JessicaAn update from Jessica, a Perkins School of Theology student and assistant to Dr. Evelyn Parker, studying in South Africa:

Today was the best day yet!

Phakamisa children

Phakamisa children

Five of us went with different training teachers at Phakamisa (a Zulu word meaning “to uplift”) to assist them in their work. Phakamisa is a ministry at Pinetown Methodist Church that provides practical teaching skills to educators of pre-school children who live in impoverished areas.

Because public education in South Africa is not free, many children cannot afford it. These schools provide pre-school to which they would not otherwise have access. The ministry reaches out to children from birth until 6 years of age, when first grade starts for them. They use improvised games and equipment from waste to equip schools. The church also runs a training program in which they train teachers to go out and assess those teaching the children.

Many of the children have AIDS or are orphans because of the AIDS epidemic. As a result, many grandparents become their full-time caregivers, some caring for up to 25 children at a time and frequently on meager pensions. Thus, the church also facilitates caregiver groups that provide spiritual support to those who care for those children.

The church classes teach the caregivers how to do beadwork (for lucrative support), sewing, vegetable gardening, cooking, and other parenting skills. Phakamisa serves at least 16,000 children every day on a budget of R2.5 million, which is the equivalent to $250,000. In order to serve the children, they need 13 Rand per month per child, the equivalent of $1.30 U.S. dollars, or approx. $15/year. Phakamisa provides a hand up, not a hand out, and strives to make people independent of the ministry. Learn more about Phakamisa here:

We all went with a different trainer to various schools. I had an incredible experience at a rural school, which took place in one woman’s home.

Class took place outside due to lack of space. There were two small sheds that the children could stand in to recite their numbers, colors, and nursery rhymes. There was a small play area in the front yard, but with 60 children it was difficult for the children to play without getting hurt.

What struck me most was the toilet area. It was outside, covered by a three-sided tin and made up of old paint buckets. The children would go to the bathroom one after another into these buckets, and then one of the three teachers would pour it out.

Everything served a dual purpose, and they made the best of what resources they had. At nap time the children laid down on blankets on the hard ground in the sheds. They had to lay head-to-feet because there were so many it was difficult to fit them all in the sheds. Yet, they were not sad. They laughed and joked and played like all children do. They were even grateful for their lunch—a mixture of rice and spices that was served to them out of a huge plastic outdoor tub.

It was clear that the teachers loved the children deeply, and they were so gentle and nurturing to them. However, two of the children did not play with the rest of kids because they have AIDS and their medicines make them extremely tired. I held one child in one arm while I played ball with some kids with the other. They were mesmerized by me, probably because I am a blonde American girl (LOL)! They were extremely happy children and appeared extremely intelligent. I hope I never forget the sound of their sweet Zulu voices singing and chanting nursery rhymes.