Work in Progress - Georgina Says Farewell to Durban

These are two friends from Grade 1, taken right at the end of the academic year. I love this photo - it somehow conveys everything that St James Durban stands for.

When you live and work in a place, your days are made up of detail, of very simple moments that seem so ordinary at the time.

I recall one particular morning. Once the children had finished their work, they were allowed to choose a book from our little class library and sit on the floor to read. This was their favourite time.

On this particular occasion, they noticed a new pile of books by my chair. I hadn’t planned on giving them out, but relented when they asked me. Within seconds, they had each selected one. They sat either alone, or in little groups, or in pairs. Some were completely absorbed, oblivious to anybody around them; others tried to read aloud to partners, some with their arms around the shoulders of friends. Some could not read at all, but carefully turned the pages, inspecting each picture with great attention!

Teaching Grade 1 in South Africa was a challenge. The span of ability was vast. For many, Grade 1 was an entry level. And for Isi-Zulu speakers, English was a second language. There were moments of exasperation, of contentment and of sheer delight. Some children battled with learning difficulties, others with shyness or fear.

At times, they would tumble over their own words in their eagerness to formulate what they had seen, known or understood. The bond between us grew and so did trust. Unlikely friendships began to develop, and at times a determination and spirit that took my breath away.

What sustained us all, even in difficult times, was a sense of humour - and a sense of fellowship. I recall many occasions sitting up with Anisha Ramlaul, St James’s headmistress, until the early hours talking and laughing, but inspired by the breadth of vision she held constantly before her mind’s eye.

It takes time to go beyond cultural differences and to love and be loved from a deeper sense of being, but the place and the people that I first came to as a total stranger have become a part of me and the experience is one I shall not lightly forget.

Georgina Melville has been a volunteer teacher at St James Durban for 2008-9, sponsored by the ERT. We are enormously grateful to her.