Friday, May 29, 2009

Currency conversion at 1:1

Have you ever had such a strange and vivid dream that while waking up, you’d need to concentrate on remembering where you were while blinking your weary eyes open?  That only the wash of familiar surroundings would erode the action-packed emotions experienced in the dream?  We experienced this every morning for the first week after April 18, the day we returned to Vancouver after spending eight months on the continent of Africa.  Our African memories were so vivid, yet so out of place with the comfort and familiarity of home.  We’re no longer fresh off the boat, so I think our Ebola quarantine must’ve expired by now.  Apologies to everyone whose hands we’ve already shaken.

Although everything in Vancouver is familiar, it seems strangely distant.  It’s like 8 months of our Chinese-Canadian histories have been scooped out from our memories, and replaced with strange African experiences.  Experiences such as coping with cold showers, walking in our carpeted homes with shoes on, depending on a schedule or others for transportation, 2 hour bus rides that cost only $4 and taxi rides costing only $0.30, sharing a living space with other people, and driving on the left side of the road.

Living in Africa wasn’t a challenge, as many people would assume.  It was more like walking through a museum to avoid tipping over ancient artifacts, in how we carefully controlled our social movements.  At our schools and local community, we were always aware of the thin line between friend and tourist, limiting our actions and how that may affect our experiences within the community (I never took out my PDA in public, rarely used my laptop outside my office, used the cheapest-looking cell phone possible, and wouldn’t take out my camera in front of students until the final days). In public areas, we averted our eyes from street vendors working the major intersections so that our curiosity wouldn’t be construed as interest to buy, and said “no” countless times to hopeful vendors who wanted us to buy their souvenirs (“I give you special price”).  When we did need to buy things, we’d constantly need to haggle over the unlisted prices for everything from oranges to cans of tuna while mentally converting currencies once a price had been agreed upon.  In Johannesburg, we’d casually glance over our shoulders every few minutes to be sure of the intentions of those watching us, even during the day.  And although all the countries we visited were English speaking, slowing down our own speech and adopting the local accent helped others understand us.

We’ll miss the intimacy of living with the people that we worked with, pedestrians making eye contact and smiling or waving hello to each other, being able to instantly befriend someone you meet on the bus, and eons-old chiefdoms thriving in their spirit of community and family.  For the locals, there are few things more honourable than having a white person (that’s what they called us) visit their home.

They say that when a romantic relationship needs to go long-distance, it’s harder emotionally for the person who gets left behind.  We can imagine that this truth applies to our departure as well.  Our hearts fondly go out to all the full-time teachers and pastors who dedicate not just a few months, but their lives to the service of God’s kingdom and the children of Africa.  Although we were happy to live in environments that were new and unique to us, we did it fully knowing that we had support from the local pastors and missions organizations, and our family, church and friends abroad.

As teachers in Africa, we faced many challenges.  Africans have prioritized learning below that of knowing.  They have little patience for the former, as evident in the teaching styles of the local teachers who focus on memorization as a means of knowledge, and the college-age computer students who would prefer getting a certificate stating they know Excel rather than actually knowing Excel.  The children had exceptional memories when it came to stories, music, and dance, but teaching them analytical thinking was difficult.

Since they are not motivated for learning in itself being a goal, connecting with children emotionally was another technique for teaching them. However, this was challenging as well.  In Ghana, the large Muslim family unit (a husband would marry multiple wives and have many children) would cause children to distance themselves from adults, forming a certain distrust of adults.  Having to say goodbye to past short termers who became their friends never to return further diminishes any trust they have for foreigners.

For most of the students, English was a second language, and it formed a barrier to their learning.  Without any proper ESL classes, students had to translate for each other.  Much like some ESL students in Canada, some would feign the lack of comprehension to get easier work.  Dora formed a buddy mentoring program between the older students and younger students whose express purpose was to communicate only in English and build their confidence in the language.

While in Africa, we developed a stronger sense of our own culture.  We met only two other westernized Asians in our 8 months.  All other Chinese were from either mainland China, running small businesses, or from Hong Kong as part of the Ghana ministry.  Everywhere we went, we’d be asked where we were from.  The answer was never short, as “Canada” was never a satisfactory response, so we had to explain our heritage (“our parents are from China, but we were born in Canada”).  Old Chinese martial arts films were the basis of their Chinese education (we saw a group of kids watching such a film in Tanzania) so kids everywhere would show off the language they learned (“ching chong chang”) and their kung fu skills (kicking and punching through the air) as we’d walk through their villages.  In Canada, we fit in as nearly everybody is typically from somewhere else.  Contrast this with Africa where the furthest that half the young adults in the computer school have travelled is a few hours drive outside the town where we taught school.  Few have ever been outside their country.  Those who have were usually from a different country (like Nigerians immigrating to Ghana, or Zimbabweans escaping into South Africa).  Without much chance to experience another culture by travelling, the culture that comes to them instantly grabs their attention, and we embraced this, using it as an opportunity to talk to people and allow them to share their stories.

Spirituality, largely absence in the western world, is very much alive in Africa where the spiritual world is recognized as having significant impacts on their everyday lives.  This is true regardless of the religion.  In Ghana, we heard about a family that was broken up because of a curse by a fetish priest.  We sat in church services where individuals proclaimed to be healed of pains in their legs or stomach.  A “prosperity gospel” preached in many churches promised that prayer and faith would result in an easy and rich life.  There were satanic churches in our community that introduced dangerous suffocation-inducing games to our school kids.  This religiousness zeal underpinned society in rural Africa.

What’s it like to be back?  It’s as easy as putting on your shoes after a day in rental inline skates or skis.  It’s always easy to return to comfort, to forget the small blisters and calluses while remembering the unique once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

On Sunday, May 31 at 10:45 (we start promptly at 11am), we will be giving a (1:30hr) presentation at our churchduring the English Sunday School (Vancouver Chinese Alliance, 3330 Knight Street).  At or around 7:30pm on Thursday, June 4, we’ll also be sharing at the prayer meeting also at our church.  We’ll be giving a slide show and sharing more about the culture of a continent few have experienced, and answering any questions about our experiences and how we can support Africa.

Many thanks to all our supporters over the last eight months, without whom this trip would have been impossible.

Tim & Dora

Friday, April 17, 2009

101 photos of Africa

We're awaiting our flight home in the airport. We'll have memories of this continent and its people forever.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Kids just want to be loved

After 3 months of hanging out, giving countless detentions and puzzling over how these kids can learn math, I realize that the only lasting impact that I can leave is for them to feel loved.

To recount, I've been teaching 2 math classes a day to the grade 4/5s and grade 6/7s, acted as the school's remedial teacher, and started a "buddie" program between the older kids and younger kids. During the weekdays, we've spent so much time together, during and after school (even when we were sleeping as I could hear all of them breath/sleep talk during the night) that I felt like I was breathing kids. Now that the term is over and they're all back at home for their 2 week break, I can't help but to wonder what their lives at home are like.

On the last day of school, the school principal brought us to the Bopsfontein squatter camp (an informal settlement where people live on someone else's land because they're not being kicked off) where about a quarter of our school kids come from. We saw sights that were similar to Ghana, shacks that were made of of sheet metal and any other scraps instead of mud, uneven dirt roads, stray dogs going wherever they please, garbage strewn around and small stalls selling bags of snacks and food. However, unlike Ghana, people seemed less happy, and in the air hung a feeling of purposelessness. I wondered how such poverty and destitutness could exist in the same country where just a few miles away, white folk could be living in large houses surrounded by manicured lawns. On the other hand, I wondered how I could contine with my luxurious lifestyle (in comparison to these people). The irony is that I can't see myself living any other life.

I asked many of the children what they would be doing during their break, but most answered (like most kids) with a general response that they would just play all the time. One child, Tshidiso answered that he'll probably help his friend cut hair. That was an odd reponse but I soon understood that he, at such a young age of 13, wanted to try to earn a few extra bucks. I knew he came from a home where neither father nor mother cared for him, and whether or not he would see either of them is unknown. Most other kids were given a bit of money to buy snacks and extra food from the school's shop. He never got any.

On the last day of school, Tim and I tried to say good-bye to as many kids as we could by taking pictures and giving hugs. Even the naughty ones who fought and talked to others as much as they could get away with wanted a hug. It makes me feel that they only reason they got in trouble was to get a bit more attention, a bit more love. I'm not certain about what math concept will stick with them after 3 months of learning about place values, number patterns and multiplication, but I hope that whatever love God has given me to give to these children will stick.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

No more teachers dirty looks (almost)

Our final day at Aurora is tomorrow. It has been a jampacked three months here, bringing the school into the age of computers. Prior to our arrival, the school operated in a paper-only environment where student details were stored in binders in a filing cabinet, and monies brought in to the school were manually tallied each week and debited when items from the tuck shop were purchased. Attendance lists and mark tallies were hand written in books with ruler-created gridlines. Now, our student records are stored in a networked Access database system where the staff can look up monies stored in student accounts and quickly print out class lists or export them to Excel. We've issued students ID cards on which their student numbers are encoded as barcodes to make purchases from the tuck shop quick and relatively secure.

Two staff members, Agnes and Sipho, after being trained to use the tuck shop scanner

Previously, communally watched videotapes on a TV held seniority as teacher of mathematics (none of the human teachers here like teaching math), but now students can watch the videos at their own pace in a 9-computer Windows 98 computer lab through a web site which holds 60 hours (40gb) of mpeg video. The same videos have been backed up to VCD to allow for both conventional DVD players and the cd-rom equipped computers to still be able to play them in the event of a network outage/hard disk crash.

I've installed the "Tux" line of open source educational programs in the lab to help me teach mouse dexterity, math, and typing three times a week. Our school fees are very low, but extra-curricular activities, such as computer lessons, are fee-based, so student order is determined via a loose FIFO algorithm combining the date of their last payment and their latest computer lesson. It remains a very popular activity, as the waiting list is about 2 weeks long.

To celebrate the last day of school tomorrow, Dora and I will host a dance contest to show off rhythmic skills of the kids here (seriously, everybody has rhythm here).

Dora's a little busy sleeping now, so she'll post her report "just now" (South African for "eventually").

Sunday, March 22, 2009

On Friday, a thunderstorm released buckets of water upon our school. The first photo is just minutes after the storm began and some of Dora's students were navigating the newly formed river back to their classroom. Later on our way home, we saw piles of snow! (well, hail).
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Not Springfield

When we first arrived in Johannesburg, it seemed strangely familiar...
Cooling towers resembling a nuclear power plant...

Jebediah Springfield

But then we find this in our bathroom sink to remind us we're not in Springfield anymore.
Posted by Picasa

You Canadians have it lucky

It was under a full moon that we experienced one of the most physically grueling trials of our lives—summiting Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. And it was under a full moon that I prepared for the most emotionally testing trial in South Africa—applying for an extension to our 90 day visa (we’re in the country 100 days). In Canada, the most stressful part of the ordeal might be finding parking downtown prior to waiting in line at the passport office. Here, a combination of factors makes it much more eventful here.

The Department of Home Affairs takes care of all things related to passports and visas. When I asked where that was, nobody was able to give me an address. The locals remember locations by directions rather than maps and addresses, so I needed to be taken to the office in the nearby town of Germinston at 9pm Wednesday night. I had read about not stopping at red lights (locally referred to as red robots) at night, but in the Edenvale area of Joburg where we stay, it’s not an issue. In Germinston, it is. There is virtually no traffic at 9pm (it’s like Vancouver at 2am), and the route to Germinston was straightforward, but my guide and I kept our eyes open as we cautiously rolled through intersections. Stories of smash-and-grabs (glass of car smashed as purses and etc. are grabbed in the commotion) ran through my head as I readied myself to take off at the first sign of somebody running towards our car.

Eventually we reached the office, where my guide explained the strategies involved in seeing somebody the same day that I arrive. The queue would be filled with refugees, mostly from Zimbabwe, and I would have to get there early. There are two other teachers at the school who’ve had to also line up, and they got to the office at 4am, and didn’t leave until noon.

At 5am Thursday morning, a mere 6 hours after I got home, I returned to the office. I found I was already number 23 in the queue, as I added my name to a sign-up sheet. Not so bad, until you consider that many of the names belong to agents who represent 20 or more clients whose applications need to be processed individually. I returned to my car to get a bit of rest before returning to the queue at 6am to add my name to a second official list taken by a security guard. A few people hadn’t returned, and I became number 20. At 7:30, the office opened, and the queue became a mass clogging up the front door while the security allowed those in who had registered properly to proceed upstairs to the office where we once again queued up. We were split into two lines—one for applying, and one for collecting. I then became number 4 in line as those collecting would only be served after those applying. The line for applying moved one every 30 minutes, and by 9am I was served. 25 minutes later, I was out. Yes, it took 25 minutes to make sure the forms I brought were properly filled out, that I had brought the correct documentation, and to print out a receipt (which alone was 10 minutes).

At least I got to leave before lunch time. But that doesn’t console me for my return to the office in two weeks when I need to pick up the visas.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

our financial situation

When we left Vancouver in August, the Canadian dollar was nearly on par with the USD, gas prices were touching $1.50 a litre, and the Olympics seemed to be cheaper. When we return to Vancouver in April, Tim will be looking for a job during a time of economic uncertainty so please also pray that God will provide in a time of economic crisis.

We also would like to share with you our financial situation. When we were budgeting for our eight-month volunteer/missions trip to Africa, we estimated our costs as the following:

Travel expenses (airfare)


Preparation expenses


Daily expenses





Approx. TOTAL Requirements


We did in fact raise just over $9000, for which we were grateful. However, our expected expenditure of the trip has escalated to over $19,000 due to the following reasons:

· Cost of flights was higher than expected

· Most of our costs are in US dollars, so the rising US dollar has increased our Cdn costs.

· Our estimate of CIM daily expenses didn’t include health insurance, groceries or other miscellaneous items like internet and visa renewal

Travel expenses (airfare)


Preparation expenses


Daily expenses





Approx. TOTAL Requirements


*Note that these costs exclude the recreational travel which we did in between teaching assignments

We are hoping to raise an additional $5000 to cover this increase, and are asking you for your support. We chose to stay longer in Africa to provide a lasting impact to the young people here, but also because the fixed costs are so high. We made our effectiveness the top priority, and then tried to find the most cost-effective way to do it. For those who have been reading with us since the beginning, we hope that our experiences have opened up a part of the world that would otherwise be unfamiliar to you, and would be grateful for any additional support. For those who have just started to read, you may not have had the chance to contribute before, so we give you that opportunity now.

There are two ways you can contribute financially, and both will grant you a tax receipt. For the online-savvy, you may use your credit card to contribute at the SIM website: . You can also provide your credit card information over the phone if you prefer. Make sure you specify our names in the “Missionary Name” section of the online form.

Alternatively, you may also mail a cheque to CIM. Make the cheque out to “Chinese International Missions”. Make sure you write our names on the Memo field of the cheque.

Their mailing address is:

PO Box 97190

Richmond Main Post Office

Richmond, BC, Canada

V6X 8H3

Either way, let us know so that we can confirm with the organization that they’ve received your contribution (we do prefer you donate through SIM as we are more in need with that account). You can find out more about each organization in our blog entry here:

Thanks again for your support, we look forward to seeing all of you again when we return.

Tim and Dora

Sunday, February 22, 2009

hectic in South African means intense

Thank you all for your prayers and emails of encouragement. We sometimes have such hectic days that it is impossible to get through the day without your prayers of strength and wisdom of how to reach out to these children. Knowing that there’s a whole team of people praying for us really is encouraging.

Thank you for praying for the children, especially for the spiritual battles going on at the school. It seems that Satan is trying to discourage the teachers and children from God’s love Just this past Wednesday Dora had a really tough time with my grade 4/5 math class. The kids were misbehaving by talking, stealing books from each other, and beating each other. This lead to a three-hour detention because they still wouldn’t calm down. In fact, during that time, one of the boys, Tshitiso, who Dora has struggled with from the beginning of the year, bit another child. It truly was chaos. An American missionary who was visiting the school was also helping me in the room, as he stood by the door as a doorman and caught kids who tried to run away. The next day Dora talked to the class about behaviour in the classroom, respecting the teacher, and obedience/fearing God. One boy, Leofric mentioned something that has been disturbing me. He said that he doesn’t care because Satan already has him. Now this boy comes from a background where his parents worship their ancestors, and whose parents have told him that he is the chosen one, to be a king according to what the ancestors have told them. He’s a little spoiled and his younger brother is completely ignored and has no self confidence. Please pray especially for God to open the way to their heart, and to free them from Satan’s grasp.

The principal has also informed us that the local pastor has contacted her about Satanic worship activity in the Bopsfontain area where the kids come from. Please pray for God’s spiritual protection over the people in the community and school. We have heard that families are torn apart by family members being involved in this activity.

Tim is in the midst of converting math VHS tapes into video files for use on the Win98 computers. It’s a bit of a tedious job, splitting about fifteen 2.5 hour long videos into logical 30-minute segments. The children will eventually use these videos to follow along with a workbook. On Monday, he’ll begin teaching some of the children educational programs that he’s installed on the computers. He’s so far been patient with the computers...pray for that patience to extend to fidgety kids who are better at talking than listening.

We have also formed a friendship with one of the teachers at the school. Emilia has left her tattered country of Zimbabwe with her 5 year old daughter in hopes of finding a better life in South Africa. She came with no possessions, and hopes to get a work visa so that she can legally sponsor her 18 year old son over. She has already applied for the visa once, but was rejected. We’ve been praying regularly in the evenings with her, but she still fears for her son’s future; when she can bring him over to SA and how she can get the money to further his education. Please join us in praying for her physical needs.

Last week, on a rainy night, we got to see firsthand the thousands of Zimbabwean refugees who stayed at the Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg. It was shoulder to shoulder with people, some laying on the ground trying to sleep, others sitting on the stairs keeping themselves entertained with a small portable TV and a DVD player. They smiled at us, some shaking our hands as we walked through the crowded hallways to gather food to take to the homeless people who preferred sleeping on the streets. They told us that they have fled a country whose inflation rate is in the millions of percent, where unemployment is 90% and hospitals have been closed. Cholera has claimed the lives of over 3000 people. The infamous President Robert Mugabe has is driving the country into the ground while he himself lives in relative luxury. It was incredible to see how one man's neglect and selfishness could be responsible for so much despair and desperation for millions.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Children: the battle between flesh and spirit

I feel definitely challenged in my teaching profession. After each day’s end, I’m not sure whether to celebrate the survival of another day or the small success of another child’s heightened understanding of mathematics, or rack my brains for what I’ve forgotten about best practice that I learned in university. I’ve been teaching two split 4/5 and 6/7 math classes, but it actually feels like I’m teaching three. The 4/5 class consists of students who can actually keep up with the BC grade 3 curriculum, and half who are new students into the school, who are either new to English, or went to a school that didn’t teach them anything (and I’m not exaggerating here…I heard that a public school in our area didn’t have enough teachers last year, so students simply sat and learned nothing). The 6/7 class is thankfully a bit more homogenous, so I can actually teach the same lesson and have most understand.

The issue goes a bit deeper than the classroom, as I’m slowly learning. Many of the children come from a culture and families where the parents (most of whom are single parents) don’t value or care for their child. In the African cultures we’ve encountered so far (including in Ghana), once a couple gets married, it’s expected that the women will have a baby right away. It’s the norm, and it’s every woman’s desire –to have the ability to conceive. One of the first questions I got asked once any black woman found out I was married, was whether I had a child. When I answered no, and moreover, to their alarm, that I didn’t want a child yet, they couldn’t understand why. This belief has resulted in problems of premarital sex, and babies born out of wedlock, just so the women can prove to the man that she is able to conceive, and therefore has met the qualifications of a good woman.

After the child is born, he/she may be treated like a commodity that would allow the parents to receive a monthly payment from the government. The families are poor, so he/she may get two meals a day if lucky, and left unsupervised most of the time, actually, he/she would either be supervising a younger sibling, or playing on the streets with other unsupervised children. What about love? “What does that feel like?” a child may wonder.

A scarier discovery, that children are taught by their fathers that love is sex. Sexual abuse is not uncommon in black families of the townships and squatter camps. It stems from the belief that one of the father’s roles is to teach their child, or their child’s friend what and how to have sex.

According to 2006 statistics, 30% of South Africa’s population has AIDS. A grade 5 child in my class has AIDS. She has to take pills twice a day, at exactly the same times, or her condition worsens until she is no more. I’m really not supposed to talk about it, as any terminal diseases are not spoken about in schools here. In fact, the governing board of education discourages that kind of talk.

Because of the poor condition of life for black folk, the Aurora primary school is a little piece of heaven for the children. All the teachers are here on a voluntary basis, as any funds collected from school fees or donations go directly to benefit the children. Meals are provided three times a day, quality education from teachers who care, and a warm bed to sleep in during the week.

However, there is never enough love to go around. I’ve started working with the most needy kids in the school, those who have failed a grade, those who don’t have much English, those who are struggling academically, and (I think) those who have learning disabilities. I’ve only seen some of them once or twice, but every time they spy me walking in their vicinity, eager eyes and open arms are usually result in hugs that leave them smiling.

Sometimes at the end of the day, I wonder whether anything I’ve done has made any difference at all. Sometimes, I feel even being there to give a hug, and seeing their face brighten, has made it all worthwhile. I hang onto the thought that somehow, the love shown through my actions, and the words of encouragement may bring them one step closer to experiencing God.

More recent and urgent news:

Just this past week, the intermediate students (grade 4 -7) were caught playing a deadly game of strangling each other called “dreaming.” This involved about 20 students who thought it would be a challenge to strangle each other and see who could tolerate it the longest as a show of strength. The police were immediately called in to deal with the situation and to show the children the seriousness of their crime. We learned from the police that what this act is classified as an entry level initiative into Satanic worship, and is against the law in South Africa.

The principal had warned us of spiritual attacks occurring on the school during our orientation, but I didn’t expect it to be this vigorous. The school is the only place where these children will ever hear about the word of God, and Satan is unhappy with what is happening.

Please pray especially for the safety and salvation of the children of Aurora primary school, for the teachers to have the wisdom and patience to touch the hearts of these children so that they can be won over for God’s kingdom.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The computers that Tim is tasked with getting to work. Mostly dusty Win98 machines. Hello again, Network Neighborhood.
Monday morning, the boarding students return from their weekend at home, excited to see their classmates. The teacher struggles to maintain their attention.
Here, Dora is teaching Math to her students. You're a lucky bunch to see this rare moment when everyone is actually looking down at their desks rather than talking to each other.
Many students require extra help. Dora's going over ABCs with some of the Grade 2s.
Posted by Picasa
You can almost see Mufasa coming out of the clouds. And the observant among you would be able to pause your VCR (yes, when Lion King was released, it was with VHS) to find a certain word that Disney's animators hid in one frame of the clouds.

The nice thing about the rain in Africa is that it usually comes in the form of dramatic thunder and lightning storms. None of that weak drizzle like we get in YVR. Africa announces wetness with big violent sneezes. Vancouver's rain is like the drippy three year old who wants to hold your hand.

The Enya song isn't the first song that comes to mind, mainly because it's a little too uplifting.

Songs that do come to mind:

Blame it on the Rain: In Ghana, people stay at home as if they were afraid of melting in the downpour. Rain was a common reason our classrooms were empty.
Rain, Feel It On my Fingertips: One doesn't need to put one's hand outside to know about the humidity in Africa. The titter tatter on the tin roofs produces enough volume to drown out the teacher, and our bedroom at the school is equipped with a natural sprinkler system (a leak).
Summer Rain: Yup, it's summer here, and the wetness does evaporate as quickly as the wind pushes the clouds away. Makes the rain tolerable as a "dry rain".
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Due South

We’ve been in South Africa since the end of December now, and there is plenty to write about, but let’s first start with where we are.


Our school is in the outskirts of Johannesburg (Jo’burg for short).  It was started about 9 years ago by teachers from Edenvale Baptist Church (Edenvale is the suburb of Joburg).  We have six teachers teaching grades “naught” (or zero - kindergarden) to seven.  Class sizes are about 30 children, and about half of them are boarding here during the week, returning home only during weekends.  During the week, we stay at the school.  Our kitchen is the staff kitchen, our washroom the staff washroom, and our bedroom is adjacent to the boys’ dorm where a set of bars and a thin curtain provides a modicum of privacy. Periodically, kids will ask if they can fetch their ball back from the cow’s field (which also belongs to the school).


What we’re doing here:


Dora: School commenced last Wednesday.  It wasn’t until Monday that most of the students arrived. As we are in a boarding school, many students extend their holiday by skipping the first week of school. She has been teaching the grade 4/5 and grade 6/7 math classes. This week, she’ll start applying all the theory of helping kids with special needs back from university and start assessing students in different classrooms.


Tim: There are a few projects that I will be doing here:

- computer resurrection.  I tested and networked together dust covered Windows 98 machines to enable students to be able to do some computer based learning.

- teacher training on Word and Excel.  There is an amazing amount of unnecessary paperwork and photocopying here. 

- there is a “tuck” shop (“tuck” is an a South African word for odds and ends) we have for students to buy odds and ends (pencils, snacks) but we are tracking it manually.  I am evaluating POS software to help automate this.


Differences between our experience in Ghana and South Africa:



South Africa


A wave

Thumbs up


dry season



Computer school and kindergarden

Grade 0 – 7

Power outages


Monthly (though we had only an hour of power on the second day of school)


Weekly, then needs to be delivered by truck to school

A pump and well


Public markets with individual vendors selling their wares

Shopping malls/grocery stores similar to North America


Goats, chickens, sheep roaming regularly through our school

Bats that come out at dusk

Insect bites

Invisible mites and fleas biting our legs and feet

Mosquitoes keeping us awake with their high pitched buzzing

Living with

Home of Pastor and his wife

At the school during the week, in the city during the weekends.


Beat up left wheel taxis are the most abundant vehicles.  1/30 of vehicles are newer than 5 years old.  Most cars are actually imported from overseas and sold on the second hand market.  I saw a car driving with Colorado plates once.

Right wheel BMWs and Mercs are more popular than Hondas.  About a quarter of the cars appear to be newer than 5 years old


Black church, the only “whites” were the Korean missionaries, our Chinese Pastor and his wife, and us.

White church in the city.  No blacks.





35 degrees

25 degrees


10 minute walk to internet cafe served by a combination of ADSL and a satellite receiver

In the SIM office in the city, and also through a 3G modem elsewhere.






Don’t have pics of school yet, but here’s a picture of a township in Durban.  On the other side of the street was a regular white neighbourhood. Probably the most obvious reminder of apartheid.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Leaving Ghana

On Dec 20, we completed our term in Ghana. The computer school enjoyed a fun/sports day, part of which was a gift giving ceremony where one of the classes gave each of us a Ghanaian smock. The kindergarten also put on a Christmas program complete with a skit of the nativity. This would be the last time we would see most of our students.

Before sunrise the next morning, we left Tamale, the town we called home for the last three months. During this short time, we discovered the generosity of the Ghanaian spirit. Ghanaians make friends quickly and easily. Through a brief encounter, they would exchange phone numbers or email addresses, and a friendship would develop from there. Most will never set foot outside their country so they take the opportunity to discover a cultural exchange. On "Salah" (literally, a Muslim festival) while observing a mass outdoor prayer, we were approached by a mother and her child. After mere minutes of meeting her, she invited us to her home to chat and to share a meal. Although it is common for the locals to ask us for the clothes off our backs, our laptop, and our phones, we realized that this was a way they complement us, and that the request is usually not a serious one. And we do get the occasional awkward request for cash from strangers. There is a certain "no shame in asking" attitude that we needed to get used to.

There is a strong spirit of community that we observed many times in the classroom. In the computer school, our students would help each other in their schoolwork. Sometimes, their assistance would cross the border of cheating, and we had to be quick to correct it. The younger ones in the primary school would share food and water without a minute's hesitation, even if it was their only bottle of water (and this is in a town where there were constant water shortages). Even from a young age, they have embodied the spirit of sharing we are reminded of in the Bible of Elijah being fed by a widow in 1 Kings 17. Their mentality contrasts with the individualism and competitiveness of western culture.

Faith and religion is a strong component of their lives. Evidence of religion is everywhere, from slogans painted on taxi windows to the names of stores. In Tamale, Muslims make up a larger part of the population mainly because children are by default Muslim if their parents are Muslim, while Christians require the more lengthy process of a conversion of the soul.

Ghanaians love music. In school, the students begin the day by singing their local Christian songs. In the primary school, they have a song for everything from marching to their classrooms, to going to the toilet. In church, music would be accompanied by dancing. On cell phones, R&B songs would alert of an incoming call. Many of the dilapidated taxis we sat in were basically a metal hull with an engine, but there'd always be room for an after market deck and some kickin' speakers.

Even though English is the official European language of Ghana, it is still the second language for most. We needed to speak more slowly, using shorter sentences. The vocabulary was different as well: we referred to plastic as rubber, called papayas pawpaw, said "go and come" instead of "return shortly", greeted people properly with "Good morning, how is it?" and responded with "I am fine" instead of "hey, how's it goin'?", "good".

We will miss all these subtleties of African culture, and thank the Ghanaians for their welcoming spirit. We must also thank the staff at CIM (Pastor Philip, Donald, Cassandra, Flora, Teresa) in Vancouver for supporting us, from calling us regularly to make sure we are adjusting well, to bringing back some excess from our travels (particularly cold weather gear which serves no useful purpose in most of Africa), to taking us to see the other CIM projects in Kpandai, a town a day's drive away. And of course Pastor Joshua and Auntie Caterina for their 24hour advice and care for our entire duration in Tamale.

After a few weeks of travel to wait out the Christmas break (photos with captions are here: ), we arrived in the outskirts of Johannesburg at a school for children from nearby squatters' camps and townships. We'll send a separate email update to talk about our experiences in South Africa.
Posted by Picasa