So I’ve been in South Africa for a year now and many people are starting to wonder “Hey Andrew, what have you done?” We know you’ve taken sketchy plane trips and had encounters with Machiavellian old ladies, but isn’t part of Peace Corps supposed to be helping people? A legitimate question indeed. Let me start off by saying that the organizations volunteers are placed with are (for the most part) struggling with basic operations and management. This makes getting things done within the organization very frustrating and oftentimes impossible. One of the advantages of Peace Corps is that volunteers can plan and execute their own secondary projects not involving their organization. One popular secondary project is the World Map Project. The idea started in 1989 when a volunteer in Haiti had the idea to paint a giant world map mural on the side of a building to help students in the local school learn geography. The idea picked up like wildfire and within years hundreds of maps were being done around the world by Peace Corps Volunteers. The map project was something I knew I wanted to do. First of all, anyone who knows me well is aware that I’m obsessed with maps. I could sit for hours in room full of maps and just stare and not get bored. In fact, when I was young, I would sometimes sit and stare at the world map my parents hung on my bedroom wall. The other reason this project was so special to me is that the students here have a HORRIBLE understanding of geography. There are several reasons for this (that I’ll address later) but I felt the map project would fit well with my personal interests and the needs of the community. A HUGE thanks to the lovely Jill Peters who came over to help me with the map. Without her assistance, the entire process would have been much more difficult and I’m pretty sure the students would have learned some new curse words from me while I struggled to finish it. Here are some pictures of the process:
First, you measure out the surface and paint a coat of primer.
I decided to do two maps. One map is of the world, the other of South Africa. I felt the part to whole aspect of doing the country map would help give the learners a sense of scale in relation to the entire world. It may seem like a strange thing, but I’m routinely asked after I’m away for a few days “did you go home to visit America?” When I tell them that I didn’t, the trip to America requires an 18 hour flight, I’ve gotten responses like “Oh. So it’s overseas?” I’ve also been asked on more than one occasion how long the drive to America is.
The next step in painting the map is to paint two coats of ocean blue over the primer. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of this step. After that, you take an overhead projector and project an image of your map onto the surface and trace the map.
After that, we mixed the paint
Then we dab each color on the country to color it.
After that, we paint the countries completely.
I had my host brother, Sandiso come in and help with a little bit of it. I think he liked it.
Then the students help paint the South Africa Map
So I feel like I have to offer some sort of justification for the general lack of knowledge regarding geography on the part of rural South Africans. During Apartheid, black South Africans were given very specific restraints as to where they could and could not go. Any deviation in these restraints was met with brutal punishment. The result was a lack of curiosity as to what lay beyond their village, country or continent. Even though Apartheid has been gone for twenty years now, the nasty legacy of its policies continue. There is also a bit of a practicality aspect. For many rural South Africans, their entire worldview exists only in their village, and occasional trips to large cities like Durban or Johannesburg. It’s a very contained and isolated world where maps and travel have no real role or use. Even still, the changing geopolitical climate necessitates a broader worldview for the next generation of South Africans, and (in my opinion) showing the next generation that there is a wider world beyond South Africa is a good first step in broadening their horizons.