Greetings from South Africa!

This is the first report from Athenian’s delegates at the Round Square Conference in South Africa.

Greetings from South Africa!  It is our first full day at Tiger Kloof, the Round Square school that is hosting our pre-conference trip.  The other school with us is Daly College in India.  The students at Tiger Kloof are almost entirely black South Africans of the Tswana tribe.  We are close to Botswana and the last two presidents of Botswana are alums of Tiger Kloof.

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Half of the Tigers, as the students are called, board and we just finished having breakfast with them.  The Athenian and Daly College students spread out, one to each table.  It was a treat to see the animated conversations between our students and the students at Tiger Kloof.  After breakfast the adults in our group headed to the teachers meeting that happens every morning at 7:10am.  All of the teachers had paper pads out to take notes; there was not a single laptop or Ipad in sight.  As I write, our students are sitting in on classes.  This afternoon we will go serve lunch at a soup kitchen and paint the walls of a local preschool.

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We arrived in South Africa 48 hours ago.  After a furious round of changing money and clothes in the airport, we headed to the far side of Johannesburg and Soweto.  Our first stop was the Hector Pieterson Museum.  Hector was killed at the age of 13 in 1976 when the police fired on Soweto students who were protesting the imposition of Afrikaans language in their schools.  176 or more students were killed that day and the Soweto uprising was a turning point in the struggle to end apartheid.  We learned about the uprising in general, walked the path that some of the students took that day, and visited the spot where Hector was shot.  I was in a reverie watching daily life in Soweto—uniformed students chatting as they wandered back to high school after lunch, two elderly women leaning against a fence catching up, the pale blue sky above the large dumps of rock from the gold mines.  Walking on, we saw Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu’s homes.  These two future Nobel Peace Prize winners lived four doors from each other in Soweto!

By mid-afternoon on Wednesday, our energy was lagging.  The last time we had slept in a bed was Sunday night.  We had one more plane to catch that day, this one to Kimberley—where diamonds were discovered in 1866.  Here we met up with our Tiger Kloof hosts and the Daly College delegates.

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Our journey yesterday from Kimberly to Tiger Kloof was filled with history.  We visited the Big Hole in Kimberley.  This huge 1,000 meter hole was dug by hand in the mining of diamonds.  The buildings of historic Kimberley are persevered in a neighborhood next to the mine.  From there we drove along the edge of the Kalahari Desert to the Wonderworks Cave.  Inside the cave is the oldest evidence of controlled fire.  Or in the words of one of the Tiger Kloof teachers, “this is the site of the world’s first braai” (South African for B-B-Que).   The large cave extends a couple hundreds yards into the mountain and its roof is black with soot from the  fires of many millennium.  We also saw cave paintings, some of which are over 10,000 years old.  Our final stop was the Moffat Mission.  This was on the missionary road from Cape Town north into the interior of Africa.  Here, Robert Moffat translated and printed the first Bible in an African language, Tswana in this case.  The printing press still works after 150 years.  The famous explorer and missionary David Livingstone married Robert Moffat’s daughter and lived here for many years as well.  And Tiger Kloof originally was founded here in the 1880s before moving to its present site when the railroad from Kimberley displaced the missionary road as the main transportation artery.

All is well here.  I have to run off for a tour of Tiger Kloof by some students.

–Mark Friedman, Director of Round Square and Community Service