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.

The one where Tanzania taught me the true meaning of wealth and happiness

As I mentioned in the previous post, I learned a lot while I was in Tanzania. While it all had an impact on me, I keep thinking about what it means to be truly wealthy and happy.

It takes a village to raise a child. There is a reason this African proverb exists, and to the Tanzanians, it couldn’t be any more accurate. The children really are raised by the community. In America, we are taught “Stranger Danger.”  There, everyone is part of the clan, part of the family. Anyone can reprimand the children anytime without motives being questioned. There are no babysitters because the kids are children of the community. If a mother cannot afford medicine, she can go to the community to help her. Children as young as 2 years old walk to school on their own. They aren’t at risk of getting kidnapped or of pedophiles snatching them up. Everyone protects and looks out for everyone and seem to genuinely care.* It is customary to ask about one’s family, friends, health, and get updated on life before diving into conversation. Tanzanians show interest in each other’s lives and actually mean it. What a concept. I know. I think this sense of security and trust contributes to why everyone there is so friendly, so positive, so happy. It is a true community in every sense of the word.

I would often sit in the front seat of our van on the way to school to watch the community going about their everyday lives and to see the pedestrians wave and smile at me. The kids smile and wave to Mzungus (foreigners) passing in cars like they are waving to old friends. How can you not smile and wave back to a smiling, waving little kid? Smiling and being friendly really is contagious. I would carry those moments with me even after they had passed. I found myself “paying it forward” by waving to and greeting almost every passer-by.

The smiling waving kids don’t have fancy gadgets or many resources at school, and for some, the porridge we served was the only food they would get all day. But no matter what, they glowed with smiles and a sense of cheerfulness. Everyone says it when they return to The States, but it really is true. Despite having very little, the Tanzanians are the most friendly, joyful and happy people. In all my travels, I have never encountered a whole culture as friendly and grateful before. While in-country, I never felt like an outsider and always felt welcomed. My Dad always says You never know what happens behind closed doors and while that may be true, perhaps this is just a front, the Tanzanian’s I met seem to have found something that many of us have neglected: happiness and being grateful for what they have.


Homes seen roadside. Left- woman (hard to see her) sitting inside her house without windows. Right – rusted homes

Of the volunteers at CCS, I was the only volunteer whose teacher invited her to see her home. My teacher couldn’t wait for the day I was able to visit her home so she could show me her cows and pigs. Her home was maybe 10 feet by 10 feet.**  She had a curtain separating the bunk beds from the living room which was composed of a couch and coffee table. Her kitchen was outside in a wood hut with an open fire. And boy, was she proud of her home and farm animals. It gave her such pleasure to show her prize possessions to me, it was truly humbling. Some of the other homes I saw were nice and kept; some had four walls, some had no furniture, or no windows- just holes to let light in, and a rusted old roof. That is not to say all homes were small and rusty but most that I saw were.

I asked some of my local friends if people travel and found out that many have never left the country or even Moshi Town. Many have never been on a Safari or even seen the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, and here I was doing it all. So perhaps ignorance really is bliss. But I don’t think this so-called ignorance is why they are content with this simplistic lifestyle. Regardless if they travel or not, they do have insight into the world outside Moshi with internet cafes, TV’s, papers and radios. Yet, they are still happy with what they have, not pining for more or complaining about what they don’t have.

One day while I was in town printing photos of my students for an art project, I decided to print two photos for my teacher, too. When I presented her with a photo of herself and another of her with her son, she hugged me and got tears in her eyes. To us it might just be another printed photo, but to her, that photo made her day. She didn’t have a camera so that might be the only picture she has of herself. Another day, she came to class and her phone, think circa 1999 Nokia, (no one had iphones) was smashed in two pieces but she smiled and laughed about it. She continued to use it for several days and I thought of the many people back home who would have had a tantrum and demand it be fixed immediately, as if it was the worst thing that could possibly happen to them. Is a broken phone really the biggest problem in the world? Do I hear “first world problems?” I think so!

In America, our problem is we are always coming out with new shiny, flashy, things so we always want more. Status determines wealth. We always want the next best thing instead of being content with what we have.  We always want more, more, more. We live in a society where everything is bigger, better, faster, and now. We need instant gratification. Nothing is ever enough. Tanzanians live very simple, happy lives and are seemingly content with what they have.

I am not trying to imply they do not have their challenges because that just wouldn’t be true. Everyone has challenges and hardships. But perhaps they just handle it better and with a better attitude. Afterall their motto is Hakuna Matata – (yes, the phrase from The Lion King)- and it really does mean no worries/problems. They don’t seem to be bothered by the silly, waste of energy drama or stupid stress that us Mzungus always seem bothered by.

After seeing their lifestyle, the simpleness that surrounds them, the way they smiled and waved at me as I drove by, and how I was treated with such a welcoming friendliness, it became clear to me that having more money and stuff doesn’t guarantee or equate to happiness. We, Mzungus, were often looked at as people who were rich simply because we were foreigners. To the locals I may be “rich”, but in my eyes, it is the Tanzanians who are rich. The Tanzanians showed me that wealth isn’t measured in currency like Schillings or Dollars, but in happiness and gratefulness. They showed me that happiness is not dictated by how many material possessions you own, how much money you have, or by something as silly as even if you are connected to the internet or not. Rather, it is based on what you deem as a priority, your outlook on life, who you surround yourself with, how you treat and are treated by others, and if you appreciate what you do have.

It is this, happiness and gratitude that makes you wealthy, not money or status. And with that, Tanzanians are definitely wealthier.

The photo I took of my teacher; random children on the street waving; lower left: the orphanage kitchen;  Lower right: my teacher’s kitchen

*I don’t mean to imply it is like Pleasantville or anything. It is far from that and I know there are always a few bad apples in a community. Moshi does have a prison but law enforcement is a lot more strict in punishment in order to keep the community safe.

**I don’t know measurements so that might not be accurate. But it was small.

The one where I kindly ask you to help me make my dreams of volunteering in Africa a reality. Please.

Dearest Readers,

Jambo! (Swahili for Hello!) As you may remember, I have deemed this year The Year of Caryn and I am doing everything I can to follow through with the goals I set for myself.  I can accomplish goals #3,4 & 6 but need your help to make my dreams come true. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to volunteer somewhere in Africa. I have always felt that it was a calling of mine to give back, to make a difference, to do something bigger than myself, to volunteer abroad. While I always envisioned myself volunteering somewhere in Africa, I didn’t think it was a dream that I could actually make into a reality. It wasn’t until recent life changes that I began to do some serious soul-searching. I realized that even though there will always be excuses and doubters, there is no better time than now to listen to and follow my heart.

Thanks to Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS), I am able to make my volunteering dream come true this coming September. CCS is a 501(c)3 non-profit international volunteer organization with no religious or political affiliations, whose mission is to operate volunteer programs around the world in partnership with sustainable community initiatives, bringing people together to work side-by-side while sharing perspectives and fostering cultural understanding.

I have selected CCS’s program in Kilimanjaro- Tanzania where I will teach children for four (4) weeks. Stationed near the town of Moshi, I’ll be joined by 25 other volunteers. I will be living in shared rooms with bunk beds at the CCS provided home-base where hot water and electricity will be very sparse. We will have to go to Internet cafes in town to get Internet (technology detox, yes!).

Despite the fact that many people do not have a lot of belongings and live in poverty, I’ve heard they are some of the happiest and most grateful people you will ever meet. My plan, while I’m there, is to get off the tourist path, immerse myself into the culture, connect with the people, and of course, to help educate and make a difference. I am now attempting to teach myself Swahili so that I am better prepared for this experience. I want to fully embrace this opportunity. I know this will be a very difficult, eye-opening experience, and one of the biggest life challenges I will ever face.

You are probably asking yourself, why does she have to pay to be in a volunteer program? Well, the only free program is the Peace Corp. and I honestly cannot commit to 27 months away from my family, friends & life. I am not asking for your help to go on a leisurely vacation, rather I am asking for you to sponsor me so I can mentor children and to give them the opportunity to be educated and literate. Did you know that Africa lacks quality teachers? In fact, according to the International Development Research Centre, even though literacy rates have greatly improved in Africa over the last few decades, approximately 40% of Africans over the age of 15, and 50% of women above the age of 25 remain illiterate. Education is important for many reasons, some of which are child health, maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS and environmental sustainability.

Everyone deserves an education and this is why I need your help. I am kindly asking you to not only help me educate and improve a child’s life, to help make my dream a reality, but to also help raise awareness. You can click here to make your tax-deductible donation. Any donation is immensely appreciated. It would mean so much to me if you would consider sponsoring me and making a donation on my behalf. To do so, please click here to access my fundraising page: (My username is Carynlevy should you need it to login.) If you do not want to make an online donation, but still wish to sponsor me, please contact me for alternatives. Please note that any donation that is not submitted through the website is not tax-deductible.

You, my readers, have given me so much love and support and encouraged me to follow my dreams. I would not be here, on the path to making my dreams a reality if it weren’t for you. I can’t thank you enough for changing my life. I only hope that I can have that kind of impact on the children of Kilimanjaro.

I have decided that if I reach my goal, I will conquer a trapeze class  as suggested by the lovely Amber. Being as I am a blogger and all, I will video the experience and blog about it for all my readers and supporters to laugh at my lack of grace and skills.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, in advance, for your generosity and support.

All my love,



Volunteer Abroad Sep 22, 2012

Where in the world is Caryn going?

Where In The World is Caryn?