St Chad’s College Outreach
As part of a small St. Chad’s outreach project, each week, a small group of St. Chad’s students venture out to the nearby town of Chester-le-street on an evening to help a family of Syrian refugees with their English language skills. I am incredibly glad to say I am one of those students. We open the gate and walk up the path of a semi-detached house. We are always greeted with smiling faces. This is the home of Muhammad, Amna, who are parents to Ahmad (22), Salah (18) and Rania (17).
But this has not always been home. Over notes about pronunciation, Amna tells me of her childhood in Syria, how she met Muhammad (above) and how they got married. When the conflict worsened in Syria, the family moved to Jordan. Ahmad (below, right) shows me some of his writing: a letter to a friend back in Jordan, telling them of his new home in the UK. Muhammad and Ahmad were once manual labourers in Jordan.
Now, their days are filled with Muhammad volunteering at the local Re-f-use Cafe and Ahmad working in catering at the University. Salah tells me of his school days in Syria, explaining how much he prefers his lessons at Durham New College. ‘The teachers respect you as a student,’ he states. Rania has recently been moved into the top set for her classes, Amna tells me with a beaming smile. Amna (below) enjoys cooking, and often brings out home bakes made from middle-eastern recipes, which are always very sweet, and always very delicious.
The family are all so keen to learn. They bounce off each other, we all laugh, over mispronunciations, the complexities of tenses, cognates, and when to use ‘those’, ‘these’, ‘that’, and ‘this’.
Being an hour or two and plenty cups of middle-eastern tea, these evenings are always modest, simple and heartwarming. The family are always so grateful. St. Chad’s engages in several ongoing outreach and volunteering projects throughout the academic year; one of which takes us as far as South Africa. With the current, uncertain political and international environment, this project brings a personal element to wider issues. And, for that reason, amongst many, it is incredibly rewarding and most certainly feels like Chad’s is making a difference as part of a bigger picture.
What’s more terrifying? A cheetah 5 meters away from you or teaching 50 13 year olds? We ponder this whilst we recover from leading a 3 hour maths lesson at 8am on a Saturday morning. (Yes, 8am lectures, one thing Keiskammahoek and Durham University now have in common). But our time in South Africa did not begin here.
As three students, weary from a 10 and half hour flight, stumbled out of Port Elizabeth airport they were met by a knight in shining armour, Tim Bernard. Tim is a grizzled veteran of the South African education system (though he is not yet 51, Happy Birthday for Tuesday Tim!) and he would be our primary life support as we found our feet in South Africa. One could say we had a gentle start, braais, beaches and bitches (shout out to Molly, Tim’s dog). Tim and his wife Michelle gave a great insight into both the history and culture surrounding South Africa and the expectations upon us on the classroom.
By Sunday we were back in a small town dominated by a large Church and a university, yes we were back in Durham or something quite like it – Grahamstown (soon to be renamed Makanda – locals are joking that the government wanted to tie the town to Wakanda of the Black Panther films).
The first job was to learn isiXhosa. We bet you pronounced that wrong, we are still learning to perform an ‘aspirated lateral click’ to give but one example.
Wednesday and Thursday mornings saw our first taste of teaching. We observed some incredible teachers who showed us how it could be done, but our first attempts were perhaps less than inspiring, Ermos forgot what a verb was, Andy let a cow loose in his classroom and Sarina somehow lost the number between 7 and 9 – I would ‘eight to be her.
Fortunately, Tim’s son Eric took pity on us and rewarded our efforts with a game drive. This is where the cheetah became involved, we got a once in a lifetime opportunity to be next to a cheetah and him not want to bite our heads off, thanks to Steve the Wildebeest for taking one for the team.
After that it was time to go to St Matthew’s, where we will be spending the remaining 6 weeks volunteering. The drive here was rather uneventful, for once, no pedestrians were in danger from Andy’s driving, no passengers were in danger from Ermos’ and no driveways were in danger from Sarina’s driving.
Having met the staff and already started teaching here we are all incredibly excited for what the next 6 weeks will bring. Not missing you guys at all, for the final time Mum, I’m fine! (from Ermos)
This week saw a team of three Chad’s students leaving for our partnership school in South Africa for the yearly South Africa Outreach.
We arrived in Grahamstown, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, on Sunday and have spent the week here getting to know the country and preparing for our placement in St Matthew’s High School.
We were met at the airport by Tim Barnard, a member of staff at St Andrew’s College, who coordinates this project from South Africa. The cold definitely took some getting used to – it’s winter here and after a rare rain storm we even had to wait out a power cut in the local pub! Having said that, during the day it’s still very sunny and similar temperatures to July back home.
We have worked closely with four interns around our age who are working at St Andrews while they study at Rhodes University.
This week we have spent our mornings running winter holiday sessions in Maths and English Literacy for Grade 12 learners preparing for their NBT (National Benchmarking Test) at Good Shepherd School.
During the afternoons, we have been taking part in a variety of lessons and activities. We began with a South African history lesson from Tim, learning about the scars left by the European colonisation of the 1800s and the social issues facing the contemporary culture following the end of apartheid 23 years ago.
As part of our cultural induction, we have participated in isiXhosa lessons, one of the 11 official languages here and the mother tongue of most of the students we will be teaching. We learned how to introduce ourselves and practice pronunciation, especially as there are 18 ‘click’ sounds. We were also lucky enough to be able to experience traditional South African food.
Towards the end of the week we met with Prof. Kenneth Ngcoza who works in the Education Department at Rhodes University. He told us about the particular challenges South Africans face in terms of education in disadvantaged areas, and the strategies Rhodes is using to improve access to education and opportunities. The reality is that learners from poorer backgrounds have to work significantly harder than those in private schools to get into university.
After a positive and educational first week, we are looking forward to what’s next!
Alastair, Phoebe and Liberty