February 19, 2016: Final thoughts as we head home (Ann and Caroline)

Thursday February 18: The last day at school. Due to various generous donations, we had enough pencils and pens for every child in the school.  They were distributed and received with much solemnity.  In some classes there was also much agonising over the choice between a pencil sharpener and a ruler.

With gifts distributed, it was time for the school to make a formal thank you to us. One of the classrooms was transformed by a table laid with best white linen and vases of colourful fresh flowers.  Fortunately we plan to come back in November, otherwise it would have been too emotional to say farewell. The teachers and the school committee agreed that our project had been a success and much gratitude was expressed all round.  Thanks to Feroz and Gasica for translating.  Ann and Caroline were presented with straw gift baskets containing a “bread egg cake” made by one of the teachers and a sumptuous supply of mangoes.  We were given identical red Kangas with a motto about love and the teachers were delighted that we tried them on immediately.  Many instructions and practical help was offered about how to wear them and finally we gained critical approval from the female staff.

We conferred certificates upon those students who had attended our classes regularly.  For most it was the first time they had ever received a certificate.  Feroz was a popular person at the festivities – some of the children in the class have had their teeth inspected by him as part of his outreach project to the rural areas.  There was an improptu quiz with prizes of coloured pens which led to the two brightest students leaving equipped to colour in a rainbow!  By this stage, the class was on a roll and we finished the day with video recordings of the students confidently answering questions posed during the Skype session with Varndean. We’re looking forward to sharing the videos on our return to the UK.  As ever, Gasica’s translating skills were invaluable. He said “The children say they’d like to hug you” which resolved any cultural concerns we had about appropriateness.  There was a long queue of boys and girls keen to be hugged and once hugged they seemed to join the back of the queue again... The ultimate reward for our efforts.

Summing Up...We’ve experienced lots of fun.  The sad stories are balanced by energy and laughter too.  We feel we've been successful in linking an international community of our friends and family with a small African village.  We’re overwhelmed by the many connections that have been made between our friends at home and our new friends here.  

We’ve loved the way people have got involved in our project in so many ways:

  • A great orientation to Stone Town by Feroz and Hassan
  • Practical support and advice from the Zanzibar Rotary Club of Stone Town
  • Swahili language lessons in Lancing
  • Lots of encouraging emails and Skype calls
  • Preparation of ICT course materials
  • Visiting us equipped with unobtainable including Earl Grey tea, oatcakes and a replacement for the lost camera
  • Sending school-care packages of ink for the printer, jump drives, dictionaries, DVDs, skipping ropes, balls ...
  • Sending clothes and toys for the orphans
  • Laptops for the teachers and volunteers
  • TEFL text books and more dictionaries from ELC Hove
  • School twinning in Lancing
  • Equipping us with gifts for the children of pens, stickers, pencils, toothpaste and toothbrushes to bring out with us
  • Skype with Varndean school and motivating correspondence between the schools
  • Ribbons for teaching prepositions
  • Shares on Facebook that helped us find one of the next volunteers, Chloe
  • Generous funding of the Kio Kit tables by the Brighton and Hove Soiree Rotary Club, the Zanzibar Rotary Club and a private individual from Hove.

We really, really appreciate your kind donations that have so far have provided 2 months of school lunches for children staying for extra English, renovated 9 blackboards, provide funding for volunteer accommodation and transport, funding for Gasica to help us teach, photocopies of educational materials, text books for the teachers and so much more! 

And of course, we couldn’t have achieved any of this without Gasica, who’s helped us understand Zanzibar culture, translated for us, taught us some essential Swahili phrases (“jazzer” for “fill her up” at the petrol station is the favourite) and provided inspirational teaching and leadership.  Quite outstanding in someone who’s not yet 28.

 ANN: Summing up...

FRUSTRATION – at the appalling English in the text books. The worst were “let’s eat father” (Lynn Truss would be horrified), and in the section on cleaning the school “Slash the glass” (actually cut the grass).  FRUSTRATION with the bureaucracy that meant we didn’t get Gasica’s visa

FROZEN – memorable as the only Disney film we had for the first week and the cult of the snowman that quickly developed in 32 degree heat.

FUN – the amazing popularity of the Hokey Cokey, the High 5, High 10, laughing with the teachers in the staff room and the Great Dhow (a Swahili Coast sailing boat) Race.

WE RECEIVED MORE THAN WE GAVE – “thank yous” from the children thanking us for their lessons, presents of mangoes and crabs, specially made pilau,

WE LEARNT MORE THAN WE TAUGHT – to be humble about how we give to developing countries – to ask what’s needed and to work together to find what’s feasible, not imposing what we want to give.  To learn to be tolerant when we don’t have the full picture. And most of all, to be thankful for the educational opportunities that we’ve had.

CAROLINE: Summing up...

THE CHALLENGE – we encountered teachers and students with a very shaky understanding of English.  The cultural divide was great.  Many artefacts of lore and experience which we take for granted were simply not available to students or teachers. The people of Unguja Ukuu are, by our standards, very poor indeed.

Teaching methods are very different from those we are used to.  Rote learning and corporal punishment are the mainstays of teaching practice here.  These we learned to live with in a rather cautious coexistence. 

Teachers aren’t helped by textbooks (insufficient in number) which contain gross errors and, sometimes amusing, infelicitous use of English.  They are required to teach a set curriculum to prepare students for exams having had no training in the topics they are required to teach.  The ICT teacher informed us she had to teach about the INTERNET, and asked, ‘What is the INTERNET?’  No technology here.  No INTERNET connection and one working laptop (a second hand donation) that only one or two of the teachers have the remotest idea how to use.  Blackboards and chalk are the backbone of educational technology.

WHAT WE ACHIEVED – In the face of this, we made significant strides in improving the level of English, both written and spoken.  We spent many hours preparing teaching materials, putting our portable computer printer to good use.  Both teachers and students found our lessons fun and we had fun giving them.  Much creative insight was invoked in the process as we quickly learned that standard TEFL methods weren’t of much use.

The most valuable resource in our teaching, however, was the enthusiasm and desire to learn on the part of both teachers and students.  They don’t take education for granted and seize the opportunity to improve their life prospects.  They gave Gasica, Ann and myself absolute respect and worked very diligently in their learning.  I greatly look forward to returning next November and seeing how their exams went and what advances they have made with our new volunteers.