It’s another Tuesday at St. Leo’s Primary, and I’m seriously dragging. The photocopier is out of toner again, which means the vocabulary test that we’d planned for Grade 5 has to be a bit more off the cuff than I’d anticipated—but that’s the nature of teaching in this school. This is a place where almost seven hundred learners have been admitted to the school, despite lack of space and individual attention; a place where pencils are in such short supply that they have to be labelled with names to keep them from going missing; a place where teachers engaging their students in the classroom is the exception, and not the rule.
St. Leo’s is also a place where the library is one of the most valued spots in the school; where the enrollment is so high that the administration can’t keep up, just because parents want their children to learn English with Americans; a place where the sound of young voices singing can make even the most miserable Monday mornings worth it. In a country where the population has big dreams and very little follow-through, the children at St. Leo’s are an example of the hope I’ve come to look for with each day that passes here in . South Africa
St. Leo’s comes early; at ten o’clock in the morning, I’m not hungry and not ready to interrupt the day just yet. On this particular Tuesday, the four classes that follow break are even more of a struggle than the two I had this morning. We attempt to review some lessons from the previous weeks after the test is finished and graded, but the learners are lethargic and I’m losing my patience. I can only repeat myself so many times—a mystery is “a puzzle without an answer”, and “a chance to do something” is an opportunity, not often. And then, just when I’m about to resort to reading them a story instead, the bells from the church next door ring to signal midday, and the sixteen Grade 5 students in front of me stand up, fold their hands, close their eyes, and bow their heads. They begin to pray.
Yethi Maria, ogcwele igrasiya, iNkosi inawe, ubusisiwe wena esifazaneni, ibusisiwe nenzalo yesisu sakho uJesu. Maria ocwebileyo, Nina kaNkulunkulu, mawusikhulekele thina zoni, manje nasesikhathini sokufa kewthu. Amen.
As the words rise to Mary who hears and understands, whether in English or in Zulu, I close my eyes and lean against the bookshelf near my desk, reflecting on the day so far and silently asking God to help me through the rest. I open my eyes again and look around the room, at the boys and girls in front of me, praying fervently in the midst of the schoolday. My heart is filled with so much love.
This is the type of encounter with God I have come to know and appreciate during my time as an AV in
—the prayers that offer me respite from the noise of language barriers, racial identity, and poverty. South Africa
Though I’m a teacher, I’ve learned from these students; learned that prayer has to be an integral part of every day, even if it is just a few Hail Marys quickly spoken during a vocabulary review, or hymns sung during assembly as the sun rises over the valley. The Zulus’ prayer life is one without expectations or judgment, where I can participate in a Zulu teachers’ prayer meeting in English and no one minds. The devotion to everyday spirituality that I’ve witnessed here in
is inspiring, especially when the living conditions of some should adversely affect their wellbeing. But it is these simple daily encounters with a very present God that give South Africans the hope they need to push onwards. This entire year is my classroom, and the people with whom I spend my days are my teachers, gently guiding me towards the presence of God. South Africa