Posted by: teachingintanzania | November 15, 2010

The Day of the Lizard

I was walking back from the classrooms two weeks ago when I noticed a large group of students gathered behind Tumaini dormitory (the name means Hope).  Being curious, I went over to find out what was going on. As I drew closer I could see that everyone was standing around a large pit that happens to be behind the dorm.  Two of the non-teaching staff members where furiously digging at the side of the pit. “Snake! said one of the students, looking at my bewildered expression and pointing at the frantically digging men. “They want to kill it!” She herself was holding a large rock in her hands. I noticed many of the students holding rocks and sticks, apparently ready to defend themselves or join the fight against the big reptile. This would be the first snake I had yet to see in Tanzania. I wondered if it was poisonous and how it would react to these men collapsing its hiding place with sticks and shovels. I decided to stay with some apprehension, not wanting to be part of the scene of chaos I could see was coming if the snake, angry or terrified, decided to make a break for it.

A few minutes later there was a sudden commotion when a creature burst out of the pit, closely followed by the two staff members and many screams, stones and sticks. It had not been a snake after all, but a large monitor lizard and the poor thing was now running for its life.  It tore off into the bush and I thought, well, that’s the last we’ll see of the lizard. I imagined everyone would quickly lose steam chasing it in the bushes. But to my surprise, everyone had murderous expressions on their faces and continued to hunt the lizard, hurling stones and sticks at it until they had it successfully cornered. By now I was wondering why anyone was bothering to chase it at all. It wasn’t a highly poisonous snake. I knew the girls were afraid of the lizards but that was no reason to try and kill it. Then another staff member, the school Matron, appeared. She held an enormous branch in her hands and screamed bloody murder as she tried to crush the lizard’s scull against a rock where someone had now flung it by its tail. There was a huge crowd by this point and lots of noise. The scene playing out before me reminded me of Lord of the Flies. I realized this was definitely the wrong lesson to teach these girls. We shouldn’t promote killing things just because we fear them. So I opened my mouth for the first time, yelling for people to stop and saying that the poor lizard wouldn’t hurt anyone, why were they trying to kill it? I was obviously the only person present who didn’t want the thing dead and everyone took two seconds to look at me with blank stares. The matron was yelling that they were VERY dangerous and that they eat chicken eggs. I had forgotten that she raised chickens nearby the school for an added source of income. But I felt angry. This was silly. The lizard wasn’t actually dangerous to humans and if it ate eggs it was only because it could easily gain entry into the chicken coop. Why didn’t they just make it more secure? By now the poor lizard was slowly dying of its many wounds. I spun on my heels and stormed off muttering about ignorance and stupidity under my breath. I think I shocked a lot of people who couldn’t understand why I had reacted so strongly to a lizard, but to me it was just cruel mob mentality.

I’ve thought about my actions quite a lot since then. The scene I caused in those five minutes had the potential to alienate me in the community in a way that I couldn’t foresee and erode the relationships I had worked so carefully to build with students and colleagues. For example, the matron avoided me for quite a while. No more dinner invitations to her house. I thought she was likely angry at me for openly disagreeing with her and acting rudely.  I worried that I had deeply damaged a very good working relationship and friendship that we had developed.  She later admitted that my reaction had made her feel ashamed. Thankfully we were able to have a frank conversation about it a few days ago and have smoothed things over.

I’ve also thought about the role that culture plays in events like this. I’ve been watching nature shows that preach how wonderful reptiles are and how many of them are endangered and require space and protection. In truth,  would be more apt to try and take a picture of a lizard to savour the moment than anything else. My students and colleagues certainly wouldn’t have grown up with the same influences. And those eggs, insignificant as they might have seemed to me, were precious income and food on the table to the Matron. Perhaps money to fix the chicken coop was not within her means. Easier to kill the predator for free with blunt force trauma to the head.  Still, I did hope that some of the students would have taken note. I hoped that someone would have asked themselves why this was really necessary.

Jonathan and I talked about this when he visited. It’s common that volunteers feel their values come into conflict with the values of those in their placement country. He suggested that the best thing to do was simply to strive to understand why you’re feeling upset and remember that one person can’t change the culture of a whole country. Sometimes you just have to walk away. It might not be worth jeopardizing your placement to stand up for personal values and principles that don’t apply in this context.  If you have to do battle, pick those battles very carefully. .. .

Trying to control my gut reactions to things has been difficult and I can think of one other significant example, this time not involving animals but students. I was highly aware of my heart beating in my chest and feeling horrified the one day that students were being caned by a teacher because they were turning up late to assembly (only because they were finishing chores elsewhere that they would be punished for if left unfinished; a rock and hard place if you ask me). I don’t agree with hitting students but its part and parcel of most schools in Tanzania. I managed to keep calm that day, despite how I felt. I calmly stated my objections to the staff and hoped someone would listen. But I knew I couldn’t order them to stop.

So, if you were in my shoes, what would you have done?

Posted by: teachingintanzania | November 2, 2010

Health – hilo nalo neno (that is the issue)

Student health is a daily burden on my psyche.  The issues are varied; everything from students faking illness to get out of class, students suffering from serious ailments while we are at least an hour from a real health care facility and don’t have a school vehicle, to the general lack of medical and first aid common sense among staff, students and community health providers. It’s difficult to describe all the events that have horrified and bewildered me since arriving here but let me try to explain.

A student fell into the well during my first three weeks at the school. She had fallen awkwardly, hurting her leg in the process and couldn’t walk. Staff decided to take her to the dispensary (the local health care facility which has a few beds, medication sometimes, and a poorly trained ‘doctor’ who I believe has a certificate in health from somewhere….) But we had no vehicle to transport her there. We also have no first aid kit at the school. Not even any Ibuprofen or Tylenol on hand. So the students had to take turns carrying her down the road in the heat of the day. Thankfully the dispensary is only about 1km away. But I kept asking myself, what if she had hit her head? We would have had no way to rush her to hospital!

Since arriving, I’ve noticed a large number of students have strange skin infections. I believe, for some of them, it’s ring worm. Others I’m not sure about. They go to the dispensary and receive injections or powders but the problems don’t seem to clear up. This weekend, a student who I know has had a terrible infection on her foot for a couple weeks was writhing in agony. I could see the infection had spread to both of her feet now.  I took a look at her ‘medication’. It was penicillin powder.  I asked her what the doctor had told her was wrong with her foot. She said it was a fungal infection. So how, I wondered, was this powder supposed to clear up a fungus? I ended up calling the School Manager, who was away on business in Dar es Salaam and asked him to bring some anti-fungal meds back with him the following day. What kind of doctor gives an antibiotic for a fungal infection?

A student badly burned herself on hot porridge about three weeks ago. The cook, a man in his forties, told her to put sugar on the second degree burn! When we found out we took her to the dispensary for proper treatment. But I’m not surprised. Everyone seems to have homemade remedies for things and very little actual common sense when it comes to cuts, burns, infections, diseases, etc.

Today, I noticed that 20 students were lined up to go with the Matron to the dispensary. I asked, “What’s wrong with all of you?” They said UTI (urinary tract infection). Well honestly, there’s no way that all of them suddenly developed UTI’s on the same day. And it’s convenient that they get to miss physics to go to the dispensary. I couldn’t help but frown. If the doctor had some simple diagnostic tools, he would quickly dismiss them all as liars or find out what was really potentially wrong. For example, we had a girl who everyone said was suffering from a bad UTI for over a month. She was treated with antibiotics continuously with no improvement. She was so uncomfortable for so long that she thought she was never going to recover. She had actually given up hope that she could be treated. They finally drove her to the hospital and discovered it was a raging yeast infection. The poor girl had been in agony with the wrong diagnosis for weeks.

Some of the girls here are extremely tough. They don’t let on that they’re feeling sick. Some however, are better than Hollywood actresses, feigning unconsciousness and possessions from demons, etc. I never know what to believe. One girl had a headache and said she was feeling a bit sick. I touched her forehead and realized she had a fever. She said it was nothing. She ended up going to the dispensary just as a precaution and was diagnosed with malaria. Another girl had some stomach pain and diarrhoea and pretended to be unconscious for 4 hours, refusing to talk or walk, so we had to carry her to the dispensary in the middle on the night and wake the doctor up at his house to come and check her. It was ridiculous. A couple hours later she walked back to the school herself, talking and laughing.  They don’t even realize that their pretending doesn’t add up medically. But the staff can’t discern it.

If students go to the dispensary, they receive an injection for everything. Skin infection? Injection. Stomach ache? Injection.  UTI?  Injection.  Bruised hip? Injection.  And no one asks what’s in those needles. What exactly are they being treated with?

Overall, it’s a daily frustration for me. I have to remind myself, this is Tanzania. I can’t have the same expectations that I would at home. But all the ‘what if’s’ plague me. I don’t see any immediate solutions either. The dispensary is our only source of medical care and we are ill equipped with sense and equipment. Silently, I’m just praying I don’t get sick myself. So far I’ve been very lucky. Fingers crossed.



Posted by: teachingintanzania | October 30, 2010

Teacher Training Thus Far

The Headmaster, School Manager and I have been planning and running teacher training workshops for a few weeks now. The staff have responded very well and we have received quite a bit of positive feedback from them, which is very encouraging. I’ve also realized, often with quite a jolt, how little training the average teacher does receive in Tanzania. For example, they do not know anything about special needs, they do not generally do more than talk and write on the board, they  usually give only paper and pencil tests with no other forms of assessment and they have not been encouraged to reflect on their teaching practice. In short, if students do not succeed in their classes, it is simply because the student is ‘dull’. Survival of the fittest is the name of the game.  Students are supposed to struggle as they say. It is a normal part of education in Tanzania. So we are trying to break the cycle and change the teaching culture at our school. We are also trying to encourage staff to take the initiative in working with students outside of class time, both to offer extra help and co-curriculars. We are a boarding school after all. Yet their contracts specify working hours from 8am to 4pm and weekends off. I’m not sure whose bright idea it was to put that in there! So changing teachers’ attitudes toward work is a bit of an uphill battle.

The challenge is that our school has been charged with producing excellent results on the national exams next year. We are supposed to be a model school. We are supposed to have a science and math focus. Yet, there is a severe lack of competence in the classroom. We are still lacking teaching materials (for example, we have little apparatus and no chemicals in the laboratories). So the pressure is on. I think the Headmaster feels the full weight of this, but thankfully he is quite ambitious and sets his standards high. For example, he has laid down a rigorous schedule of running workshops five days a week, however due to various events and absences (recent elections, births of babies, health issues, power outages, etc) we’ve had quite a few days off.

I’m hopeful that change will take place slowly but surely. I think it’s a matter of getting teachers to see students as individuals who deserve all our efforts and only the best from us. If they start to put some thought and enthusiasm into their teaching, it will make a huge difference.



Posted by: teachingintanzania | October 16, 2010


Yesterday the students were invited by the local Muslim priest to attend a celebration at an Islamic Madrasa down the road from our school. The school Manager explained to me that students from different Madrasas were convening in Nyamisati to celebrate Maulid (the birthday celebration of the Prophet Muhammad) and there would be music and singing. He said the students at the nearby Madrasa had been practicing their routine for more than a month, which suddenly helped me to understand why I had been falling asleep every night to the sound of nearby drumming.

Not all the students were eager to attend but two other staff members and I escorted a large group down the road in the darkness. Events started very late in the evening and unfortunately the organizers were having a problem with their electricity to run the microphones, speakers and lights. Around 8:30 pm we decided to lend them our generator and then waited another hour and a half for things to get rolling. We were a big group, around 63 people, but they laid out mats for the girls and I to sit on. I politely removed my shoes and sat quite comfortably amongst the performers with my students.  We had privileged seats while others in the community had to stand around the perimeter to see. I definitely stuck out, being the only Caucasian and for lack of a proper kanga the girls had helped me to wrap a stripped scarf over my head. A couple people in the crowd were furiously snapping pictures of me. I don’t blame them!

Before leaving the school for the Maulid (It sometimes startles me when I see a picture of myself and realize how pale I am compared to everyone else!)

The celebration was taking place on the side of a dirt road on a patch of sand in front of some small mud buildings. It seemed that most of the village had come out to watch. They had decorated by hanging coloured flags overhead and the students from various Madrasas were dressed nicely in matching clothes. Boys were carefully moistening and tightening the hides of their drums and older students were maneuvering younger ones into orderly lines on the mats. The whole event was fascinating to me. I am so ignorant of Muslim culture. The music consisted of drums, sometimes a flute, singing and dancing. The girls would always be seated in rows and would sway back and forth to the music while the boys would stand and dance in unison. Sometimes the crowd would catch the rhythm and join in. We watched various schools perform until the power suddenly cut out and the crowd was left in darkness. It was about 11:30pm anyway and the girls were desperately tired, so we decided to walk back to the school. It was a marvelous evening.

The gathering crowd.

A group performing in front of us - hence the blurred images of the boys who were swaying to the music. You can see the drums if you look closely.

Students seated beside me. They were wonderful company, answering my questions and teaching me new Swahili words.

I was told today that after they got our generator going again, it had poured rain. But people insisted on staying and finishing their performances. They had, after all, come all this way. Apparently the Maulid didn’t finish until 8am. I’m not sure how the little kids had made it through the night. Many were under 10 years old. There were probably some very exhausted people on dala dalas today.

Hope you enjoy the pictures.



Posted by: teachingintanzania | October 15, 2010

VSO Visitor

On Wednesday this week, another education volunteer arrived for a visit. He has been working in Tanzania for at least five years and I was terribly jealous of his excellent Swahili! Jonathan had been asked to come down to the school to visit me by my program manager at the VSO office in Dar to offer support, feedback, advice, etc. He brought with him a wealth of resources on teaching English that I hope to employ. It was wonderful to bounce ideas off someone who has been in country and knows the ropes. He was mighty impressed with our school and that was also very encouraging.

On the night before he departed, we brought all the girls together so that he could do some activities with them. He termed it ‘Total Physical Response’, meaning that students learn new vocabulary by saying and doing things at the same time. For example, he wrote a list of actions on the board, such as Make a Fist, Clap your Hands, Walk Backward, and then demonstrated each one. He then called out the actions and the whole group would do the action in unison. It was great to watch and the students loved it. The game quickly took on a rhythm and I’ve learned that students here love anything where there is a beat or a song.


Jonathan teaching the students a new game


I was pleased that Jonathan also had some suggestions for how the school could better utilize after school clubs to foster English language acquisition. We’ll be meeting as a staff at some point before the end of November to discuss this topic for the upcoming school year and while I’ve already pitched the ideas to my Headmaster, we’ll see how the rest of the staff respond. I worry about their reactions to things that require longer hours and more work. However, with the resources Jonathan gave us, we would simply be facilitating and students could even work independently or with a student leader. I hope they’ll embrace it with open arms. We’ll see.



Posted by: teachingintanzania | October 11, 2010

Condoms and Chilli Sauce

My current topic in Biology is Health and Immunity. I’ve spent the last two weeks teaching the students about various diseases. I even sent them around the campus to interview the staff about diseases they have had so that they could do some “research” and produce a graph of the information.

Today, we focused on HIV/AIDS. The girls used their text books to find out the meaning of HIV and AIDS, to explain the differences between the two terms, to learn about the modes of transmission, how to avoid infection, etc. Finally we got to the part about how to protect oneself from infection during sexual intercourse. Surprisingly the text book has step by step instructions of how to use a condom properly. I had decided the night before to take the bait and do a demonstration in class using the box of condoms VSO gives all its volunteers. I’ve never actually done the condom demo before. Usually health and physical education teachers tackle that when they discuss contraception. Last night, my housemate and I (another Tanzanian teacher) had a good laugh over what I was going to use as the “mboo” (penis) in my demonstration. The obvious choice would be a banana, but alas, the local bananas are quite small, about a third the size of the ones we can get in Canada. I ended up settling on a bottle of chilli sauce. Hot stuff indeed!

Well, you should have seen their faces today. I don’t think any of the students expected me to actually show them how to use a condom. I passed them out so that every student could see one and then proceeded to do my demo. They were laughing awkwardly and straining to see as they gathered round. When I finished and took it off the bottle I asked if anyone wanted to touch it. They squealed and collectively recoiled like it had actually been used. It was hilarious. I don’t think they’ll ever look at a bottle of chilli sauce the same way again but I hope it got the point across.



Posted by: teachingintanzania | October 10, 2010

An Afternoon of Games

The girls at the school work incredibly hard both in and out of class. They are struggling daily with lessons in English and from the minute they wake up around 5:30 am, while it’s still pitch dark, till before they go to sleep at night, they spend time doing chores. The girls are responsible for washing their clothes, cleaning their dormitories, the classrooms, the dining hall, the dishes, the toilets, the windows of all buildings, and even sweeping the sand around the buildings. They must water the trees that have been planted around the perimeter of the school by carrying buckets of water from the well for quite a distance to the trees. The list is endless.  They spend very little time doing activities or sports. So I decided to gather together five of the prefects and teach them some games that I learned at camp years ago. I was hoping we could take a couple hours and just play; have fun! The prefects rarely do much besides discipline students. This was hopefully giving them the opportunity to take a more pleasant leadership role. Well, on Saturday the prefects organized the afternoon of games. Here are some pictures of the results. I think they had a good time. They ended up playing lots of different games, including many that left me puzzled as to what the objective was… lol. Their games involved lots of singing and clapping and dancing. It was great to watch.



Posted by: teachingintanzania | October 3, 2010

There’s a first for everything

This weekend was the first time I’ve ever had a complete stranger talk to me about his testicles. It was also the first time I’ve ever had a restaurateur so eager for my business that she insisted on applying bug repellent (the lotion kind) by hand to my legs and arms so that my dining experience could be mosquito free. First time I’ve paid money to take a bus only to have it run out of gas twice, overheat once and be too over laden with bodies and charcoal to make it up big hills, thus passengers had to climb out and walk. It’s also the first time I’ve ever been mugged or witnessed a public beating. Yup, this is Tanzania.

It was a weekend full of unexpected events. I was heading into Dar es Salaam to visit a friend and to attend a VSO meeting. The journey there and back is always unpleasant because riding on a dala dala means you sacrifice all comforts for the sake of arriving at your destination. The operators are only concerned with fare money. Even if the 12 seater mini bus has 28 people in it, 6 enormous bags of charcoal, 2 chickens, luggage and buckets of fish, they will pull over and cram in another body waiting on the side of the road. There is no room to move any of your sweaty, dust covered limbs and you feel the gods have blessed you if you’re lucky enough to have a seat. There is simply no dignity on a dala dala.

On this particular Friday I climbed in around noon. Shortly afterward, I could hear the bus was labouring. By the time the heavy bus reached its first steep hill it lurched to a stop and refused to go any further.  Passengers piled out. I watched the bus drive away with moans and jerks up and over the hill. It occurred to me that there was nothing to stop them from continuing on without us. We had already paid the fare and we were in the middle of nowhere. I walked faster. To my relief the bus was waiting for us over the crest of the hill. But I should have realized then that it was a cursed little bus.

About 10 stops and 30 km later, the engine began to sputter and protest. We rolled to a gentle stop at the side of the road, completely out of gas. The conductor walked off and by some miracle came back 30 minutes later with a handful of water bottles filled with petrol. It wasn’t much but that didn’t stop them from picking up more passengers and goods along the way. Of course, we ran out of gas again. This time the conductor arrived with a container of cooking oil. I hoped it had petrol in it. About 10 km later, the engine was making terrible sounds. The driver pulled over again. By this time I was beginning to think of Dar as a far away land that I would never reach. I was ready to scream. The bus had overheated. Steam everywhere. The conductor disappeared again. After another 40 minutes of sweating like a pig with the other passengers in the hot sun, he arrived with some engine oil.  Even on a dala dala, the journey should take about three hours. Five and a half hours later, I reached Dar in a supremely foul mood. It took the comfort of an air conditioned ferry terminal where I waited for my friend to arrive and an ice cream cone to sooth my nerves.

The next day, having eaten some wonderful Indian food in Dar, showered and slept, I was feeling top notch again. The VSO meeting took place in a recently opened pub. The owner was very eager to please. Best customer service and calamari I’ve had in Tanzania. However, we all had an awkward moment when the sun began to set and she came by insisting she apply mosquito repellent to us all individually. Usually fending off mosquitoes is your own responsibility. I tend to carry repellent with me in my purse. But here she was, requesting arms and legs be extended so she could apply it personally. After the first two volunteers gave in under her persistent attempts, the rest of us followed suit with awkward glances and laughs. Who could believe this?

The next day, my friend and I were in the center of Dar. I had my backpack for the weekend, loaded with supplies to take back to Nyamisati, and she carried a plastic bag filled with some clothes and shoes for a game of badminton. I always hate walking around with my bag. It’s like declaring to the world that you’re a tourist. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone approach. He ran up suddenly and tried to snatch my friend’s bag but she held on with a firm grip. They had a bit of a tug of war for a few seconds and we both started to yell. He suddenly let go and took off running. But we had made a scene and men in the street chased after him. Across the road, in a parking lot, they caught up to him and began kicking, punching and beating him with sticks. He was thrown to the ground and a crowd of more than 40 people quickly gathered. My friend and I looked around in horror.  Civilians in Tanzania sometimes take justice into their own hands because of the lack of a police presence and corruption. We had heard stories of people being beaten to death or set on fire for stealing. We were both scared by the sudden outburst of violence but we looked at each other and decided we needed to try and stop the beating. We went over to the angry crowd and pushed into the center. I kept repeating the word stop in Swahili. By now the man was bleeding and someone was trying to put a tire over his head. Someone forcefully grabbed my arm with two hands and tired to pull me somewhere. Another man helped me free my arm from his grip. My friend was also being harassed. We didn’t understand what people were saying. We just wanted them to let the man go. He was pleading with the crowd. We didn’t know what to do. I told them he didn’t succeed in taking anything. All was forgiven. We were too afraid to stay any longer and we decided to bolt. I can only pray they let that man go.

I felt shaken up the rest of that day. These are the sorts of things you never want to see. With the possibility of such harsh consequences, he must have been very desperate to try and steal unknown items in a plastic bag. We felt terrible.

Finally, I had made it back onto a dala dala for my return trip to Nyamisati. Being a mzungu (white person) means lots of unwanted attention. I am constantly approached, mostly by males, asking where I’m going, what is my cell number, what is my name, am I married, etc. I try to speak Swahili and politely keep the conversation short. One man, sitting in front of me, spoke excellent English. After learning that no, I wouldn’t take him with me to Canada or give him money, he settled into more sensible questions about why I was in Tanzania and eventually what subjects I taught. Apparently he considered a secondary science teacher to be very knowledgeable about health. He proceeded to describe his one testicle and wanted to know if he could reproduce. I started to ignore him when he went into pain and erect penises. Of all the dala dala’s, I picked the one with this guy on it. At least we didn’t run out of gas this time and I had a seat the whole way home.

So, that was my weekend. Lots of firsts that I hope don’t turn into seconds.



Posted by: teachingintanzania | September 28, 2010

Life So Far

I do apologize for my long silence. I’ve only recently had the ability to access the internet.

I’ve been in Tanzania now for almost 3 solid months. It’s hard to believe. My first three weeks consisted of country orientation in Dar es Salaam followed by language training in Morogoro. I was very grateful for those first three weeks as they provided a nice “soft landing” to what would otherwise have been a jarring experience. For me, Tanzania took some getting used to. I now travel to Dar es Salaam to see friends, eat good food and do some shopping for supplies. But in my first week here, Dar es Salaam was completely overwhelming and frightening.

The stunning mountains of Morogoro where I did language training

I’ve been at my volunteer placement at WAMA-Nakayama Girls’ Secondary School since July 26th. There are 82 students and new faculty continue to trickle in. When I arrived there were just 5 including the School Manager and Headmistress.

The school is just outside of a small village called Nyamisati. To me it feels like I’m in the middle of of nowhere at the end of a long dirt road. The heart of the village consists of a few ramshackle shops and a set of concrete steps leading into the muddy Rufiji river that acts as the port for boats and canoes. The river provides access for fishing and you can buy fresh prawns and fish most days in the village.You can also catch a ferry that will take you to Mafia Island.

A typical home in the village

Boats at the port of Nyamisati

The school itself is built on a large sandy campus. There is a dinning hall and outdoor kitchen, dormitories for the students, classrooms, an administration building, library and computer lab and houses for faculty. Compared to other schools in Tanzania, we are very well equipped and have excellent facilities. Compared to schools in Canada, it is very basic and lacks most things that are considered necessary for running a secondary school.

Form 1 classroom block

One of the school classrooms

Most days we have some electricity (supplied by solar panels and after three months of waiting, a repaired wind turbine). We do not have running water, although the pipes and pumps are in working order. I think it’s a matter of not having enough power to run the pumps.  Currently there are 6 working computers in the computer lab and a handful of books sitting on the floor of the library. We are waiting for lots of materials to arrive at the school (such as shelves, chemicals and equipment for the labs, text books, etc). The school is brand new and lots of kinks still need to be worked out. Many areas are still under construction.  I’ve learned to be patient. There are usually lots of promises that things will arrive within a few days and it might come to fruition a month or two later, if at all.

One of the school's wells where students fetch water for drinking, washing clothes and cleaning.

Overall, the place is oozing with potential. It’s really up to WAMA (the charity organization that built the school) to decide how it’s going to turn out. They have lofty ambitions, hoping to one day build a college and house paying international students in addition to the sponsored orphaned students from around the country. But I worry that politics (the First Lady being the head of the organization) and producing pretty magazine pictures are of a higher priority than serving the students of the school.

The true joy to being here are the wonderful students. The girls are from all over Tanzania and range in age from 14 to 20. They are all in From 1 (the equivalent of grade 7 or 8 in Canada).  They are hard working and never fail to smile despite how much they struggle each day to learn a difficult curriculum in a second language.  They are truly inspiring young women and continue to surprise me with their determination, maturity and good humour.

A group of students that came with me on a walk the other day.

Students posing for the camera.

I’m currently teaching Biology and basic computer skills to students and faculty (very few of whom have ever used a computer before).  I am working with the new Headmaster and School Manager to run teacher training workshops for faculty (on everything from student centered learning to special needs to assessment.) And I’m doing my best to implement new co-curricular activities for students, such as an Art Club and Literature Club. It will be exciting to witness the number of positive changes happening around the school over the next year. There is so much room for growth! And in a very short time (the middle of January) a new group of Form 1 students will be arriving at the school, doubling our current enrollment.

Students in the computer lab practicing their typing skills

So those are the details that will bring you up to speed. I can’t say I haven’t been homesick. It’s been hard at times feeling so cut off from family, friends and civilization. I miss foods, cooler temperatures, and a house that’s scorpion free. But I’ve also had some beautiful moments, like gazing up at the brilliant stars of the southern hemisphere, shinning unimpeded by any light pollution, learning to cook over a charcoal fire, and dancing and singing to East African music with students while they laugh at my attempts to mimic their cultural dances.

From now on, I’ll try to be a better blogger and post more frequently.



Posted by: teachingintanzania | March 6, 2010

What’s the deal?

So what’s the deal? Why Tanzania? Why me?

Well, in case you’ve been out of the loop, I am being sent overseas as a professional volunteer through CUSO-VSO. They are a non-profit development agency that carefully match the skills of volunteers to development projects all over the world. So in effect, I didn’t actually choose Tanzania. But I’m absolutely thrilled that out of the 40 countries CUSO-VSO works in, I’ll be heading there.

In my case, I’ll be working as an educator and teacher trainer at a brand new all-girls school called Nakayama Secondary School. It was built by Wanawake Na Maendeleo (WAMA) Foundation, a local non-profit organization working to empower Tanzania’s women and children. The school’s purpose is to provide disadvantaged and orphaned girls, who wouldn’t otherwise be going to school, the chance to earn a secondary school education. While there, I’ll be teaching students, training teachers, and taking part in every aspect of school life.

Where exactly in Tanzania am I going?  Well, while I know the school is in the Rufiji Delta region of the country, I have yet to actually locate the village on a map! So your guess is as good as mine. If anyone can find Nyamisati on a map, please get in touch! I’ve included an approximate location on the map below:

So the countdown is on! I’ll be flying across the pond in a little less than four months.  I’m looking forward to two years of personal growth, professional challenges, and the exploration of a new country, culture, and language.  I hope you’ll join me for the journey, if only by visiting my blog and living vicariously through me!