Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Travel TidBits: Tanzania

Dear Friends:
Lioness in the Maasai Mara

Teaching at Give a Heart to Africa (GTHA)
After a good night’s sleep, I woke at around 5am when the roosters started to call. This will be my daily wake up call! The house is quiet and I get up and sit in the living room to write my notes and capture thoughts that are otherwise fleeting like birds in the sky. With 6 volunteers and Monika and Losojo in the house, the constant chatter and laughter is very different from my quiet house at home.
On my first day, Monika, the head of the school, asks me to ‘visit’ in all the class rooms (3 total) to get a feel for the program, the students and life at GHTA. 38 Students (30 women and 8 men) are enrolled in the 6-month program to learn English, computer skills in Word and Excel, and business. The volunteers teach English and computer skills and Monika teaches the business class. The 38 students are divided in ‘first’ and ‘second’ level according to their language skills. Half of them in the ‘first’ or beginner level and the other half in the ‘second’ or advanced. School starts at 9am but the computer room is available for practice from 8am. We have 2 periods: 9-10:30 and 10;30 to 12noon, and at any given time there are 3 class rooms in session. The students range form early 20ties to 40ties and they are eager to learn. Today, one student Gertrude brings her small son who sleeps on her lap most of the time during class.
In the business class, the advanced students are asked to reflect on a business exercise – much like the Donald Trump TV program – where they were asked to practice teamwork by starting a business proposal and carrying it out to successful or not so much financial results. The 4 groups had the following ideas: sell potato chips that were hand made (very successful, they made ~90$!!), offer laundry services (the least successful business). In this class, we reflected on what went well and what did not work. It was interesting to hear how cultural norms influenced the success or failure of this exercise with one male student – Peter- stating that it was difficult for a young man to lead a team with older team members since in the Tanzanian - and African culture – elders are respected and listened to. By assigning and accepting talks for the project from a younger member, the older ones did not like it. Not everyone on each team carried his or her weight but it was difficult to get this out in the open and to discuss honestly what happened. Listening to the VERY slow pace of the class, conducted half in English and much in Swahili with a translator it was an exercise in patience. Culturally these students are not used to discuss and brain storm and much of the class is to open their minds to thinking and analyzing ‘out of the box’. The Tanzanian school system is not encouraging this. Much of he learning is rod memorization with little discussion in class.
I also learned quite a bit in one day about the Tanzanian school system: The countries language is Swahili which tries to bridge the 120 tribal languages still spoken in the rural areas. English is the second language. The primary school is from grade 1-7 and is taught in Swahili with English as a second language. When students enter the secondary school (grades 8-12) all classes are taught in English but most of the teachers are not good at English and might even continue to teach in Swahili – BUT the exams are in English with an enormous failure rate – not surprisingly. Most girls do not continue to secondary school and are much hampered in pursuing work outside the home. Those boys that continue will learn as much as the particular school can offer but if they fail the final exams (in English) they can not apply for university studies. School tuition, cost of uniforms, books, even fees for desks and other school resources hinder many parents to send their children to higher education with a high poverty level in the country. I don’t know how much unemployment is in Tanzania, but in Kenya I heard that it is around 50%.
GHTA was founded 2 yeas ago by Monika, a young women from Canada, and it offers half-year courses to prepare students to conduct a small home business: some of the successful students opened a hair salon, opening a stall to sell shoes, another to sell clothes. There is a coop in town where 4 students have a rented space (paid by GTHA) to offer their ware. GTHA sponsors this endeavor for 1 year by paying the rent. Then the ‘new’ entrepreneurs hopefully will ‘stand on their own feet’ and continue with the coop. It is interesting to learn, that landlords demand rent for 1 year in advance and not surprisingly, such a lump sum is a big hindrance. Even the compound that GTHA occupies demands the 1-year rent in advance.
Back to the GTHA class room, I visit the English class where students just finished a quiz – a weekly occurrence to monitor any progress – and are now talking about their homework. Each student had to write a sentence using the past tense of irregular verbs and their choices of subjects vary but give some inside into their level of advancement from 3 word sentences to longer ones reflecting situations at home like: My son had a fight last night and was injured. Each student has to write the sentence on the black board, read it and corrections are made. A very slow process. Students are asked to copy all sentences as practice. The advanced students do this a bit faster but I wonder how much can be learned in ½ a year? But it is better than nothing.
In the afternoon, I walk to town with Monika to the immigration office since I need a Tanzanian work visa on top of the 50$ visitor visa paid at the airport upon entry. Then on to the ‘town center’ – but more on this later.
For now, the sun is rising, the water for tea is boiling and the day will begin. I can see Mount Kilimanjaro in the North with a clear snow-capped mountain top. One of the girls in the house will climb Kili next week... – But, I am teaching in the computer room today and look forward to it.