We have officially been in Cape Town for about a month now. Time really does fly! We are now a few weeks into our internships which can be both exciting and exhausting. In working with Equal Education (an advocacy group using community mobilization and policy forums to push for reform of South Africa’s public education system) I have learned more in a few weeks in action than I would have in a year just reading about the issues at home. My first major task has been to write a memorandum to be presented to the Minister of Education during marches this June. A formal memorandum outlining the history, objectives and demands of the group is traditional in South Africa for any protest. Obviously, writing this would require knowledge of the history, objectives and demands of the organization, which I am still learning.
In doing my research I have been astonished to learn the current state of South African education. There are thousands of schools here without electricity, safe drinking water and toilet facilities. Only about 10% have any computers and even fewer have libraries or science labs. Hundreds of schools are still known as “mud schools” aka they are made of mud or sheets of metal. Classrooms often have 60 or more students and lack textbooks, blackboards or desks. Doing this research and talking with the people here has shown me just how desperate the situation is. Yet nobody gives up. Equal Education has been on the same campaign to set basic standards for public schools (aka they should have bathrooms and water and not put 60 kids in a room made for 20) for over four years.
As someone interested in advocacy work, interacting with people this dedicated to even basic reform has been inspiring. I came in expecting a bustling office making radical change every day, but the process is slow. I know I have something to learn from the patience of the Equal Education staff. Governmental reform takes time and is usually a fight even when it is something so seemingly simple and intuitive. This experience has also made me feel lucky to live in a country that despite some problems provides us all with an education significantly better than what the majority of students receive here. Every country has a unique political and historical background that determines the struggles it faces today. My days of working with Equal Education have shown me how much smaller many of the American political struggles we face today (that often seem insurmountable) seem by comparison.