The Situation in HaMakuya: Part 2

86499718 5 sHaMakuya, a village located in the northern part of the Limpopo Province in South Africa, was part of the ex-homeland of the Venda people during the apartheid era, and it suffered extreme levels of underdevelopment. One of the cornerstones of homeland governance during apartheid was to ensure that schoolteaching and learning took place in the language of the homeland—in this case, in TshiVenda. This had two effects desired by the apartheid government: it entrenched ethnic identity and separate development, and it achieved one of the goals of apartheid education. That goal was to undermine the ability of black people to advance themselves because their lack of English-language skills made it difficult to pursue tertiary level education in a country where all university level education is presented and evaluated in English.

Fifteen years after the end of apartheid, the lack of English language skills is still making it difficult for people in rural Venda to chart better lives for themselves. Presently there is no chance that any student in HaMakuya will get good enough grades in the national high school matriculation exam (an exam administered in English) for any sort of meaningful tertiary education. Although there’s a bright future for black youth in South Africa who can get an education, for those who can’t there is no opportunity of further education or job opportunities to look forward to. In my time in HaMakuya I met a limited number of people who have had a college education or a steady job. However, those individuals are an inspiration to the community and often return from school or work to act as tutors to younger siblings, financial supporters to their extended families or creators of local jobs. These efforts help alleviate the frustrations of feeling unrightfully alienated from their own country.

My project to create an English-learning eco-environmental education center was a response to these circumstances, and to explicit requests made by the community for a resource center that focuses on developing English conversation and comprehension. My hope was that access to resources like Rosetta Stone language-learning software would support individuals interested in developing themselves and their local community.

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Erin Wilkus

Erin Lynn Wilkus is a recent graduate of Reed College who has spent the past three years conducting research in rural areas of South Africa. As an undergraduate she studied biology and therefore her initial research focused on ecological issues. As Erin’s exposure to South African cultures and rural communities expanded, her research questions increasingly focused on merging social and ecological questions to promote conservation issues and sustainable development. In 2009, she spent three months in HaMakuya, a rural village at the border of Zimbabwe, researching how human settlement and use affects populations of South Africa’s charismatic baobab tree. During her spare time, Erin taught English and math at a local high school and tutored other individuals. Through that work she came face-to-face with the systemic education problems in the community. In 2010, Erin received a Davis Project for Peace award (http://www.davisprojectsforpeace.org) — a grant to fund creative grassroots projects that promote peace throughout the world. She used the award to develop a resource center called Makuya Empowered Voices Resource Center (MEVRC) in HaMakuya focused on communication and environmental action—qualities central to making long-term change in community-based development and conservation. Since English-speaking skills are essential for local residents to transcend the socioeconomic boundaries established during apartheid, a critical reason for establishing the center was training people to use computers and to study English with Rosetta Stone language-learning software. Erin never had a knack for languages, but she learned to speak Latin American Spanish in two months with the help of Rosetta Stone. She introduced Rosetta Stone at the resource center, in large part because of the positive experience she had using the program years before. Erin is currently initiating a volunteerism program based in HaMakuya that will begin in June 2011. The project will work in collaboration with Tshulu Trust (http://www.tshulutrust.org/), a locally run, anti-poverty initiative. Through this program, volunteers from Ireland and the United States will work together with local residents to improve the standard of living in the region.
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