Warwick In Africa

During Summer 2015, for six weeks, I was a volunteer maths teacher in Mtwara, Tanzania.

In Summer 2016 I will be maths teacher in Limpopo, South Africa. I will be making regular posts about my experience here.

Saturday 23rd July

We started dropping off our bags at around 17:00 for our flight at 19:00. Everyone loved flight. “Did you not see how many fun things there were to do??” says Ellie. There were many rounds of multiplayer trivial pursuit. A few crying babies made it difficult to sleep. I watched a few films on the flight. Some people enjoyed a nice GnT with their meal. There was a little bit of turbulence but didn’t stop most people from sleeping well. Though some people admit they found it difficult to sleep. After 11 hours on the plane we arrived in Johannesburg, along with all the other teams going Alexandra and Soweto. The excitement is electric as we prepare for our 5 hour journey to Limpopo.


Warwick In Africa: Alexandra, Soweto and Limpopo groups.


Team Limpopo: Olly, Rad, Emma, Jonah, Lauren, Helen, Ellie

The journey to Limpopo went by pretty quickly despite a homogeneous landscape and we settled into our accommodation pretty quickly.


I’m sure there will be many afternoons using the pool, after we have finished planning lessons and when the sun comes out.

Sunday 24th July

A pretty relaxed rainy day. After getting some food shopping for a few days we ate lunch in Nando’s, where we got loads of food for a pretty value – Jonah and I shared a whole chicken with Pap, wedge, chips and roast vegetables. The roast vegetables where excellent. In the afternoon we played a few board games: Monopoly deal, Mafia, Zigity and Snatch. In the evening we all sat around reading books. We also planned and prepared for our first days in school. For dinner we made a very delicious spag-bol.

Monday 25th July

First day of school: Edison known locally as The Mighty School. Up at 5am. Excited, nervous and prepared. My classes are sorted so far – I’ll be doing some team teaching with some trainee teachers from the University of Venda in grades 10 and 11. I think there is some opportunity to set up some extra opportunities for struggling and also gifted children. The school is under capacity due to strikes in the local area – some teachers and students are missing.  Today we had bean stew with fish and butternut squash and in the evening we made a chicken curry.


Tuesday 26th July

It was a pretty cold day. Getting settled in with the teachers and enjoying interacting with the students. Lunch was a provided by the school:  a fish curry with rice and cabbage. Exhausted after taking 4 different class today. In the afternoon we chilled and played balderdash. The group at the other school made a sausage and pasta bake for dinner.



Wednesday 27th July

Today was pretty tiring: 3 lessons of maths and a lesson of life orientation (sexual education). Lunch was beans and butternut squash. Not a very eventful day. Some of the group went swimming. Two of us went to the university to complete applications.

Thursday 28th July

This was the first day we saw the sunrise on the way to school. We’re excited for it to stop raining and the day was really nice and warm.IMG_0054IMG_0055

Today we tried a local delicacy: Thongolifha a small shield bug. Surprisingly, they were pretty tasty. We compared the taste to bacon flavoured crisps or pork scratching. They were crunchy but also meaty inside.


We went to the University of Venda and made some new friends. The University has also recently opened a new life sciences building – it looks pretty swanky. Pretty fun day in conclusion! We also met the masterclass teachers today and we are looking forward to working with them tomorrow.

Friday 29th July

After a few lessons today school was cut short at 12:30 due to teacher strikes and preparations for voting. Those at Edison went to visit Kolokoshani instead, which closed soon after.


At 3:30 we went to the University of Venda and Jonah led a session of frisbee. None of our group had ever played before and everyone had a really great afternoon. It was great to see many Venda students getting along and they were keen for second session at a later date.



Saturday 30th July

We were up early today to visit a National park on the boarder between Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. Here, we were able to see some wildlife including many birds, zebras, impalas, elephants and giraffes. The boarders meet along the confluence of the Limpopo river and another river. The foreground is South Africa with the flat plains of Botswana disappearing to the left and the rockier Zimbabwe extending off to the right. A long day with some spectacular views.







Sunday 31st July

Today, we visited the Sunland baobab tree with a pub inside. The baobab trees are famous for their huge size and old age – some can be several thousand years old. This tree is 1100 years old and 46 meters in circumference. We had lots of fun climbing the tree; having a drink, and playing some games. A very relaxing, enjoyable and interesting day.




Monday 1st August

Due to strikes the schools are closed. We went to visit the masterclass teachers and engage in some of their lessons. Today is also Ellie’s birthday so we had a little celebration in the evening. We invited some of teachers for a braai (bbq).

Tuesday 2nd August

Further strikes meant there was no school today. Lots of us used the opportunity to catch up on marking; do some washing and read some books.

Wednesday 3rd August

Election day. A national holiday is in place today so everyone can vote. ANC is expected to maintain power. We went to visit the local damn and royal gardens on our day off.




Thursday 4th August

After strikes have officially ended, schools closed early again for a meeting amongst senior educational officials. In the afternoon we played frisbee in the UniVen Stadium.

Friday 5th August

Road blocks have been removed and the situation has diffused. This morning I had meeting with the principal of Ratshikwekwete to discuss how to move forward. The students haven’t had any school for three month and so the school has developed an action plan to get the students back on couse. We hope that we can support the school in the best way possible through these tough times.

Saturday 6th August

We set off for our journey to Nelspruit, near the Kruger national park at 5am. We visited some of South Africa most famous attractions on the way – it is clear that South Africa is a truly beautiful country.

Firstly, we visited a reptile farm about 3 hours from Thohoyandou. There was some beautiful and some scary creatures to be found.

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After the reptile farm we headed up onto the ‘Dragon’s Back’ mountains, spotting a nice waterfall on the way; to see the ‘Three Roundels’ and the spectacular surrounding areas.

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After seeing the Blyde River Canyon we visited some pot-holes created by the swirling water of the river.

We then headed to the famous site: God’s Window. Though the area was heaving with other tourists the view was undeniably breathtaking.


As we continued down the mountains side, we visited a breathtaking waterfall: Mac-Mac falls. We cooled off after our long journey in the Mac-Mac pools, before finally arriving in Nelspruit and Mercure Hotel.

Sunday 7th August

Up early and arriving at the Kruger national park entrance for the opening time of 6 am. Winding through the South Africa Savannah on bumpy dirt roads, we were blown away with the abundance of exotic life. Aside from the famous land mammals (including the so-called big five: Leopard, Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo), we saw many exotic birds and a vast diversity of trees and plants. Having spotted elephants and a lion early in the day it wasn’t until later we spotted the elusive Leopard and the boisterous Buffalo. It was close to sunset before we managed to spot a family of rhinos, which are severely endangered. A magical day – the pictures, I think, speak for themselves.




Monday 8th August

Due to national women’s day on Tuesday, today is a school holiday. We spent our time around Nelspruit exploring some of the local attraction other than the national park. These included a natural bridge, some caves and ‘The big Swing’. In the evening we went to a local restaurant and enjoyed the warm evening.

Tuesday 9th August

Today is national women’s day. We headed back to Thohoyandou after a crazy few days. We visited a culture village and Echo caves, arriving just before sunset. We relaxed in the evening by watching Role Models.

Wednesday 10th August

We went to a local science fair today, supported by the Department of Education and the University of Venda. We helped learners with their scientific experiments and games – it was great to see many children enjoying science. At the end of the day we went home via ‘The Big Tree’.

Thursday 11th August

Today we went back to our schools. It looks like everything is back in full swing.

Friday 12th August

My last day at Edison before I move to Ratshikwekwete. I drew an A3 poster of a heart for the life science teacher. In the evening we celebrated the birthday of one of our colleagues at the University of Venda.

Saturday 13th August

Dbengani falls was today’s destination. After a few hours drive we arrived at the falls and then went for a walk for 2 hours. On the return journey we saw the University of Limpopo and the demarcation of the Tropic of Capricorn. We had the left overs of the curry we had made on Friday for dinner.

Sunday 14th August

Today we went to Church on the outskirts of Vuwani, where they speak TshiTsonga instead of TshiVenda. After church finished at 12, we were invited to lunch at the pastors house. Afterwards we went to the dam to celebrate Emma’s birthday and we enjoyed an bbq in the serene Royal Gardens.

Monday 15th August

It was my first day at Ratshi. The school is much smaller than Edison – only about 400 pupils. The teachers work incredibly hard and are very kind. After organizing some lessons in the morning, I have been given grade 10, to teach functions; grade 11 to teach probability, and grade 12 to teach probability. I also organised extra classes after school with the headmaster and the deputy principal to aid the pupils, since they had not had any school for the last 3 months. All the volunteers will help, after school, with maths and English, across grades 10 to 12. Topics include: sketching cubic graphs, trigonometry, probability, and indirect and direct speech.

Tuesday 16th August

Classes seem to be progressing well at Ratshi with many of the students making a good grasp of the topics. Whilst grade 10 are on the lively side, grade 11 are really timid – hopefully some balance will be achieved over the next few weeks. Today was the first day of the extra classes. The headmaster and deputy principal were impressed by the hard work, aptitude and skill of the volunteer teachers – they were very thankful for our help. Hopefully we will see lots of progress in the students in the weeks to come.

Wednesday 17th August

Another good day and set of extra classes in the afternoon. The teacher spent along time after school arguing whether or not to suspend a grade 12 student, who has been causing difficulty in the class.

Thursday 18th August

Today it rained heavily for the first time in the last four weeks though it cleared up by midday. We didn’t run the support classes because the students where sitting a home language test.

Friday 19th August

Another warm day in Limpopo. A productive day of teaching tree diagrams and sketching trigonometric functions. In the afternoon a few of us wondered down to the centre of Thohoyandou and explored the markets. A relaxing evening after a long week of teaching a support classes.

Saturday 20th August

We went to the market in the morning, before heading to the local waterfalls, where the lodges for volunteers in previous years have been located. On the way back we bought some avocados, costing 2 rand each (roughly 10 pence!).

Sunday 21st August

We returned to church this Sunday. Then at 12:30 we were driven close to a local village before riding the rest of way the on a trailer pulled by donkeys. Then we were presented with an afternoon of cultural activities: dancing, theatre, games and food. We had a crazy afternoon and made lots of new friends. People enjoyed dancing with the old ladies. We saw cultural costumes and ate worms. At the end of the day we were exhausted having left the village after sunset. We visited, on the way home, the offices of the man who organised the event. He runs a charity (turning lives around), which works in rural development, water management and ecotourism.


Monday 22nd August

Today was very hot – with temperatures exceeding 35 degrees. This made lessons in trigonometry and probability very challenging but the students pulled through and worked hard. After school we ran support classes for grade 11 and 12 classes, covering 2 in English: advertising and forms of speech; 2 in Maths: sketching quadratics using completing the square and the other classes studying geometry.

Tuesday 23rd August

In contrast, today was very cold. Grade 12 revised the probability they had done in grade 11. They progressed very quickly some saying probability was their favorite subject because previous WIA volunteers had taught them probability in grades 10 and 11. Grade 10 started a new topic of euclidean geometry and grade 11 did an enrichment lesson on contingency tables before starting the new topic of statistics. We had a very busy support class session after school with two grade 8 classes learning how to construct angles and classify triangles; grade 11 learning passive and active voice or graph sketching; grade 12 studying their short story: The Sisters or trigonometry.  One grade 9 student stayed with the grade 8 because she wanted to do more maths after school. A very proud day for all of us as we delivered additional support for 80% of the school in after school sessions. I was particularly impressed with grade 10’s who produced some wonderful poster and flash card on euclidean geometry – hopefully we will see them up in the class tomorrow!


Wednesday 24th August

I put up many of the poster the students had produced yesterday in their classrooms. The grade 12 made much progress with their probability classes and are making good pace.

Thursday 25th August

Another typical day at school and another set of catch up lessons after school.

Friday 26th August

A very hot day at school. The classrooms get very hot because the metal roofs radiate straight down onto the students since there are no insulated ceilings. Grade 10 in the last periods of the afternoon were struggling with the extreme heat and many felt sick. Repairing the ceilings and planting trees to provide shade would be very good for the school.

Saturday 27th August

It’s the weekend again. At about midday we traveled to a ‘resort’ where we could use pools and sit outside to read books. We got back late in the evening and many of us went straight to bed.

Sunday 28th August

After several long weeks, I decided that today I would stay at the lodge to prepare lessons for next week and write my test. Everyone else went the to dam for one final relaxing day.

Monday 29th August

Today I had all my classes take their final test to measure their performance. After school we went to a tailor to try on traditional clothes and get measured for outfits made by a sister of a teacher at Edison school.

Tuesday 30th August

Another day at school with many of us planning our interviews today. I interviewed the deputy headteacher (also Head of Maths). He had lots to say and many plans to get the school back on track. I was impressed by many of his insights. Again, after school, we delivered our catch up lessons for the students.

Wednesday 31st August

I gave back many of the test to the students today. They were pleased with their performance and their improvement from earlier tests. I was very proud of the students – they have come along way in the last few weeks. In the afternoon we delivered our final catch-up sessions to the students. We cooked our last meal as a group: tuna in a white sauce with pasta.

Thursday 1st September

Today was our last day of school. We had a presentation to say goodbye at our school and they were very appreciative of our work and the donations to the school. We took lots of pictures with the students and they filled out their feedback forms – many were sad to see us go.  Afterwards we went to the University of Venda for a wrap-up presentation. This included our own presentation of what we learnt over the last six weeks, as well as short plays by Venda students. Afterwards we said our goodbyes and headed back to the lodge, where the owners put on a braai for us. We all went to sleep early after having packed up our final things.

Friday 2nd September

We left around 5 am this morning for Jo-burg. Stopping for about an hour on the way for breakfast. A few of the group are not well so we are stopping often to let people be sick. We arrived in Melville in the afternoon and quickly settled into the youth hostel. We headed back out into Jo-burg to see the sites. We managed to see some famous street art along with Newtown. In Newtown they had some wood sculptures of heads made from wood, previously used on the railway lines. In the evening, we went to eat at Lucky Bean on 7th street, Melville. There are lots of bars, restaurants and clubs along this street.

Saturday 3rd September

Firstly we headed to the Apartheid museum, where we visited both the permanent exhibition and also the Nelson Mandela exhibition. The museum explains the last 100 years of South Africa history and was very informative. Afterwards we headed to Constitution Hill, the infamous prison where Mandela and Gandhi had been incarcerated. The atrocities committed here were truly awful. The Constitution Hill is also home to the constitutional court, the highest court in the country, were Zuma was recently put on trial. We were allowed to look around the inside of the court as part of our guided tour. Finally, we headed up the ramparts to gaze on the 360 degree view on Jo-burg. Then we headed to some markets to do some final shopping before heading to the Airport for our return journey home.

Sunday 4th September