Teaching in Tanzania – The Impacts: Part 2

I really can’t believe how fast 3 weeks flew by. Looking back, it feels like just a figment of my memory now. It was truly so humbling to witness them learning and growing and to know I made an impact. Although the purpose of me being there was to teach the children, not only did I wind up teaching the teachers too, but they all taught me as well.

 My impact on the students:

  • I helped contribute to a more efficient learning environment for the kids by separating them by age into two classrooms.
  • The kids were memorizing machines but struggled with reading and identifying the letters out of chronological order. So to help them learn rather than just memorize, I did fun exercises to show the difference in c & e, t & f, m & n, w & v. Did you ever notice how similar the lower case letters are? I didn’t.
  • I inspired a boy to come out of his shell, to feel comfortable at school and I earned his trust. Pesquali was extremely timid, didn’t smile and obviously fearful of the other children (and me). It wasn’t long before he was smiling and playing with the other kids and smiling around me! This was one of my most proud achievements from teaching.
  • I introduced them to the wheel barrow out at break (recess).
  • I made learning to read and identify letters fun. I brought in flash cards with 3-5 letter words on them and if they correctly identified the letters or words, they were given another card. They were motivated to read because they were so excited to get another card. It was like I was giving out candy.
  • I gave them their first peanut butter sandwich. Ever. On my second to last day, as a Thank You to them, I made PB sandwiches for all 40+ kids. I wanted to give apples, but even I couldn’t afford them. It tore at my heart to know that while these kids are so verbally grateful for a half of a PB sandwich, the kids back home are asking for unnecessary junk like iphones and video games.
  • I gave individual attention to each child. I walked around the room to check their work and to give individual attention to each student. Depending on their level, I would give them harder problems to keep them challenged. One day, Violet was clearly struggling doing math. She copied down the problems backwards and left the answers blank. I asked her to stay in for break and we went over the problems together. When she got up to leave, she grinned as she thanked me in Kiswahili. She was clearly grateful that I took the time to help her and was proud of herself for successfully completing the problems.
  • I taught colors, shapes, animals, emotions, family roles, and body parts.
  • I wrote the lyrics to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the board and while it took a lot of repetition and daily practice, they learned the song. It is one of my most prized videos.
  • I encouraged creativity. The kids are taught to memorize but sadly they are not encouraged to be creative. So, for an art project, I took photos of all the kids, printed them in town, glued them to a paper plate and hung yarn from the top. The kids started off by just copying my sample but I encouraged them to use the crayons, pom poms and googlie eyes to decorate however they wanted. My teacher loved it so much, she made one too and after class she had the Pastor come and drill holes in the wall to hang them around the room!
  • I taught them conversational social greetings and manners. When I gave them porridge and helped them apply glue for the plate project, I realized they were using their manners I had taught them. I did a silent jump for joy in my head.

My impact on the teachers:

  • Thanks to a friend, I had two Learning Swahili translation books with me, so I gave my teacher my second copy. She was so grateful, she teared up, hugged me and then instantly sat down and started flipping through the pages and looking up phrases. She carried that book with her everywhere she went.
  • I had the unique pleasure of teaching both students and teachers! Twice I stayed after class to teach my teachers more complex English than I was teaching the kids. They requested homework so I wrote out (no copy machine) multiple pages of worksheets full of verbs, adjectives, pronouns etc. for them to fill out. Once they did, we reviewed it together and I explained any corrections. They were clearly appreciative for the time I spent helping them.
  • Sister Mary adopted some of my teaching methods. She complimented my teaching and said, “congratulations on being a good teacher.” At the end, she said to me, “God bless you, you have been a wonderful teacher, taught much, and we will miss you. Asante sana.”

Hardest parts:

  • Not speaking the native language fluently. I felt helpless when I saw a child cry because I wasn’t able to understand what happened. I could console and hug them but I couldn’t do much more than that. It was also difficult to explain the lessons and directions so that they understood.
  • Disciplining: It was challenging to keep my cool when they were acting out. When the teacher was in the room, they’d be still but when she left, they would usually rebel. It is common for the teachers to hit the children as a means of discipline, however that was one cultural custom I was not about to embrace. It was difficult to not be able to fully communicate and still establish respect and authority.
  • New group of volunteers every 4 weeks. Each time a new volunteer starts, they tend to start from the beginning with ABC’S and Addition & Subtraction. This reset from the beginning does not help the kids learn and advance. I took time to figure out what they already knew so I could teach them new lessons, but likely, the volunteer after me with just start from the beginning, despite me leaving notes behind. The negative emotional and educational impact on the children from the turnover is enormous and very difficult for me to swallow.
  • The other volunteer at my placement with me. She caused me more stress than the lack of communication frustrations. She was not a native English speaker and I don’t think she should have been placed in a school setting. Despite my efforts to make sure she only taught math or geography, she still insisted on teaching vocabulary and English. She asked them, “How do you spell Butterfly?” but she spelled it “bAtterfly” on the board. Also, in Italy, they write “n” like we write “m” so she was teaching them that “m” was an “n.” Talk about confusing! This blew my lid. I wanted to be a stable mentor and stay with my class but she insisted on teaching both classes so she could play with everyone. I wasn’t there to play, I was there to help educate them and provide a stable mentor in an unstable situation. On top of the high turnover they already had with volunteers coming and going, if we switched, not only would we add to that, but we also would not know what the other taught and only cause more confusion and unrest. I felt I could be a better and more effective teacher if we each taught our own class. She broke the rules constantly and even told me not to care because I can’t change the world. BOO.
  • Missing them everyday. Their smiles, their gratitude, their zest to learn, their little hands holding mine and the way they would say Teacha! Teacha! or Mwalimu! (teacher) to get my attention.
  • My last day my teacher presented me with gifts and the kids sang me songs that made me tear up. The video below is highlight clips of the songs. They sang, “I love you so so much, Teacha Caryn…” (repeat) and The Well Done Song* Having the kids sing me these songs absolutely warmed my heart and filled me with joy and fulfillment. Mama Dennis also made me cry when she presented me with thank you gifts. The teachers gave me “A Get Well” card, a traditional Katanga wrap skirt and a beaded bracelet that said “Asante” (Thank you). The other volunteer was only given a card on her last day. (Mama confused Get well and Good luck. She tried! How adorable is that?!)
  • Saying goodbye: Saying goodbye to those munchkins was terribly difficult. Although I hope to return, to know I will likely never see them again is devastating. I wish I could keep in touch with them or take them home with me. I miss their love and affection and smiles.

It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Not only did I have an impact on their lives, they had an impact on mine.

Their impact on me:

  • I walked away with a new understanding of what it means to be wealthy and truly happy, a new appreciation for life and increased sense of gratitude.
  • The kids had no sense of personal space and were always climbing, hugging or sitting on me. But this only made me feel more welcomed and part of the (very friendly) community.
  • Every time I took my camera out, the kids swarmed me and would shout, “Pitcha Pitcha!” and grab at my camera. They loved having their photos taken and seeing themselves in the digital screen. For the first two weeks, I didn’t let them touch the camera so only I took pictures. But then, I realized it was a good exercise for them to learn to share and not to fight or grab. And besides, what could really happen?  Turns out some of my favorite pictures are the ones that came out blurry from the kids who didn’t know how to center a subject or from Nardini who could have a future in photography. This taught me to let go, not be uptight and to trust.
  • They didn’t have complex toys or playgrounds. They were entertained by the simplest things, like my digital watch and bubbles. They’d pull on my arm and push the buttons constantly. They were content with having virtually nothing and wore the same ragged and holey clothes every.single.day. They entertained themselves with a straw basket and hand-me-down stuffed animals. This among with many other things, made me stop and appreciate the little things that we take for granted every day and don’t even notice anymore.
  • How to communicate without words or to find new ways of explaining things. You can’t keep repeating “book” if they don’t know what that word means.
  • What you plan, might not work out as planned.  A lesson you planned to take the whole day might only take 5 minutes and your backup plan might take even less. You have to be flexible and think on the fly. This is a lesson that is clearly applicable to many things in life.
  • I learned I am actually a great teacher with creative ideas and the ability to assess the kids’ needs and teach creative lessons on the spot. I also realized that teaching in America is completely different than teaching abroad and while I have more respect for teachers now, at this point in my life, teaching in America is not for me.
  • The true meaning of community. While the kids would be kids and argue occasionally, they looked out for each other. I would see the older ones kiss the younger ones (on the head), pick them up and even hold their hands. As a community, they were the most friendly and warm culture.
  • Being appreciative for the American school system. We have structure, defined grade levels and bountiful resources.
  • My teacher told me she made 50,000 Schillings a year which comes out to be $150 USD a year. Seeing how the teachers and kids get by with next to nothing really made me reevaluate the necessities in my life.
 I am sure I could go on but I’ll stop here. If you are still reading, I thank you. Please try to consider some of the lessons that I learned and see how you can apply them to your life. If I can take my experience and touch or influence at least one reader, I will be extremely grateful and humbled. This experience was one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences I have ever had and I hope that I am able to continue to make a difference in peoples lives.
I was told, You are just one person and only here for 3 weeks. You can’t change the world. Maybe I didn’t change the world but I know they had an impact on me and I know I had an impact on my teachers and at least one, maybe several of the kids and THAT means the world to me.  One person really can make a difference.

*The Well Done Song- they shook their hips to the music and sang this every time a child did a good job on something. Watching the girls shake their little hips with attitude was probably the most adorable thing ever. It went, “Well done, Well done, Teacher Caryni.. you are the besty!” (they add the Y sound to the end of some words)

**Karibu Tena translates to You are welcome back again.

***I’m not sure what happened that caused the video to be blurry. Blurry or not, they are still adorable.

**** I promise the next post won’t be this long

my moshi movie from Caryn Levy on Vimeo.

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Teaching in Tanzania – Part 1

Mambo! Harbari za asubhi. Jino langu ni nani Caryn. Nina toka Chicago. Ninajifunza kiswahili Polé Polé. Nitakuwa Taznania Kwa wiki tatu. (Hello! What’s the news this morning?/Good morning. My name is Caryn. I am from Chicago. I am learning Swahili slowly slowly. I’ll be in Tanzania 3 weeks.)

I had learned enough Swahili by my first day to be able to introduce myself to my class.

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hands

I went to Tanzania with a program called Cross Cultural Solutions to fulfill my dream of volunteering and teaching in an impoverished country. They set me up with my placement at Karanga Catholic Nursery, in Moshi, Kilimanjaro, where I taught mainly 5 & 6 year olds English, math, animals, emotions, family, shapes, body parts, colors, the ABC’s, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (see adorable video below).

Imagine your school when you were that age. Your teacher probably always had a lesson planned. There was structure and bountiful resources. You had  kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. grade levels divided by age and a set curriculum. You had lights, desks, a chalk board, cubbies for your backpacks, and maybe a TV in the room or school. You had whatever school supplies you needed, building blocks, toys, and the room probably even had carpet (handy for nap time). Your mom put you in a car seat and drove you to school. You get the picture. There, in Moshi, they had absolutely none of that. Moms didn’t even walk them to school.

Going in, I knew to set my expectations low and not to compare it to what I was used to back home. The chalk board was cracked and so worn that parts of it were glassy and didn’t write anymore. The chalk was so poorly made it crumbled upon contact. There was no electricity in the room; we opened the glassless windows for light.  There was absolutely no educational structure, nor any obvious progression of curriculum. The curriculum was entirely up to me. There was no nap time, they learned straight through with only one “recess” break. I brought tiny plastic pencil sharpeners for my class, but one of the other volunteers said his 3 year olds used razor blades! To count they used sharp beer and soda bottle caps. (Can you imagine the American mothers if they saw their kids counting with rusty and sharp bottle caps?)  The kids had only one swing set, no jungle gym or soccer field to play in, just stones and a dirt road. They entertained themselves with used dolls and the straw basket that the dolls were kept in. The kids all sat 3 to a single bench until end of 2nd week when used desks were donated. I presume from a previous volunteer. Of all the volunteer placements, I was the only one whose students had real desks. The whole time I was there, I only met one mother, one father and one brother. All the other kids, even as young as 2, walked to school on their own.

Although I never went in the bathroom to confirm, there was no running water in the actual school. The only time I saw the kids wash their hands was when I brought in peanut butter sandwich snacks. Bibi (generic & respectful term for all women of grandmother age) rinsed their hands by scooping water from a bucket and pouring it over their hands. After praying, Bibi served the porridge which was also scooped out of an old (cleaned out) paint bucket. Many of the students come from families who can’t afford the tuition and the only food they got all day was the porridge we fed them after break.

Despite it being 90 degrees outside, the kids all wore the same thing everyday, day in and day out, which included a green sweater as part of the uniform. A sweater in 90 degree heat! They had safety pins as buttons on their pants, holes in their clothing and shoes that didn’t fit.

My school was very privileged to have some educational posters on the wall. We had two classrooms, and the second room looked like a Montessori class. It was nicer than any of the other volunteers’ classrooms combined, especially once the desks were donated. See? I was lucky with my placement. My teacher, Sister Mary, once mentioned to me that if she needed supplies, she had to buy them herself. I figured it out and I think it came out that the teachers only make about $150 USD a year!

When I arrived, all 40+ kids aged 2-7 were in the same little classroom. The material was too complex for the little ones but too easy for most of the older ones. Since there were two teachers and two volunteers, I suggested we split them up into an older class and a younger class. Can you imagine a classroom with all ages trying to learn the same material? Why had this not been done before?

As soon as I started, I became a full-time head teacher. While every school varied, class for my school was from about 830am -12n. Some days my teacher would should show up at 930am and other days, not at all. My first day the teachers arrived about 45 minutes late. I quickly realized, time was of no concern to Tanzanians. In fact, they have Tanzanian Flex Time (TFT), which means some people show up to appointments 4 hours late (without calling usually) and it is perfectly acceptable, people will wait. No one is in a rush, everyone is worry-free. Hakuna Matata, right?

I was given no direction, guidance or curriculum to teach. Occasionally, when my teacher was there, she would help with translation but I had to make do on my own when she was MIA. By the end of the 2nd week, I noticed I was in the room a majority of the time, teaching completely on my own. Every day after class, I had to do all the lesson planning for the following day. The home-base had very little resources and since the school had even less, I had to bring any needed school supplies with me for the day.

In over-crowded classrooms like this, the kids often don’t get the one-on-one attention and support they need to be successful. As a volunteer, it was so humbling to be able to provide that extra attention to help them learn and understand the material. I was a role model and provided inspiration for both the children and local educators.Whereas most volunteers, even by the end, seemed to only know a handful of kids, maybe the devil kids or their favorites, I took pride in the fact that by the second or third day, I knew all 20 kids in my class by name (and some of the younger ones, too). I made an effort to know each kid and to give them all individual one-on-one attention possible. This helped me get to know them on a personal level, enabled me to be a better teacher and to have a stronger impact on them. I think because of this, the kids looked out for me. They would sit on the ground to play (which is dirt, not cement) and be content being dirty. But as soon as I stood up from sitting in the dirt with them, they would take their cute tiny little hands and brush the dirt off my skirt until it was gone. And in the mornings when I got dropped off, some of the kids would run up smiling to greet the bus, grab my hand and hold it as we walked to the classroom. It was enough to melt your heart. Every time.

The thing about the kids was the amount of love and joy they exhibited every single day. When they weren’t being kids and arguing, they were all smiles. They couldn’t seem to get close enough to me, always climbing on me, playing with me, hugging me, sitting on my lap, and fiddling with my watch. Every day I went home with dirty handprints on my shirt from their little hands. One day, I decided to let Devota play with my hair. She clearly had never played with a Mzungu’s hair before and had a blast running her fingers through it as she giggled and tried to put it in a pony tail.

Despite the serious lack of resources available, I loved my school and was very lucky with my placement. The thing about having limited resources is that it is all a matter of perspective. To us it seemed like very little, but they were used to it and get my with what they have. So that is exactly what we, volunteers, had to do, too; make do with what we had.

Between being a full-time teacher, trying to communicate & teach through the language barrier, and  doing my own creative lesson plans every night, I was wiped out by dinner. The 3 weeks I spent teaching was anything but a vacation. It was exhausting but extremely fulfilling and rewarding. 

Stay tuned for Part 2…

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star from Caryn Levy on Vimeo.

Tanzania photos