Monday would be the beginning of my tour through the villages to learn about all the NGO’s projects. It began with a very welcome trip to the Children’s Village in the morning. This grew to be my favorite place on earth. This orphanage was started by the NGO and consists of 4 houses (with 2 more being built in the next year). During my time in Igoda there were 44-46 kids living and thriving there. Each house has a head mama and the house of older boys (12-16) has a house mama and baba (father). The mamas and babas are paid by the NGO. Food, supplies and medicines are also provided to the children. All the kids have chores to help the adults and keep their homes running smoothly – they cook, clean, work in the gardens, haul water and wood, and watch after the younger kids. The kids there thrive. They love each other as siblings and the house parents are their mamas and babas in every respect. The consistency of care and love they receive is unparalleled in my opinion. Not that I have spent a lot of time in orphanages, but these kids are all smiles. Joy, laughter and love reign supreme at the Children’s Village. I spent the majority of my time at the CV lower house. The four houses are built on the side of a hill/mountain with the oldest boys at the top and the youngest kids at the lower house with the babes and Hezroni…
With my background in health and disability, I wanted to work with people with disabilities in Mufindi. Hezroni is a 15 year old with Cerebral Palsy and HIV. His parents both died of AIDS. His father cared for him the best he could despite his own illness and made it clear that he wanted Hezroni to have every opportunity afforded him after he was gone. Hezroni went to live with his grandmother who was a drunk and not taking good care of him at all. The founder of a neighboring NGO, Village Schools Tanzania, met Hezroni and were able to help him until Foxes’ NGO built the Children’s Village. Hezroni lives in the lower house with the younger kids as transporting him up to the other houses is difficult as he can’t walk on his own. He does have a wheelchair, however, sometimes the terrain is difficult to maneuver. This was the morning I first met Hezroni and it was decided that I would be working with him every morning for 1-2 hours during my stay. Over the course of 5 weeks, each day Hezroni and I did exercises for PT/OT, learned some English and mostly learned to write letters, numbers and the most important of all… His name. When I started working with Hezroni he knew the alphabet and numbers in English, but only if recited in order. We decided to work on that and especially his name.
All the kids at the Children’s Village stole my heart. I had reservations and worried about becoming too attached, for me and for them, but quickly learned it would be impossible for me not to get attached. Again, it was time for some stickers…
8 month old Rachipia, he had me within the first 5 minutes
Melania, Ene and Tosha
Children's Village in Igoda
I went and spent time with these kid nearly every day I was in Tanzania. It was always the highlight of my day to work with Hezroni and then just play with the kids. Some days we would draw and write, some days we would blow bubbles, some days we would dance and sing songs. Every day was a joy.
The kids quickly learned to check my pockets and my backpack for surprises. Before I left, I purchased a lot of little gifts to take with me for kids and the people I met. If invited to people’s homes or shown a kindness I thought proper for me to have something to give in return. And for the kids, I just thought it would be fun. My friend Jen who had lived in West Africa said that little, fun toys would go a long way and boy did they! I took crayons, paper, plastic lizards, toy cars, pencils, rings, bracelets, whistles, bubbles and of course lots of stickers. These particular items were picked out by my friend Alice. Four-year old Alice was thrilled to help me find things for the kids in Africa. I took photos of her choosing the items and showed the kids there and vice versa. So fun! I used a lot of the toys with the kids at the Children’s Village (others I used later in my visits to sick children who we maybe had to poke and prod and needed a little something to brighten their day). The kids also grew to love my hair. Four-year old Tito especially loved to take out my hair clip and comb my hair or try it out in his own…
Silly, joyful Tito
Tito is the sweetest kid I’ve ever met. He loves to play and laugh and hold hands. He also is not very fond of pants, won’t wear em (sound familiar?), so the mamas dress him in skirts and he’s just grand.
Our next stop on the morning tour was Igoda Primary School. It was about 3 miles from my home to the school. A beautiful walk through the trees and village anytime of the day or night. The NGO has added classrooms and a library at Igoda Primary. The only primary school lending-library in Tanzania thanks to the African Book Box and their Canadian donors. When first arriving at the school, Jenny had some terrible news to share. A four-year old girl named Scala had died that morning. Scala had AIDS, her parents had died of AIDS and she was in her aunt Sarafina’s care. Her parents had instructed Sarafina to make sure Scala kept getting treatment. Sarafina chose to not give her the ARV’s, instead deciding that “god would heal her.” There will be much more about Scala in entries to come, but this Monday morning, five days into my time in Africa, a child had already died of AIDS.
In Tanzania school is broken up into two stages, each with their own levels similar to the US grade-level system. In primary school there are 7 Standards (levels). Kindergarten is not included in these levels as some schools don’t have them, but Igoda does. Instruction in primary school is in Kiswahili. Kids in kindergarten (and/or Standard 1) learn Kiswahili. Many of the children do not know when they start school because in their villages and homes their tribal languages are spoken. For example, in the Luhunga ward (where Igoda is located) the first language spoken in the home is that of the Hehe people, kahehe. While there are some similarities, oftentimes a person who knows Kiswahili can not understand the tribal languages.
Igoda Primary School
When a student is in Standard 7 they are required to take and pass a test in order to move on to secondary school. If they fail they cannot take the test again. It is a one-time, winner-take-all kind of thing. Keep in mind that these kids walk miles to school each morning, so they are tired. They more-than-likely leave their homes without eating, so they are hungry. They very likely may be sick as well.
How does one concentrate to learn when hungry, tired and sick? Let alone learn everything one needs to know year after year in order to pass one exam. If they don’t pass to go on to secondary school, their education ends, limiting their futures to farming, craft-making or unfortunately the streets and alcohol. Not to mention that the language of the wealthy and educated is English. Having only a primary school education usually means one only knows rudimentary English, further limiting kids’ futures.
World Map created by children at Igoda primary school
Those that do pass can go on to Secondary school which is mase up of Form 1-4 (and sometimes a Pre-Form class). All of a sudden instruction for all classes is in English. Students may or may not have had English in primary school and even if they did, it was most likely taught by a teacher who doesn’t know English fluently her/himself. Teachers are also known for collecting pay and not teaching. In the rural areas this is quite easy because the government doesn’t check on them. The teachers may physically be in the classroom (simply in a requirement to collect their pay), but no learning is taking place. One of my friends shared a story of when she was in school and her teacher would simply tell them to read the book, despite the fact not all kids had a book nor knew how to read it.
Tanzania & Mufindi portions of world map
Teachers often use corporeal punishment in their classrooms as well. Kids who are hungry and tired don’t pay very good attention (naturally) so they are beaten, further compounding the learning process. If a student goes to secondary school they must cross another exam bridge at Form 4 in order to graduate and pursue higher education if they choose.
In short, the educational system in Tanzania is broken. That’s not to say that the system in the US is perfect, far from it, but in Tanzania the educational system holds people down. Foxes’ NGO has been doing something about all this. At Igoda primary they have built a library…
Library at Igoda Primary School
A full-time librarian/teacher, Yusto, was hired. Yusto is a native of Igoda village and lives not too far from the school with his wife and children.
The amazing Yusto teaching in the library
He teaches English to kids and adults at the library. Yusto is THE man.
Not only is Yusto an EXCELLENT instructor (you should see the kids when they are in his class!), but he is also one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He helped me so often when I was there and he freely shared his life story with me. This man has big goals many of which he has achieved and many more I know he will accomplish!
School cooks preparing uji
The NGO also started a food program at Igoda primary school called “Meal in a Mug,” known as uji.
Headmaster Mr. Sapula overseeing the kids line-up for uji
Uji is a hot porridge made of rice, grains, soy beans, water, sugar, water, and ground peanuts – all ingredients available locally in Igoda.
Having my first taste of uji. After some trepidation, I learned it's delicious!
After some initial trepidation on my part, I learned how delicious uji is. Reminded me of childhood and eating Cream of Wheat while watching cartoons. That sort of warm, fuzzy, full, content feeling.
Due to the kids being so tired and hungry each day, the NGO realized that providing them a hot meal would be very beneficial to the learning process.
Attendance on this day: 97%
And boy has it been! Not only are kids more focused in their learning, the school attendance has skyrocketed to over 90% each day. Word has gotten out that Igoda Primary is the place to be!
At Igoda primary the school day begins each day at 8:00 am, with a break for uji at around 10:30. Lunch break is held from 1-2:30, during which point the kids are free to go home for lunch or stay on the school grounds and play football, basketball and/or do chores around the school.
Igoda Primary students procession after lunch
At 2:00 before the kids return to their classrooms they all gather in front of the school for song.
Primary students drumming (ukumbi in background)
A group of older children, playing drums, lead all the students in a procession of song and music. For me, this was a magical time each day and even more amazing the first time I watched. After the procession, they line up by standard level for announcements before returning to class.
Kids line up for announcements after lunch processional
On this, my first day at the school, the kids were quite curious as to who the new mzungu (white person) was. Luckily not so much so that no one talked to me. There were some gregarious kids who smiled and talked immediately. Especially after I spent a little time in one of their lessons…
Sitting in on Standard 2
Igoda Primary Kindergarten building
The next stop on the Igoda primary school tour was the Kindergarten. When we first approached the building I asked Akida when the class was in session. He laughed and told me they were in there right now. I was dumb-struck. We were standing right outside, next to the pillar and by the open window, and yet I couldn’t hear a sound. The kids are so well-behaved and eager to learn! Incredible.
Igoda Primary school Kindergarten class
Upon announcing ourselves to the class (Hodi! May we come in? Yes, you may), we were greeted by the Kindergarten teacher, Cornelia. These 5-7 year olds had me from that day forward.
Alphabet lesson by Noelle... What letter is 'F'?
I even stepped in right away that first visit and taught a little bit that first day. And of course the stickers made an appearance at the end of the school day.
I didn’t want to leave them and told Jenny promptly that I would do anything with those kids.
Luckily, days later my dream came true when Headmaster Sapula asked me if I would like to teach English to the kindergarten 2 days a week! Would I ever!
Kindergarteners enjoying their stickers from mzungu
I’ve never taught elementary school. I have absolutely no credentials, aside from being a native English speaker and loving kids. Further, as I’ve mentioned previously I fully expected to be utilized (and want to be) in health care and with people with disabilities. The closest I’ve ever come to teaching kindergarten was teaching american adults who couldn’t read.
More sticker fun
Not exactly the same thing, but I was thrilled to know I was going to get to spend time with these kids. After a couple hours with the kindergarten, it was time to leave for the day. Knowing I’d be back a couple times each week made leaving alright. Even though they did sing me the Good-bye song…
Kindergarten class singing me good-bye for the day
Near Igoda Primary School, Foxes’ NGO also built the ukumbi (community center) last year. The ukumbi was officially opened on World AIDS day 2009 (Dec. 1st) and since has been used as a central gathering place for the villages in the ward.
Ukumbi (Community Center)
The ukumbi is managed and lead by Mama Ivon and Titus. These two are amazing individuals. They communicate with all the villagers and plan programs and festivities to hold at the ukumbi.
Inside the ukumbi
While I was there the ukumbi was used for the monthly bibi (grandmother) and babu (grandfather) teas and seminars on alcohol and HIV. The ukumbi has proved to be invaluable for the NGO’s work and the villagers. In the future, they hope to use the ukumbi for social gatherings. Such as to show films, celebrate weddings, etc.
Adult English classroom in the ukumbi
There is also a classroom in the ukumbi where Jenny teaches and introductory Adult English class (I taught this class in her absence in the coming weeks, but more about that later.)
Last, but not least, on this day we went to see Madici Secondary school and meet the Vinton’s who founded the school. Susan, Steve, Joshua and Jonathan Vinton started the NGO Village Schools International. They have built private schools in several African countries, most of them in Tanzania.
VST - Village Schools Tanzania at Madici Secondary School
The private secondary school at Madici is about 7 miles from Igoda village where Foxes’ NGO main base is located. The Vinton’s and Jenny & Geoff work closely together as they do their work. Their work varies quite a bit, but the communication and care that all of them demonstrate are astounding. I love and respect each of them so much. On this day I met the Vinton’s and saw their school. The school is run by a local whiz of a man, Roderick. There’s really nothing Roderick can’t do.
The school has local teachers as well as volunteer teachers chosen by the NGO from around the world. These volunteer teachers live in the community and learn from their students as well as teach.
Teacher housing at Madici
One long-term volunteer teacher, Sarah, was such a firecracker. So full of passion and love. She’s one of a kind, just like Steve and Susan. (Susan and I grow very close over the next 5 weeks as we work together in the villages, but again, more on that later…).
Madici school is a tight ship. They keep their students in-line and love them at the same time. Students have to pay more to go to a private school like Midici, but Steve & Susan (and their donors) make it possible for students to get assistance in paying fees if they work at the school.
Chairs of tardy students locked away
In an effort to make students accountable for being on time and in the classroom, if a student is late or misses class their desk is locked away. Only when he or she comes to class on time do they get their desk back the next day. And this eliminates the need to beat the children for being late – a win, win!
Students who work to pay their fees can be found cleaning, cooking, planting or even building. For example, the students at Madici Secondary school built their own damn and holding pond. The advantage of having this is not only for the sake of having a water source nearby, but the students also know how the pump works.
Susan, Geoff & Justin as we tour Madici's holding pond
They did not have to buy a fancy expensive pumping system because they built it themselves. Further, when it breaks they know how to fix it locally. Waiting days for a repair person to come from Dar would be highly inefficient and costly.
My fifth day comes to a close with a wonderful meal at home. I eat the wonderful food Upendo has cooked for me and hit the hay. Of course after playing with my new buddy, Upendo’s son Stephen for just a little while… 🙂