August 1, 2016 Thoughts on Ramadan and a lesson on Malaria (Chloe)

It’s been a while since our last report and many exciting things have happened in the past few weeks. Although school was closed, Ramadan was a very special time to be on the island. I thought it would be a very serious and sombre month, and focus very much on not eating. But actually it was all so heart warming, about remembering the truly important things in life and really about eating a lot! During the day Gasica invited me on adventures with other ZL4LF teachers to his friends’ and family's farms to pick oranges, cassava, bananas, coconuts and tangerines. We perused the markets to find the best cuts of meat and freshest looking fish and then we would take our big bundle of food back to the ZL4LF kitchen to cook up a feast which we shared with friends as we broke fast in the evenings.
After the first 2 weeks of Ramadan I travelled to the mainland where I attended a week’s intensive Swahili school. Being able to converse with people in simple Swahili has made such a difference in how I am accepted by and communicate with the locals. Especially in Unguja Ukuu, which sees very little tourism, as many people cannot speak or understand English at all. It has also made a big difference during classes as now I know if the students have understood a sentence or word when I ask them to translate it, and I can use Swahili grammar to explain how it works in English.
Ramadan was also a special time for Doudi (the student who was excluded by teachers from our English class and who now attends ZL4LF on a 6 month work placement) He is originally from the mainland and a Christian, but decided he wanted to stay at ZL4LF during Ramadan and follow the Islamic tradition. I often shared Iftar with him as the sun set and he really enjoyed being a part of the ZL4LF family during this time. It was wonderful to watch him in the evenings playing with the neighbourhood children and sharing jokes with his new room-mates. It makes such a difference compared to his life in Unguja Ukuu where the majority of his interactions consisted of him being teased and excluded. He had been saying that he did not want to return to Unguja Ukuu, but a few days ago he came with us to visit his old village and it was great to see him feeling more positive about Unguja Ukuu again. He even spent time with the head master of the school shaking hands and chatting with him about his life now.
Monday 18th July - Our after school English classes started again 2 weeks ago. It was great to be back at the school and to see the students - both Gasica and I had missed them very much and we received many phone calls and text messages from them during our time apart. Everyone’s English was a bit rusty after not having practiced for 6 weeks so we spent the first week revising everything we had learnt so far. We split the class into small teams of three and gave each team a topic to review and then they devised a short lesson to teach to the rest of the class. The students enjoyed being teachers for a change.
Feedback we often hear from the students is that they would like to practice speaking more often so we created a speed conversation circle where pairs of students had to talk for 2 minutes on a wide range of subjects... their favourite food, their favourite and least favourite body part and why, their daily routine, their home, their biggest fear...etc. Gasica and I were able to walk around and listen to the students talking which was both interesting and hilarious (“I like my mouth because I use it to eat”!) The body question was actually very insightful as it highlighted how differently people see their bodies here compared to the West. No one disliked a part of themselves; there doesn’t seem to be an underlying culture of wishing they looked a different way and needing to be thinner, fatter, taller or shorter to be beautiful.
Wenesday 20 July: We recently purchased a comprehensive collection of fantastic grammar stories and exercises which are now loaded onto the Kiokit. Today we used them to practice the present simple. I was so happy as it felt as if the computers were being used to their full potential for the first time. The students read a short story about a cowboy named Hank, and then answered questions on what they had read. I was also very happy to hear that one of the teachers has been using the kits in her own lessons. In a meeting with the teachers tomorrow I shall offer to go through the kits again with any teachers who are interested, specifically with the intention of using them in their own classes.
Thursday 21 July: Even though we try to make classes as fun as possible, we strongly believe that learning can be just as effective outside the classroom as inside it. With this in mind, we launched the return of Fun Thursdays with a treasure hunt. We split the class into 5 teams and they each had to follow a series of clues (which got them all practicing prepositions!) to a final meeting place. Here they had to fit their different coloured jigsaw pieces together to reveal a secret message. Once they had worked out the mystery code the students had to walk 112 paces, holding hands in a line, to find the treasure. The groups worked well together and I was very impressed that they needed very little help, even though some of the clues were quite cryptic! It was great to watch the students getting excited as they ran around the school and nearby areas, hunting for the next clue.
Sunday 24 August: Our trip to Prison Island has been voted the favourite trip for most of the students so far! Not only did they get to visit Stone Town, they then crossed the wavy sea on boats to the island. Even though Unguja Ukuu is on the coast of Zanzibar, for many students this was the first time they had boarded a boat which was equally exciting and terrifying for most of them. And once on the island a silent, awe-filled wonder struck as everyone saw the giant tortoises up close.
We then explored the buildings. What is now a tiny, beautiful, tropical island off the coast of Zanzibar, was once not a pleasant place to be at all. At first it was the location where slaves were detained and held until they were transported to the Middle East or Europe. After that, the island was transformed into a quarantine centre where people with contagious diseases were left to die, so they wouldn’t spread their illnesses to the healthy. Today, however, the island is a friendly nature reserve, and it was a truly beautiful place to spend the day with the Unguja Ukuu students.
It was a very different experience for most of the students to go to an actual tourist attraction. One student claimed her favourite thing about the day had been the toilets, as they were so clean and beautiful!
Monday 25 July: This week was spent mostly learning the present continuous. Charades is a great game for this and much fun was had with students acting out different verbs and the rest of the class guessing. Killing a chicken and opening a coconut were my two personal favourites!
The Standard VI students have started receiving extra lessons after school in preparation for the upcoming exams, which sadly means they are often missing our English class. Now I am living in Unguja Ukuu there is the possibility of having extra lessons with these students at another time, but it is becoming more and more evident just how little free time the children here have already. Most students are in education 7 days a week. They go to school every morning from 7am until 1pm and then often have tutoring or attend Madrassa (Islamic school) until the evening. Both Saturday and Sunday students attend Madrassa all day long. Knowing this, it’s amazing there is so much enthusiasm for our English class!
Because of this enthusiasm and students often asking us if they can join we have decided to open up the class to another 25 students. This means we will now be teaching around 60 students a day. We want to keep classes small and relevant to the students’ level of English, so we have also decided to employ a 3rd teacher. His name is Sadiq, he is an ex student and teacher from ZL4LF and comes highly recommended. Now when we split the students there will be around 20 in each class and we'll have beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. It really is important to have small classes to ensure all the students are keeping up. But it is such a luxury here in Zanzibar - this morning I helped one of the Standard I teachers with her class and she has 71 pupils! It was quite chaotic! We are working with the teachers to identify the new students and along with Sadiq; they will begin at the start of next week.
Thanks to a kind donation brought to us by Robert, who will be coming to volunteer with us for 3 weeks this month, matched by funds from the Zanzibar Schools Project, the nursery school is now plastered inside and out. The teachers and nursery pupils are very happy with the work and hopefully one of Robert’s roles will be to decorate the walls with a sea-scape mural while he is here.
Thursday 28 July: Today Cait, a volunteer from Makunduchi Cottage Hospital came to deliver a creative class on Malaria. The students learnt important facts on how to prevent the disease from spreading and also had a lot of fun getting crafty with bottles and paper to make their own mosquitoes. Every time we do something creative I am reminded how important it is for the students. Although they are becoming more adventurous, they are still quite apprehensive in trying things out in case they get them wrong, and often ask the teachers or the older students to cut things out and draw things for them. At the end of the session they all used their mosquitoes to act out the story and loved running around, flying their mosquitoes and biting each other!