Teacher Trainings at True North

The teacher trainings at True North is a specialized two hour period, where SFSU is able to discuss important topics with the teachers and principals in Vrygrond and Overcome. The training topics focus on practices that are often harder to talk about and tackle on their own. This year we focused on inclusion and positive behavior support (PBS). Having worked in the creches before (on previous trips) I am familiar with the practices, language and activities that are done within the creches. My experience working in the creches helped in preparation for the content and delivery of the information.

Despite my experience in the creches from years prior, I often have to be conscious of the stigma around White volunteers coming into communities of color. South Africa historically has struggled with the “White Savior,” coming into communities of color, and stripping individuals of their cultural practices. This reason specifically is why, as teachers, we enter the creches to model our own practices, not to instruct Vrygrond how to change their own.

In my time here, I spoke with True North and SFSU to pinpoint the best way to engage teachers and principals. Observations and interactions from the student working within the creches were key components to plan and facilitate information for the trainings. There is no point in sharing information with teachers and principals, if it is not relatable to their own practices.

Within the inclusion and PBS trainings, I wanted to highlight the work everyone was doing already, and how it correlated with inclusive and PBS practices. This was celebrated by asking the teachers what they do in their own creches, with children with different or specialized needs, and asking them to model how they would handle different situations. By building up the teachers and their practices, while simultaneously embedding California’s best teaching practices, everyone was able to walk away from the trainings with understanding and confidence.




Stepping Stones

A few weeks into our trip, I had a conversation with someone that resonated with me.  He shared how he felt about the work we’re doing in the townships.  He shared that while he felt there was value in it, he expressed concern about the sustainability of our work.  He explained that we often build strong relationships with the students and likely show them affection and care that they may not normally receive in the classroom, and then we leave.  He expressed to me that this could be very difficult for some children and that he hopes we will work on focusing on supporting the teachers because this could have longer-lasting effects.

The conversation began to shape my ideas for how I wanted to support my crèche teachers.   I thought about the teachers I’ve been working with:  both teachers have many strengths.  Teacher C has a wonderful warmth with children.  She has been a crèche teacher since May and is beginning to make wonderful changes to the classroom environment.  She smiles and laughs with the children.  She supports learners with patience and kindness.  I don’t think she knows how great she is.  Teacher L, the preschool teacher at my other crèche, is also a skilled teacher.  She plans activities that support a range of developmental skills, has wonderful movement activity ideas, is organized, and is inclusive of all students.  I also think she doesn’t realize how great she is!

I reflected on my own experiences and how I have evolved as a teacher.  I thought about how impactful it is when I get meaningful, specific feedback on what I am doing.  It is uplifting to hear what I am doing well and motivates me to work with passion and purpose.  I wanted to give this to the teachers.

I decided to create a book for each teacher that would include anecdotal notes highlighting specific things they are doing that reflect great practice.  The book would include notes and photos that would hopefully encourage teachers to continue to support students and give them motivation to continue to strengthen their skills through education and trainings.

I worked on a book for Teacher C., and plans changed at my other crèche.  We felt there was a greater need in the infant/toddler class and my partner and I ended up working with the littlest children in the crèche.

It’s been six weeks of ups and downs– last week, I wasn’t able to work in the crèches (I had mumps!).  Mumps and taxi strikes caused some missed days, but in the end I am happy with the work that we’ve done in the crèches.  Some of the work we’ve done seems so minimal, but after some reflection I know that the little things are powerful and are stepping stones to bigger, positive changes.

– Melanie (Mel)

South Africa. We will meet again…

As our time in the creches is coming to an end, I am having mixed feelings about leaving. It feels like my time here went by so fast, I can remember when I first introduced myself to the teachers. I have finally built a relationship with the teachers at Overcome and Little Angels Educare, but am saddened to leave. I have also had the chance to really bond with the children at both creches. When I walk into the creches with my partner, the children’s faces light up and they began to chant “ Teacher! Teacher!” while running to give us a hug or waving to us. I am happy that I had the opportunity to build a relationship with the children and teachers. This was a great opportunity to step into the lives of others and understand through first hand experiences how people in another part of the world live and educate their young children.


Overcome is a creche within Vrygrond who advocated for a new building and received the rights to own the land their school is on. Through hard work and dedication the owner was able to build a new building for the school where the teachers could provide a place for learning for the students. The owner, Christine, taught me that we have to continue to diligently work and fight for what we believe in. While in the United States, I will make it a goal to begin to speak up on ideas that I feel are important and will make a difference in the lives of the children and parents I will serve.

Collaboration and Relationship Building

Throughout my time in the creches, I would not have been able to support the teachers if they were not open and flexible to SFSU volunteers entering their classrooms in the creches. All of my teachers were very open and excited to have us there to support the schools. Throughout the time in South Africa, I learned about the lives of the teachers and their families and had the ability to share details and information about my life in the states. Being able to be open with the teachers and learn about their lives paved the way for a relationship to be formed. Through the forming of relationships, I was able to begin to support the teachers more and learn where they needed assistance in the classroom. I learned that Collaboration is not always easy. It takes patience, a lot of time, and effort to begin to make changes and support the teachers in a way that is adequate for both the teacher in the creche and me ( the volunteer).

Now that I have finally built the relationships with the teachers, I feel like I am ready to begin working with the teachers on more changes in the classroom. But sadly, it is time for us to leave the creches and begin to fly back to our families in California. I wish I had more time to continue observing and being apart of the changes taking place in the classroom.

However, I am very grateful to be able to see the changes and support of the teachers. Thinking about the teachers from the first day until now, I have seen them grow as teachers. They have began to use the knowledge they learned from trainings in the classrooms. All the teachers I have worked with have a strong passion for the children and our using their experiences and knowledge to teach their children. I appreciate the strong women who I have worked with and learned from in the creches. Until we meet again South Africa. 

 I  will miss my time with the teachers, children, and beautiful people and scenery in Cape Town, South Africa.


You are loved.

It feels like so much has happened this week that I don’t know where to start. To begin with, we had a debrief with True North this week to reflect about our last week in the creches. We reflected on how our visions of change have altered from when we first began the program until now.  It was really great to hear and have it reiterated by True North that there is value in the work that we do, whether or not we can see it in the big picture. Value comes from the time, effort, and love put into the daily interactions with staff, children and each other. It’s through the connections and relationships where the real learning happens. In zooming in on the daily interactions, small gestures of appreciation, and time spent with one another, these moments are truly what makes our journey here in Vrygrond and Cape Town meaningful. 

There was a moment this week that made me extremely hopeful and grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to experience and witness the amazing changes and development of the ECD community here in Vrygrond. Amy and I had a check in with Tougeeda (a teacher at Rainbow) about the week long training they had attended to brainstorm how they can now train the other teachers to turn theory into practice. The theme she identified as most important and foundational to the work we all do as teachers is creating positive interactions between teachers and the children.  We talked about how important it is to build on the individual strengths that every teacher has and suggested using videos and pictures of their own teachers having positive, intimate interactions and connecting with the children; these visuals can then be the prompts that lead into talking about different skills children develop and looping this back to  the training topics and developmental domains. It felt very productive to collaboratively brainstorm and to bounce ideas off of one another. 

Shortly after this meeting, Faranaaz arrives, enlightened. She talked about her faith and how excited and grateful she was that God had sent us to Rainbow as supports, but also how the work we’ve done has paved the way for the direction of the work they’re moving towards. As we were talking to Tougeeda about providing lots of acknowledgement to the teachers and strengthening relationships, here the principal arrives and does exactly that. She was giving us acknowledgement and showing her gratitude, and it came in such a natural, organic way. I don’t think she realizes how impactful her presence and responsiveness is as a leader. Her presence and warmth is so powerful beyond belief, and her faith, passion and vision for her family, school, and community truly is empowering. 


Now or now now?

After a week off in the creches, it was hard getting back into the swing of things. Even though we are only there from 8:30 am – 2 pm, Mondays to Thursdays I always come home ready for a nap. The first Monday back into the creches was a real challenge. I was exhausted and could barely keep my eyes open once the children went down for a nap.

It’s currently winter break for the primary and high school students so those with siblings were out. The daily routine was more relaxed since Overcome was only opened for half-days during the break. During the children’s free-play, Teacher Rachel and I were able to talk and reflect on the children. We had our make and take training on Thursday with the creches and one of the make-and-take’s were Strength books about the children. Teachers were given a sheet to fill out each child’s strength, an area the child needs support in and how or what we could change to help support that? Rachel observed that one of her children (Child A) while his ability to focus and listen was a strength, is more quiet than his peers and takes a long time doing things. I gave her suggestions such as counting down until it is time to transition so that the child knows it’s almost time to wrap up an activity. Another area she had trouble was with during meal times and giving him more time to eat since he was usually the last child to finish. Usually she would hand out food based on the container she grabs first but after our conversation she wondered if she should start giving Child A his food first so that he would have more time to eat. I told her that was a wonderful idea and that we could try it later that day! We ended up pushing snack (10 AM) back too close to lunch that day so we decided to just combine the meals. As we were trying to quickly set everything up, Rachel stopped and gave Child A his fruit before going to the kitchen to heat up lunches and cutting up snack. Truthfully speaking, I myself had forgotten our plan to try that suggestion so I made a point to tell her I was so happy she remembered since I had forgotten. Her smile is something I will not forget.

Being the youngest teacher in her creche, she expressed how hard it can be having no background in education and how stressful it can be running such a large classroom by herself. I told her she is doing an amazing job!!

The relationships with the teachers and children have strengthened so much this past week. However, on Thursday I was hit with the realization that we only have one more full week left in the creches. Suddenly, I feel like there’s a million things I need to do before I go and I feel a bit overwhelmed. Where did time go? I hadn’t even begun to think about packing, goodbyes and thinking about my future once I return back home. I am so used to living here now- price-tagging my fruit at Pick and Pay, looking right and left when crossing the street instead of the other way around! I’ve even noticed myself using the lingo and slang here!

I thought about the last time I lived abroad and how it felt coming back home to the States. During my undergrad, I studied Social Welfare in South Korea for a semester. I made so many unforgettable friends and memories there. I knew going home would be hard but I wasn’t prepared for the mental and emotional toll it would have on me. Life back home still goes on when you’re abroad. I wish someone told me exactly how hard it could get. When I returned back from Korea, I expected life to go back to what it was. I would go back to school, work and spend time catching up with my friends. I quickly realized that I missed out on so many small moments in my friends’ lives during those 4 months due to lack of communication and the time difference and how impactful it could be. I couldn’t relate to their inside jokes and they couldn’t relate to my stories from Korea. If I had gotten a dollar for every time I started a sentence with “Oh when I was in Korea..” or “Something similar happened when I was in Korea..”, boy, would I be rich. I noticed I started pulling away from my friends back home because while they could listen to my stories, they couldn’t relate since they did not go through the same experience as me. I felt like I was stuck in the past.

I decided to see a counselor to help me work through these feelings and help me to adjust back home. One thing that helped me was talking to the friends I made during my study abroad program about how I was feeling. They told me they were also struggling on adjusting home too. 

During my time in South Africa, friends would message me and ask me how everything is going here. I find that question really hard to answer. Where would I even begin? I’ve experienced so many amazing, new and challenging events while here. Of course, you can’t just lay all your feelings right then and there on a friend, it’s just overwhelming for them so I resort to a generic “It’s going great! I can’t wait to catch up when we get back”! However, I am grateful to have such an amazing group of people in the program who do understand what I am going through. Using my previous experience, I know that if I have a hard time adjusting back home that I can go to them for support and realize I am not alone. Keeping these blogs and doing weekly debriefs at True North also allow me to process my emotions and gives me an outlet to express how I feel. I did not reflect has much during  my time in Korea as I do here in Cape Town. I believe reflecting and addressing your feelings allows one to start thinking about next steps and the future.

I have been feeling the love this week and am cherish every moment I have with others!


IMG_5601IMG_5580-Amy H

At the other side of the rainbow

This is the last stretch of my presence at the creches. I’m really gonna miss the teachers and specially the children. I am taking many lessons about patience, individuality, resourcefulness, and hope. I’ve given a lot of love to these children which makes departing from them less dolent. I am also taking many of them in my heart -if my plans to take one home fails 🙂

Time passed quickly and I feel that I got to know a lot about the teachers, the passion for education and their push of the makers of the future forward for a better world. From the children, I am impressed for their ability to wait, the thirsts for action. Their level of compassion towards each other and connectedness while sharing small spaces to play, eat, and sleep. I’ve admired abilities being demonstrated by these children, in an environment of scrap parts, dirtiness, and surrounded by danger, that would take decades for typical children to learn and act.

But everything is not black and white, or bad. In the middle of everything, there is still uniqueness in every child. Ready to encounter risks by expressing their inner genius, their creativity, authenticity that will stay in my heart. I think nature (God) placed our uniqueness in the inside and made it a challenge to find, courage needed to express it, and when I see every child for what valuable resources they have make them memorable. I find hope for Vrygrond, South Africa, and humanity.


Changing my perspective

As I continue to grow into the best version of myself everyday, I am recognizing the importance of truly accepting who you are and where you come from. Having this be my first trip abroad I am coming across unexpected challenges, unknown feelings, new people, beautiful languages, like minds, and great hearts. Overall just an entirely different life experience than what I am used to. Before arriving in Cape Town I was constantly told that this is going to be a life changing experience and as the days go by I am realizing how much this experience is doing just that.

For the past month and a half I’ve been living a life very different than the one I live back at home. So different that I’ve questioned my identity many times since I’ve been here. Hearing questions like, Where are you from? What are you? Why are you here? and the rest of the questions we tend to ask tourists. After being asked many questions about myself I can’t help but to question my own identity as a Mexican-American woman. I’m sure most of my group can agree that it’s a bit weird traveling as an American today, lots of mixed feelings. However, I have managed to subtract the negative and really look at the positives that come along with being an American. Coming to South Africa has opened my eyes to privileges I had no idea I had most importantly the privilege of having access to education, which many students don’t have here.

I then thought about how I even got this far into the world and the answer is, education. If it wasn’t for education I wouldn’t be on the other side of the world volunteering my time in crèches. That itself goes to show how important education is since it has changed my life and continues to do so. I like to look at education as an enlightening experience and when you are enlightened, it’s a wonderful feeling. You feel as though you can do anything and I believe every child deserves to have that feeling of determination throughout their lifetime. Before I leave I hope to have enlightened the students and teachers that I work with in the township of Vrygrond and I hope they continue to enlighten each other because they definitely enlightened me. Its been difficult to accept that change takes time, a lot of time and its teaching me the importance of being patient with anything in life. If we want to see change in anything we must start with ourselves.



My South African Family

Last week I touched on the topic of my family and how their support impacted my opportunity to be here. Well for this blog I wanted to express both my appreciation and gratitude for my Africa family. Due to continuous taxi strikes the creches were closed for a week. Therefore, I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with my Africa family (housemates). It saddens me to acknowledge that we are more than half way through this journey in Cape Town and I’m hoping the journey with my new found family will continue. I have learned to trust and value each of my housemates and appreciate each culture and personality each brings to the house and into the creches. Not only has my love for them grown, but so has my love for our host Shireen and her family as well as our driver Abu.

I take comfort in turning to my Africa family for support whether I’m struggling after a difficult day at the creche or dealing with the lack of communication with specific relatives back home. Prior to coming to South Africa the relationship with my pops was strained and has continued to be strained, fortunately for me my family here has provided me with love and support. I am incredibly grateful to have been introduced to these individuals and blessed to spend two months with them.


Back in the Crèches

This week we were finally able to go back into the crèches. I was really excited to be back, but also a little reluctant because we had missed a full week. I think the week we missed was crucial to relationship building with the teachers and getting a lot of work done. When I got back to VCCC, I found out that was my last week to work with my co-teacher. She will be out for the rest of our time here. This made me really sad because she has taught me a lot about life in Vrygrond. I really enjoyed my time with her, and felt we were building a good relationship. I have always felt really comfortable at VCCC, with both the teachers and children. But this week I was getting back in the groove of things, taking more initiative and building relationships with the children.

We made a lot of progress at this crèche as well this week. We learned that one of the teachers left all of a sudden. The volunteer teacher is now the new teacher. I think this was really overwhelming for her because it was not apart of her plan. We could tell that she was really stressed. It was great that Mane was able to help out this week. Mane observed one of the children there with special needs. We worked on ways to help the child feed herself independently. Mane even made a special spoon for her. The teacher also seemed really stressed because there is an infant there who requires a lot of attention and she is by herself with around 15 kids. Adriana and I showed her how she can integrate the infant with the other children in the classroom. We were able to set him up on a mat with some toys. This went really well and other kids even began playing with him. Having this child be able to play independently is important so the teacher can do activities with the older children.

I was really happy with how the make and take training went. I was able to assist Bright Morning Star with creating materials. This was really exciting because this crèche just opened, and they are still setting up their classroom. The materials we created will be some of the first visuals they will have in their new classroom. I really enjoyed seeing the teachers participating in the activity, they seemed really proud of their work. I’m looking forward to this upcoming week at Bright Morning Star. I hope we are able to finish helping them set up their classroom.


Vrygrond “free ground”


Last week we were not able to work in our creches due to the taxi strikes and protest for accessibility to schools, clinics, and other basic necessities. During the strikes this last week people reacted by burning tires, cars, and preventing people to go in or out of Vrygrond. So people were not able to work and no one outside of Vrygrond were allowed in.

Although our volunteer team is not directly affected by these strikes or protest our hearts were heavy for the people in this community because working with the teachers and children, we understand that they are directly affected. Not being able to fully comprehend or relate, and able to know the best way to assist the people in this beautiful community has been difficult for me to process.

Vrygrond strikes 2017.jpegThankfully we were able to go into our creches this week, and it was really good to see the teachers again as well as the children. For the last couple of days at my two different creches locations, the teachers shared a little bit of their experiences during last week’s strikes. At my Monday creche Ma, the cook, expressed how hectic the situation was for her because she couldn’t go grocery shopping at the closest Pick-n-Pay for an entire week, but some how she was able to get food delivered to her. Though she was smiling as she was explaining her situation, the sound of her voice was agitated or frustrated at the fact that she didn’t have the freedom to leave her own community to do some simple grocery shopping. At my Tuesday/Thursday creche site, the taxi location is very close to the teacher’s creche. Although the taxi strike was close to her location, her creche remained opened and she felt it was necessary for the families she serves incase some of them were able to go to work.

Though things seem calm in the community of Vrygrond currently, I have been able to witness how strong the people in this community and other similar communities are. They keep pushing, moving forward, and standing up for basic necessities this community needs for the young and the old by remaining true to what they believe in, which is to have same opportunities as their more affluent neighbors.

-Cynthia Romero