Friday, December 23, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I haven’t quite figured out the weather patterns in Grahamstown.  Even if it’s hot and sunny outside in the morning, there is always the possibility for dark clouds and rain in the afternoon.  I have especially bad luck trying to predict when to do my laundry.  It seems that every time I hang my laundry out to dry it always finds a way to rain.  The intern and assistant teacher at the Holy Cross School, Bongisani, likes to tease me and says that I smell bad and God doesn’t think I wash my clothes good enough, so God decides to wash my clothes again with the rain.  Despite my bad luck with laundry and my inability to figure out South Africa’s weather patterns there is no denying the changes that are happening to our climate and environment.

I recently took the bus up to Durban to join thousands of others from all over the world for COP-17 (Conference of the Parties), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  I traveled to meet up with Mike Schut, the Economic and Environmental Officer for the Episcopal Church, who flew into Durban to be present for the negotiations.  Although I wasn’t actually able to get into the UN negotiations, I was able to attend a number of interesting side events and workshops ranging from nuclear energy, environmentally friendly products, re-usable energy, South Africa’s stance on climate change, etc. 

It was interesting to see organizations from all over the world lobby and strategize in attempts to influence the delegates who will be making the decisions regarding the earth’s future.  I also experienced the frustration and anger that results from selfish agendas that stymie progress in creating a cleaner earth. “We only have one home…” Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a rally before the conference, “If we destroy this home, we’ve had it!” 

(clockwise from top: Mike Schut describing what the Episcopal Church is doing about climate change, Archbishop Tutu addressing a crowd before the conference, presentation on re-usable energy)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Living the Faith

I went with friends to visit an Anglican church called St. Augustine’s.  The church is located in a township neighborhood that suffers from poverty, high levels of violence and crime, and high HIV/AIDs rates.  In response to the hardships that surround the church, St. Augustine’s runs a feeding program five days a week in which they provide meals for vulnerable children and those living with HIV/AIDs.  On top of this, members from the congregation make home visits around the township to identify those suffering and at-risk.

St. Augustine’s is by no means a wealthy parish.  In fact, compared to many of the churches in the United States, it would look as if St. Augustine’s were in need of help.  Yet, during the week, St. Augustine’s functions almost as a non-profit social service center for the neighborhood.

During our visit, I leaned into my friend to try and describe St. Augustine’s commitment and devotion to helping the poor, sick, and those who truly are in need.  As I struggled to find words, my friend looked at me and simply said, “They are living the faith.”

Friday, November 4, 2011

Something to Sing About

A couple of weeks ago the Minister General for the Society of Saint Francis stayed at the monastery.  After his stay he wrote a reflection in which he described the work the brothers at the Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery are doing:

“I’m staying with some friends, the monks of the Order of the Holy Cross at Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery. They sing all the time. The songs get in your brain: antiphons, hymns, choruses. Moreover, these song-filled men live courageously. They are building a school for 60 local children in Grahamstown, South Africa. Sunday Mass is full of neighbors, black and white. They are creating a community based on justice; Gospel values of hospitality, care for the poor and following the way of St. Benedict.  As Gandhi advised, they are being the change they want to see in the society around them. It’s their answer to the corruption and violence around them, and I think it is something to sing about!”

Here is the link for the most recent issue of Uxolo, the monastery newsletter:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Isibindi Camp

Boys from the camp holding the banner they created
School was on a holiday break this past week which gave me the opportunity to branch out from the work at the monastery and help with another project.  I was able to spend the time as a chaperone/counselor for a camp put on by an organization called the Isibindi Project.  The Isibindi Project works with some of South Africa’s most vulnerable and at-risk children, including those living in poverty and those affected by HIV/AIDS where children are orphaned.  During school breaks, Isibindi runs camps for the at-risk youth in order to keep them busy while school is out and to give them the opportunity to travel outside of their current living situations. 

This particular camp was for teenage boys who live in the townships in the cities of Alice and Grahamstown.  The camp was held at an outdoor education center called Hobbiton at Hogsback located in the Amatola Mountains.  During the camp, we went on a variety of hikes, did a few different ropes courses, went on the zip wire, played games, and had a big BBQ (they are called Braais in South Africa). 

It was a wonderful experience, and the youth and the Isibindi staff were a joy to be around.  Despite the many obstacles these boys face in their daily lives, their sense of hope, humor, and determination was amazing.  I found it hard to be around them without smiling. 

Playing soccer at the Hobbiton at Hogsback field
Madonna Waterfall
Hanging out at the destination of one our hikes
Hogsback Mountains in background

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sunday Eucharist

The Eucharist at the Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery on Sunday is a joyous occasion.  On Sunday mornings the church at the monastery is full of drumming, the singing of Xhosa hymns and songs, dancing, community communion, the Lord’s prayer said in whatever your native tongue is (so far I’ve heard Xhosa, Zulu, English, Afrikaans, Sotho), and much more.  People of all ages and from all different backgrounds come to the monastery on Sunday mornings to worship. 

The daily offices at the monastery (there are 5 per day starting a 6:00 am) are a bit more quiet and meditative in comparison.  The regular offices are very nice and offer a great opportunity for prayer and reflection, but lack some of the energy the Sunday Eucharist seems to have.

On Sundays, whether it be watching the children and youth drum and dance to a piece of music, or seeing the older folks who experienced the hardships and horrors of apartheid embrace at The Peace, or joining in the singing of hymns in Xhosa, one begins to sense the beauty of relationship and community. 

A few clips I took from a Sunday Eucharist.  Please forgive the poor camera work!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

First Days of Spring

We celebrated the first day of Spring at school this past week.  The kids got to put flowers in their hair and wear colorful clothing to class.  It was a fun and refreshing way to welcome in the warmer months and to celebrate the season we often associate with new beginnings and change. 

The Holy Cross School is experiencing its own share of change and growth as Spring in South Africa begins to unfold.  The monks and teachers at the monastery decided to undergo the process of constructing a proper school building to better accommodate the educational needs of the children outside of Grahamstown.  The current school building can only hold one grade R (kindergarten) class.  After the new school is built, the building will be composed of five classrooms, a kitchen, a teachers’ lounge, and it will be able to accommodate up to grade 4.

The first phases of construction are underway, and as we welcome in Spring, so do we welcome in a new school building that will be essential to providing for the children in need outside of Grahamstown.


(From left to right: ground cleared for new school building, workers laying the foundation, platform for new water storage tanks. Construction photos courtesy of Br. Roger Stewart)

(From left to right: walking back up to school after play time - current school building in upper left corner, First Day of Spring class photo, students with flowers in their hair, students celebrating Spring!)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Holy Cross School

Education can be a challenge in rural South Africa.  In 1998 as part of a policy to phase out schools with inadequate facilities, the South African Government shut down the farm school in the countryside outside of Grahamstown.  However, after doing so, no accommodations were made on the government’s part to provide for the educational needs of the children who would be affected by the closure.   These children, who live in isolated farming communities and who also face the challenge of living in poverty, found themselves without a school, no funds to pay for the schools in Grahamstown, and no means of transportation to and from town. 

In response to the need for education, the monks of the Benedictine Order of the Holy Cross set up a scholarship fund that aims to provide funding and other resources (transportation, school uniforms, etc.) for the children who come from the rural farming communities.  Currently, there are 55 children who receive an education thanks to the scholarship fund. 
The monks also began an afterschool program in 2006, staffed by professional teachers and volunteers, to do remedial work in Math and English.  As the years passed, the monks discovered that many of the children were functioning 3-4 grade levels behind their actual grade. Despite professional tutoring to supplement the after school program, most of the kids couldn’t bridge the gap.  Thus, the monks made the decision to start a foundation level school and opened the doors of The Holy Cross School in January 2010 with Grade R (kindergarten).

This year the teacher, Ntombekaya Meyki, an intern, Bongisani Soxuja, and myself provide for the education of the little ones.  Classes are intentionally small, a maximum of 14 children per teacher, in order to give as much individual attention as possible. 

For me, the biggest challenge thus far has been learning and pronouncing the childrens’ names at the school.  Their names are beautiful, (Siphokuhle, Simamkele, Kholelwani, Masixole, etc.) but for a westerner like me who speaks no Xhosa, it has been a struggle.  The kids think it’s the funniest thing to hear me struggle through the pronunciation of their names and other Xhosa words (keep in mind that there are clicks in the Xhosa language which can make pronunciation very difficult), but I am getting better everyday! 

The scholarship fund and school, the children, and the people who make it all possible are a blessing.


Students hard at work

Siphokuhle & Aviwe

Monday, August 15, 2011

Week 1

It took two long travel days (San Francisco -> New York -> Johannesburg -> Port Elizabeth), but I made it to South Africa!  Besides being a bit jet lagged, I’ve completed my first week at the Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery.

The brothers and staff at the monastery have been extraordinarily kind and welcoming.  They have made it easy for me to jump into a new community and living situation.  It definitely is a new living situation in the sense that the brothers start their day off with morning vigils at 6:00 am and then have a structured series of daily offices (prayer services) throughout the rest of the day.   I’m attending most of the daily offices with hopes that I will eventually be able to fall into the rhythm of the monastic prayer schedule. 

Also, during this first week, I’ve been able to spend three days helping at the Holy Cross School where I will be working the rest of the year.  It has been a nice way to meet and spend time with the kids and staff.  The children all speak Xhosa and very little English, but despite this challenge, I find that I am still able to help with lesson plans just fine.  The kids are very friendly and seem excited and curious to have a new face around school. 

It has been a wonderful first week!  More to come soon!

View from the monastery

Holy Cross students

The Holy Cross School

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Greetings and welcome to my blog! For the rest of this year and through August, 2012, I will share the work and experiences taking place while I am serving with the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC). YASC is a mission branch of the Episcopal Church sending young adults all over the world to engage in mission work. YASC aims to have the volunteers engage in service projects, as well as, to enter into relationship with people and communities around the world.

During this year abroad, I will live and work at the Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery near the city of Grahamstown, South Africa. The monastery is run by the Order of the Holy Cross, which is an Episcopal monastic order. The monks living at the monastery provide for the educational needs of the local children who come from rural farming families by running a small school, providing scholarships, and running an after school program.  Most of my work will be to help the monks educate the children.

Thank you to everyone who has joined in support of this mission effort! Your support, through your generous giving and through your prayers, has made this venture possible. Please make sure to check back for more updates.