Thursday, February 25, 2010

literacy at bonnytoun

I went back to Bonnytoun (awaiting-trial center for adolescent boys) today and worked with a literacy program in one of the dorms, Mars 1. The dorms are named after planets. Mark and I found out a couple hours before the program that we were actually in charge of leading it… So that was a surprise! Mark, eight CIEE Arts & Sciences student volunteers, and I went to Bonnytoun, found the boys... and did the best we could with last-minute planning. There were fourteen boys in Mars 1. First, we did a few ice-breaker games and introduced ourselves. It started out a little rough; we need to think of better games for next week. Once we broke up into smaller groups to read, the program went wonderfully. Annie, a friend in Arts & Sciences, and I worked with two boys, Sabelo and Siyanda. (I finally got their names down, after having each one repeat his name about seven times. Due to the boys’ accents and unfamiliar names, I often have a hard time remembering and pronouncing them correctly!) We started reading The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. The four of us took turns passing the book around and reading excerpts from it. Siyanda wouldn’t read at first, and I didn’t want to push it. Some of the boys at Bonnytoun cannot read at all, and I was unsure of their literacy levels. As Sabelo was reading aloud, however, I noticed Siyanda helping him with words that he was struggling with… so with a little urging, Siyanda joined in reading aloud, too. I convinced him to read just one short page aloud... he ended up continuing for almost half the book. Both of the boys were able to read the book steadily, but slowly, with occasional help. Sabelo is 18, and Siyanda is 17.

I was taken aback by the boys’ attention to the book, and willingness to participate. No matter who was reading, both boys had their eyes glued to the book, following along, sometimes laughing, and helping one another if they struggled with a word. There was not a moment when either boy looked bored or disinterested. They certainly did not have the typical American teenage boy’s outlook on reading. After we finished the book, Annie and I chatted with them for a little while. We asked about what they like to do, where they are from, what they like to eat (Siyanda said “MEAT!” with a big smile.). They both love soccer, and I told them I might be helping out a little bit with the soccer program that Max will be doing twice a week. I told them I’m not very good at soccer, and they quickly told me that they could teach me. Sabelo asked about where we are from, and about snow, which they have never seen. Before leaving, I spoke a little bit of the Xhosa I have learned with them, and they seemed impressed! Both of the boys are Xhosa. I now have more motivation to study Xhosa tonight, which I have been putting off all week. I hope to learn a few new phrases that I can say to them next Thursday.

I’m already looking forward to working with Sabelo and Siyanda again next week, and I’m excited to work on a more beneficial and structured curriculum with Mark. Also next week, I will start teaching classes at Bonnytoun three times a week. Mr. Williams, the educational coordinator is going to pick five boys for each me, Max, and Mark. I will have the boys in class for two hours, three times a week. The curriculum is still in the works, but we are going to focus on creative writing and geography, and the three of us will combine classes sometimes, and have them separate sometimes. More details to come later. The classes we teach will supplement their general literacy and mathematics classes that they are already taking.


  1. Learning is such a wonderful thing! Human beings love to learn. They will learn from you; you will learn from them. At some point, if it goes really well, you will learn together from something much deeper, much greater than anyone could have ever imagined.

  2. This sounds so amazing Lisa! It's so great to hear that they were really enjoying reading the book! That's one of the most important things and often it's very hard to motivate students, so I'm so glad there was such a positive response! You little teacher you :)