Thursday, October 21, 2010

boys vs girls

One thing I think about and talk about a lot, but have not shared really on this blog is how gender plays out where we live in South Africa. My experience in Chad was extreme. In our village, I knew two women who had salaried jobs (and maybe 20 men). My students were only about 20% female, and there were less and less girls as they went on in schooling. Everyone told me and believed that men were smarter than women. My host father one day would say 'of course, men are smarter' and the next day would say 'wow, you know so much more French than me' but did not see those two statements as being in contrast to each other So I felt like doing a girls' club and working with the girls at the school was a valuable use of my time. Though I naively tried to extoll the equality of genders, that wasn't really something that I was going to get through to people about. I was happy to at least motivate the girls to stay in school and to take part in activities outside of the home (though they didn't really need my motivation since they loved playing soccer so much).

Here in South Africa, you can say that there are issues of gender inequity and there certainly are. The rape rate is extremely high. The HIV prevalence rate is higher in women then men (partially for biological reasons as women have more Langerhans cells in their vagina than men who have been circumsized do on their penis). It is difficult for women to exert control over their sexual lives – to say no or to say to use a condom. Transactional sex is also an issue.

That being said, I know many more formally employed women than men in our village. Of course, many men who are employed live outside of our village, but among those who do stay in the village and those who come to our village to work – teachers, nurses, etc – there are more women then men. Of the men who stay in our village, many are employed informally in different types of labor. Some of these men and some who are not employed at all spend a good amount of their days drinking at informal bars. So the children of our village can choose male role models who are unemployed and suffer from alcoholism or female role models who are teachers or retired women who are busy taking care of their households and grandchildren.

So it comes as no surprise that the girls in our schools do better than the boys. Even in grade 6, the vast majority of the girls are engaged in their studies and are doing well or at least passing. About half the boys are completely withdrawn, some do not know how to read, and are struggling if they are still trying. Some are already smoking marijuana after school. On the other hand, there are a group of boys who are motivated and love to spend time in the library or computer lab. I worry even for them as they go to middle school next year and will face increased peer pressure to try the myriad of drugs available to them (marijuana, huffing glue, and nyope – a mixture of heroin and marijuana – are the most popular) and not to be nerdy. When boys make the decision to drop out of school, they shape a future for themselves that mirrors what they see around them. Sexual encounters are one place where they can exert control in their lives and from that reality come the public health and safety disasters of rape and lack of condom use.

These boys need role models, and there is only so much we can do to encourage them. We know a few young men who are acting in this way for them, but in a culture (like that of rural America) where success is equated with getting out, these successful young men are mostly in Jo'burg. But one thing is for sure, these boys need to be educated and motivated to see a different future for themselves if people want to see change in the future of South Africa. Ironically, as I type this, I am watching a rerun of Oprah (we get them a few months late here) where she signed the One Goal petition that was happening during the World Cup and declares that we should educate our girls. Oprah, of course, has a boarding school for girls here in South Africa. Though her school presents a great opportunity for those girls, I would argue that what South Africa needs is the opposite. We must educate and empower the boys to live productive and healthy lives.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

up to the date

Well it’s been a while since the last update because things have been pretty busy since the strike ended. Coming back to school, there was lots to catch up on. I had planned for the third term to involve the bulk of the work for my after school clubs so there was a lot of improvisation to be done. My community service club ended up doing their presentation for the 4th and 5th graders at their school instead of for 6th graders from other schools, but it went very well. Each child got a pamphlet (made by the club members) to take home with them about HIV and nutrition so that will be a great supplement to what they learned during the presentation. As for the magazine, they are still working on it, but we should be able to print it in the next couple of weeks.

We just spent a week at a few different Peace Corps workshops with counterparts from our village. The first workshop was just for volunteers and we reflected on being at the half way point in our service, the second focused on the Peace Corps’ Life Skills Manual (which contains lessons about various life skills topics like decision making, peer pressure, etc.), and the third was a great hands-on workshop about permagardens (i.e. gardening using compost, double digging, less water, etc.) It got us really pumped to help out with gardening in the village and did not leave us so sad that our tomato seedlings didn’t make it through our absence (Mma has more that are still going strong and we bought some sweet pepper and watermelon seeds). We are going to work with our counterparts to put on some trainings for school gardeners as well as parents or grandparents of OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children). With that, planning our next camp, and all our normal responsibilities at school, we are going to be pretty busy for the next few months.

This time last year I was writing about our misadventures with mulberry jam. Well I am happy to report that we found a much easier and less time consuming solution…mulberry jelly. By crushing the mulberries to juice them, we did not have to worry about hulling them which was the most difficult part of the whole jam making process. Adding pectin also meant that we didn’t have to guess how long it would take to cook so we did not overcook our jelly and it congealed nicely. The whole process took about an hour to make 4 jars, and even the clean up wasn’t as bad. Just one mulberry tree could yield quite a lot of jelly but since we only have so much pectin and so many people to feed, we’ll probably just make one more batch.

Another characteristic of this time of year is the lack of water. The last time it rained was in May, and though the weather forecast keeps mentioning scattered showers, we have yet to see one. As a result, the municipality has been very stingy with the water. Months ago they cut off water in one of the pipes that comes into our yard (not so bad for us as we have another pipe, but for many people it means they haven’t had water at their house in months). The pressure in the other pipe has been so low that we have not been able to fill our water tank (which is maybe 10’ high) in at least two months. And it’s gotten worse. Yesterday it trickled out and took maybe 5 hours to fill a very small bucket. Luckily for whatever reason our neighbor’s water was coming out pretty hard, and we filled quite a lot of other buckets. One of our schools is completely out of water, and the children were pressing their mouths up to the tap of the water tank hoping that something would come out. When the water is on, we’ve seen lines of twenty people outside of abandoned houses that do have working taps, waiting their turn to fill their buckets. The whole issue really does show the divided nature of South Africa. In Pretoria, though they may issue warnings to cut back on water usage, this would never happen. Yet, in our village less than two hours away, people are resigned to the fact that they may go months without water at their homes. There are very few wells in the village, another issue that seems related to the development of the country. People expect to receive municipal water so there is not another system in place even though for much of the year, municipal water cannot be depended upon.