Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Travel TidBits: Muungano School

Muungano Primary School, Moshi [ January 31, 2011]

While at the Kilimanjaro Coffee Lounge last Friday meeting up with Nula, Canada – volunteer at GTHA with Linda in November 2010, I scan the flyers at the bulletin board and find one asking for a photographer to photograph children for TEACH. After calling Krupa Patel, the contact given on the flyer, on Saturday I agree to come to the school on Monday afternoon. We agree that we would meet at the Clock Tower in Moshi since I am new and don’t know my way around town yet.

After teaching the 2 computer classes in the morning [with no electricity!], I leave after lunch for my first foray into town on my own. By now I know the path and reach the ‘round about’ at the Clock Tower a bit early and sit watching the activities around me. There are street vendors: women selling shoes spread out in front of her on the ground. Another man polishes shoes; two women sell little trinkets while a constant flow of people passes by on their way here and there. The round about traffic is heavy with cars, busses and dala dalas, the minivans which constitute the main transportation. These dala dalas are always packed to the gill with the last passenger hanging on to the door. There are few white faces here in town, and while waiting I count about 3 Caucasians walking by. Throughout my trip to Kenya and here in Tanzania I have noticed that the majority of people are very dark skinned, almost black – both Africans as well as the Muslims of Arabic decent. Women are largely dressed in long skirts and blouses, often out of the same cotton material, while Muslim women wear their characteristic headscarves. The African dress colors are often bright and colorful and women might wear a decorative scarf of the same fabric as their dress on their head fashioned more in a hat form. The prevalent dress for men is Western style trousers and shirt.

Krupa with Sport Teacher

Tom, who works with Krupa meets me at the Clock tower and we walk about 15 minutes to the Muungano School, a Governmental primary (grades 1-7) and secondary (grades 8-13) school with about 600 students. Meeting with Krupa Patel, I learn that she is part of a charity organization, TEACH, based out of the UK. Their goal is to improve the enrichment activities at schools by organizing extra curricular activities. Here at the Muungano School, they have initiated sports programs as well as a small band. Krupa is on Indian descent and grew p in Uganda. While living in London, she joined TEACH. After a fundraising Kilimanjaro climb in September last year, TEACH decided to initiate the first project in Tanzania here at the Muungano School. Krupa has been in Moshi for about 6 months. She introduces me to the Headmaster of the school who is proud to show us around. We first observe the band activities:

Girl playing the Flute

A small group of 5th and 6th grade children play flute, cymbal and drums under the leadership of a girl with a baton while the larger group of children exercise to the music: jumping jack, and even push-ups and other physical activities. It reminds me of large gatherings in China where people exercise in public in large groups. The younger children watch and copy the exercise routine on the sidelines or just watch.

The next activity is a fun math game: some ~20 half tires are arranged in rows in a square, numbers are written on the tires. A group of boys and a group of girls form teams and the teacher calls out mathematical calculations, e.g. 10 x 20. The children calculate the results and rush to the tire with the correct number. Who ever sits on the tire first wins. There is much laughter and in the end the girl team wins. I marvel at the combined brain and physical activity while keeping it light and encouraging the children to learn while having fun.

Girls cheering after winning the Math game.

By now the students have gotten used to my taking photos and flock around me asking to see the pictures or have their picture taken.

They crowd so close that it becomes difficult to photograph them but we are all laughing and walking to the sports field where the soccer practice is about to start for the boys and where the girls have a smaller court for hand ball. The sports field is just a large area of dirt; and as the wind is blowing in gusts this afternoon, I need to shield my camera from the heavy dust clouds that arise intermittently. But this is not a hindrance for the students to pursue their games and I can see that they thoroughly enjoy it.

Under the watchful eyes of the sport’s teacher, the boys in their school uniforms run in the afternoon heat, I don’t know if anyone keeps score or whether a goal is achieved at all. But you can see the fun in their eyes and the laughter when the ball goes out of field.

Meanwhile, the girls also in their school uniform play handball. They call out to each other throwing the ball from one end of the court to the other, often heavily competing for the ball. Again I can see the joy in their eyes having play time and learning teamwork.

These outdoors activities are not the norm in school here where the teaching style is often rot memorizing and where teachers still use sticks to punish students who do not perform well. Speaking out in class and participating easily is not encouraged and I believe I see the reluctance in responding to questions in class in the young women that I teach at GTHA. Since a wrong answer is punished they are afraid to respond for fear that their answer might not be correct. In a culture where good relationships are important for survival, controversial issues are not discussed; passive aggressive non-dealing with difficult topics is the norm hoping the issue would go away. Its root might lie in the way students are treated in school and maybe in the home as well. The traditional culture here is not conducive to entrepreneurial activities, thinking out of the box, embracing changes that might better their life and lift the poverty so visible everywhere.

Unemployment in Kenya is about 50% and probably similar in Tanzania and people here live from day to day without being able to have anything extra for the future. Family bonds, good relations with neighbors are essential for survival where people help each other when the food is scarce. I understand now that a 1kg of rice or beans (1500 TSH or $ 1 each!) taken to the families of students at GTHA when doing home visits on Fridays is accepted with grace and might tie the family over for the next week when family income might not be more than a couple of $ per day. Margaret, our wonderful cook at GTHA, earns 80,000 TSH or $ 56 per months for coming 6 days per week to cook our dinners. She walks about an hour to come here, and then goes to town pretty much every day to buy the groceries for dinner (roundtrip at least one hour). Once dinner I ready she eats with us and leaves before dark since it is not safe for women to be on the street after dark. To earn some extra money, she does our personal laundry for about 5000 TSH or $ 3.50 to augment her income. We hear Margaret singing in the kitchen because she is happy to be here in this supportive environment, but also because she has a good job and steady income; and even on this –in our eyes – meager income is better off than most.