Reading, Writing & Ubuntu

Written by: Kristin Priede. Kristin is a certified teacher in Toronto, Ontario. She has been involved with the Leacock Foundation as a volunteer, teacher, and director for almost 6 years, and has made exemplary contributions by connecting students in Toronto with students in South Africa, facilitating important global learning and perspectives. 

I have been a part of the Leacock Foundation for 6 years.  This year will be my sixth summer teaching at the Leap into Literacy summer camp at Woburn Jr PS.  I also volunteered in South Africa, teaching at the Whittlesea campus of the Get Ahead Project for nearly a year.  This past fall I became a program Director for the first time, teaching recreational classes and overseeing Woburn’s Saturday Morning Program in Toronto.  I am full of stories from here to literally the other side of the world, both cute and touching.  I have learned so much as an educator, gained life experiences and made great friends.  I could talk all day long about my experiences with the Leacock Foundation (and those who know me know that I’m not exaggerating, I definitely have the gift of gab) but I will control myself and speak only about my most recent experiences within Woburn’s Saturday Morning Program.kristine blog

To me, what makes the Leacock Foundation unique is the Triangle of Hope partnerships.  Every summer I include at least one African-inspired art project in my programming for Toronto students.  I include two themes in my class, one of which is always South African; learning about life in the Eastern Cape, celebrating Mandela Day and communicating with Get Ahead students.

This year, as Director of the Saturday program, I chose our theme for the year: UbuntuUbuntu means “I am because we are”, and comes from the Xhosa culture in South Africa.  This has been the driving force for our program from September until May and I couldn’t be happier with our results.

During Woburn’s Saturday program, our students had many opportunities to take on new endeavors. Half of the Saturday mornings were dedicated to improving students’ literacy skills and the other half was dedicated to hands-on activities such as woodworking and yoga. Each Saturday morning during the school year, students were placed in small classes and given extra support from their teachers to improve reading and writing to prepare for the stress-inducing EQAO standardized tests. They also learned to find the joy in reading by playing fun literacy-based games.

In the Saturday programming, ubuntu was never far away.  Some early classes were entirely dedicated to teaching an understanding of the concept and the philosophy of ubuntu to the students ranging from grade 1 to 6.  It was wonderful to see them grasp this foreign lesson, place it into their own words, and apply to their own lives.  Ubuntu means community, and we are all members of various communities- our neighbourhood, school, country and so on.


So often, even adults feel we are but one person, what can we do to possibility make a difference in the world?  Children sometimes feel this burden even more- they feel so small in this great big world that they don’t think they are capable of causing change.  A major definition I taught for ubuntu and would review every week, was that we have to stop thinking of ourselves as individuals.  We all need to see ourselves as playing a part in the bigger picture; we are all a part of one community.

Our first project in the spirit of ubuntu was our Little Free Library.  These libraries are appearing all over the world, often on people’s front lawns, full of books, free to anyone in the community.  You don’t have to ask for them or sign them out, it is simply requested that you later either return the book or donate another one.

I was able to get Metro News to donate an old newspaper street box and so we created our Little Free Library!  The principal at Woburn gave us the go-ahead and after painting it we placed it outside the school doors, available 24/7 to anyone in the community. The students have been caring for it and promoting it to their classmates and families ever since. Click HERE to find Woburn Jr. PS  in Scarborough, Ontario on the Little Free Library map.

After Nelson Mandela’s passing, I quickly made some lesson plan changes and we dedicated a Saturday to Mandela.  I wanted the students to gain an understanding of why Mandela was so important and to make connections from him to ourselves, ubuntu and GAP.  Students all chose one of his wonderful quotes for their work, but they each had to first explain the meaning of the quote.  I sat in awe by the end of the class, after listening to 7 year olds explain the lessons Mandela was conveying in their own words.

Another way we reinforced ubuntu, was to have students pull a ‘random act of kindness’ act out of a hat each week.  This one task was their homework for the week and included simple jobs like thanking their teacher or helping their parents make dinner or inviting someone new to play with them at recess. As I said, children feel small and unable to make change, so these acts were ways in which they can cause a greater difference in small, manageable ways.  If one person smiles at you, or says photo mandelakind words, you then feel happy and will likely pay it forward in a small way such as holding a door for someone, and this will cause a positive ripple effect.  Whereas if you were to snap at a friend, they would then be angry and likely be rude to another friend and so on.

Ubuntu isn’t about ending world hunger or saving the planet, it is about being a positive member of a community and causing happiness in any way possible. The students have embraced this.

In my opinion, the Triangle of Hope can be explained best by Nelson Mandela;

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.

Our students are having fun learning a variety of new skills to make them well-rounded individuals, giving them all a good head.  Our connection to South Africa and learning the importance of ubuntu is ensuring the students all have good hearts. Add the dedicated focus on literacy, well, as Mandela said, then you have something very special.

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