My time volunteering at Safari English Club was really so memorable and worthwhile. Zanzibar in itself is incredible! I had previously been to 6 countries in Africa, and can safely say there is nowhere quite like the islands. What Zanzibar Schools Project have going on in Unguja Ukuu is also amazing and I hope it continues to grow with the help of volunteers and local teachers.
I loved living in the bustle of Stone Town and driving to Unguja Ukuu each day. The drive is very beautiful once you’re out of town and we usually picked up a delicious sweet potato chapatti wrap along the way for 500 shillings (17p!) The journey was always filled with good chat amongst the volunteers and Zanzibarian teachers, and of course great Swahili music played at the volume it’s supposed to be played (loud!)
Once at the school, it was time to help the students of Standard 5 with their English. There were fun times, challenging days, eye-opening moments, and a lot of laughter. The class was everything a class of that age should be and more; intelligent, charismatic, witty, musical, energetic and humorous. Having located the syllabus I identified the topic of animals (‘wanyama’ in Kiswahili) which proved to be enjoyable and with a lot of language to teach in order for the students to be able to describe animals by size, characteristics, habitat, and more. It’s amazing that even when teaching a seemingly universal topic you still discover cultural differences, for example the children of Unguja Ukuu made it very clear to me that dogs are not “tame”, but “DANGEROUS!”, and that goats are “friendly”.
I also realised that occasionally I’d use English vocabulary that they didn’t know, and this was causing some confusion. “Teacher Jacky, es-cellent?” a number of students asked, much to my bemusement, until I realised that my positive exclamations of “excellent!” to a correct answer or good attempt in class were not being understood. This was very amusing, but also great because it created an entire lesson around these types of words; excellent, brilliant, good, bad, etc. It became necessary for all answers, whether verbal or in their exercise books, to be proclaimed as “excellent!” for ever more (even incorrect ones!)
I also taught ‘telling the time’ in English. This turned out to be unexpectedly complicated because in Tanzania and Zanzibar they use an alternative ‘Swahili time’, meaning each time had to be converted from Swahili time to ‘dunia’ (world time) before being translated into English. Nightmare! This topic also exposed me to the children’s musical side and how naturally rhythmic they all are. I took it upon myself to make a (very) basic drum beat on a laptop, and started playing it in classes while displaying a time on a clock. “What’s the time?” I asked, “quarter to two!” they chanted back in perfect unison to the beat, dancing under the table in some cases. It was great and I think it really helped them engage with the topic in a fun way, even if they gave my beat a thumbs down!
Before leaving we managed to organise a sports day where I played on a football team in a mini-tournament with some of the students in Standard 5. It was lovely and I was so impressed by their skills.
Overall it was a fantastic experience, and the main downside that springs to mind was that due to circumstances I could only volunteer for just over 2 months. My rapport with the children, as well as my Swahili, was building and I think the lessons would have only gotten better if I could’ve been there for longer. Hopefully I’ll be back one day!