Last night I met a remarkable young woman.  Her name is Thembi.  She grew up in Jozini in Zululand and graduated from Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha in the Transkei, with a teaching degree in Consumer Studies.  Fresh out of university, she applied for a position she encountered on Facebook.  It was at Vuleka School for the Deaf, in Zululand.

When she began teaching at Vuleka, she did not know any sign language, so communication with her students was very difficult.  She hadn’t encountered many deaf people in her life and this was a huge challenge for her.  In her second year at the school, she achieved outstanding results, with a highly unusual 100% pass rate in her Matric Consumer Studies class. 

Daily she faces seemingly insurmountable challenges. Her students are only able to communicate in sign language, a language she has only managed to pick up from her students and she feels that she is not very good at it.  In fact, she will tell you openly that she does not speak it.  She communicates with her students mostly by writing on her blackboard. 

There are about 300 students at the school.  Their ages vary from 5 to 32 years old.  The school goes from grade R all the way through to grade 12.  English is the language the children are taught in.  Not all the teachers can do sign language.  Some of the children do not know any sign language when they get to the school so they have to be taught from the beginning.  Some of the students only start grade R when they are 13 years old as their parents were unaware that the school existed.  So in the same grade R class there are 5 year olds and 13 year olds. 

Some of Thembi’s students are older than she is.  This does not phase her though.  She told me that she loves these students because they are always smiling.  I wonder how many other teachers feel the same way about their students.  The school is a boarding school and she mentioned that, sadly, some of the students do not get collected by their parents for the school holidays.  They stay at the school and the cleaning staff looks after the students. 

Thembi shared that the students hate having to write.  For them it is a major struggle, yet they must do, in order to pass matric.  Their parents speak Zulu, a language they do not understand at all.  They are taught in English, a language slightly closer to the language they speak.  However, the grammar of sign language is very different to English grammar.  As they cannot hear the language that they are expected to write in, they cannot ever grasp phonics. It is really difficult for them as most of them grew up without language.  Making themselves understood has always been very difficult.  Now they have to cope with two languages.

The teaching staff at the school are always looking for ways to empower the students with skills over and above the regular school curriculum.  This was how I met Thembi. 

Her principal trawled the internet looking for a quilt teacher and found me.  She gave me a call and after asking me when and where my lessons were, let slip that she was also looking for a B&B in the area.  I mentioned that I have a B&B and the rest is history. 

Thembi will be staying with me for a week and I will be teaching her how to teach quilting to her students.  Watch this space for more Blog stories about Thembi and Vuleka School for the Deaf.