Thursday, May 30, 2013

I want to be a _________

A fun way to remember some of my students and their ambitions. What do Tanzanian students aspire to be? Here’s a sampling: though most say a teacher, nurse, or a doctor.








Friday, May 10, 2013

Peer Education Day

As a follow up post about the boys’ empowerment conference that we held a few weeks ago, last Friday we arranged for our students to facilitate their peer education day. We arranged with our school for all of our ninth grade students to gather in the largest hall at school Friday after school. We helped prep our boys the Wednesday before. Our boys stood up in front of their peers for two hours and taught about 160 students about goal settings, HIV and AIDS, and gender roles. Their presentation was absolutely wonderful and I was so proud of them. Some pictures below:


Fredy & Fanleck doing the Peel Banana energizer song


Fredy teaching about the difference between a long-term goal and a short-term goal


Nassoro teaching about the difference between HIV and AIDS


Victa doing the exercise of showing two males (or one male and spiderman) and two females and guessing which of the two has HIV. In the end, the students discuss how you can’t tell just by looking at two people who has HIV and therefore, if you are in a sexual relationship, you need to abstain or use protection.



George and John leading the lesson of the difference between sex and gender and identifying gender roles with the help of Fanleck, Victa, and Nassoro

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ruhuji Falls in Njombe

One of the only tourist attractions in our nearby town are the beautiful Ruhuji falls. It’s only a short 10 minute walk from the central area of Njombe. During the rainy season, the waterfalls come to life in full force and create a stunning scene of beauty. Locals come to relax by the waterfall or to do their laundry in the water.


Ruhuji Falls in the rainy season


Ruhuji falls in the rainy season


Ruhuji Falls in the dry season

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Garage Sale

Two years ago some volunteers had a great idea to sell all of their belongings at the end of their service. When I first heard of this idea, I thought it was kind of selfish, to sell your belongings instead of just giving them away. After two years of living and working here, I realize it is far better to make people buy my belongings, even if it’s cheaply, instead of just giving things away for free. By giving things for free, it gives the wrong message that locals should just rely on free things instead of working to earn things. So, this past weekend, Jon, myself, and 3 other volunteers who will leave Tanzania soon had a garage sale of our own in town. We sold various items, mostly clothes. We all made a decent amount of money and it was a lot of fun. Some pictures below to see how much of a crowd we had at our garage sale! I love that I am starting to blog about the last of my few months here.
All of our belongings ready to get sold!
We never anticipated a crowd this large!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tire Sandals

One reality of living in a developing nation is the lack of resources and things available. As a result, Tanzanians are incredibly resourceful and are able to discover ways to reuse nearly everything. This weekend, my sandals broke unexpectedly and so I went and bought myself a pair of tire sandals. A lot of Peace Corps volunteers buy these sandals and I have always hesitated because I worried about how comfortable they actually would be. I was in a pinch and needed some sandals so I figured now is the opportunity to try them out. The sandals are put together by old, cut up tires and four nails. The man cut them to fit my feet and wa-la, I have a pair of tire sandals for the cost of $2. My first day wearing them, I was correct, they aren’t terribly comfortable, however today they don’t seem as bad. I am hoping that they become really comfortable because let’s face it: while not beautiful, they allow me to leave a light footprint on mother earth (pun completely intended) by giving old tires a second use!
The 4 nails that hold them together: two in the middle and two by the toe wedge.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Boy’s Conference

Last weekend, six Peace Corps volunteers gathered in Njombe and held a boy’s conference. Each volunteer brought 6 boys from their village school, grades ranging from 5th grade to 8th grade. In addition, we all brought one Tanzanian adult to help us with the conference. The conference’s main focus is teaching life skills especially about HIV and AIDS. The idea is for the 6 students from each school to learn as much as they can about these topics and go back to their schools and present it to their peers in a peer educator fashion. The money comes from a grant to help educate Tanzanians about HIV/AIDS. Jon and I brought 6 students of ours who we thought would be great leaders, peer educators at our school, and in addition, we brought some boys who we see have potential but could use a conference such as this to boost their self confidence. We brought a new teacher from our school named Mdotta to the conference. He was amazing. He is a rare Tanzanian who has a lot of training in working with youth in regards to HIV/AIDS. He was seriously so amazing. The life skills topics that we covered included decision making skills and gender roles. We had 4 children living with HIV come talk to our students about what it’s like for them. A doctor and a nurse who work specifically with HIV/AIDS patients came to talk to them as well. Some fun activities included dance parties, games night, and movie night. Our boys were by far the strongest boys at the conference in terms of their leadership and engagement. I felt like a really proud mom and I really enjoyed the whole weekend. It was a great way to end my last couple of months here. Our boys are yet to do their peer education at school, but they are excited to do it.


Jon and I, our 6 students, and Mr. Mdotta


Getting the boys to dance!


John, Fanleck, Fredy, and George


Teaching the boys about gender roles and they had to bake a cake to give them experience of a “woman’s job”


The boys learned about leadership by creating a “pole” that can hold an egg. The idea was to get the boys to realize that leaders need to listen to each other, delegate work, and cooperate.


The students working on their short term and long term goals after a goal setting session with the message of setting goals will help them choose to avoid risky behavior.


Group shot of all the participants


There is a program called Zinduka which ties HIV/AIDS education with soccer. One morning consisted of Zinduka activities. This activity is a metaphor where the students dribble a soccer ball through the risk field of HIV and AIDS.


We took the boys out for ice cream. 4 of them liked it, 2 didn’t! They didn’t know what it is really and they tried to put it into their pocket to eat later!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My little heartbreaker

I have a student who I have completely fallen in love with! He is such a smart kid and he tries so hard to study and improve in all ways he can. I have been spending more and more time after school time with him to improve his English. To be honest, his English needs little improvement, just some tweaking. I thought that he must have parents at home that speak English to him. But, it's not the case, his father died several years ago and he just lives with a guardian. He hasn't seen his 3 sisters in over a year. Yet, this little 14 year old will try to be the best he can be is so apparent. I worked on an essay contest with him and he needed to answer the question of why is water precious? in at least 500 words. He did it! I helped him with some grammar points, but they were 100% his thoughts and ideas and 95% his grammar. It has been noted in several publications that when a student is acquiring vocabulary, the average student can attain 7 new vocabulary words in one lesson. He can acquire about 20. Now that the essay is finished (one week of after school work with him), I have been giving him flashcards to memorize vocabulary. At the rate we are going, he is attaining about 100 new vocabulary words per week.

Recently, he came over to my house and we were having a "chat session". A session where we don't learn new vocabulary but where I ask him questions and he responds and then he can ask me questions. We only speak in English. His questions were these: when you are on an airplane to Tanzania, how do you eat? how do you bath? what do you do for that many hours? Then, he asked me if it's true that Americans have pictures of the sun, moon, and the planets. I told him it's true, they exist and that I will show him pictures of space His smile was ear to ear and he responded with I will become so smart!

Selfishly, Jon and I want to keep him at our school because he's so great to work with and it's so rewarding, however, we are looking into the possibility of having him accepted into a better boarding school about 1.5 hours from our school. The students at the boarding school are much brighter than most of our students. He will excel at a better school and be surrounded by smarter students. We asked him first if he would want to switch schools and he said yes without hesitation. We hope to work it out, if possible, before mid-April. He is just so smart and bright, he deserves a better education and we're going to do all we can to try to make it work out for him. In the meantime, I am ecstatic to be spending so much time with a Tanzanian student who aspires to be the President of Tanzania when he grows up. He's so hopeful and studious, he just breaks my heart with how adorable he is!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Life Skills or Sex Ed 101

Since arriving to my school and learning about the opportunity to work with female students on life skills, I have always been interested in teaching the topic. Peace Corps provides an easy-to-follow curriculum that addresses things from decision making skills, communication skills, to learning the truth about HIV/AIDS and pregnancy. I kept putting off teaching the material because Peace Corps strongly encourages us to do it with a Tanzanian colleague. After waiting around for a year and assessing which teachers might be interested in doing this with me, I didn’t come across one teacher who seemed responsible or willing enough to teach with me. First of all, I only wanted a female teacher to work with me. My plans were to only work with female students, I didn’t want a male teacher who might make things real awkward for the teenage girls. That narrowed down my teacher candidates to 4. One had a baby, one got married….that narrowed it down to two. One beats students excessively, now that’s just one female teacher left at my school. The remaining teacher is scared to talk to me. That left zero. So, I put it off. This year, I decided, F-ck it, I’m going to teach it without a Tanzanian. The major road block? My Swahili. I openly admit it, I have been one of the laziest volunteers to attempt to learn Swahili. Sure, I can get around, I can have easy conversation, however, am I going to be able to discuss sensitive and delicate issues such as teenage pregnancy, HIV, and birth control options? Am I going to only make things worse by not speaking Swahili well enough to get my message across? Well, I decided to go for it. It’s now or never.
I decided I would teach it to the grade 9 females. They were all my students last year, so we’ve built a relationship over the course of the year. They like me. I went to gauge their interest. I got all of them into one classroom. I explained my interests and asked for a show of hands on who would attend. Every single hand flew into the air, 110 hands waving around like they’re at a soccer match. Well, it looks like I can’t back out now.
My first class was 3 weeks ago. I had about 100 girls in a classroom and I was incredibly overwhelmed and unsure how I was going to manage this. Of course, the boys are all curious and jealous about the girls receiving a special, secret lesson. A lot of the discussion was interrupted by the necessity of telling boys to stop watching through the windows. They all pretended to accidentally enter the room. I needed to put a desk in front of the door and a sign on the door saying, do not enter. The girls were enthusiastic and excited. I had to enlist a few helpers to keep the girls from giggling too much. We took a vote on the topics they want to discuss first. First request: relationships. I had them ask anonymous questions to me in Swahili. I took them home with me and spent hours translating them. My Swahili concerning sex, STDs, birth control, and other related terms has suddenly increased tenfold.
To try to improve the situation of boys, my second class consisted of moving the lesson to a more secluded classroom at the school. I still had a few intruders, but it was negligible compared to the first lesson. My friend informed me about these wonderful FAQ booklets where you can get one in English and one in Swahili. The FAQs are completely geared towards the type of questions my students are asking. There’s a booklet for various topics such as : growing up, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, healthy relationships, love relationships, drugs & alcohol, etc. These books are what is making this class possible for me. I translated their questions, then located the answer in the English version of the book and found the corresponding questions in the Swahili books. I organized my next lesson so that the first thing I did was draw the male and female reproductive parts on the board. Then, I let the girls giggle for about 3 minutes. Then I broke out some condoms and asked what is this? I showed them the proper way to open a condom, I let the girls who were curious to touch it and pass it around. Then, I did a condom demonstration. I showed the girls how to properly unravel the condom using a wooden penis. I then showed them how it’s not possible to use the same condom twice and that they should not try it. Finally, I showed them how to undo the condom, tie it up and told them to throw it down their pit latrine. The girls were giggle, giggle, giggling, but when I asked follow up questions, they understood what I said.  The students took turns reading the Swahili out of the FAQ booklets to answer the questions. We only were able to get through a handful of questions in this lesson but they really like the books and want to continue in this format for the lesson. I think I have found a successful format to convey the correct information in a way that the students can understand despite my lack of Swahili skills. I am working to move the class into either our computer room or the library where it’s even more difficult for boys to try to be a nuisance. It’s times like these that I feel my school is such a zoo that I can’t do anything productive without having to deal with behavior issues. Or to have a classroom properly constructed where outside disturbances are minimized by the walls, windows, and doors.
Just to give you an idea, here are some of the questions asked by my students:
If I use a condom, can I get HIV? If I use a condom, can I get pregnant?
What is a good age to get pregnant?
If the condom breaks, can I get pregnant?
If I sleep with a man who has HIV, can HIV transmit to me?
If I use birth control, can I get pregnant?
What is puberty?
I am 16 years old, am I old enough to have a boyfriend?
If I don’t have my first period and I have sex, can I get pregnant?
Are condoms and birth control the same thing or different?
Why do boys want to have a relationship with me?
If I kiss a boy, can I get HIV?
If you talk with a person who has HIV, can you get HIV?
If you have sex only one time without a condom, can you get HIV?
If you have sex with a boy younger than you, can you get pregnant?
If I use a condom, can I get syphilis?
As you can see, they have little to no information on how to protect themselves both from pregnancy and HIV. On top of that, if a girl gets pregnant while in school, she gets expelled, meanwhile, the boy gets to continue his education with just the speech that he should try to help pay for his baby, but without any real pressure to do so. I think what I am doing with these girls is super important and can change their lives if they are informed well enough to make the best decisions for their body and future.
And for all of you wondering, here is my wooden penis:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Jon & Lia

Jon teaching math to Lia. She knows that 1 fish + 1 fish = a fully belly now.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Letter Reading

A large thank you to everyone who not only requested a letter, but wrote back to their Tanzanian penpal! The letters have been trickling in since late December. It was great timing since school had a month-long break from December to early January. I held my first letter reading in mid-late January. The students were overjoyed with their letters and even a few gifts that were sent. Even the students whose letters had not arrived yet enjoyed letter reading because it naturally ended up that everyone was showing their letters to everyone and passing them around. I provided dictionaries and Jon & I were there to help with certain words/phrases that were difficult for the students. Even though some words can easily translate to Swahili, the students are still not familiar with what the word is or means. Not only was it a great educational opportunity, it was an excellent way to share American culture with students. I held a second letter reading in mid-February to give the letters to the students whose letters arrived later. During the second reading, we showed 20 minutes of the Mighty Ducks because nearly 90% of the letters to my students involved hockey in one way or another. A former professor of mine from SUNY Plattsburgh even sent one of the students a Plattsburgh puck. Students loved learning about hockey and asked us to arrange for them to play. Obviously, there’s one major barrier to this: there’s no snow or ice. Some letters got lost on the way, some letters are on their way now. I will still return any letters that arrive after this because some students are still asking about their letter.  I have a dedicated group of girls who are eagerly responding to several middle school classes in my hometown. This has turned into letter writing club for me. It is one of the most rewarding activities I have done in my Peace Corps experience and I want to thank each and everyone of my friends and family and even people who I never met spanning 4 continents who helped me with this project! I thank everyone who is receiving a second letter because my students requested to write again. Thank you for your time and energy to make letter writing a success! Some pictures are below!





Above: helping with some vocabulary or sentence structure


Above: the crowd of students looking at one letter!






(above: Jon showing kids the donated puck before a 20 minute video of hockey from the Mighty Ducks)


Above: Happy students

Sunday, February 24, 2013

An ode to a colleague….and am I just a glorified babysitter?

An opportunity walked right by me, yet I am still very happy for our colleague and friend. When Jon & I first began working at our school way back in September 2011, there was a student teacher here. His attitude towards teaching and his dedication to his students was eye-opening for Jon & I. It is rare to find a Tanzanian teacher who does not use corporal punishment, that uses interactive teaching, and who dedicates his life to the well-being of the students. He is one of the French teachers at our school. Around November of that same year, he returned to Dar es Salaam to finish up his university studies. Late last year, he returned to our school after completing his own studies. It was a great day when he returned. You see, Jon & I are viewed to be rather strange to our colleagues. We’re strange because we put our students before ourselves, we put our students before our colleagues and we don’t hit them. In short, we’re viewed as strange because we respect our students. This French teacher shows the same characteristics as us. With his presence, we felt that he was a phenomenal role model to the other teachers. He’s Tanzanian just like them and he does the same thing as us. He believe in education. He believes in the same language acquisition styles as me.

How did this opportunity pass me by then? We had so much to learn from each other. Both being language teachers and having the same belief system in education, we should have been collaborating. Alas, we didn’t because we were both so busy with our students and lives. Two weeks ago, he was offered a job at a college on the northeast coast of Tanzania. He’s ecstatic and so am I. This is an excellent opportunity for him and he always told me he wanted to be a professor. This is an excellent stepping stone for him. While I am really happy for him, I am very disappointed that we are losing potentially the best teacher at our school. It’s hard to express how much his presence and his dedication to our students has left an impact on me. You see teachers like him in this completely dysfunctional school system and it gives you hope that maybe, someday, the Tanzanian education system can turn around.

In the meantime, in reference to my last few blogs titled “why, why, why?”, I asked him why do the parents of our students in the one classroom where they are about 5 years behind continue to pay for them to come to school? I didn’t get it. It seemed like such a waste of resources on everyone’s part. It seems like they can just get to work on the farm. Yet, his response made me realize that there is no real point in teaching these students. He said there are basically two reasons to keep these failing students in school. The first reason, he said, is because it is shameful to the family if they pull their student out of school at this age. It’s shameful for them to put him/her to work even if they are failing everything and not understanding anything at school. Secondly, he said they send their failing students to school because it keeps them out of trouble. If they are not at school, it’s possible they are engaging in relationships (getting pregnant or the risk of HIV), or getting themselves into other trouble (perhaps drinking, drugs, etc). So, sending them to school, even if they are failing, is like daycare for teenagers. Essentially, for this classroom, I am a glorified babysitter. It’s too bad that the parents can’t be talked into sending them to a vocational school to learn useful skills such a being a seamstress, driving cars, maintenance of cars, carpentry, etc.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Kitulo National Park

Just a simple picture blog today about Kitulo National Park, known as Bustani ya Mungu or God's Garden. This remote, yet not terribly difficult to get to National Park is rarely visited by tourists. There are several endemic species...monkeys and flowers and the towering cedar trees. Unfortunately, we were unable to afford the route that allows you to see the monkeys and giant trees, however, we were very pleased with the flowers we saw on our day hike. The park boasts 45 different types of orchids among several other flowers belonging to the touch-me-not, pea, daisy, and other families. It is required to take a guide with you, which was absolutely fine considering he was very knowledgeable on all the flowers. I was actually quite surprised on how much he knew his flora! There is on-going research in the park. While we hiked, there were two researchers present. Besides the researchers and their workers, we had the entire park to ourselves that day. While it rained all around us, we lucked out, finishing our hike on the Matamba ridge down into the valley of Kitulo about 20 minutes before the rain started coming down. 

Sunset from Matamba, the village nearby the park that you can stay in and arrange your guides and pay for your fees.

an orchid 

This flower towers over me!

Jon's favorite flower

This flower is endemic to Kitulo

Our guide drinking from the stream

Check out that crazy bird tail