Study Abroad

Professor's Blog

May 30, 2018

Team TanzaniaGreetings from sunny Viwenge, Tanzania!! Today we had our first complete complement of teachers since the first day of teaching -we seem to be have battled a variety of ailments, including two discernible flu-like strains (one of which we may have imported from Boston) and some standard "travelers' tummy". We have also pushed to raise our expectations of the Tanzanian students, which has increased both their level of performance and our our level of satisfaction. We have discovered that the students (and their Tanzanian faculty) are quite shy about their English (they do not want to be embarrassed), which is quite funny to us since our Swahili is, well, less than one might hope, to say the least.

But with all fifteen students present for teaching, and the able help of co-leader Marisa Hastie, all four grade levels yesterday and today were humming with sentence construction, reading and reading comprehension, conversational practice, and more. The pictures we send really can't do justice to the energy (not to say "hubbub") of each class, with between fifty-five and seventy Tanzanian children reading, singing, playing word games, and demonstrating active verbs! The kindergarten class has one hundred seventeen students; there are two teachers assigned to that class, but often only one is present, which makes it even more lively.

We teach each morning from about eight to noon, usually all four grades (although sometimes "standard seven" is busy with exam prep). Then we head back to Masumbo for lunch at one, followed by meeting and rest time. We return for recess at three, until 4:15, after which we go back to Masumbo for Swahili at five. Today we will hold a "Self-Esteem Workshop"for the seventh grade girls, during recess time (our twelve female students, with Marisa and four translators, will hold small group discussions about hygiene, goals, and relationships). The young men will help with recess, and I will install the pencil sharpeners we brought last year with specially imported wood screws...somehow that never job never got completed over the last eleven months. After Swahili we have dinner at 6:30, Circle Reflection at 7:30, with class prep (if needed) before the lights go off at 10.

Tanzanian peopleThe scene at recess is complicated: about 200 or so boys play with the two balls we brought this year on the soccer pitch, while the girls split between small games of catch, with old bundled socks, netball (although there are no netballs this year), drawing with our paper and crayons, and reading with our students in small groups in the shade. We also brought frisbees this year, so I took my life in my hands yesterday to give frisbee-throwing lessons to a group of boys. Only one of the frisbees ended up on the roof, and I managed to avoid serious injury as four or five frisbees flew around me. At least we all had a good laugh!

We are more than half-way through our journey, but we have already discussed the challenges of leaving, wondering how to bring home what we have learned here, and what we have found out about ourselves. One important realization is that none of us will ever talk about "Africans" as a single group again - the Tanzanians have reminded us of their individual humanity, as only children can. Perhaps we have also shown that Americans are individual humans, as well - it takes some effort to overcome prejudices about us (rich, gun-toting, loud, etc. - few of those are positive...).

When we arrived, and the head teacher took us to all the classrooms, the Tanzanian students who were in grades four through six last year remembered the names of the Lasell students who came last year- to a person. And of course they remember Carson, who came along again this year as our TA, and Kristy, who was co-leader again this year (and who led the trip this year until I could catch up). They do, of course, remember "Professor Tom", sometimes known as "Babu", which means a combination of "grandfather"and "respected elder" (really...). But that recognition, and our three years of service, underscore the importance of coming back, year after year, to build a relationship that is all about genuine exchange, rather than simply a "feel good" experience of the kind we so often read about. There is little doubt that the real work, here in Africa, is developing trust through long term relationships where all parties genuinely benefit. We hope that we continue that, for Lasell, as well as for all of you at home.

Thanks, and see you soon!

Tom Sullivan

PS - it's now Wednesday, and we have had perfect attendance all three days this week. Everyone is healthy (or at least healthier), and the work at the school is advancing the way we hope for!!