The other week we went to a lot of schools to do our Nonviolence/Humane education for the kiddies. The one that sticks out in my mind was one in Gugalethu where the principal thought it might be nice for about 8 classes to see our presentation all at once (we usually do one class at a time).
We do a puppet show for the younger kids. The main characters are a girl called Thandi, her friend whose name I forget, and her dog named Spotty, who also has a friend with a name I forget. The basic plot line of the puppet show is that Thandi and her friend work together to take good care of Spotty and his friend, and everyone treats each other nicely and respects one another, etc. The idea behind the idea behind the puppet show is to try and ingrain the idea of nonviolent problem-solving amongst township youngsters, especially when it comes to the care of their pets. It’s a lot of fun for me to do the puppets, and the kids dance around to our song at the end of the puppet show.
The dancing is normally quite cute, but on this particular day there were about 200 5-year-olds in one small cement classroom. It was quite a sight to see them all filing in, this never-ending-line of miniature people … kind of like that scene in the one Monty Python movie where the Catholic sends some of his kids away and the line of disowned Catholic kids files along for the entirety of the three-minute song “Every Sperm is Great.”
The problem with 200 kids dancing at once in a small room is the space and the noise. The kids were standing on each other, dancing on tables, standing on chairs, thrashing around raucously, kind of like a kindergarten bar fight. It made me nervous but the teachers seemed to be used to it and smiled benevolently and clapped along. It was every kid for himself, though I saw a few had fallen by the wayside – they had their hands over their ears and were scowling at their peers. You could just tell that the scowlers were headed for a career as librarians.
Most of the schools had far fewer children in the classrooms for our presentation. They were all cute as buttons and looked like they were lapping up the puppet show and the presentation afterwards. I do the puppet show, but Junior does the presentation for the little kids as they’re in Xhosa (the native language; when we do older classrooms they are in English). All I know how to say in Xhosa is “good day, thank you, turn right” and a few other phrases, none of which are useful for a humane education puppet show. (And yes, it is a problem when, giving directions, I can only remember how to say “turn right” and not “turn left.” We come near to getting lost when I am navigating the bakkie.)
It is fun to do the puppet shows and it seems as though the kids really pay attention - shows of any kind do capture small childrens’ attention. But I always wonder what these kids go home to once they leave school. They’re all in their little uniforms, looking spic and span and studious … but even in classrooms a few years older than the kindergarteners there is a conspicuous lack of attendence. (Pardon my spelling.) From other work I’ve done in the townships you know that their home situations often aren’t ideal by any means – even when they have a functional family they have the state of the shack to deal with. I don’t know if the kids can process the “humane treatment of animals” part of our presentation, since they’re so young and have so many other things to deal with. I think that’s why the presentation incorporates the idea of nonviolent problem-solving and working together – in the hope that some of it sticks, and that even just once, one person or one animal has a pleasant moment at the hands of one of these kids.