It's with a very full heart that I write my final report from Zanzibar. It is hard to believe that so much has happened in the last 9 months, but it is also only now that I am leaving, as I look back at the students’ level of English when I first arrived and compare it to where they are now that I can see how much progress we have made together. That progress is not just in written, listening and oral skills though, but also in the way the students are engaging with the world... They are thinking more independently and trying out new things. Sharifa, one of our adult students, wrote these words to me in a good bye letter. “We learned different things from you, you are teaching us to refresh our minds to create something through our imagination. I like to do it, but actually I didn't know how to do it before. Now I can think and create quickly. It is a good step.” Using creative language is such a foreign idea to the students, but one they have been quick to grasp. In a recent workshop the students wrote this collective poem about the colour said they see around them.:
- Yellow, like the colour of sun shine in the world - it gives us good health.
- Light green like the colour of the garden after the rain fall has come.
- Black is the colour of people in Tanzania. I like black because it is the colour of my hair and skin and it is beautiful.
- Orange is the colour and name of my favourite fruit and I feel well when I eat it.
- Pink like the colour of balloons, they fly so sweetly.
- Dark blue like the colour of the ocean all over the world.
- Purple , like my favourite fruit, grapes! Light blue like the colour of clouds in the sky. White like the colour of the paint in my house where I feel happy.
- Dark green like the colour of leaves on the trees. It is a sensitive colour. Brown like the colour of my land where we dig.
- Grey like the colour of a rainy day.
- Red like the colour of the liver in my chest.
- Gold like the colour of a beautiful girl's hair.
- Silver like the colour of the tin sheets that protect my family when it rains.
An initiative we started many months ago, Fun Thursdays - a weekly session where learning is taken outside of the classroom, has also had a big impact on how students approach tasks. We have also put a lot of emphasis on trying things out and being happy when we make mistakes as it is only through daring to fail that we learn to succeed. This has been slow to achieve in a school system where a wrong answer is often punished by being beaten with a stick. So we have been rewarding the children who try regardless of the outcome and praising students who voice it when they don’t understand something.
All these new practices have not been going unnoticed by the Unguja Ukuu teachers, and at times they have found it difficult to understand what we are doing. I think it can make them feel insecure which in turn causes them to want to take control of our project. In the past months we have had ups and down with the teachers. We have found them too controlling and they have found us uncooperative. I think possibly they are feeling threatened that many of the students’ English is becoming better than their own. A big area of contention had been an English immersion camp I wanted to run during the time the school was closed for exams. I have led similar camps before and know how beneficial being in a sustained English environment can be for learning. We held a parents meeting and everyone present liked the idea saying how these kind of opportunities only ever happened in private schools in Zanzibar.
It was a tricky road ahead though, especially with the school teachers and the village madrassas (religious schools) and we almost gave up on the idea completely, especially when we heard some of our students were being punished by the Madrassa teachers for wanting to go. It's a very confusing line to negotiate with the teachers and madrassas as we believe their resistance is most probably due to them fearing we are ideologically corrupting their children. And if you believe that singing, dancing, having fun, swimming, and free thinking is wrong, then we are. So we somehow have to come to a partnership that is mutually respectful, and allows all of us the freedom to do what we believe is right, and support one another to do what is best for the students. The situation has calmed, but I think it will be good to have a community meeting between the village committee, the teachers, Ann, Caroline and Gasica so that the relationship between the Zanzibar Schools Project and the Unguja Ukuu school can be laid out, understood and agreed on by everybody.
And the wonderful news is that we were able to run the English immersion camp. It ran for four days and was based at a hostel by the beach in a village 1 hour away from Unguja Ukuu. We had the three ZSP teachers and were joined by three wonderful English and American volunteers which meant class sizes were small and people heard English being spoken all day long. It exceeded all of our expectations, and was an incredibly powerful, and I think life changing experience for our students. Every one of them made a big effort with the their English. The students reminding each other often to talk English and not Swahili and being surrounded by English speakers for 4 days had a big impact on comprehension and oral skills.
We packed in so many things, and the kids not only studied English, but had the opportunity to experience so much that was new to them.
- Living and sleeping in an English community
- Swimming twice a day (many of the girls can now swim! And a boy who has never dared enter the water before because he was so scared is now splashing and playing along with everyone else)
- Making chocolate cakes inside oranges on the fire, lotus flower paper lanterns
- Exploring creative language in English
- A terrifying night game in which the students defeated five evil monsters set on taking over the world
- A blind-folded night walk during which the students were silent for an hour and turned their focus inwards
- A celebration fire
- Discussions on what it means to be black and white
- Watching films and singing until we lost our voices during an incredibly heavy rain storm
- Making stalls and having an afternoon fair in which the currency was beans
- Ceremonial opening and closing circles
Everyone was very emotional on the last night/day. We had a lot of tears and I know we will all remember this for the rest of our lives. We had 48 students for the four days, with five extra students joining us on the Saturday. Each and every person there was so supportive and well behaved. And did everything we asked of them and more. I'm blown away by the experience, it was such an amazing way to say goodbye.
Haroun told me "The time in Makunduchi taught me that I am strong and powerful. It showed me many things about the world. It taught me many things about myself."
I personally feel very humbled and grateful. What an honor to spend such a magical time with the students away from all their responsibilities and watch them simply being carefree children for once. All while increasing their fluency in English. It is something that I will never forget.
The week since the camp finished has been spent saying good bye to everyone in Unguja Ukuu, at ZL4LF and in Stone Town. I cried when I left the village which is something that hasn't happened to me when leaving a place in over 20 years and the letters, gifts, words and time talking with everybody this week has been incredibly touching. Students from Unguja Ukuu are still making their way to town to bring me gifts and I spent a beautiful day at ZL4LF cooking and sharing a lunch at the chicken farm and then saying good bye at the school in the evening.
My happiest moments during my time here are:
- Watching the girls learn to swim
- Laughing our way through Fun Thursdays. Especially the egg drop challenge and BanzaiSharing evening meals with ZL4LF during Ramadan.
- Living in the village and making so many beautiful friends there
- Being invited to and taking part in a Zanzibari wedding
- Watching the students becoming more fluent in English
- Taking over an hour to cycle to school every day as I stop to greet everyone on the way.
- Adventures to places around the island with Gasica.
- Feeling very lucky to visit areas tourists never venture.
- Classes and games at ZL4LF which got every one shouting and up on their feet. Especially the rap battles with Rob.
- Visits from students at my home by the beach when we would discuss life and our hopes and dreams.
- Invitations to students homes to share meals and festivals together.
- Swimming in the sea every day and watching the sun set over it each night
Things I've found difficult:
- Watching a school system that so badly fails the students and which makes people believe they are unintelligent and destined to fail.
- Living in such a touristic island.
- The Zanzibaris attitude towards time and thinking nothing of being 2 or 3 hours late.
Before I go I want to say a huge thank you to Ann and Caroline for all their support and the trust and freedom they have given me at the school. I feel very lucky to have had such fantastic bosses who pretty much always said yes to all my ideas! Thanks also to everyone who has supported me to be here: Eleanor and Richard who have been so kind and patient in dealing with our funds, Dr Feroz who I have always been able to ask for advice. Our amazing donors and volunteers who have given the students so much, and both the Brighton and Hove, and the Stone Town Rotary Clubs who have been very generous and continue to support us.
And last but not least to Gasica, who has taught me what it truly means to be generous and who has welcomed me fully into Zanzibari life. We've gone on so many adventures into the heart and hearts of Zanzibar which I shall never forget. Thanks also for standing up to me and not being afraid to tell me when you don't agree. I love that our friendship is so equal