Tlamelang workshop – and Covid

With some delay, the three vehicles arrive at the Magaliesburg Retreat Resort on Monday afternoon (03.01.22). There are a total of 26 participants who went to the Tlamelang workshop at the beginning of this new year and thus even one more participant than we had expected.

At the beginning Christel gives us four questions with which we look back on the past year. After a period of personal silence, there is a time of sharing in two groups. Tears flow and the allotted time is far from being enough. Many remember the deaths of Itsholeng and Kesentseng. One participant had already lost her husband to COVID 19 in 2020. Others report how their children or close relatives’ drug addiction afflicts them and how they tyrannize the family through their destructive behavior. Even if it’s difficult, it’s good to share the painful experiences.

We had planned for the first evening that everyone would write their burdens from the previous year on a piece of paper and then symbolically throw them into a fire with singing and dancing. Because of a thunderstorm this has to be postponed until the next evening. It is then a very impressive experience. The loud singing of the choruses is a noticeable hold and you can see how many completely lose themselves in it. My heart also becomes lighter when I throw my filled-up paper into the fire.

After the rain of the first night, a clear sky awaits us the next morning. So we can go on our hike to the nearby mountain. Two have to turn back after the first stage and Christel had to stay at home because of her knee problems. The relatively cool air is good for us. For some, climbing a mountain is almost something of a spiritual experience. After that there is still time for a little water polo in one of the pools.

In the afternoon we introduce the lessons for the After School Centers, which are to be practiced at this workshop. Christel presents a booklet of the Bible Society in which learning to read and write is combined with telling biblical stories. We were able to deal with the first five of the 23 lessons in this workshop.

I demonstrate the first of the five revised nutrition lessons. The aim of these lessons is to make it easy for the children to understand what a healthy diet is. That is pretty idealistic, because fruits and vegetables are becoming more and more expensive here and many children hardly know many types of vegetables. The typical diet here is very carbohydrate / fat and meat-heavy.

The third day begins with my introduction into mediation on John 21, 15-19. After a time of individual silence there is another moving time of sharing in two groups. The rest of the day is devoted to teaching each other in groups. There are eight groups. Each group demonstrates a lesson to another. Then there is feedback from the group that received the lesson and a mentor. Then the roles are swapped. To experience this mutual teaching is a sometimes sobering aha experience for Christel and me. It becomes very clear where things are stuck in understanding and teaching and is therefore of course helpful.

In the evening the hot topic is: How can we change our attitude towards teaching? Christel succeeds in getting the participants, who come from nine of our ten Afterschool Centers, to talk about the influences that can lead to a lack of commitment in teaching. It becomes clear that among them is tension among the childcare workers, the listlessness of the children and a lack of communication with the schools. Chairperson Stephen Modisane’s contributions are very helpful. He tells how he recently met the parents of two children he had taught in the After School program years ago. They said that after completing their studies these children are now qualified teachers and thanked him wholeheartedly that he had put them on the right track with his commitment. “If we achieve that for one in ten …”

The Bible study on the morning of the fourth day is about the minister from Ethiopia (Acts 8) and especially about Phillip’s famous question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” If we teach the children to read, then, like Philip, we can become messengers of God for them, opening up an understanding of the world and of God’s message for them.

Then there is mutual teaching again – this time it’s about phonograms and reading short stories. I also show them the new Guidelines for Antiretroviral Treatment, where a new drug (Dolutegravir) has been introduced, present a lesson on Cervical Cancer and a comparison of the Corona and HIV Pandemic.

The workshop ends with a long service, where most participants contribute with a short sermon. We do the evaluation according to the tried and tested CIS scheme: Comment – Intercession – Suggestion. Whoever receives the ball of wool, after his / her comments on the course of the workshop, chooses one participant to whom he / she says what he / she will pray for. It is moving to see how many people take in what they heard at the sharing sessions.

The comments are marked by great gratitude for the program and criticism of the conference venue. After each thunderstorm water would come through the roof and flow into the meeting hall and even into one of the bedrooms. Only after repeated requests the manager of the center allocated a new room for them. In addition, after each thunderstorm we experienced power outages of variable duration. All these obstacles were endured by the participants with amazing patience but the wish for a better venue cannot be overheard. The only good thing about Magaliesburg Retreat Resort is the gorgeous natural surroundings. But because of our financial position, it won’t be easy to find something better.

On the second day one of the participants fell ill with a cough and a slight fever. She recovered quickly. Others had all sorts of unspecific symptoms (why I always go to these workshops with heavy loads of medication). On the last day I noticed that I had a cold, which got worse on the way back. When I started to cough, I did a COVID quick test on Saturday, which Undine thankfully had brought from her trip to Germany. It was positive. We informed all participants in the workshop and asked everyone with symptoms to be tested. Christel got a sore throat on Sunday and also tested positive. Besides us, two others have confirmed so far that they are positive and have gone into isolation. Fortunately, all but the two youngest participants were vaccinated.

Wolfgang Hermann


Tlamelang workshop – and Covid