Area teacher in, out of Africa
When Kathryn Wells was visiting the South African village of Takgalang over spring break, she noticed children wearing only one shoe.Or no shoes at all.Wells thought of the flip-flops in her backpack that would later bring smiles to the children’s faces. And she remembered her first-grade students at Basalt Elementary School, who donated shoes, clothing and school supplies to the village.”I was teaching about life in Africa, and they started making letters for [the Takgalang children] and drawing pictures. It just exploded from there,” Wells said. “Soon I got 350 pounds of clothes to take over there. I thought, ‘Let’s teach about donating.’ I said, ‘OK, you give me a shirt, and I’ll take a picture of you.’ My promise was to take a picture of the kid who got it. That was my promise to my students – you’re coming with me to Africa.”
Wells, a special education assistant with the Mountain BOCES program at Basalt Elementary, lived in South Africa for three years while pursuing a master’s degree in wildlife management and working at an elephant conservancy. During spring break at the end of March, she returned to the continent to pick up some items left behind, bringing her mother along for the experience.The children of Takgalang welcomed the two women with a celebration of song and dance in traditional African dress.”They must have been preparing for months,” she said. “The high schoolers had prepared a whole program. I had no idea. It was 10 times better than I ever imagined.”Wells said Takgalang has about 3,000 tribal people, spread out across the rural South African countryside. The children were surprised to receive the donations of school supplies and clothes.
“They asked, ‘How does anyone know about us?'” she said. “They don’t have TV, they don’t have electricity.”The school is in a brick building with a chalkboard – and little else, Wells said.”They didn’t have notebooks or teaching materials,” she said. “They didn’t have the alphabet on the wall. They just had the number five on the chalkboard and said that’s what we’re learning.”Wells’ mother, who lives in North Dakota, was mesmerized by the tiny village.
“She was blown away,” Wells said. “My mom just couldn’t believe how much they did to receive us. She had a phenomenal time.”The exchange of goods and cultures has made a lasting impression on Basalt Elementary students, too. Wells brought back necklaces of beads and bone for her students.”I told them that we’re all part of a very special group now,” she said. “I sat them down in a circle and told them that we made a big difference and this necklace shows that.”Wells videotaped her travels and will share it with students this month.”Teaching kids about other cultures, I think that’s one of the most important lessons you can teach, especially in this country,” Wells said.
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