A 6 Month Reflection

This month, October of 2013, marks the 6 month anniversary of leaving Tanzania.

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I cannot lie, it already feels like an alternate reality. Did it really happen? Did I really meet such amazing students, struggle as an individual and be challenged daily on what I wanted and believed, walk along dirt paths that were lined with banana trees and locals who carried their hay on their heads …

Tanzania left an impression that broadened my perspective. I am not a changed person, it did not “change my life.” What it did was make me stronger and more opinionated.

I am a stronger individual with a hands-on perspective on “international development.” I am more opinionated and believe that you cannot change a culture and you cannot change a person. You cannot force a person to adopt your opinions because you think your opinions are better. You must work with that person, understand their upbringing, understand their thought process and their culture, and EXCHANGE. Never Force. NEVER. FORCE.

Collaboration, and I meant TRUE collaboration, lacks in “international aid.” I believe people have a tendency to throw their opinions upon a group and make them change without ever trying to understand them first. This is why, I believe, that so much aid goes haywire, and why development projects never last long-term, or if they are, that some are very unhappy.  Who wants to sustain something if they were first forced to start it in the first place?

What I am doing now

I am not “saving the world” and doing youth programs and influencing the lives of young people. Of course, I will get there.

Recently I moved to San Francisco, and with the cost of living being incredibly high, I snagged the first opportunity I could:

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That’s me on the left, being a Segway Tour Guide.

So I’ve had to settle a bit so that I can pay the bills. I am done asking my parents to pay for my expenses, and I am moving (with baby steps) towards financial stability.

I of course, when the timing is right, will move forward so that I can continue to impact the lives of youth. In what capacity, and in what medium, I am in the midst of figuring it out. Though nothing is set in stone, Tanzania instilled in me a drive to make an impact. To collaborate and exchange and understand, before I make the decision. And to make my help optional, not forceful, so that whoever resonates with my ideas, my philosophies, and my guidance, will choose me, rather than me ever telling them what to think or do.

My Last Day … And Letting Go

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This was my last day at work. I got to spend it with some of my closest students: The Leadership Program. Previous to this above picture, we did an egg toss with egg babies. They got attached to these raw eggs with faces on them, names and everything. Lots of shrieking and laughs and pure delight. And cake. And soda. And crumbs on the floor.

2 weeks prior to this above photograph, I broke down in front of all of them.

“I am so proud of you,” I said.

A teacher who cries in front of students, out of disappointment, is considered a curse in Tanzania. They were silent.  But they also knew, because of our cultural differences, that my tears were happy tears, and it was okay. They weren’t cursed.

I worked my butt off to sustain the 3 programs I started: The Leadership Program, the Running Club, and the Theater/Improv Club which we call Theater Sports. I found teachers to take over in the best way that they could, despite the school changing their after-school schedules and requiring Form 2 and 4 students to study from 3:30 – 5.

I didn’t give up. I went to the Administration, talked to the Principle and Academic Head, who liked what I was doing – and approved my students as exceptions to continue their extracurricular activities.

It was emotional and emotionally exhausting, because I dedicated 110% to these kids, to give them opportunities that would continue to strengthen them as individuals. But I was also in check with the reality – that not everything could be sustained the way that I laid it down. I can only do what I can, and others can only do what they can. Also within the limitations of what the school wants.

I succeeded in finding 4 teachers to sustain these programs the way they could. Of course, in their own way. And that’s all I could hope for. I didn’t care if it wasn’t the same way that I did – all I wanted was for others to also care for these kids and not leave them hanging. They are doing this. In their own way. And it’s brilliant.

SO was it hard for me to say goodbye? Of course. I love these kids. They inspired me. They made me look forward to work every single day. Every single day was different. But I was also ready to let go, and pass on the work, and have the kids continue to grow under new leadership.

All of these kids that I worked with closely, perhaps 50 in total, and other individuals within the school who left an impression on me for one reason or another – are so, so special. Each individual has their gift, and I sought to help them discover it.

I am not saying I was a savior. I only hope that each student I worked with were inspired to discover and apply their gift, and if they hadn’t found it, to find it, and to use it, and to apply it.

How I Said Goodbye

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Those who have volunteered and/or worked at the school, get to give a speech to the entire campus.

This is what I said:

“All of you, each and every one of you, are talented. You all have something special to share. I am going to give you a few examples (At this point I jump off the stage and go into the audience):

Ntekaniwa (name of male student) – I don’t know you well – but I saw you rap last Saturday. You were amazing. I had never seen you full of so much energy and usually when I see you you’re pretty quiet, but you got on this stage and had the most energy and enthusiasm I’d ever seen (the 700+ audience applauds).

Riziki – the boy – you are a talented artist. I am blown away by your ability to draw. Anastazia – you are also a talented artist. And Julieth, Anastazia’s friend, you can play the didgeridoo at first go!

(I stand on a bench in the audience, so that all the students can see me. I’m short, so … )

Daudi – he’s so skinny! (Crowd laughs) – but he can work on a farm for 4 hours and not compain! (Crowd roars with laughter and is followed by a large applause)

(I continue to use names of students who are good at something, or who’s talent I have noticed)

I think you understand my point.

Each and every one of you are good at something. You have something to offer. And there are 3 things I want you to remember:

1) Believe in yourself. Believe that you are special, because what you are good at is what makes you YOU. (Applause from audience)

2) Find support. If you have an interest, I bet you’ll find people in this audience, in this school that also share that same interest. Use your friends, and find friends who want to do it with you.

And

3) Make support. Find and make people to support you. Your teachers, your peers, your headmaster and academic head. Make them support you.

Thank you.”

That was how I said goodbye.

People ask me all the time:

“Was it hard to say goodbye?”

“Yes and No,” I respond.

My Helping Hand

In the volunteer world at St Judes – those who served their time get to put their hand on the Helping Hands Wall. It is a lovely ceremony filled with laughs and tears, speeches and stories, and can be as sentimental or as quick as you want.

 

 

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The school also gives you a gift, and a card signed by the other volunteers.

I personally think it’s a lovely tradition.

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For mine: Helen kicked it off with a song she wrote, using the tune of “Tra-La-La: Banana Splits” (http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Banana+Splits+Song&mid=B4FBAF5699619D5F1E6FB4FBAF5699619D5F1E6F&view=detail&FORM=VIRE1)

“Hana Splits”

One Hana, Two Hanas, Three Hanas, Four

Four Hanas make a bunch, We don’t need any more

Exhausting with her energy, always on the go

Dinner at 10pm, Why’s her cooking so slow?

Cleaning up the mess made by Hana,

Cleaning up the mess made by Hana,

Cleaning up the mess made by Hana!

Tra la la, la la la la, la la la, la la la, la la la

One Hana, Two Hanas, Three Hanas, Four

Hiking with her everywhere,

It put me on the floor.

Dancing round the kichen

Singing all her words,

Sometimes she’s very loud

And drowning out the the birds.

Cleaning up the mess made by Hana, Cleaning up the mess made by Hana, Cleaning up the mess made by Hana!

Tra la la, la la la, la la la, la la la

One Hana, Two Hanas, Three Hanas, Four

Watching Hana learn how to cook

It made my brain sore;

Weird combinations, adding vegemite

Now she’s an expert, improving out of site

Cleaning up the mess made by Hana (X3) Tra la la, la la la la, la la la, la la la

One Hana, 2 Hanas, 3 Hanas, 4

What she’s done with students, She’s opened up the door;

Giving them confidence, Leadership, Ideas;

Running out of Usa, They haven’t any fears.

Try your best, says our Miss Hana! Try your best, says our Miss Hana! Try your best says our Miss Hana! Tra la la, la la la la, la la la, la la la

One Hana, Two Hanas, 3 Hanas, Four,

Having her around the place, It hasn’t been a bore.

Livens up any party, often on the town;

Live life to the fullest, she’s never backing down.

What will we do without Hana? What will we do without Hana? What will we do without Hana?! Tra la la, la la la la, la la la, la la la …

I LOVE YOU HELEN! THANK YOU FOR THIS SONG.

She helped me paint my hand multi-colored:

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BOOM – on the wall:

 

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The wall is now full of many of our hands.What a beautiful 16th month journey – looking at this picture (taken by Jane) reminds of the amazing people I have met along the way.

In June we only had one hand on this wall. Sarah. By April of 2013 this is now what it looks like.

You all are unforgettable.

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The 3rd Annual Science Fair

 

I know a St Judes Science Fair is vastly different from a Western one: the students of St Judes come up with more basic inventions rather than explaining complex research. 

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However, when you compare St Judes with other schools, and especially with government schools, we are vastly different because we have a Science Fair.

Government schools (considered public schools) largely do not promote the sciences as strongly because they do not have the funding to even provide science labs.  Students mainly learn from textbooks, without the access or resources to do experiments.

We are lucky to have enough funding to promote more hands-on and practical learning in the sciences compared to other Tanzanian schools.

This day, we were able to open our 4 new science labs – which is very symbolic to our enthusiasm to develop practical learning. It is no wonder the student body prefers the sciences, due to its more hands-on learning compared to other subjects at our school.

New Science Lab

New Science Lab

The 3rd Annual Science Fair was a big deal at St Judes. Considering it was the second one I attended, there were huge differences and improvements made from last year.

First, projects were divided by category. There was an arts category, math, geography, biology, ICT (Internet Communications & Technology aka Computers), physics, etc.

I, of course, appreciated the arts category. They were aesthetic, something I admired the students to explore:

The Volcano on Fire! Displayed by Mustapha, Godbless, and Melekezedek (R - L)

The Volcano on Fire! Displayed by Mustapha (white coat), Godbless, and Melekezedek (R – L)

A fountain!!

Students also taught me how to make traditional candles:

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and Levina taught me how to make paper charcoal – much better for the environment because 1) it recycles paper and 2) less omission of green-house gases!

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One group of boys made a mouse trap – if the mouse stepped on the metal plate (that perhaps had cheese / food to entice) – it would trigger the magnet to let go of the metal container it was holding – to drop and catch the mouse. A lot more humane than killing those rascals!!

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These girls (Catherine, Jesca, and Beatrice) – showed me how to make traditional medicine without using any chemicals – purely oils and ingredients from fruits and herbs:

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David and Ernest showed me the different parts to a computer, something I was intrigued to see David so passionately talk about. Normally when I see David around school he’s a bit jaded – and for the first time – I saw him animated and enthused. Ah, the beauty of seeing kids in different settings so you can learn their interests!

David, very Left, explaining the parts to a computer

David, very Left, explaining the different parts of a computer

The two projects that impressed me the most were the following:

Riziki, a Form 4 student and roughly 17/18 years old – is an exceptionally talented artist. What I didn’t know, was that he was also a creative inventor!

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Above he displays his own hand-made blender. Behind the wooden plank with grafitti lies a knife. You plave the food onto the metal place, and pulling on the wooden handle (which you can see protruding top right of machine) – you can chop your ingredients.

This then falls into the blue pitcher – where an electric motor grinds the ingredients to make – Tadaaa! Juice!!

Can you believe he made this?!

The first prize winner went to Lisson, who made (drumroll please) – A GENERATOR.

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Yup, Lisson’s around 16 years old – and made a generator that could be powered both by gas and kerosene. How ridiculously crazy is that?! He found an old motor and basically hooked up all the wires and such to make it work. For a good hour the generator broke and Lisson just preservered to try and fix it, while he had hundreds of students come through to watch his brilliance. He got it back up and running finally, and of course – won first prize.

Mr Mcharo, head of the Science Department, wanted to give out cash prizes for our students who won Top 3 in their categories, as well as Top 3 overall. We were sponsored by Exim Bank – and students were thrilled to bring home some dough.

Awards Ceremony: Cash Prizes for Winners

Awards Ceremony: Cash Prizes for Winners

 And so there you have it. A successful Science Day, also meant to inspire other schools to encourage more practical and hands-on ways for students to display their knowledge.

Other schools came to visit to learn from our students. (Boy on Left from Edman Rice, another school)

Other students came to visit. (Boy on Left from Edman Rice, another school)

We are extremely lucky that our school has the funds to promote more hands-on learning in the sciences, with the addition of 4 more science labs.  Our school has a strong focus in the sciences and the student body tends to favor these classes (probably because they are the most hands-on!) 

As the years go on and we continue to have a Science Fair – it will be thrilling to know what more our students will create and make.