By Will Hayward
Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to travel to Tanzania to participate in a service project run by Nord Anglia Education. I applied for the expedition and fortunately was accepted along with four others from my school, The British School of Chicago.
Prior to the trip, we ran events to raise money for the work we were going to do there, including a school-wide Tanzania spirit day. Every student came in wearing the colors of the Tanzanian flag. We partook in other events, including dance and music workshops, and collected essential items to donate to the school in Tanzania.
We set off on January 16th, and arrived in Tanzania on a 77 degree day, a welcome escape from the freezing Chicago winter.
On the first day, we travelled to a village near Mount Meru, the second tallest mountain in Tanzania, where projects had already been going on. Some of the these projects included a secondary school which enabled more students to receive educations. Another project was the construction of a water pipe which led to the village, supplying a new source of clean water. These projects, and the gratitude of the people who they were helping, inspired me and showed me how powerful our experience could be. We were then shown around the village, which really brought to life all that we had heard about Tanzania beforehand.
Although the village had been worked on previously, it was shocking how little the people had. We were shown a traditional home of the Meru tribe, and it was not far superior to the homes which the majority of Tanzanians reside in.
Although they made me feel sad and guilty, these sights brought me hope because we saw how big of an impact we could have.
On the second day, we began our service. The school which we were working with had never had other service workers before, so we tried building a strong bond with the school to ensure that we could do more in the future. Although it may seem easy just to go into a place and build things to help out, the work is useless unless you are needed by the people you are helping. This is why our first trip was partly to build a relationship with the school, so that we could complete larger projects later. This was something that I learned throughout the trip — at first I was frustrated that we could not do more to help the children, but I came to understand that building relationships are key for future projects.
When we arrived at the school, I was initially daunted by the number of total students, and the large number of students per class. Each class had fifty to sixty students, with just one teacher. I came to recognized that the larger number of students was a huge positive, as the more students that receive an education the better. Each morning, I worked with students between the ages of eight and nine. In our class, there was a student for each row of three students and three teachers, which is three teachers and twenty students, yet we still found it difficult to teach the students. This gave us great admiration for the teachers who preformed this task singlehandedly. As apposed to the education I was used to, there was no way that each student could receiver the attention necessary for a proper education. Despite this, after some tentative introductions to children who spoke between ten words and no English at all, the children were excited and eager to learn. Our Swahili was of course much more limited than their English! The children’s’ eager-ness made me realize how important schooling is for them, as this is key for their future success. This made me realize how many students, including myself, take school for granted. For these children, though, this is their hope of living better lives, and they really wanted to learn. They were full of gratitude and enthusiasm. In the class, I was in the very back row sitting next to a small, shy girl named Naomi. It was obvious to see the difference between the students at the front and back of the class. Those in the front knew all of the answers and were not being challenged to their potential. Those in the back, however, did not know most of the answers and were far behind.
But since the teacher had to teach the entire class simultaneously, there was nothing she could do about this. For me, this was one of the saddest moments. As I sat next to Naomi, I considered how her future would pan out. There would be no one there making sure that she did well. Her teacher could not really help her and she couldn’t get any special attention. Most Tanzanian children don’t go to secondary school, and although primary education is vital, most kids are still likely to stay on their parents’ farms for the rest of their lives.
Moreover, the family dynamic is not the same as it is at home. After speaking to the translator who grew up in Tanzanian, I learned that children aren’t considered as precious as they are in developed countries, and rather they just considered to be a tool to help with the farming. This is why the education we were supplying to these children was so important.
We were also instructed to teach the children, and my group was assigned to the youngest group. The students who had taught them they day before told us that they had had to teach all of the children how to hold a pencil. When we got into the classroom, we saw how much progress the children had made. They were drawing pictures with the resources which we had donated to the school, and they were learning how to copy and draw their own images. Despite the language barrier, the class went surprisingly well. The lesson revolved around fun activities, but the children became even more comfortable with pens and paper and even using scissors. One of the children I was teaching was even quite happy just to draw circles for the entire lesson!
At the end of our time at the school, we definitely felt we had made a significant impact, and had developed a good relationship with the school. The children were hanging on us, and didn’t want us to leave.
The toughest part of the trip came after work. We were all very hungry, but we were devastated to find out that we had to eat at the school in front of the children who had nothing for lunch. I protested, but we had to eat there was nowhere else for us to go. The school refused to let us serve the children our food, as it would have lead to a begging culture. I still wished that we could have given them food. My friends and I ate behind one of the buildings where the children could not see us.
During the safari, we saw many giraffes and elephants up close, which was a great experience. We managed to get stuck in a mud pile, and it took us half an hour of towing to get us out. When our group was instructed to stop in the middle of an open area, we were all wondering what was going on, but were soon surprised to find that we would be spending the night there. I thought this was a great idea, although others did not want to be in such close proximity to nature without suitable facilities.
We spent the night in two main tents in an African National Park which was an unforgettable experience. Before we went to the campfire, the students from my school met to discuss what we should do with the funds which we had raised prior to our trip. We decided to spend money on some cheap water and food solutions for the school, desperately in need of these resources.
We also wanted to help with long term solutions to help the school, such as rebuilding the teachers’ homes. This would help them from not having to walk for over an hour to get to school, which would potentially improve their teaching and increase their willingness to stay behind to help students and run extracurricular activities.
Another project which we wish to help with is funding the teachers’ training. Becoming a teacher is expensive, at around £800, however because it is a government school, it may be difficult to to help with the finances. Better education will help these children drastically in their future, and having more trained teachers could help both relieve the workload for the teachers, and help better the children’s’ education.
The goodbye process was incredibly painful, as we had to say goodbyes three times during the day to different people. However, it was a great week. We learned a lot, and we hoped that our presence at the school would have a lasting impact. Along with future visits, I knew that the process that we had started would have a long legacy. We had started a great relationship with our Tanzanian partners!