Message from the ‘Office’
On a personal note:
After much thought and contemplation, I have decided that I would like to share our family’s personal experience of COVID-19 with you, and how its global reach has had an impact on us.
As many of you may know my daughter, Toni was awarded a swimming scholarship to study and swim in the USA at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Her swimming career started in the VP pool! As you read this, I would like you to imagine your own little V.P. girl embarking on the adventure of a lifetime in the not so distant future.
Toni’s COVID-19 experience began during her “Spring Break” while she was with my childhood friend in San Francisco. This friend soon turned into my Angel Friend. While there, Toni was suddenly informed that she had to fly back to La Salle University and evacuate her residence within three days. We booked her a flight back to Philadelphia and she hastily packed all her stuff. She booked into a hotel and managed to book her a flight home via Doha; this would only leave three days later.
She caught an Uber to the hotel and then phoned us in a panic to let us know that she had left her student card, bank card and cellphone in the Uber. Enter our Angel Friend in San Francisco… who somehow solved this and managed to contact the Uber driver and it was returned to her.
On the night that she was meant to fly back to South Africa we got a call in the early hours to tell us that the flight had been cancelled. We tried to find all sorts of ways to get her to Doha from where she would have flown home but with no luck. In hindsight this was a blessing as we heard that those who did get there, spent over a week stuck at the airport. I am more than certain that Toni would have found this beyond stressful.
Enter our Angel Friend again, who simply said to me, “That’s it! Send her back, she’s had enough trauma!”. So she flew back to San Francisco. Please bear in mind that my little girl was born and bred in Grahamstown, she is not at all a globetrotter. Toni spent six weeks in San Francisco with my Angel Friend and her family. She was happy there but she was still very homesick and longed to be back on South African soil.
Having registered her as a South African stranded abroad with DIRCO we received an email to say that they were planning three repatriation flights from Washington, USA to South Africa. Then followed the big debate about whether we risk putting her on yet another flight, one to Washington and then the flight home. (The cost of which was enough to cause panic). We asked ourselves questions like, will they open our borders soon and could we then put her on a normal flight? Will we only be able to fly her home next year? We had no way of knowing what would happen.
In the end we decided that we could not take the chance of her only being able to return next year and booked her on a flight. This, in itself was stressful as even after paying, we could not get any confirmation that she had a ticket and that she was on the flight. Now she ran the risk of being stranded in Washington. In comes our Angel Friend yet again who happens to have a cousin who lives in Washington and arranged a “Plan B” if Toni became stranded there.
Kevin, my husband, managed to find a contact at SAA and emailed them the night before she was due to leave, and they responded quickly and confirmed her ticket number. This was such a relief. Toni set off for her first leg of her flight to SA. So far, so good. She managed to get on the plane. I later read that she was one of the lucky ones, as many who paid did not get on the flight and found themselves stranded in Washington. I can only hope that they too had an Angel Friend with a “Plan B”.
Toni phoned us to say that she was on the flight and all was well. We were so relieved. She then phoned about a half an hour later to say the plane’s battery was not working and needed charging and that they were not sure how long it would take! They added that if any passengers had a connecting flight it may be a problem. I phoned my Angel Friend and she phoned the Washington airport in tears and begged them to get the flight to wait for Toni stressing to them that this little girl couldn’t possibly take any more.
I debated whether I should update my mother at this stage. She hadn’t slept properly since Toni had left for the USA, but I decided that she needed to know. My Mom’s reply was that, “she just needs to plug it in the charger”. Not having a good sense of humour at the time I said, “What Mom, do you think I must phone the airport in San Francisco and tell them how to charge their plane’s battery?’ She later explained that she thought Toni’s cell phone battery had died. We all had a chuckle about that afterwards.
We were very anxious that she wouldn’t catch her connecting flight but we had to remember that we had “Plan B” just in case. Finally, they took off and landed in Washington five hours later. On arrival, she phoned us in tears because she couldn’t find the baggage pickup and that she felt like she was walking in circles. “Ask someone!” I pleaded but she said their airport was pretty much deserted. I had to understand the anxiety she was feeling. Will she miss the flight because she couldn’t find her luggage? She found it, and made it onto the flight and told me she was so excited to hear all the South African accents and languages again. Finally, we all slept.
Toni phoned us when she landed in Joburg and we all celebrated. She is home. They got on buses and they now had to prepare for two weeks of quarantine. We waited and wondered where she would be sent. Would the accommodation be safe? Will she go mad with only her own company? Is she up to yet another challenge? How much more can my little girl take? An hour went by, two hours, three hours. Eventually after five hours she phoned. They were still waiting in the bus at the airport. She’s hungry and tired. How can this be? I am sharing this to let you know that despite being through a very challenging and scary time, the tale ended happily. I am with her now. After nine days in quarantine (in a very nice and safe quarantine hotel), she was tested and declared negative for the Covid-19 virus and released. After much effort to get the documents to travel to fetch her, we set off to Gauteng. The roadblocks were scary but the police were kind and we finally got to her.
It’s been a hard 2020 for many. Mr Greyling asked if we could fast forward to 2021. It won’t be a year fondly remembered, not by my Toni in particular, but she has been brave and I am extremely proud of her. I would never have chosen to have put her through what she went through but God often has other plans. I know by the tears and deep hug I received when we finally got to her, that she has experienced much hardship, but I also know that, although she may come out of this with some scars, she will also realise just how very strong she actually is. No, maybe not quite yet, she’s still fragile, but maybe when she next faces a challenge she’ll find that deep strength again.
As a mom I realised that we can’t always shield our children from life, and maybe we aren’t always meant to, but that they are certainly much stronger than we ever give them credit for. It is so important that we bring up our girls to have an awareness of their inner strength without losing their ability to have empathy and compassion. So my long story somehow links to our theme on resilience. We as parents need to be resilient too when we don’t want to “let go” of certain things and we need to allow our children to learn that they too have the strength of resilience within themselves. Also from my side I would like to say to you, enjoy your precious little girls while you have them safely in your care.
Now back to … Official Business:
At this stage the SMT will still not be returning to work. But I continue to hope that it will happen soon. We await the Minister of Education’s address on Monday for further updates. This week we were required to submit a report to our EDO at the Education Department on how we are continuing to ensure that our pupils are receiving work and are kept up to date. I was disheartened to note that a number of schools have either simply told their pupils to work in their blue department books or have not supplied their pupils with any work, because they have been unable to communicate with their parents during lockdown.
My objective is not to judge how other schools have navigated lockdown as not all schools and parents of the resources that we do, but to take this opportunity to express my thanks to our teachers who have endeavored to send work home so that our girls are able to continue with their learning. When I view the various worksheets from the different phases and grades it’s clear that a lot of effort has been put into making sure the work is interesting and manageable at home. We have adjusted our methods and layouts as we learn along the way too. I know that it is tiresome and sometimes draining for the parents to get their daughters to work but it is essential that they do. Your girls are very fortunate that they are able to receive work and keep the momentum going. We cannot possibly stop working and expect all to be okay once we return. It is essential that your daughters are disciplined about doing their work.
Unfortunately, especially in the higher grades, some girls may only work when they fear getting into trouble or getting demerits and this deterrent is no longer there. Our girls have to learn self-discipline and self-motivation, if they don’t, these weeks away from school are going to cause great gaps in their academic work and progress, and they will find their return to school very overwhelming. Please parents, I appeal to you to continue helping your daughter manage her work and tick off what she’s done and encourage her to complete what she hasn’t. We are all in a very difficult situation but our girls need to do their bit to ensure that they keep up with their school work.
I want to express my sincere thanks to all you wonderful parents too, for guiding your daughters tirelessly to keep on track and not fall behind. Although the thought of no work given for six weeks may sound like a dream, it actually isn’t. It is very sad. Let’s make the most of our opportunities and the position we are in. If our girls continue to work hard and follow what is sent home, the impact of the lockdown will be salvageable. If our girls don’t, it will be detrimental. This is one of those non-negotiables. Girls must complete their work and they are very fortunate that they are in the position to do so. They will learn essential life skills along the way too.
Much love to you all, keep strong and resilient,
Mrs Michelle Rafferty
Thank you to our many parents who have expressed their thanks to our teachers. They too are motivated by a pat on the back and we all enjoy feeling appreciated. I have shared some below:
A couple of Whatsapp messages:
“Thank u so much …it’s not just our kids who are learning here but also as parents we are learning a lot we are so grateful and humbled…”
“Thank you so much, we really appreciate your efforts and enjoying doing tasks with our daughters.”
Pre-primary girls enjoying Home schooling