Thursday, May 1, 2008

Education and Mission Synod, 2008

The Bishop of the High Veld and Swaziland District of the Methodist church of Southern Africa came to Swaziland a few days ago for an update of the status of education and the activities of the Methodist Church in Swaziland. On Friday, April 25th, the head teachers from the Methodist Schools in all three of the circuits in Swaziland gathered for a meeting to inform the Bishop of the status of the schools, review progress on issues raised at the 2007 Synod and discuss issues and plans for the school for 2008. On Saturday, the 26th, the stewards and ministers from the three circuits gathered to report on activities and projects that are being done in the church. I was asked to pull the information together regarding the schools and the various projects that are underway in the Central Circuit. I also pulled together the information I had gathered for the schools in the Mahamba Circuit. It was an interesting weekend especially since I had no idea what to expect. But as I am learning so often, this is Swaziland, not Round Rock, Texas. I’ve learned to leave any expectations at home, go with the flow and accept whatever happens. The circuit superintendent gave me a high level of what I should pull together about two days before the meeting. They operate in paper mode here, so that meant I also had to make copies of what I was going to present. This is his first Synod so he didn’t know what to expect either. One thing we should have had for the education synod was the percentage of students who pass the 7th grade exams. This evidently is a big measurement of how a school is doing. I didn’t have that information. So literally, about 5 minutes before I was supposed to present, the head teachers started passing me notes with numbers on them as if I knew what I was supposed to do with them or as if I could do anything with these notes that were being shoved at me in the few minutes before I was to speak. I just laughed and kept accepting the notes. I felt like I was in Jr. High and fellow students were bombarding me with notes to see if the teacher would catch me and I'd get in trouble! I stood and simply said that regarding the passing results, I had just received them and didn’t have time to compile the information but it looked like most schools were reporting passing grades in the 90 – 100% range. Now, I find it very interested in the fact that they are very interested in the passing score for the school, yet they don’t report what percentage of students actually make it through 7th grade. According to enrollment figures, approximately 50% of the students who start 1st grade enter 7th grade. As I said I’ve learned to go with the flow and not feel bad if I’m in left field.

The following is the very short recap of the schools in two of the circuits in Swaziland:

The Central Circuit serves 5252 Primary and High School Students. 30% of these students are registered OVC’s. The Mahamba Circuit serves 5601 Primary and High School students. 41% of these students are registered OVC’s. The Mahamba Circuit is the most rural and poorest circuit in Swaziland. Three of their schools do not have any electricity.

General observations common to all schools:

  1. There is a shortage of food at all of the schools at some point in time during the school year.
  2. Most children come to school hungry which impacts their ability to learn.
  3. Clean drinking water or the cost of electricity to pump the water is an issue at all the schools.
  4. Schools cannot grow vegetable gardens to feed the children and supplement their diet of maize and beans without an adequate water source and fencing.
  5. All preschools lack toys and teaching materials.
  6. Teacher’s quarters are in need of serious repairs but there is not funding for this and teachers don’t want to pay rent, which is understandable considering the state of the housing.

One of the interesting things that happened was a demonstration and talk on building toilets that produce Methane gas which could be used to cook with or run gas lights. This topic created a lot of jokes and caused a lot of giggling. India uses this type of low tech technology very successfully. The Bishop would like to bring the technology to the schools in Swaziland. The theory is great and it is needed in Swaziland because the majority of homes and schools outside of the city use pit latrines which is harmful to the ground water. In addition, the majority of cooking is done over wood fires which are producing a wood shortage, not to mention the effect on the environment. And then, there is the cost of electricity, if it is available, which most people can’t afford to pay. Therefore, toilets that capture the waste and produce Methane gas are an interesting solution to a couple of problems. However, the frustrating part is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone who has actually built one of these toilets, let alone one that would meet the requirements for a school. So everyone was excited about the prospect, but in reality, we don’t have the funds or technical expertise to implement such a solution in the near future in Swaziland. The wish is to build these at Lomngeletjane. It would be perfect because we need to build toilets soon for the school to be registered. But since we don’t have the expertise and resources to actually do this, and then we wouldn’t have a way to use the Methane gas in the near future, we will most likely have to dig pit latrines and further contribute to the demise of God’s creation. But the idea is exciting and I would love to see solutions come to Swaziland that could be renewable and sustainable. Through prayer and with God’s help, we’ll get there eventually.

Anyway, it was an interesting couple of days. I learned more about the other circuits and met more people. I've been asked to come to the synod for the district next month to show pictures of the schools and projects so I guess I didn't so so bad after all.