our group. In Malawi, at a school I met a woman who did not speak English but she grabbed me by the arms, looked into my eyes and smiled emphatically. As we walked around the school grounds, she put her arm around my shoulders and smiled.

We also saw a darker side of Africa where people have lost hope or are unable to rise above the conditions. As our guide in Kip Town said, we are all the same blood and soul. I believe those of us that have been priveledged in this life can and should provide support to those who have not. Their hope is our hope; we are a global community. The experience of whitnessing resilience and the sense of community in Africa will carry me though darker times ahead.
Go well, Michelle

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Good morning from Johannesburg!

Lori here again. Today we are on our way to the Apartheid museum then perhaps a gold mining tour, potentially a quick trip to Pretoria and then off to the airport.

I have to say I have very mixed feelings about going home! I have fallen in love with this country and the people here and know for certainty that I need to return!

Yesterday we had the opportunity to take a tour of Soweto including a walking trip through a portion of Kliptown where the poverty level is staggering. The person giving us a tour of the area is from a program that comes in with after school programs for the area youth. The gave us a dance performance right before we left that was really impressive! He explained to us that even though they have incredibly little in the way of monetary or physical posessions they are rich in other ways. The people welcomed us into their homes -- the children curious. It makes you think.

Anyway, my group is about to leave for a busy day so I need to sign off.

This has been an incredible adventure and I hate for it to end but know I will be glad to be home as well. Have to say a heartfelt thanks to all that had a part in planning this trip -- every last detail taken care of. It has been wonderful.

Friends and family -- I will see you soon. Love you all! Lori

Sunday, August 30, 2009

On the way to Jo'burg (started 8/30/2009 finished now)

Hi All. Barb here. We are in Piet Retief at the Welgekozen Country Lodge en route to Jo'burg. It's been an amazing couple of days. Earlier bloggers wrote about our great school visits with Group 2. We wrapped our school visits with a trip to Matamzana Dube, the high school we visited in Nov 2007. It seems their school has grown alot since we were there. They added three temp classrooms and some of their other structures have collapsed due to poor construction. It was startlingly clear that ECAG's classroom design is really stellar as we noted a significant temperature difference between the room we constructed and the other classrooms. It was sad to see so many kids in just shirts in the freezing weather and the cold classrooms. Again, I am reminded how fortunate we are here.

We traveled on to St. Lucia for hippo-rama on the water safari then up to Hilltop for the jeep safari. It is truly amazing to see these incredible animals, as Lori described. We had an extra treat on the trip. There is a young man named Fred Wynne working for Mark Chennels at his game reserve near Hluhluwe park. Fred will be working on a Books for Africa project for Mark and it turned out that Henry could brief Fred if Fred joined us at Hilltop -- so he did. It was a pleasure to have such a bright and light spirit with us. He is in his early twenties and having an amazing time working for Mark on the reserve. Lots of rhino photo taking and nyala wrestling. He was a great conversationalist and very enjoyable travel mate.

It's now 9/1, we're in Jo'burg. Lori has done a great job posting our details. Most of the gang are out at the Apartheid Museum today. I am taking a hiatus to rest up for Zambia. Gracious thanks to our friend Titus who has handled all our arrangements there. We will be able to visit some Books for Africa contacts.

I am feeling so blessed and grateful for the opportunity to share this work with our good travelers. Our service is simple but has amazing long lasting impact - 40+ kids per classroom for years on years. It's a very good reminder of our good fortune in the United States and how simple action on our part can make a big difference a world away. thanks to to all of you who support our work in the many ways you do. Thanks to our happy travelers for being awesome travel mates and great voices for our work. Blessings. B

Hello everyone

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Good morning everyone!

Just a quick note this morning before we head out to St. Lucia. The last couple of days we have spent in Eshowe. Yesterday was our teaching day which we all enjoyed tremendously. The kids were quite interactive, some were shy, all were very interested in us! The primary school put on a performance for us that was just beautiful -- traditional dress and dance. Last night we also sent to Shakaland which I thought was just awesome. There was a performance before dinner -- again traditional Zulu dress and dance. The dance group was incredibly energetic which made it all the more entertaining. One of the dancers paid quite a bit of attention to me...those of you who know me understand how I LOVE to be the center of attention (not). But it was very sweet and pretty funny. Although there was talk about me having to stay in South Africa since I may now be married?? This morning we have the opportunity to visit a hospital with a doctor that we met the other night who does a lot of work with AIDS victims. I'm looking forward to St. Lucia and seeing the crocs and hippos! Really miss everyone -- but we are having a wonderful time. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle my first morning home when there is no one to cook breakfast for me!! Love you all! Lori

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hello everyone -- this is Lori! Here we are in South Africa after traveling from Malawi. I have to say Malawi was unbelievably wonderful, the warmth of the people is intoxicating. In Malawi, which is a very poor country, people walk or ride bicycle everywhere...along the side of the highway...people (children!) walking so close to the very narrow road it is scary. Not to mention the goats...and the cattle that don't necessarily stick to the lane they are supposed to be in! The landscape here is in South Africa is completely different -- very lush and green with sugar cane growing everywhere (out in the country). In Malawi it is very dry with very little green but still beautiful. Yesterday we visited two schools...the first is sorely in need of a proper classroom. Currently the children attend school in buildings that were built to house farm workers and are very small and run down. As we pulled into the school the children ran out singing and started running circles around the car -- they were SO happy to have us visit. They gave us a beautiful performance of song and dance before we left and also a meal of beef and ensema (corn meal). The second school used to hold class in an old church which now is run down and falling apart. Now, they are thankful to have the new classrooms that were donated. Again, the children put on an amazing performance for us. One little girl recited a poem about how thankful they are for the new shelter from the weather. It was pretty heart wrenching. The next two days we visit more schools, hopefully a hospital as well and possibly a guided birdwatching trip, then off to St. Lucia and safari's. All my love to everyone!!

First Trip to Eshowe Schools - Group 2

Hi, this is Dave from group 2. After a week here in Africa we have finally arrived in Eshowe, and we visited our first school today. We went to Malawi during the first part of the trip, and saw a number of schools there -- focusing on the libraries, and we were usually met by the headmaster or a teacher. But today, we were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm we were met with today from the students and staff! The first school we went to was at Mcakwini, where some homes had been turned into classrooms, and they were starting to fall apart. We pulled through the gate, and the students surrounded the van in a surge, welcoming us and singing. We had been getting used to the strange looks a group of white Americans would draw when going through any area in Malawi, but the enthusiasm and gratitude from the students in the Eshowe schools was unmatched!

We had visits with school officials, and after visiting some classrooms at Mcakwini we were treated to songs and dancing by the students of each grade level. The little kids were so cute, and sang songs about a rabbit and some oranges. And the older students did songs and dances where it seemed they were trying to throw their legs over their heads to stomp the bass part of the song. The thump against the ground was loud and as a bass player, I appreciated the low end. They threw their legs so high and stomped so hard, I don't know how they didn't hurt their feet -- and sometimes they would lose their balance and fall over, and the other kids would laugh at them. Some things are the same all over...

The second school we went to was Mathiya which was up in some hilly country. That's where we saw Africa Classroom Connection at work. The old school had been conducted in an old church building that was literally falling apart from the foundation on up. Then up above them we saw shining examples of ECAG classrooms that were nice and new, and divided into smaller rooms for different grade levels. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the kids performed, then mobbed us to wave at cameras and thank Henry for the classroom he had built and adorned with his email address over the door. They were nice enough to feed us, and some of us are complaining about how we thought we might get thinner on the trip...and with all the food we're being offered, that ain't happening. Such an American problem to have. We look forward to seeing more schools tomorrow, and will experience our first attempt at teaching in a classroom. Should be fun, because today was amazing!