What better way to learn about children from different parts of the world than to experience their culture first-hand? That’s why 15 students taking the Children’s Culture in Context course, part of York’s Children’s Studies Program, are currently in South Africa participating in village life.
Under the direction of Professor Andrea Emberly of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, the students have been soaking up much more than sunshine in Tshakhuma – the village that serves as their primary base – in Limpopo province since they arrived May 9.
Placed at seven different local primary schools, the students are “teaching classes, observing teaching methods, engaging with children and learning about Venda children’s culture,” says Emberly. They have also been involved in various kinds of music making and dancing which is a very big part of Venda culture.
The students exude excitement. “I have never been so excited waking up at 5:45am until now! Every day has been filled with new experiences that I know I will keep in my memories forever,” says Jehd Lunar. “I am continuously learning new things, not only about the culture, but about myself as well. Being here challenges me in more ways than one; it’s definitely the experience of a lifetime.”
Student Gita Singh says, “I’m personally experiencing a whole new context of childhood which I have never witnessed before. The children’s passion for music, dance and learning has motivated me to continue to explore new areas of childhood throughout the rest of my studies.”
The Children’s Culture in Context course focuses on applied learning to support children and young people in communities around the world, which is what the York students are doing in South Africa until June 6 when they fly home. Having the opportunity to experience a different culture and to be immersed in it is proving to be a rewarding experience to the York students.
“It is an amazing experience learning something new each and every day from the children and our host family, which I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” says student Andrea Ayube.
As a whole, the Children’s Studies Program is focused on internationalization and global engagement that examines a child-centred and child’s rights approach to the study of child and youth cultures. As Emberly has been doing research on Venda children’s music in the South African community since 2004, it seemed logical to take a group of students with her. She has worked in collaboration with Mudzunga Junniah Davhula, the course coordinator in South Africa who facilitated the opportunities for the students.
“We are hoping that the students learn about Venda children’s culture, about education in rural South Africa, and about the importance of understanding and respecting cultural context in our global world, especially in regard to children’s cultures considering the emphasis on universal children’s rights,” says Emberly. “During the class, we are problematizing the idea of the universality of childhood by learning first-hand the intricacies and context of children’s lives in contexts outside of Canada.”
The students have also been involved in a massive painting project for one of the primary schools. They are currently painting the entire school – 16 classrooms, three murals, one administration block, one kitchen block and one large hall. Whether it’s painting, dancing, singing, learning about the Venda culture or helping to teach children in the village schools, the York students are embracing it all. They call themselves Team Limpopo.
Nothing “could possibly capture the magnitude of happiness that I feel at this very moment. Being here is an experience that I will never forget,” says student Samar Shaikh. “I came here with the expectation of solely learning about children’s culture; I never expected to gain a new family. This place, the children and my new family will have my heart forever.”