Danielle Carey has been volunteering with Axium through Project Trust since September 2015. Her time with us has come to an end, so we caught up with her for some reflection on the year that’s been. We will miss her hard work, her consistently positive outlook and, of course, all the banter.
In a sentence, who is Danielle Carey?
That’s a hard question. Who am I, Nat?
Erm. I’m a 19-year-old female, from Watford (England) on a gap year with Project Trust, working with MasaKHANe at Axium Education. I’m also a cool human. Banterlicious, really.
What have you been busy with for your time at Axium? Give us an average day in the life of Danielle.
It depends on the week… Sometimes I’m in schools in the mornings working with teachers and students. Other times, I’m putting the Khan laptops on charge, doing general maintenance of day-to-day tasks, preparing the next Day Zero. Basically doing what needs to get done to make MasaKHANe the best it can be. And then there’s MasaKHANe in the afternoons. I teach mathematics to students from grade 6-9. It usually involves teaching a 20-30 minute lesson, and then setting them on to a Khan activity to work on that I walk around and help with. Then I drive the kids home. Best part of my day – we crank up that music and jiva (dance).
You’ve spent a lot of time with students around here. What have you learnt from them?
They’ve taught me a lot.
When I was at school, if the teacher didn’t turn up you’d be celebrating. Experiencing the schools that these students attend has made me appreciate what I had. At home we have a supply teacher network; things are set up so that students and teachers are never left hanging. These kids have nothing like that. Yet they have the determination to succeed even though it seems as if they have the world working against them. They still come to MasaKHANe; they still ask questions. They’re determined to learn so that at the end they’re able to succeed. They’re amazing, hard-working people.
You’ve also spent some time in schools. What has been your experience of the school learning environment?
It’s not an ideal learning environment. The kids are scared of getting things wrong, and the classroom doesn’t feel like a ‘free’ space. I know some of the teachers personally now, and that they really care about the kids they teach. When we go in to schools – you can see how demotivating the environment is for teachers. There’s not really a support network around them. Working with Axium has shown me how important it is to get to know the teachers and begin to understand the situation first.
What can you tell us about the Zithulele community?
The local community members have so much patience. They know I can’t understand a thing when it comes to isiXhosa– but they don’t care. They’ll still try with me. I’ve had conversations with people where they can’t understand me, I can’t understand them – and somehow, by the end of it, we understand each other.
I can walk up the road in Zithulele and greet everyone as I go – and nobody thinks I’m crazy. Even walking around in the village – people shout across valleys, just to say hello. Not too long ago, two tiny little kids I’ve never met greeted me, and they said ‘Molo, Teacher.’ Now they greet me that way whenever I walk past them on my way up to the office. It’s weird to think I’m a teacher, not a student. It seems way more grown up than I feel!
And then there’s the hospital and NPO community – people from around the country and beyond, who are here for different periods of time working in the area. It’s also an amazing community. People just walk into each other’s houses, unannounced and uninvited. If you want to go for a stroll and you see lights on in someone’s house, you just go in and they offer you a cup of tea and a chat.
I’ve loved living here.
How have you changed since you were pre-Project-Trust-Year-Danielle?
I’ve definitely matured a lot. In some senses. In some senses not (laughs). Thinking back to a lesson I ran on my own a couple weeks ago… If you’d have told me at the beginning of the year that I would have to teach all of the grade 6 and 7s on my own – and with no plan, so having to make it up on the spot (because Khan stopped working on the day), I’m pretty sure I would’ve had a mental breakdown (laughs). But I actually managed a decent lesson and it was a lot of fun! I’ve definitely learnt to do a lot of new things, and to trust myself.
I’ve also grown in height. And my fringe has grown. I can even sort of cook now!
My accent is pretty dodged up. I’ve got a northern twang from Hannah (another Project Trust volunteer) and picked up some South African slang, though I still have my Watford roots. I feel like I’ve gone into the washing machine of accents… And come out a bit pink. Kind of like when I spend time in the sun here.
Where to from here?
I’m going to the University of East Anglia, to study education with the hope of eventually getting into politics.
Why the route through education into politics?
Education is one of the most important systems in any country. How I see it, there’s no point getting into politics straight away if you don’t know what you want to change or develop. A lot of people might go straight into politics from university without working in any of the systems they want to change… And then you don’t know. You might put these decrees out there – but how will you know if they’re plausible if you haven’t actually experienced it yourself? Unless you’ve actually experienced the system, how are you going to change it?
Any final words before we sign off?
I don’t want to leave (laughs).
We have the best project out of all of the Project Trust projects. I work with amazing people, the kids I teach are amazing, the place is beautiful, and there’s so much happiness.
I’m going to leave South Africa with a bubble of happiness inside me that will never burst.
The MasaKHANe students will miss Danielle madly! Read this blog that they wrote about their kind and smiley teacher.