Take a seat. Give a seat. 

I recently walked into the Form 1 classroom at Amahoro Secondary School. I’ve been teaching at the school since October, yet I continue to be shocked when I see an entire classroom without desks. Amahoro Secondary School is a young government school in western Tanzania that lacks the necessary funds to address the needs of its learners.  

Imagine a classroom of 60 students without desks or chairs. It’s hard to visualize, isn’t it? It’s harder yet for me to see it. Still the hardest part is for the students. These students have made it to secondary school against all odds only to find that there are no tables or chairs for them to use.  

So, yes it’s hard for me to see but it is impossible for me to ignore. That’s why I am writing you.    

The solution is simple: provide tables and chairs for students at Amahoro Secondary School. Join me to become the solution.   

The impacts are significant. We will: 

* Improve the physical condition of a student so that he/she can focus on instruction instead of his/her discomfort

* Boost a student’s academic performance by elevating the quality of his/her written work because he/she will have a desk upon which to write 

* Create a more peaceful classroom setting where students no longer argue over who sits where because all students will have a chair. 

* Inspire a student to do professional quality work by providing him/her with a professional learning station 

My requests are simple.    
First, will you donate $35 to pay for one table and one chair for a student at Amahoro Secondary School? Your donation will directly impact a student’s life and improve his/her learning environment. It will also help students in the years to come.            
Donate here: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/provide-a-desk-and-chair-to-a-student-in-tanzania/    
Second, will you please ask one other person to donate $35? Asking another person to donate may feel awkward or uncomfortable, but I bet that it is more comfortable than sitting on a brick for 7 hours a day. 

Third, will you please ask the other person to continue the chain of positive impact by asking yet another person to donate $35 to fund a learning station for a secondary school student.
Do you get the idea? I hope to inspire a chain of philanthropy. You can join the chain. You can inspire a chain of philanthropy. Your friends/relatives/coworkers/neighbors can join the chain. They can inspire a chain of philanthropy. Individually, you will impact a single student. Collectively, we will impact an entire school. 
Thank you for donation and for inviting others to become the solution.



The Big 5 of Western Tanzania

One of the first questions I asked Rai, the Executive Director of Project Wezesha, was about wildlife in Kigoma. I knew that Eastern Tanzania is blessed with a variety of amazing creatures found in various national parks, but I didn’t know about Western Tanzania. Where as I appreciate seeing animals, my question was based on fear: Would I be attacked by a lion on my walk to school? 
While on safari with my parents we had spectacular wildlife viewing. We saw all of the Big 5 and so much more. As I wrote in a previous post, the Big 5 include lions, elephants, African buffalos, rhinos, and leopards.

This lion walked so close to our vehicle that I could count its whiskers. My heart raced at that close encounter but we all remained perfectly still as it walked by us in awe with the king of the jungle.

Elephants are by far my favorite of the all of the wild creatures to observe. I loved watching their interactions with each other, especially how they work together to protect the young. This particular elephant was eating by the side of the road. We stopped to listen to it chew. Karibu chakula. (Enjoy your meal.) 

African buffalo are attentive. They hear a noise and look in its direction. When you are the noise, it is rather intimidating to have such a strong beast stare at you. You get the sense that they smell your skin and see your eyes. They scan you for threats and hold your attention until they are satisfied that you’re a friend not a foe. 

A group of rhinos is called a crash, and it is no wonder why. They are careless walkers. Unlike elephants who are practically silent as they maneuver Africa’s harsh terrain, rhinos can be heard before they are seen because their approach is so clumsy. That’s how I knew to pay close attention at this waterhole. These dinosaur like creatures enjoyed the waterhole and were not disturbed by the hyenas that lingered nearby.  

I did not think that seeing the big cats would captivate me. I’m not a cat person, so maybe I thought that would transfer to Africa’s cats as well. I was wrong. The first time I saw a leopard was practically a religious experience. Leopards are majestic. We watched this leopard for hours. The cat’s movement could be described as sly, stealthy, and determined. It moved with strength and flexibility. It’s motions were so fluid that it blended with the environment like a chameleon. 
The Big 5 can be found in Eastern Tanzanian, but alas not in Western Tanzania. Thus, I have taken it upon myself to develop Western Tanzania’s Big 5.  

#1. Goats. One of the first Swahili nouns that I learned while living in Mgaraganza was ”mbuzi” meaning goat. There are goats everywhere. My neighbor has goats. The eldest son is the shepherd, he is around 12 years old and does not go to school. The goats are his responsibility. The week of Thanksgiving three goats were born on the same day. I made sure to hold each one and that was the day I fell in love with goats. 

#2. Sheep. Like goats, sheep are loud, poop a lot, and smell bad. Other than that, they are adorable. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out who owned the sheep that graze near our house. Then one day I saw a newborn lamb. I have a problem with baby animals. I literally cannot prevent myself from approaching them. So, despite the sheep making it clear she did not want me nearby I swooped the lamb into my arms and cradled it. Of course at that moment the owner approached. The old woman laughed at me and in my very broken Swahili I tried to say congratulations to her in the birth of the lamb. 

#3. Chickens. According to my sister, it is very likely that the chicken is my African spirit animal. It’s not nearly as beautiful as a cheetah, or as graceful as the African eagle, nonetheless chickens speak to me. I have thoroughly enjoyed having chickens at Jane and Ashahadu’s house as well as at Lucas and Asha’s house. They have personalities. Like dogs, they ask to be let out then to come in again. However, they aggressively protect their young. I learned that the hard way. 

#4. Lizards. I hate mice. I hate seeing them scurry across the floor in plain daylight as if they are planning a personal attack against you. You only see their movement but you don’t know where they came from or where they are going. That’s what lizards are like. Except, unlike mice, lizards are awesome. They eat bugs, which is a much appreciated community service especially in this part of the world. There are lizards everywhere; on the floors, on the walls, and scurrying about. I love looking at a wall thinking that nothing is there and then seeing a sudden movement only to realize there were multiple lizards on the wall in the first place. It’s like seeing a painting come to life.

#5. Snakes. One night in early November I went to the bathroom before going to bed. I walked across the yard in the dim light of a single lightbulb. I entered the darker corner of the yard where the shower stall and toilet are located. I opened the door to the bathroom and was shocked to see a big black snake slithering in from the drainage hole.  
I am not scared of snakes but do not know much about them. I know that there are many poisonous snakes in Africa but I don’t know how to identify them. At the time, I knew about five words in Swahili and none of them were useful in this setting. I simply called Jane’s name and she came running.  
When Jane saw the dancing reptile she screamed. That’s when I got scared. 

 Jane wouldn’t get near the bathroom. By then Ashula were Mere had joined us. Someone grabbed the broom. I motioned that I would use the broom to get the snake. Jane just said “danger” in English. Black mambo? Maybe I should let the locals deal with this.  
The snake put up a fight and had moved around. It was now over the toilet, not the drainage hole. They hit it until it stopped moving. I screamed. I didn’t have the words to express my fear so I acted it out. I did not want to be using the toilet and have the snake that now appeared dead actually be alive and come up and bite my butt.  
Jane screamed for Baba Shula to come to our rescue: the neighbor’s husband. With tools and effort he recovered the snake from the toilet and threw it into yard. It was clearly already dead but he continued to beat it. Finally, Mere took the shovel and buried it outside.  
Ever since that night, I throughly inspect bathrooms before I enter. 

To answer my original question: would I be attacked by lions on my walk to school? No. The eastern Tanzania’s Big 5 do not live in this region. However, Western Tanzania’s Big 5 has brought me plenty of entertainment.  

A bonus picture. Teddy has grown. 

Dog Tails

I miss Ellie more than anything.

My sister Lisa and brother-in-law Chris are taking care of Ellie while I am out of the country. I could not imagine Ellie receiving better care. Ellie adores them and they have fallen in love with her. I am so thankful that they are providing Ellie with a safe, healthy, and loving home. 

Lisa regularly sends me updates of Ellie including pictures and Ellie’s new favorite hobbies. Her favorite hobby is being Lisa’s research assistant. In her free time she likes talking to Chris about football. 

When she feels social, which is always, she likes to play with her new friend Hope.

Ellie still loves cats and is hopeful to become friends with this regular visitor.

People here don’t have dogs as pets. Unlike other developing countries I’ve visited there aren’t many stray dogs here either. So the few times I have seen a dog I’ve been very excited and have tried to pet it.  

Dogs here are treated very poorly. They are usually kicked or hit with a stick to keep them away from people and their houses. Consequently, almost every single dog I’ve seen flinches and runs away from humans. This makes me very sad.

In a previous post I wrote about hearing the unmistakable sound of a puppy being beaten.  

I also wrote about Lulu, the dog that lives on Lucas’ street and my effort to rid her of bugs.

Now, I’d like to tell you about Teddy. 

Our neighbor came over two weeks ago and asked for me to help. She found a dog under her bed and it wouldn’t come out. People here, including my neighbor, are generally terrified of dogs, but they know I love dogs. So I was happy she asked me to help.

After a few failed attempts I pulled the dog out from a dark corner and quickly realized it was a puppy and that something was wrong. It was trembling but unresponsive to being handled. Like Lulu, it was crawling with bugs.

She was so weak she could barely stand. When she moved she looked like she had a broken hip. When I fed her I noticed something was wrong with her mouth. She had difficulties chewing and seemed unable to swallow.

I asked Jane (my host here, not my sister) if we could keep her for the night. I was sure she would die. She was malnourished and showed no signs of hope. I thought at least we could keep her out of the rain so that she would die in peace. With a heavy heart, I prepared a space for her in the storage area. Throughout the night I heard her wail, howl, and cry. Each time it broke my heart. 

But the miracle dog lived. She lived that night, and the following night, and is alive and well today.

Jane and Ashahadu decided to keep the dog. Jane’s sister Solome named the dog Teddy.  

It turns out, Teddy didn’t have a broken hip. She was just too weak from being hungry that she couldn’t walk well. As for her mouth, a tooth fell out and now her mouth is clean because she can chew and swallow. She is also bug free which feels like a miracle. I bath her every four days or so and check her for ticks every day.   

The best news is that Jane and her family are investing in Teddy. Jane bought her a chain (she’s chewed through 5 leashes!). Jane even reported that the doctor came and gave Teddy two shots. I assume by doctor she means vet, but a lot of things get lost in translation.  

Now that it seems like Teddy will live, my goal is for her to have the highest quality of life of all of the dogs in Tanzania. It’s not a big competition. She’ll get food and water. She’ll have a shelter to sleep under. Her owners will not hit her. And the neighborhood kids are learning how to treat a dog kindly.    

As for me, I still miss Ellie. Teddy is Jane’s dog- not mine. I consider myself her fairy dogmother. 

Calling all educators!!!!

If you are a former colleague or any type of educator, I wish I could find you right down the hall from me and problem solve my class with your help. I feel stuck.  
If you are not an educator, but have been following my blog you know that I care deeply about teaching students and want to enhance student learning to the best of my ability.  

So educators and non-educators- help me get un-stuck! Please read and share your insights with me in the comments or via e-mail. 

I teach two sections of Form II English. One class has 61 students, the other class has 56. The classrooms are set up with rows facing the chalkboard.  

I feel locked into using the space as it is because there are so many people that it feels like there isn’t space to move or rearrange the set up. 

I am to follow the scope and sequence of the national curriculum. It’s clear to follow but it is not very detailed. I also see some flaws with it.  

If you are interested in looking at the government curriculum you can find it here:  https://www.shuledirect.co.tz/index

First, it is very low on Bloom’s taxonomy learning objectives. Everything I have seen in all subject areas is based off of memorization. Perhaps English is the only difference as language acquisition requires application. 

Second, the scope and sequence do not always align with the text book. (Of which there is only one copy for 117 students). However of greater concern is that the scope and sequence do not fully align with the national exam which determines if students continue to the next grade or are kicked out of school. This is the reality. If students fail twice they are legally not permitted to return to school.

I have never been in a position where I had to “teach to the test.” I feel pressure to do so now. Not only that, but I want them to be very prepared so that they are successful. I’ve always wanted my students to be successful, all teachers do. Yet, I’ve never had success so clearly define for me as a students’ score on a test.  It doesn’t feel great.

In primary school all classes are taught in Swahili. Thus for my Form Two students this is their second year of secondary school, meaning that last year all of their classes were supposed to be taught in English. I say ‘supposed to be’ because English is the second language of the teachers and students. From interacting with the teachers, I can confidently say that they have a wide range of comfort speaking English as well as a wide range of comprehension. I also hear their classes and know that they do not always stay in English. I completely understand and can relate to using the native language to explain things. My point here is that the students, in theory, should have been exposed to a school year’s worth of English.  Yet, in terms of second language acquisition they are still at the beginning stages. 

As it is the start of the new school year, I gave a pre-evaluation this week. I wrote the pre-evaluation to include a very small section of each of the units I intend to teach.  

The process of giving and reviewing the pre-evaluation has caused me to think about a lot of things, which is good. That is one of the many purposes of a pre-evaluation.

First, I was surprised that the students had never taken a pre-evaluation before. Second, the results revealed that their collective English level is significantly lower than what Form II English is supposed to be taught.   

For example, the first unit for Form II English is Listening and Dictation. It includes listening to short stories (1-3 pages) and answering comprehension questions. During the pre-evaluation, I gave the directions orally and had them written on the bored. I also modeled my expectations. Then I wrote the questions on the board for students to preview before listening to the passage. After that, I read three sentences and had students answer the two questions. The passage and questions contained very simple vocabulary. Out of 117 students about 7 students got the first question and only 1 student got both questions correct. 

I am glad I gave a pre-evaluation because it has caused to me pause and revaluate my plan for the semester. 
As the method of teaching here reflects lectures and notes on the chalkboard, I am seeking support from teachers with a more progressive teaching methodology.

I would love to hear from you. I welcome any suggestions, guidance, feedback, encouragement, and questions. 

How would you approach this situation? 

How can I foster student centered learning in such a large class with such low comprehension? 

How can I most use the classroom space effectively?

How should I successfully prepare students for an exam that determines their future?  

How should I approach the scope and sequence- knowing that local teacher regularly do not finish the curriculum? 
To all of you who have helped me grow as an educator thus far- thank you! To all of the teachers out there- our work is never over. I’m not talking about the endless hours of grading, I’m talking about improving our craft. As life long learners we must try new things, continue to learn about our students, and keep growing as educators.   

Thank you for helping me through this growing pain! 

30 Days

During 30 days of Project Wezesha’s study camp I lived in Mwanga with Lucas and his family. Mwanga is part of the larger town of Kigoma. My temporary move to town because I needed to be closer to the study camp. Tanzanians often debate which is better: the village or the city. Now that can say I have experienced both.

(The picture above is of Lucas’ house. That’s where I would take my meals.) 

During the 30 days, I experienced many challenges. The school that hosted the study camp had classes at the same time. One day, I witnessed multiple incidents of corporal punishment.  Each time I intervened. Each time it broke my heart. I am still emotionally processing it- so I will leave it at that. The same day,  I heard the sound of a puppy being beaten. Once again, I intervened. Relying of hand gestures and facial expressions I tried to express that if you are nice to a dog, it will be nice to you. If you are mean to a dog, it will be a bad dog. I hope that I got my point across and I hope that the dog is being treated well. Below is the boy and his dog. 

Shortly after I moved to town Asha asked me to go to the supermarket with her. I got excited. I didn’t know what to expect. I know that there is a store in town that sells things like cheese, which I love but it not part of the local diet. So, I didn’t know exactly what she meant by a supermarket. 

I quickly learned that she meant a super market: a giant, open space fruit, vegetable, and fish market. I made a point to say yes every time I Asha asked me to go with her. She does all of the housework for all of the people living at Lucas’s. (That’s 11 people!!) I can’t help but wonder if she is lonely for female companionship and/or wishes for some additional support at home.   

So we would go together most evenings and I would follow her around like a little child, mostly useless and amazed at the sights. She certainly appreciated the help carrying the produce back home, which is up a VERY steep hill. I learned the region that grows the sweetest pineapples: Kongoro. 

I wrestled with my role during the 30 days. I am a Project Wezesha volunteer. Lucas is Project Wezesha’s manager. He would stay at the camp until 10pm, whereas I came home around 5pm. I paid for room and board at his house but never really figured out how to help. I had a significant and ongoing conflict with one of his brother’s that made the living situation miserable at times. I also never really felt like my time was my own. One day in particular I was craving time alone and was told that I was going with Asha to visit her friend. Lack of communication and information is sometimes a result of the language barrier, but sometimes not. This is an example of the latter. The quick visit was an 8 hour ordeal. Ultimately, I’m glad I went. I enjoy spending time with Asha and I got to see another village and hold twins that were 2 weeks old. My take away from this experience is that I need time alone in order to function and that I absolutely hate being told what to do. (Anyone surprised by that?!?!)  Below is the room where we visited the new mom, her twins, and her sister.  

Lucas’ house has five rooms.  4 bedrooms for 11 people and one common room which serves as the family room, dining room, and living room.  The only furniture is two wooden chairs, three plastic chairs, and one small wooden table.  Here people are gathered to watch the TV that is in Lucas bedroom as Asha cooks dinner. 

Living in town I faced an ethical dilemma about how to acquire clean drinking water. I had three options. 1) buy bottled water 2) boil water from the nearest tap (about 75 yards away). 3) go to the closest spring to fetch water.

Let me break down these options for you and I will reveal my conclusion. 1) Buying bottled water means having plastic bottles that have no way of being recycled. Bottles are reused for selling milk or palm oil, but they can’t be recycled. In addition, there is no waste management system here. So instead of garbage going to landfills that are out of sight and therefore out of mind, the trash gets thrown in the yard. Thus I did not rely on bottled water.

 2) boiling water seems like a straightforward solution but here are some problems involved with it. Boiling water requires fuel. In this case, as with all of the cooking, charcoal is used. Charcoal is expensive (by local standards). A second reason why I didn’t like this idea is the overall sanitation of the kitchen. There is a chicken coop two feet away from the stove as well as a little kid’ training potty. Also- the pots are never really washed. Boiling water makes it clean but it seemed like everything else around the water would easily contaminate it. Still another reason is that the nearest tap ran out of water regularly. Due to the amount of water that I drink combined with my lack of trust of sanitation I concluded this would not be a good option for me.
I went with option 3) go to the nearest spring. Going to spring included a five minute walk, at 10 minute ride in a bajaji, followed by a 15 minute walk to the spring. Once I got the spring I was faced with dozens of children and adults surrounding me wondering what I was doing. Usually there was at least one person out of the crowd who spoke enough English to understand what I was saying as I explained that I was sterilizing my water. Then i’s reverse the process: 15 minute walk, 10 minute ride, and the 5 minute walk became longer because it is uphill carrying lots of water. So- as you drink a glass of water today, enjoy it on my behalf and be thankful for the infrastructure that makes it possible! 

It’s fair to say that Lulu is my best friend. She is Lucas’ neighbor’s dog. When I first saw Lulu, I asked if I could say hi to her. Tanzanians generally don’t like dogs and don’t have dogs are pets. So the fact that I wanted to see the dog was a little weird to everyone. I was granted permission and got her to come to me only to see she had some bugs ok her. I went back to visit the next day and she was crawling with bugs. From that point on, she became my pet project. I washed her multiple times, I trained her not to jump not to nip even though she is teething. I showed the neighborhood children how to be kind and gentle to her. She comes when I call her and sometimes just comes when she hears my voice. Although spending time with this pup has brought me joy, I am devastated that she still has bugs crawling all over her. I tried everything I could think of and that the Internet suggested given the resources I had access to without luck. It is a good metaphor for how I feel about the problems in Tanzania. There are so many problems. I desperately want to solve them, but the problems are so complex and interwoven that seems impossible to solve one without solving all of them. And it’s impossible to solve all of them.   

Toward the end of my stay, Lucas’ brother got married. As a result many of his family members came for the wedding and stayed at his house. As an introvert who is used to living alone, the influx of people, sound, and confusion was challenging for me.  Everyone in this picture is related and most of them live with Lucas.   

Here are Lucas and Asha with their daughter Catherine (5) and Rachel (2). Rachel was a ray of light in my time living there. She has more personality than anyone I have ever met. She loves to dance and her smile is contagious. She called me ‘auntie’ and would run to greet me in the morning or anytime I came back to the house.  

So- village or town? Town has electricity, but it frequently goes out. Water is closer, but it usually runs out. I had my own bathroom, but the gravity based pit toilet did not go downhill. I had easy access to various modes of transportation, but the traffic was always loud. I could go to the Internet cafe, but it usually took going to all three to find one that was working. More people spoke some English, but usually so poorly that it caused more confusion than playing charades.  So- the 30 days were hard for me but I am thankful for the experience.

I guess I’m a village girl at heart. I am happy to be back in Mgaraganza. Coming back felt like coming home. The trees, the views, the kids, the quiet, the stars- reliable polar power, reliable spring water.  
I wonder how these insights will inform where I live when I return to the States.  

Isaia’s wedding 

Lucas’ brother Isaia got married yesterday. I am so honored to have been a part of this incredible celebration.   

The festivities began on Thursday at the bride’s village for a send off ceremony.  In essence this means that the bride price has been paid and the bride’s parents and village agree to send her to her new husband’s home. 

Bride price, you ask? Yes. It’s a real thing that still happens. It was explained to me that the bride price was negotiated two years ago and that the two families agreed to 300 USD.  Keep in mind, this is a part of the world where people live on less than a dollar a day.  Isaia is an construction contractor so he does have an income, but that is still a lot of money.   I could go on for a long time about my thoughts about bride prices… but let’s get back to the wedding. 

 The focus of the send off ceremony was very much on the bride and her sister.  

At the send off ceremony guests dance their way to the bride in a line carrying their wedding gifts.  Close friends wear matching fabric. 

The gifts generally fall into two categories:  textiles or water storage. Here a couple gives a large bucket with a lid- a useful and expensive gift. 

The groom’s family is also present. Here the groom’s sisters and sister-in-laws give the bride a suitcase.   Suitcases are rarely used for travel- instead they serve as a dresser. 

This is Asha, Lucas’ wife.   They are not officially married yet- but have been together for almost ten years, live together, and have two children.  Isaia and his new wife also already live together and have children.  I’m told that waiting to get married is common because all of the events are so expensive to host. 

These four girls were in front of every processional at every wedding event.  They danced their way in with a level of energy and rhythm I have never seen before. 

Isaia is 37, and his new wife is in her early 30s.  They have 5 children. Here is one of the twins.  I was fascinated to observe that their three youngest children were baptized in the same church service as their wedding, prior the exchange of vows. 

I was told that the catholic mass would start at 9am.  It actually started at 10:30am.   I don’t know why I ever listen to any time that is given here- it is never followed.  There were fewer people in attendance than I expected: about 10 men and 30 women. 

This picture has nothing to do with the wedding but was in the sanctuary as part of the Christmas decorations.  The only other time I’ve seen something remotely similar to this was in a Roman Catholic Church in Banos, Ecuador.  One of the church member explained to me that this is what people imagine the actual nativity scene looked like.  To be honest- it made me giggle. 

I don’t know their actual titles, but the bride’s matron of honor was her mother and the groom’s best man was his friend.   They were beside the couple the entire day. 8am till midnight. 

This church choir sang at the send off ceremony, the church mass, and the celebration after the ceremony.  Their harmonies were gorgeous. 

After the church service women gathered around the bride to sing and dance in a local tribal language.   I was surprised that the bride stood still and generally had a straight face.   I’m unclear as to the the role that personality and custom play, but she generally kept her gaze down and rarely smiled the entire day.  Yet, I know she was happy. 

We caravaned to a local beach for photos after the ceremony.  (The bride and groom are just right of the center of this photo.) The vehicle I was in was stopped by the police.  Even though I knew I was not in trouble, I find it very uncomfortable when large men in uniform who are speaking a language I don’t understand are visibility mad at something near me.  From what I gathered the problem was that one of the men was sitting in the back of the truck while it was moving when the local law says that you have to stand if you are in the back of a moving vehicle (What?!? Who makes these laws?) I don’t know how the problem was resolved but they let us go. I live in an area of Tanzania that is not known for tourism. Consequently, there are very few foreigners here.  Thus, locals are not used to seeing white people. As a result, I already receive a lot of attention everywhere I go because of my white skin.  Thus, standing in the back of a truck at the second busiest intersection in town, in a wedding caravan, while being stopped by police a lot of people noticed me.  For those of you who remember my shy side, you can imagine how uncomfortable this was for me. 

Back to the wedding festivities.  This is Lucas’ father, Baba Sofia.  I adore him.  He rarely talks to me but effectively uses hand gestures to communicate with me.  He asked me to take this picture of him because he was so proud of the way he was dressed. He is a poor farmer: wearing a jacket like this is a big deal to him.  He glowed with joy when I showed him the picture. 

After photos at the beach, the caravan made its way to Lucas’ house.  I call it Lucas’ house because he is my connection, but really it is his parents’ house and there are 11 people that live there.  (10 people share 3 bedrooms, and I have my own until study camp is over at which time I will return to the village.) The space outside the house was transformed to a decorative event space. 

The event at Lucas’ house lasted about 6 hours:  singing, dancing, performances from the choir, dance performances, presentation of gifts, and more.  There was a MC and a DJ.  At one point I left to run a quick errand and realized the music could be heard from 6 blocks away. 

At the end of the event food was served.  Women cooked all of the food and the men served it to the guests.  After everyone was served, one of Lucas’ brothers distributed the leftovers to the local children who had gathered to beg for food.  This seemingly simple act amazed me.  Lucas’ family is very poor by American standards and yet they are so generous and good hearted.  

After the food was served, we departed for the reception.  Every other event appeared to be open to the public however the reception had an invite list.  If you didn’t have your invitation with you, you were not allowed in.  (Unless you’re American and know the bouncer: Lucas).  

The events at the reception mirrored what happened at the send off ceremony as well at the celebration at the house.   At each event there was a three tiered cake.  The bride delivered one layer to the groom’s family, one layer to the bride’s family and the third layer was given to guests who gave presents. As she approached each family group she dropped to her knees when about 15 feet away and approached by shuffling on her knees.  Upon receiving the cake, the recipients helped her stand up again.  I am so curious about this tradition. My interpretation of it is that it is an act of submission that put the bride is a second-class citizen.  As a progressive liberal feminist this was hard for me to observe. 

After the cake was presented to the families, guests ate once again. Invitations had drink tickets in them for sofa.  Rosemary, one of Lucas’ neighbors, bought me a beer. It was the first beer I drank since my parents left Africa… it was delicious.  However, out of the 150 guests, only three women and about seven men drank beer.  Otherwise, guests drank soda. 

As mentioned before, close friends wear the same fabric.   I knew that Asha and I were having matching dresses made.  However, I was thrilled when Jane and baby Catherine had the same fabric as well.    I have now lived with both Asha and Jane- despite language barriers they are my closest friends.  I was/am truly touched to be included in this special bond. 

(Asha, left, me holding Jane’s daughter Catherine, and Jane, right)

Since my first week in Western Tanzania I have gone by Katherine, not Kate.  Katherine is much easier for locals to pronounce.  It is pure coincidence that Lucas and Asha have a daughter named Catherine, as do Jane and Ashahadu. Here I am with the other two Catherines.   I love these girls so much. 

What an incredible wedding celebration!  

Project Wezesha Study Camp 

If you have been following my blog you know that I am a Project Wezesha volunteer.  Project Wezesha is program of Girls Education International. If you are new to the blog, karibu!  (Welcome!) 

Project Wezesha is a non-profit organization based in Kigoma. It’s aim is to increase access to education in western Tanzania for secondary, high school, and university students. Project Wezesha works in the villages surrounding Kigoma to increases access to education in two ways; scholarships and study camps.  

Project Wezesha awards scholarships to rural students who otherwise would be unable to pay for their school fees, uniforms, and books. With the financial backing they receive, students are able to remain in school and continue in their studies.

To support their academic advancement, Project Wezesha provides a study camp for secondary school students during school holidays. These month-long study camps, offered twice a year, are intended to promote academic growth in all content areas. Government approved curriculum is reinforced and students are granted the opportunity to apply their learning. In addition, the study camps provide structure and stability in the participants’ lives, as well as food and shelter. This alleviates financial stress on the participants’ families while creating an environment where students can focus on their studies.

Being a part of the study camp this December has been an incredible experience so far. 

Preparation for the camp started over a month ago.  Lucas, Madaga, and I met to update the budget from the last camp and discuss how the camp would operate this time.  We also scheduled a parent meeting and a teacher meeting. 

(The parents of Project Wezesha and Girls Education International participants attend a Saturday morning meeting about the study camp.  80% of the parents were present! All parents expressed their gratitude for the camp.) 

I continue to be amazed by the sincerity of the parents’ gratitude.  This group represents some of the poorest villagers in one of the poorest regions of Tanzania.  Nonetheless, one of the parents brought Lucas and me pineapples from his farm.  What an overwhelming gift to receive when pineapples are his livelihood!  (I gladly took the pineapple but I respectfully declined the goat that was offered by a different parent.) 

10 teachers from various schools join forces to create the study camp teaching staff.  Students take history, chemistry, biology, geography, physics, mathematics, English structure, English literature, and Swahili.  The teachers use the government curriculum in various ways: to reinforce content, to complete units that were left unfinished by the students’ classroom teachers, or to start new topics that accelerate student learning. 

(Teachers meet at the Project Wezesha office to prepare for the study camp.) 

In addition to ensuring all teaching positions are filled, Lucas also orders, purchases, and transports supplies for the camp. 

(Project Wezesha co-founder Lucas Lameck oversees the entire study camp.) 

After nine years of teaching at Journeys School and preparing for extended journeys by working with the kitchen staff, shopping at Albertson’s and Hungry Jacks, I know a little about buying food for large groups of students.  However, I was of no use in this setting.  Regardless, I tagged along with Lucas to see the process. 

(Preparing for the camp requires purchasing all of the food from the local market.  Here a man carries one half of our order of flour.) 

The purpose of the camp is to help students.  Yet, after the massive trip to the market I started to think about all of the additional positive impacts.  This camp invests in the locally economy.  Everything is made, grown, and purchased locally.  Thus small scale farmers and business owners benefit from the camp.  On top of that is the fact that the camp creates jobs.  It employs ten teachers, three cooks, one matron, and one night watchman.  It makes me happy to think about all of the good that comes from the camp. 

Now let’s get back to the students.  There are two sections: Form III and Form IV. Each level follows a full schedule that keeps them busy from morning till night. 

(In the fine print you can see students have supervised preparations from 7:30-9:00pm every evening.  During this time they study silently in their classrooms.  I am amazed by their focus!) 

Classes start at 7:30 and end at 3:30.   Monday through Thursday.  There are three academic periods Friday morning followed by time for religious practices.  The population in this area is split almost 50/50 Christian/Muslim.  Religion is deeply valued by all sectors of society.   As a result, all schools, including government schools, schedule time for students to study and practice their religions. 

(Form IV students take notes during class. Most of the teachers lecture and write notes on the board which students then copy to memorize later.)

Saturday is the test day.  The Tanzanian education values examinations above all.  Therefore, providing students with practice tests in each class helps them to prepare for the school year.  Tests range from one hour to two and a half hours long. 

(Despite the fact that study camp tests do not go on school transcripts, the students take them very seriously.) 

Students are highly motivated.  They have huge dreams.  They want to be teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, pilots, police officers, and soldiers.  

(This is Felesciano.  He is 16 years old. He told me he wants to be a soldier because he wants to help maintain peace.  Tanzania is a very peaceful country but there is frequently conflict in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.)

The majority of instruction is lecture form, requiring students to take notes and memorize them.  I hope to work with teachers to offer ideas of how to increase student engagement and learning. 

(Students improve their native language in Swahili class where they study grammar and structure as well as literature.) 

After a full day of classes, students eat lunch.  Meals usually consist of a grain and beans.  

(Three cooks cook three meals a day for 35 students and a handful of teachers.  They cook outside using homemade charcoal and they have to fetch all of the water from a nearby pump.) 

One of the cooks is a former Project Wezesha student.  She has 16 sisters.  That is not a typo.  16.  Her father has three wives and combined there are 16 sisters, 0 brothers.  The family is very poor.  Thus her job as a cook not only ensures that she eats everyday but it also gives her income which helps her and her family. 

The majority of people in rural Tanzania do not eat three meals a day.   When these students are at home, they fall into that category.  When they are at study camp, they eat three meals a day.   They are so grateful. 

(Here a student is eating ugali, the most common Tanzanian dish.) 

Students live at the school during the study camp.  They convert classrooms into dorm rooms. I imagine that it is a unique experience for Tanzanian teenagers to 1) be away from home and 2) be with a group of peers.  They seem to love it. 

(The girls enjoy a friendly game of cards during free time.) 

(The girls dorm room: all students are required to have a mosquito net.) 

I was nervous I would never learn the students’ names. They are all so different to me.  I was nervous it would be hard for me to foster relationships with the students due to the language barrier.  I was wrong.

(The students names are beautiful!  It took me a couple tries to pronounce them correctly, but it got it with their help.) 

Thanks for following me on my journey with these students.  Asante Sana. 

(Form III students) 
(Form IV students) 

Oh.. and in case you are wondering… we are taking the students to Lake Tanganika to go swimming on Christmas Day.   Both the Christian and Muslim students rejoiced when we shared this plan with them!