Tag Archives: south africa

Sheila – Woman on a Mission

We went to Lelapa Restaurant in Langa township tonight. This is not your ordinary place to drop by on a random evening. Arrangements must be made, plans put in motion in advance. The restaurant is located in Langa township. It takes a small army to keep it safe, to monitor the cars outside, to prepare the meals, to supply the music, to provide a South African dining experience.

The restaurant’s owner, Sheila, has a life story that would make most of our lives look flat. She came from the townships, learned how to be an entrepreneur on her own and over the past 40 years has established herself and her restaurant in her community as a thriving business.
Her home, the restaurant, has gone through many renovations, including growing in size, having the walls redone, concrete floor poured, and being wired for electricity. It is hard to even fathom the amount of energy it took her to raise that much money in order to keep growing and sustaining her ventures. This transformation started over 40 years ago.
Working as a housecleaner, one day she discovered a receipt laying on the table for R39.96 (~$4). The receipt was merely to purchase wine and cheese, yet was the equivalent of her weekly pay.
As she stated, “At that moment, I realized I was being valued the same as wine and cheese. I was not okay with this.”
Her story weaves the tale of a woman balancing two jobs, night school, finding imbalance and the need for change, making her own way, becoming a business owner – traveling to Bangkok, Thailand to purchase goods and selling them back in South Africa. After numerous trips like this, she was earning enough to keep growing the home’s capacities. Sheila did all of this in the middle of social upheaval and political unrest.
The life story continued, and as she spoke, weaving in dry humor and life observations, I realized behind the food and community and home renovations was a woman of steel and an all-too-relevant life lesson. Her persistence and work ethic enabled her to build the life she wanted. Nowadays we all are facing hurdles and obstacles from all directions. Teacher morale has been shaken and some teachers are not sure how to move forward in the face of such seemingly unsurmountable adversity. The lesson is this… if Sheila can build this fantastic space and community cornerstone out of nothing but her intrinsic drive and hard work, we can make a choice to not let the obstacles in education define or steer us. We can rise above.

Arriving to South Africa

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about going half away around the world. My kids are 20+ hours and an ocean away from me. I’m traveling to a place with which I am unfamiliar. And this trip completes almost a month of being away from home. Did I mention the 16-hour flight with me confined to a seat? Yes, there are reasons for concern.

This trip to South Africa is a teaching trip. The paperwork at the end of the day says I am going to teach teachers educational technology. But as a teacher who uses a lot of tech… my heart has to justify traveling so far away from my family with the untouchables… It is never just about the technology.

What kept me coming to South Africa was a multi-fold reasoning. First, my kids. My own students and my children need constant modeling. By extending myself into new experiences, I am modeling growth, development, and lifelong learning. My students will benefit straight away with the connections being made, and perspective gained. My own two kids may not see the fruit of these labors for years, as they are little at the moment. In due time I expect they’ll come to respect my choices to take on challenges and opportunities.

The next reason is for personal growth. Much of my PLN speaks of spending the summer “filling up one’s cup” before returning to work. We expend so much of ourselves while teaching during the school year that our summer time is for learning, growing, sharing, and building up the good stuff – so that in the most difficult moments in the next nine months, we may remain grounded and patient because we have rebuilt our personal foundation during the summer.

I wanted to make the trip to be better as a global citizen. My students, at least some of them, live in a bubble – where the world they know is very sheltered or protected. The level of understanding of what the world has gone through is through an edited textbook or a tourist realm. If I can bring a small glimpse as to the reality of the human story, struggle, and strength back to my classroom then the work to get here was all worth it.

And, at the end of the day, as many of my colleagues from around the world have said, preached, recited, and sang – we are what we share. As a teacher, I am constantly amazed at my PLN. The teachers with whom I have connected and have worked are talented, passionate, caring, and invested in making the world better. They provide me with ideas, inspiration, and support. By going to South Africa, my hope is to provide colleagues, new and old, with anything they might find useful or valuable. Not only do I get to share with South African teachers, but I also want to share the trip itself. My pictures and videos, and stories, all to share. My newly connected classroom relationships to bridge continental divides. I am indebted to many individuals near and far. I stand on the shoulders of giants. We are all #BetterTogether.

I could not have done any of this without a team effort by my husband, family, friends, professional organizations, and sponsors. I feel very blessed and lucky to be going. With this opportunity, it is my goal to share as much as possible before, during, and after the experience.