Dominoes and Stone Town (by Andrew Dodd)

Nearly two years ago my wife, Reneé and I, started looking at options for volunteering in Africa and my father asked if we’d like to teach English on Zanzibar. He’d assisted with the Kio Kits (the ipad-like tablets that the project uses) and put us in touch with Ann and Caroline who run the programme.  After various other adventures, as well as taking an online TEFL course, we now find ourselves living in Stone Town and teaching English at Safari English Club. In total we’ll spend nearly ten weeks on the island. 

We have a small third floor, one bedroom apartment with a bathroom and kitchen near the Anglican Cathedral and former slave market with views from our spacious balcony across the rooftops of Stone Town.  This has a nice breeze and faces West so we can see the glorious sunsets that occur at this time of year and shelter from the rains when they hit.  When we aren't wandering around town, exploring the island or teaching we spend our time on the balcony reading, processing photos, eating, preparing for lessons and writing up reports on the school project.  The apartment is in easy reach of the market and other Stone Town sights and makes a great base and place to stay. 

Unguja Ukuu is just under an hour’s drive away. The car the project provides is parked in a car park near a police station a short walk away and we leave at 12:30 each day for the school picking up other teachers along the way.  Driving on Zanzibar is not difficult although the idiosyncrasies of some of the drivers keep you concentrating.  As you get further from Stone Town the traffic dies away and it quickly gets rural.  The roads are good, there is the occasional policeman who may ask where you are going or for your licence and a lovely avenue of mango trees on one stretch.  The fruit and vegetables sold by the side of the road are also good quality and much cheaper than the market in town.  The best buy being a 5 litre bucket of passion fruit for about five pounds - more than two can eat before they go off!

Safari English Club lessons now start at 1:45pm with Reneé taking some of the younger classes and me the so called Advanced Class.  We finish at 3:15 and try to visit the International school on the way home for a swim in their pool after dropping the teachers off again. 

Reneé has so far been teaching the classes to play dominoes. This has taken longer than one would think with the advanced class taking two days to fully understand and play properly and the younger classes three! Teaching dominoes has taught the children new phrases as well as helping with their maths and practising their general English.  It is organised to be a vocal game with players stating what number is on their tiles and how much they add up to when they put them down and scoring at the end of the game as well as saying "your turn" and "I can't go" as appropriate.  Although the younger ones know the numbers they only get from say five to eight by counting and not by immediately knowing the answer and some have to count the dots on the tiles each time.  Maths is something they struggle with and need lots of help with. 

I’m taking the Advanced Class and have been concentrating on preparing them for the challenge of being Tour Guides for the local hotel. The plan being for tours of the local village as well as the school providing additional interest to the tourists and some income for the Safari English Club.  Some of the students just lack confidence whilst some really struggle with finding or remembering the right words. This has involved learning new phrases, learning facts about the school and how to respond to potentially critical questions such as "where are the toilets?". The response being to ask if they need to go now and not to state "we will go there later".  There will be the opportunity to try the tours out shortly after the Easter half term break with visits by students from the International School.  This class is very mixed in capability. They come from the senior school across the road and whilst some have been regular attendees at the English Club others have not. You can certainly see the difference in confidence in speaking English in the children who’ve been coming regularly for the last 2 years.  I’ve  also covered some maths with them and as with the other classes they need all the help they can get with it although it is not a popular subject with them. 

Zanzibar and Stone Town are very interesting places to live and visit The teaching at the school is both challenging and rewarding and we are looking forward to the time we are spending here.  We would recommend volunteering here and working with the children to anyone.