Toby & Charlie’s Bush Bulletin

Thanks so much to Charlie for allowing us to share his February Bush Bulletin’s!


Some Bush Bulletins are easier to write than others. This one could almost write itself.

Yes, we are back in South Africa for the twentieth year of the Lillydale Literacy Project. We escaped the northeast just before the arrival of the polar vortex. We landed in Jo’burg on Thursday, the 24th, and that evening we had dinner with Tarshine Mafueka. Tarshine, the niece of our dear friend Luzile Boke, worked at the Gasparilla Inn on Boca Grande in 2018 gaining experience in the hospitality trades. Now she is back in South Africa looking for her next opportunity. Wasn’t it convenient that the Intercontinental Hotel general manager stopped by our table for a chat? Contacts were exchanged.

On Friday we completed our journey to Hazyview and used the weekend to get settled and rested before what we knew would be a busy month. Bright and early Monday we were off to Good Work Foundation’s main campus to meet with Maria Awogu, COO, and Zola Myakayaka, the new head of the Hazyview Cluster of campuses (currently 4, soon to be 6). Given that we were last here in May,’18, it was staggering to see the changes that had occurred since then. Basically, GWF is like a teenager that has experienced a growth spurt. Its physical growth includes the new Lillydale campus that opened in October, another campus in Dumphries that will open in April,’19, and a new two-story building in Hazyview required by new programs there. GWF’s maturity is reflected in its expanded organization chart, the complexity of which reminded me of my days at Citi. It took Maria and Zola at least an hour to cover just the top level of the org chart. Several new slots like Zola’s have been filled and others are in active search mode. In addition to Zola, another critical new hire is Kathy Knott, who is the program manager in charge of the Bridging Year Academy. Each campus runs a BYA, a year-long program for adults that provides practical skills to prepare the graduates for the workplace. In her short time at GWF Kathy has revised and refined the BYA curriculum as well as prepared lesson plans and other teaching guides for the GWF facilitators who lead the BYA classes. We were able to sit in on an excellent facilitator training session that Kathy led on English comprehension.

One of the critical open slots on the org chart is Kathy’s counterpart for the Open Learning Academy. Like BYA, each campus runs an OLA for students in local primary and high schools, offering enrichment in English, mathematics and computer skills. Since we started working with GWF Toby has devoted the majority of her time working with the OLA facilitators to enhance their skills. Some, no, many have inherent natural teaching ability. Nevertheless, they need a full-time program manager to provide the same guidance and support that Kathy Knott provides for BYA.

Starting on Tuesday we hit the road to visit the other campuses. These are all in villages we have known since the very beginning of the Project. We started at the Lillydale campus. Attached are photos from that visit, one showing Toby flanked by Doylance, head of OLA, and Fumani, campus manager, in front of the sponsors wall. When we arrived, fourth graders from Ezweni School in Lillydale were there for Open Learning. One of the Ezweni students greeted Toby by name and asked her if she had brought the elephant hand puppet she usually carried with her for school visits. (She must have remembered this from kindergarten or pre-K.) This experience was to be repeated several times during the week.

We also spent the better part of a day at both the Justicia and Huntington Campuses. Each centre has a different feel, a function of its manager and staff, the local community and the schools in its catchment area. At Huntington we sat in on a group of eighth graders receiving an orientation in an online educational social network called SMILE, developed at Stanford University. It is a perfect example of how GWF is using modern technology to improve the quality of education in rural South Africa alongside the public education system. That day at Huntington I was greeted by a man waiting to start his BYA session, “Hi Charlie!” Not recognizing him, I went over to speak to him. It turned out he remembered Toby and Charlie coming to his fourth-grade class in 2000, our first year. It happened again in Justicia when another BYA student told us he remembered us coming to his third-grade class that was taught by his grandmother, Maggie. Both these men had outstanding teachers whom we remember to this day.

There is much more to write about, but we will save that for next time.


It is hard to believe we are already at the halfway point of this trip, and that two weeks from today we will be back in Marblehead. We have settled into a nice routine. Good Work has five campuses and we visit a different campus each weekday. Most days we either start or end at the Hazyview campus since it is so close to our home.

On each campus Toby is conducting a series of workshops, primarily for the Open Learning team but open to the Bridging Year Academy team if they are available. For some this is a refresher course, but for new facilitators and interns this is brand new material. Regardless, the more they learn, the more they want. On several campuses this week the Open Learning coordinator co-taught with Toby, an encouraging sign of growing confidence and competence. We have provided each campus with teaching aids, including multiple copies of Recipe for Reading (Toby’s bible), sound rings, and a mini-library. At the facilitators’ request Toby is also helping them prepare lesson plans, primarily for storytelling modules. Here she shows them the importance of identifying a few key vocabulary words from the context of the story, grammar lessons, phonics, and ways to test for reading comprehension. In one session the subject story was Jack and the Beanstalk. With a little modelling to lead the way the participants acted out parts of the story. Oscar, as Jack, literally climbed the beanstalk played by Teaman. Lerato (mother) and Mpho (Jack) got into a fight over the worthless beans and Lerato threw the bag of beans out the window. Howls of laughter. All this consistent with the GWF philosophy that learning should be fun.

This past week we made our first trip to the new Dumphries campus that is still under construction and scheduled to open in April. The new Dumphries team is already on site, working in two classrooms of an adjacent primary school. Most of the Dumphries team previously worked on the Hazyview campus. We were hardly out of the car when Arnold, the Open Learning coordinator, asked Toby to review “Going on a Lion Hunt”, always a kid favourite (watch the team’s antics here). We will head back to Dumphries on Monday for a workshop.

In last week’s Bush Bulletin, I described GWF’s two main “academies”, Open Learning and Bridging Year. These are both cost centres, with no net revenue generation. Nevertheless, one of GWF’s goals is to become self-sustaining and less reliant on contributions. Real progress is being made here, especially on the Hazyview campus. GWF operates a number of call centres, one for T-Mobile and another for a public-private partnership looking to place a million young adults in jobs over the next three years. These centres currently employ about 40 staff, many of whom are Bridging Academy graduates. Additional call centre clients are queuing up and a 100 seat centre is in the planning stages. In addition, GWF is well along in planning a
travel and tourism academy that would be self-sustaining. Given the importance of tourism in this area and the fact that GWF sponsors include some of the most famous game lodges in the world, this is a natural adjunct.

We will leave it here for now and look forward to the week ahead.


Another week has passed, tempus fugit.  A few words about the weather. This area has a climate similar to Florida’s. The summers are hot and humid, and it should be the rainy season. Until this past week only the first part was true. Daytime temperatures were in the high 80’s to mid-90’s. This triggered the national power company to implement “load shedding”, rolling power blackouts to reduce power demand to match reduced supply. Aside from being a huge inconvenience and another negative factor for the economy, it is also a political disaster for the ruling ANC party facing a national election in May. The need for load shedding is the consequence of an era of corruption and incompetence that goes back at least as far as the Zuma administration. As far as the weather goes, the good news is that starting last Wednesday we had four days of intermittent rain, some heavy at times. This has helped alleviate another drought at least temporarily, but more rain is needed to fill the dams and reservoirs and irrigate the crops.

Monday: Dumphries; Tuesday: Justicia; Wednesday: Hazyview; Thursday: Lillydale; Friday: Huntington. Toby conducted workshops for the facilitators when they weren’t busy with Open Learning and Bridging Year sessions. From our observations of Open Learning, the ability of fourth graders to read English varies dramatically from school to school, probably depending on the strength of the school principal. The official education policy allows English to be taught as the first additional language until grade four when it is required, but the implementation of this depends on the principal and the teachers. We fought for this policy from the beginning of the Project and received the full support of the former Circuit Manager, Jack Shulabane, who has since retired. Now the results seem to be mixed. Most teachers will revert to teaching in Tsonga, the mother tongue, unless the principal takes a stand. A shining example of this is our friend Ryder whom we reconnected with this week. He took our Reading Power course as a teacher, then rose through the ranks to become principal of Jongilanga Primary School. Over the last 7-8 years he has transformed what was a low performing school into a powerhouse. Ryder takes advantage of every resource he can marshal. This week he was applying to send his fourth graders to GWF’s Lillydale Campus for Open Learning. We have tasked Ryder with requesting the Circuit Manager to make sure all primary schools are teaching English as a second language starting in kindergarten. Reflecting their first-hand experience dealing with primary school learners from various schools, several GWF facilitators have said, in effect, “the government is killing our children by not teaching them properly.”

Our week ended on several happy notes. On Friday night at dinner at Kuka’s restaurant, we saw a familiar face across the room who was looking back at us. “Could it be?” she thought. It was Diana Dlamini, another teacher from our course, whom we hadn’t seen in seven or eight years. She was always sharp as a tack and is now a deputy principal out of circuit. She and her friend joined us for a glass of wine as we caught up. Then on Saturday afternoon we went over to a local school that was hosting a track meet for the various private schools in the area. There were a number of GWF staff there with offspring at several of the schools, and it was an opportunity for us to meet spouses and children. As we looked out at the proceedings, we realized we could have been in Marblehead or Atlanta or Sydney or the UK or …

We have to wrap things up this week, reluctantly, comforted only by the knowledge that we will be back in May. Until next time…