June 8, 2016: Letters from penfriends in the UK (Chloe)

Sunday 22 May: The student’s had all been waiting patiently for the day to arrive when we would go on our second school trip. And this was it! This time we decided to explore the north of the island and spent the day on the beach in Matemwe, where only one of our students had been before. We all squeezed into the school bus and had a very fun 2 hour journey up to Matemwe (after we’d been pulled over and stopped until we paid the police bribe) full of talking, singing and dancing. I love seeing the whole class together and relaxed like this. It’s in the in-between times that you can really see the changes the students are going through - with their English skills, but also the blossoming of confidence and creativity.
We had a lovely day on the beach. One of the highlights was a whole class game of football. It was great seeing boys and girls of all ages competing. We split the teams into my class against Gasica’s and played until our toes bled. (Well mine did anyway...who knew kicking a football without shoes on was so painful!) We went for a walk, talked together, played some games and also spent a lot of time swimming in the sea again. This time nearly all of the girls came in and it is great to see how everyone’s confidence and enjoyment in the water is growing. It struck me watching the girls bathe how unsuitable their clothes are for swimming – either they wear their full clothes which are really hard to swim in, or they dress in clothes suitable for swimming, but I worry about how their parents and teachers will feel if the news gets back to them that their daughters were in public without headscarves and wearing short sleeves.
Monday 23 May: Today we had our monthly class meeting to share how we all feel the classes are going and to suggest ideas and improvements for the future. We opened the meeting by going around the circle and each of us saying a little bit about ourselves. We then went around a 2nd time scoring 1 to 10 on how we feel the classes are going. If people wanted they could explain their reasoning, but they weren’t obliged to. Everyone scored the classes between 5 and 10. The 5’s and 6’s were due to the students’ frustrations that they weren’t progressing with their English as quickly as they’d like. The 9s and 10s were about the classes in general and the student’s enjoyment of them. I spoke to 3 students who were feeling frustrated with their rate of learning and these were their worries:

  • Not being able to say the things they want to
  • Not being able to understand everything
  • Being able to write, but not being able to speak English.

In response we are going to create more activities that really promote English conversation. We will also organise a day in which many English Speaking Zanzibari residents are invited to the school so everyone gets a chance to talk 1-on-1 for a good period of time. Additionally, when I move to Unguja Ukuu next month, it will provide many more opportunities for English conversation outside of the classroom.
The monthly meetings have become a very important part of our teaching. This time we were able to tell the students how we feel outside of classes when we ask them a question in English and instead of trying to answer, they pull a funny face and run away! (It was happening quite a lot!) Since then everyone has been making much more of an effort to respond and surprising us, as well as themselves with what they do understand and can say when they make the effort. It has made a huge difference to how we are all relating. Another suggestion the students made was that instead of Gasica or the more advanced students being the ones to translate what I am saying, that everyone should really try to understand for themselves and if people don’t understand then the younger students should try to translate. Again this has meant there is a lot less Swahili being spoken in class and the students feel like they are progressing faster than before.

Wednesday 25 May: Today is Gasica’s birthday so instead of having a classroom session, we all went down to the beach for English fun and games and to meet a handful of students from PLCI. We started by asking different students to come to the front of the boisterous group and introduce themselves to one another in English. Some sang songs or told jokes and the Unguja Ukuu students were very welcoming to those from ZL4LF. I gave Gasica a big chocolate birthday cake and was able to witness the Zanzibari tradition of everyone having to sing a happy birthday solo in order to receive a piece of cake! I also made a big pass the parcel, complete with prizes and forfeits and we spent a fun afternoon combining Swahili and English birthday traditions. The Unguja Ukuu students presented Gasica with a whole chicken they had carefully cooked and beautifully prepared with eggs and vegetables. At the end of the day the football players went back to the village for a big PLCI v Unguja Ukuu football match. Most of our students stayed behind at the beach as they wanted to go swimming. They really are loving the water and being in it more and more, but I found the situation quite worrying, knowing we were in their own village and seeing that the girls were in quite inappropriate clothing for the Muslim tradition. Since then I have been in talks with Ann and Caroline and we are hoping to find a way to obtain appropriate swimming clothing for the girls so they can keep having as much fun as the boys. The boys won’t miss out though, as there is a whole teams worth of football shirts on its way to Zanzibar too!
Thursday 26 May: Today, during the students’ computer session with Philip, the teachers asked us to talk with them. They began by singing the students praises, saying that whenever something important needs to be done in the school it is always one of our students who puts themselves forward, and that they are seeing them take more responsibility and have a noticeable increase in confidence compared to the other children at the school. They also told us that when some doctors came to visit the school to talk about cholera, they asked questions in English and it was our students who were the only ones who could reply and ask their own questions in return. I asked whether this is a new development, or whether it has always been these students who stood out. The teachers replied that it was a new development and how happy they are to see the students progress.
They also told us that they would like to accompany us on the school trips which we all have mixed feelings about. In some ways it will be good to become more of a team with the teachers, and we do not feel we can refuse them, but we are also aware of how much it will change the dynamics. My fear is that the students will feel less free to be children (to dance and sing and swim and be silly.) Gasica told me he thinks it could change the way the students behave quite drastically.
Monday 30 May: The letters arrived from our new penpals at Harmondsworth Primary School in London. They were received by the students with much excitement. The relatively simple English in the letters was perfect for our class and the students got so much learning and enjoyment through reading and understanding what was written. Both Gasica and I could see the effect they had on the class – on their English, and on their enthusiasm. We learnt new words such as dot to dot, martial arts, x-box, gymnastics, looking forward, and it was a lot of fun trying to guess if the names belonged to girls or boys.
We spent the next 2 days writing our responses and the children took such care to write neatly and decorate them with drawings and pictures. Some of the letters our students wrote back were very touching, explaining all about their lives in Unguja Ukuu, their hopes and dreams and the way they feel about things. It was very clear to see the innocence of our Zanzibari students compared to those from London. Our letters are now on their way back to the UK and we are really looking forward to finding new ways the students can communicate with one another in the future.
Thursday 2 June: Not only was today our last day of school before the 1 month break for Ramadan, but it was also Philip’s last day at the school before he leaves for China. To mark the occasion and to celebrate with the teachers and the students we staged a talent show. The students sang songs, performed plays, danced and presented words of goodbye and gifts to
Philip. (All in English and to quite a lot of heckling from the teachers!) Philip received over 50 mangoes and we were all given crab shaped pasties filled with delicious crab meat. We finished the afternoon with the students, telling them how proud we are of them, how brave they are, and how we want them to keep practicing English during the break.
I think we're all happy for a small rest, but at the same time, things really seem to have shifted in terms of confidence with the English over the last few weeks and we feel reluctant to break the momentum.
On our way home from school we dropped in to visit Doudi at the ZL4LF chicken farm where he is now living. He did not want to go back to Unguja Ukuu for Ramadan (even though he would not normally fast as he is Christian) so he will stay at ZL4LF and fast with the other students there. He is working very hard at the chicken farm - tending to the birds, vegetables and fencing. He is so happy and relaxed at ZL4LF and he says he does not want to return to Unguja Ukuu, which we will need to think about as the ZL4LF placement is not a permanent position for any of the students there, but a way in which to give students 6 months of valuable work experience before finding other employment within Zanzibar.
Wednesday 8 June: Philip left Zanzibar this afternoon. The last few days before he left were spent uploading a whole resource full of English learning tools and exercises onto the kiokit, which realistically could keep us all going for a year at least, and which enables us to use the Kio in a much more integrated and useful way. We are all very excited to try out the new learning tools when we get back to the classroom in July.
This morning I sat down with Philip and asked him about his experience here in Zanzibar. He said “I've enjoyed my time here enormously. It's been a very rewarding experience but I've also faced challenges such as complications arising from the cholera outbreak, concerns over the election and frustration over gaining access to the Kiokit system for content upload in the initial stages. Three things that will stay with me for a long time are the warmth and exuberance of the students at Unguja Ukuu school, the rapt attention of students as they used the Kiokit, and wonderful days relaxing on the beach with white sands and the azure ocean.”
Philip is off to China to teach mathematics to students there. We wish him lots of luck on his continuing adventure in education and give our thanks for all the work he has done in helping the Unguja Ukuu students gain access to information technology.