May 8, 2003 - Nevada City Union: Beverly Cantrill serves in a South African township

Peace Corps Online: Directory: South Africa: Peace Corps South Africa : The Peace Corps in South Africa: May 8, 2003 - Nevada City Union: Beverly Cantrill serves in a South African township

By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 10:46 am: Edit Post

Beverly Cantrill serves in a South African township

Beverly Cantrill serves in a South African township

Local did her part to help world

David Mirhadi

At an age when many would be renewing their AARP memberships, Beverly Cantrill was in a South African township, teaching hungry minds the English language in windowless classrooms with no heat.

But in her two years with the Peace Corps, the Grass Valley resident learned that her South African students didn't need American comforts to hone their minds.

In many cases, the experience for Cantrill, 60, was downright primitive. Some classes held as many as 50 students in a single room. They had no playground equipment to speak of, often spending their free time playing jump rope with pieces of salvaged string, as some of the girls played jacks with rocks and broken glass on a dirt playground.

When it came time to spruce up the school near the village of Glenmore - a two-day taxi trip from Swaziland, a landlocked kingdom within South Africa, near the Mozambique border - teachers and students melted candles over an open fire and mixed them with kerosene to wax the concrete floors.

For two years, beginning in June 2000, Cantrill, a former teacher at Union Hill and Pleasant Ridge schools, traded in the lifestyle of a 21st century American for that of a village dweller, where paved roads were luxuries.

The first South Africa Peace Corps volunteers arrived in May 1997.

For Cantrill, a 1960 Nevada Union graduate who once accompanied her then-high school aged daughter on a trip to Germany, the Peace Corps turned out to be a lot more than the images she saw on television.

"I had perceived South Africa as black vs. white," she said.

What she found was a warm, engaging people who sent their children to schools taught by overworked and underpaid teachers.

"I realized many of the children hadn't learned their multiplication tables, and most of the teachers hadn't, either."

While there, Cantrill worked to set up libraries with tables of books.

"People would tell me, 'This is not a reading culture,' and I found that not to be true," she said. South Africa's literacy rate hovers around 84 percent, according to various estimates.

So, she read them "Curious George" and Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" to stoke their literary fires.

She lived in a small home with a man and his granddaughter, who gave birth to a child while she was there.

In her spare time, she introduced her adopted family to Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween, a holiday which mystified the locals.

"It made me so homesick. It got me thinking of Nevada County's autumns and I got so sad. I was told, 'we don't light fires in our pumpkins.' "

Back in Nevada County, Cantrill realizes she has too many shoes and too many creature comforts her friends did without.

"I'd like to go back to see if they've made any progress. I know I didn't save the world, but it's a process."

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Story Source: Nevada City Union

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - South Africa; Older Volunteers



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