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Recording eduWeavers' History

If oral histories can still be considered the fundamental means of recording the collective memory or story of our lives, one version of this story may begin July 2005 was the summer the Americans came to eSibonisweni School in Maputaland, South Africa. Yet, if we are to be true historians, we must also collect the story that begins, July 2005 was the summer that the learners of eSibonisweni touched the lives and shaped the goals of the Americans from Marin County, California.

Weaving together the enthusiasm, goals, and vocabulary of these two very disparate groups in a personal meeting laden with both fierce excitement and trepidation was initially viewed as a culminating event for these two communities. They were both intrigued with each other and ready to engage and communicate on a personal level based on the three-year partnership they'd created via email, snail mail, and a few face-to-face visits between some key community/school leaders at eSibonisweni and eduWeavers founder, Jennifer Getz. However, this meeting inspired the birth of eduWeavers.

A champion of the concept of partnership, Jennifer had spent the last several years creating relationships based on respect, reciprocity, and goal attainment between her independent school, Saint Mark's, in Marin County, California and eSibonisweni, a rural South African school that had a very impoverished population and a student body of whom currently 20% are AIDS orphans. This notion of partnership was inspired by a parallel relationship budding between The Canal Alliance, a Marin County organization serving many undocumented students, and same-age buddies at Saint Mark's School. This local partnership engaged both groups of students in tutoring and mentoring each other in an exchange that was both cultural and academic in nature. Jennifer, then, brought this understanding of reciprocal learning to the Saint Mark's/eSibonisweni relationship. She was supported in these "partnerships" by visionary teachers, administrators, and community leaders who, together, wove education, philanthropy, and a culture of reciprocity into these nascent partnerships.

The Story Continues ...

The eSibonisweni Community Excitedly Awaited Its Guests

In July 2008 the Americans are coming for a third time. This time it is the biggest delegation yet. Over 80 people will bring their expertise to our community. We are excited and we have concerns. We know that they are now simply "people." In fact, our children don't venerate them as much now. They simply see them as friends worthy of great honor when they visit. We are no longer afraid that we have nothing to offer them. They have told us they want to learn about our history, our traditions, and our ways of honoring our elderly and respecting the earth that is so central to our daily survival. They have sent a big container to use when they come. When it is opened, we expect many items necessary for the big sports day activity that we will all share. We know there will be seeds to plant for the garden the American science teacher is organizing. All our learners will have sports shoes, because the Americans sent enough for the entire community. Together, the students from both schools will participate in a big sports day. We will use all of the equipment they have brought and plan to leave here. They will be proud of the classrooms we built with the money they sent, and we will be able to show them the audit trail of the money, because we have been taught how to manage our accounting records for them. Finally, they will meet many of the orphans their K-8 students raise money to feed each year. The orphans are excited to say thank you in person.

For the American Delegation the Expectations Were Equally High
In July 2008 the people of eSibonisweni will welcome us again. This time it will be different. We are not going as new visitors to their homes. Many of us know them already; that helps the rest of us settle in easily. We have activities planned to learn from each other. We are setting up a garden that mirrors one we have here exactly. We will be able to follow the way the seeds grow differently in their environment and use that information for our science classes. We are also learning about elephant dung as fertilizer so that we can share some common knowledge of fertilization with them and think about it in relation to resources they have. It will be exciting to see the transition in their facilities after all the building projects they've done. For those of us who have gone already, we know our partners live very different lives from us. We have seen the orphan groups that live with one generous elder, sometimes without shelter. We have done our best to send resources for their meals during the school day and even during the vacation breaks. In fact, the food money is raised by our students. Other members of our community have shared different expertise and resources for building, entrepreneurship, and education but it is the Saint Mark's students who have fed the orphans for the last four years.

Writing the Future

July 2001 was the start of it all: Jennifer Getz's first visit to eSibonisweni and her vow to help children in extreme poverty improve their lives. July 2005 was the summer that eduWeavers was born in concept; 2008 will be the year that eduWeavers is formally incorporated as a non-profit organization dedicated to creating and/or leveraging global and local partnerships between schools with common goals. Between 2002 and 2008 a team of knowledgeable, passionate, and dedicated educators with both business savvy and a social conscience, inspired by Jennifer Getz, has coalesced to make the concept a reality.

The initial partnership between Saint Mark's School and eSibonisweni Primary School epitomizes the reciprocal benefits of partnership:

  • The Saint Mark's/eSibonisweni partnership has raised $162,000 that has built eight classrooms, provided long-term nutrition and housing funding for AIDS orphans, and provided other resources requested by the eSibonisweni community.
  • Four hundred AIDS orphans are fed monthly by the students of Saint Mark's school.
  • Saint Mark's has committed to raising an emergency food fund for the entire school community to ensure school lunch delivery when local, bureaucratic systems break down and the state-sponsored school lunch program becomes erratic.
  • Three international trips have brought Americans to South Africa; one Saint Mark's-sponsored trip will bring Jubilee Tembe, Principal of eSibonisweni, a teacher, and student to Saint Mark's in October 2008.
  • Curriculum was shared between Saint Mark's/eSibonisweni schools during the school-to-school exchange in July 2008. Students in both communities will work within this curriculum to develop a more powerful partnership and explore the concept of transitional justice. Initial projects, like human anatomy lessons, support the general curriculum, but now an additional component that supports global awareness and understanding is added; for example, discussions about the similarities of human anatomy across the globe.
  • Through access via eduWeavers' business relationship with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), Saint Mark's raised enough money to send 80 OLPC laptop computers to eSibonisweni. These laptops will enrich the learners' lives and the Saint Mark's/eSibonisweni partnership. OLPC is interested in discussing further opportunities with eduWeavers to provide partner schools with laptop computers. eduWeavers has arranged professional development for teachers to learn to use the computers as a teaching tool in their classrooms.

eduWeavers is in a unique position to create and foster sustainable, global partnerships between schools. Our experiences in the field allow us to extrapolate beyond the partnerships we already service between the United States and South Africa. eduWeavers consulting offers the level of expertise necessary to take a school's vision of global education and make it a reality. We not only offer schools access to potential partner schools, we can offer schools insight into developing their already existing relationships further. Importantly, once a vision becomes a relationship or a relationship becomes stronger, eduWeavers can offer the benefit of accreditation through the Accredited eduWeavers School-to-School Partnership Program.

  • eduWeavers has consulted with schools nationwide on developing a partnership and/or transitioning from a philanthropically-driven relationship to a partnership.
  • eduWeavers has a deep and rich network of contacts in place in South Africa, including:
    1) Ashoka fellows running award-winning, non-profit organizations dedicated to the success of students and communities in the local areas of our schools;
    2) government ministers; and
    3) executives in several of the most influential South African businesses who are interested in fostering relationships between South Africans and Americans.
  • eduWeavers has a successful process in place to match schools based upon common goals and interests.
  • Presentations at the NAIS Annual Conference in Denver in 2007 and at the CAIS Heads and Trustees Conference in San Francisco in 2008 have generated a group of American schools committed to creating school-to-school partnerships to meet global sustainability and outreach objectives set by their mission statements.
  • eduWeavers has experience documenting the relationship between schools for a variety of purposes: curriculum development, marketing, and documentary film making. A visionary oral history project between American and South African high school students is currently in its final stages of being made into a movie for educators interested in the concept of transitional justice.