I had a desire to visit South Africa after the abolishment of apartheid to determine for myself how a relatively peaceful political transition was achieved between the Whites and Blacks. The opportunity came in 2009; I received an email message from an employee of Electronics Arts telling me that I had been recommended by them to become a Randy Pausch Teach With Africa (TWA) Fellow. If I was selected this fellowship would allow me to travel to South Africa for 8 weeks along with other teachers, grad students and psychologists. Luckily for me I was selected.
A component of TWA's Mission Statement says that TWA sends educators to Africa to teach and learn; teach and learn is exactly what I did with more emphasis on the learning. I had the good fortune to work at LEAP Science and Maths School in Pinelands a suburb of Cape Town teaching computer science to a group of motivated students and conducting professional development workshops with equally motivated staff members.
The TWA founders, Larry and Marjorie Schlenoff along with Amy Schoew their Executive Director made every effort to make our stay in South Africa pleasurable as possible. The organization conducted workshops before our departure to lessen the possibility of culture shock when we arrived in South Africa; they insured that we would have regularly scheduled debriefing sessions while in country to insure that our physical and mental health were maintained.
At one of the pre-travel workshops we were told that our experience in South Africa would be transformational; and it was. I've been teaching for over 20 years so I knew I would be able to successfully teach the students and to train teachers in new and different pedagogical methodologies. But what I didn't expect is what I would learn from the experience; not only from the teachers but also from the students.
What I learned from the students helped me to understand how the people of South Africa were able to accomplish their peaceful transition. Being an African American I learned what we don't have and the South African do have; it is a sense of ancestral history and respect. When the students would dance for us they would always sing a chant before they would begin their dance. One day I asked what was the meaning of the chant? They explained that they were asking their ancestors to be with them and help them in what they were about to attempt to do.
Nelson Mandela is sometimes called Madiba his Xhosa clan name, or as Tata which is the Xhosa name for father. HIs people listened to him when he explained that they had to forgive the wrongs that had been done to them by the Whites, and that reconciliation was a necessary thing that all the people had to accept.