Its amazing how much impact you can make on a group of children in such a short time. And I do not mean that as a testament to myself or other volunteers, but instead a testament to the children and their willingness to learn, to meet someone new, and to achieve something. For many of these children, they have never been rewarded for completing a task before. Not to say that all children new rewards for everything, but I believe that children do need positive reinforcement as well as negative. From the start it was easy to see that negative reinforcement was used. One of the very first schools we walked into to, we saw children being hit with sticks, harassed by teachers, and punished for not paying attention, or following (sometimes strict) directions.
When I saw this occurring, I told remember telling myself that these children deserved far better than this. I kept thinking of that moment, even now as I write this I think about that moment. How no child should have to be punished for being a “kid”, and how no student should go their entire childhood without positive reinforcement.
I came to South Africa to teach photography. The reality of this program is that a good portion of the children may not have cared about photography when coming into the program, or even known what it was. And to be honest, my goal was never to come to South Africa to teach JUST photography. My goal was to come here to be a mentor, a friend, and a teacher. Not just a photography teacher, a math teacher, or a coach, but a life teacher. Just a few days ago when we had to say bye to the children we had taught, they put on a show for us. They spent time with their teachers to organize different acts and had us all come to their school on the last Friday to watch them perform. There was singing, dancing, speeches, thank you’s, hugs, laughs, all of it. But what I remember most fondly about this whole process was the smile on the children’s faces after they had finished and we clapped and clapped for them.
At this point they knew that they had not just performed for their teachers, no, they their teachers appreciated what they had done, and we knew they had appreciated what we had done. It was simply a special, special moment for everyone. And more than just appreciation, these kids knew that they had completed something for possibly the first, second, or third time in their young lives, and were being applauded for it. I mean what a simple yet amazing thing to give a child.
You can take away their food, their homes, their money, but what you cannot take away is their passion to live, which is stronger than anyone I have ever met in my entire life. I have never been religious, nor have I ever felt a belief in something greater than what we are. However in their own words, in honor of these children, “God Bless” them and let us hope that the work that we as humans can do for each other, will help children like them achieve something greater than what they are enduring right now.