Rachel Vernon
Rachel Vernon
South Africa, 2022
Hi, my name is Rachel, I will be going to Cape Town, South Africa for 6 months to work with Volunteer Solutions. I plan to work in elementary schools with sports development and work in a local clinic. Read More About Rachel →

Settling in

Hello again! Here are your latest updates! The kids have loved teaching other kids that my hand represents “I love you.” Kids come up to me and just say, “I love you” show me their hand, and then walk away. It truly puts a smile on both of our faces. Last week at school, a fight broke out, we broke it up and one of the kids was alone cooling off. After a while, I went up to him and started to get to know him. His name is Jordan, he is 13 years old, in 4th grade, has two brothers, and lives with his mom and auntie. He is very small for his age, which leads me to assume that his mom was on drugs during her pregnancy. The majority of the children at this school were born to drug-abusing parents. Jordan and I hit it off really fast. Instead of going back to class, I asked him if I could help him with his schoolwork, and he jumped at the idea. We ran to his class and spoke with his teacher. The teacher gave me a math book to work from, more specifically fractions, my least favorite part about math. I asked him to write his name and date at the top of the page. It was the 23rd of August. He began writing 1203 for the number 23. I corrected him, and we moved on to spelling August. He started by writing the letters O and then U. I realized he had no idea how to spell either. So I showed him how to spell August in the dirt with a stick. Then I asked him to write numbers 1-10, it was a success, then 11-20. He couldn’t do it. So we switched to writing the alphabet. Yet again, he couldn’t do it. So we skipped the fractions and started with the basics.

I am not perfect at English, especially because I was diagnosed with Dyslexia in 6th grade, and then again in my sophomore year of college. It hasn’t been easy, but I have learned tips and tricks. I find it comical that someone with dyslexia is now teaching English. He was so excited to learn, it was contagious. The other kids would come around to check out what was going on. Lots would laugh and point, but I would not tolerate that kind of behavior. I kindly said, “if you would like to help, you may, but if you’re going to be rude, you must leave.” That was enough to run some off, but most were willing to help. I specifically chose kids that I knew were troublemakers because then it would build a connection between Jordan and that child. It was amazing to watch them help each other. After we had worked for a while, I asked the teacher if I would be able to work with Jordan every day. The teacher was very excited because is a troublemaker in the classroom. After all, he has no idea what is going on in the classroom therefore he acts out. He was late to start school so he never learned the basics, but due to his age, they sent him to the next grade.

After working with him for two weeks, he can write almost every capital letter of the alphabet on command, and he can write numbers 1-100, were working on understanding the 100s. He has taught me just as much as I have taught him. Some of the things he has taught me are, that making mistakes is ok because correcting yourself is rewarding and beautiful. Also, learning is fun, and it’s OK to ask for help. Jade mentioned that these children struggle to perform well due to their home lives. More specifically, these children do not live in safe areas, they have terrible sleeping conditions, and little food to eat, so how could they possibly be expected to perform at their best? The cards are stacked against them. I hope that by the end of my time working with Jordan he will be able to sound out words on his own, even read, and do simple math like addition and subtraction.

The school had a market day this week for the 7th graders. They asked for donations of food and then they sold it to the rest of the school. Their proceeds will go towards their class prom on Sept. 23rd. It was so cute watching these kids get so excited to sell things that they had made and worked hard planning for their table.

Outside of school, I have recently switched rooms because there are two new volunteers in the house, Kato, from Belgium, and Giorgia, from Italy. It has been so much fun getting to know them and having sleepovers every night. Unfortunately, they are only here for 3 or 4 weeks, but we enjoy the time we do have together. We tried to climb table mountain this past week, but the wind was too crazy, so we had to punt on that idea and try it on a different day. We also went to the beach to watch the sunset and enjoy the 22 C (72 F) weather. I quickly learned the metric system because otherwise, I cannot understand what the others are talking about. Also at home, I have settled in, I love hanging out and talking to Jade and Auntie V, they are like my mother and sister now. I realized I have had a lot of family units throughout my life. I have my blood family, the Finks (lived with them for a semester in high school), the Stones (also lived with them in high school), my college family (Ryan and Kelsey Neises), and my college friends. Now I get to add this family to the list of family members. It has been amazing to feel at home even though I am so far from home. Lastly, I made a pumpkin pie! Everyone around the world knows how famous pumpkin pies are to the Americans, so I figured why not let them try it? I used an actual pumpkin so it was nice and fresh. I had some help from Grandma Williford, and it was an absolute hit! I look forward to what the next two weeks hold! Talk soon!

The gangs all here (from left to right, Kato, Daan, Giorgia, Me)

Jordan (left) and another kid working together in the dirt

Market day at the school

Jordan writing number 1-100

The famous American pumpkin pie

Beautiful sunset of Table Mountain from my backyard

2 thoughts on “Settling in”

  1. Another fantastic letter Rachel! Once again you are blessing a child in a huge way and you are blessed because of it! Your kind, perceptive spirit got right to the heart of Jordan’s needs. Your dyslexia diagnosis provided insight for helping Jordan as well. You are strong to tell others that they may not be rude. I wish more people would stand up and enforce that concept.

    You taught so many children about love and kindness with the example you used with your hand. Now children are telling others!! I can imagine your smile every time a child runs by and tells you “I love you”.

    Your pumpkin pie looked so good! I have never made a pumpkin pie using a fresh pumpkin so way to go Rachel!

    It is fantastic that you get to meet so many new people and enjoy the beautiful sights in South Africa! Your picture of Table Mountain could win an award!

    You are so flexible. You have already changed rooms many times and you have been in Africa just close to a month. I am sure you will learn many more lessons about how to deal with change.

    We think about you and pray for you often. May God continue to bless you as you serve Him in Africa! Love, Grandma

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