On May 28th, 2010, I made my first trans-Atlantic trip! Destination: Tanzania. I was so excited that I was selected to participate in the CCNY Development and Service Learning Program in Tanzania. Under the direction of Dr. Tonya Hendrix, four other female students (Ceena Chandrabos, Medinah Chin, Hannah Major-Monfried and Analisa Wills) and myself were selected to teach biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics to high school girls at two science camps in Kigoma and Morogoro.
When I landed in Dar es Salaam, I felt as though I had traveled back to my native Trinidad. The people were warm and welcoming and seemed to greet us with 'Karibu' (which means welcome in Swahili) wherever we went. Such accommodating people! The first few days were a bit hectic as I was adjusting to a new time zone (seven hours ahead), being in a foreign place where Swahili is the main language, living with roommates for the first time in my life and constantly carrying my dear life in a fanny pack strapped to my waist! Not weird, just different. Our motto became 'Science is universal and everything else is relative.'
The entire trip lasted for four weeks. During the first few days, we visited the Slipway, South Beach and generally explored Dar like true foreigners. We also met Dorothy Mwaluko, our main correspondent at the Ministry of Education and the director of the Science camps. She is truly a remarkable woman and I have no idea how the camps would have run without her expertise and leadership.
Our first camp was located in Kigoma, which is the largest town in Western Tanzania and is dominated by Lake Tanganyika. Such a beautiful lake which is famous for the tasteful dagaa fish! But I digress. We tutored about two hundred girls, aged seventeen to eighteen years, at the Mount Carmel Girls' Secondary School for five days and I enjoyed it tremendously. We were introduced to twelve teachers from Kigoma who were instrumental in the classroom when we needed help teaching or trying to communicate with the students. It was a learning experience for the girls and myself, as we all had to step out of our comfort zones and be open to gain the most out of this opportunity. Initially, many of the girls were shy and hesitant to speak English. To help them overcome this, we introduced ourselves, sang songs (I learned a few Swahili songs in the process), played ice-breaker games and I shared with them my life experiences and why I had come to Tanzania. The first day was definitely very challenging and rough to say the least! But I was so encouraged by the girls because many of them were undaunted and gave all of themselves to learn and make the camp a success. At the end of the five days, I had made so many new friends but I could not help but wonder what would become of all the young women who were bursting with potential. It was saddening to leave but even in the short time we were there, many of the girls expressed to us how grateful they were that we had come to teach them and motivate them to continue studying science not only in high school but also at the university level.
From this first camp, I realized that teaching is difficult and for the students to learn you have to be fully committed to them and want the best for them. Eliciting class participation through asking questions, assessing the students' knowledge of the material and reinforcing the main concepts through repetition enabled me to better accomplish my goals at the camp and become a better teacher.
During the morning assembly on the last day of the first camp, Dr. Hendrix, the CCNY students and myself dressed in kangas (printed cotton fabric with colorful designs) and performed a song in Swahili! The girls were ecstatic and appreciated us learning their language.
In between camps, we traveled to Zanzibar and for a moment, I felt as though I was on a vacation and not functioning in a school-based capacity. Zanzibar is breathtaking and a gem. Swimming in the Indian Ocean - check! It was glorious to relax in the midst of our busy schedule.
Before we knew it, the second camp was upon us. This time we traveled by bus for three hours to Morogoro, a bustling town which is home to the Uluguru Mountains. Waking up every morning to such a splendid sight was heaven. As you can probably tell by now, I have fallen in love with Tanzania. I had no idea that Africa could be so beautiful.
Having gone through the first camp in Kigoma better prepared me for what to expect at the second camp at the Kila Kala Secondary School. Our training sessions with the Tanzanian teachers ran more smoothly this time around and we were able to fine tune the previous lesson plans to better meet the needs of the girls in Morogoro. Some of the lessons we taught included genetics, human characteristics, electrolysis, properties of light, mirrors, circles and spheres, probability, osmosis and diffusion and a bit of geography. The girls at the camp truly enjoyed all of the lessons.
One of the goals we always kept in mind while preparing the lessons was making the topic educational yet exciting and fun. I believe that the girls absorbed more of the material once they ware able to do hands-on activities and practical applications. For example, building reebops during a genetics lesson to study the inheritance of genes or observing the differences between a physical change and a chemical change using the Mentos-Coke experiment and sodium bicarbonate and vinegar facilitated such.
The CCNY Development and Service Learning Program in Tanzania struck out to me because I would be given the opportunity to empower young women and encourage them to pursue careers in science, engineering and medicine. As a young black woman myself studying to become a doctor, my hope was that they would witness first-hand, someone who is doing what many say is unachievable for them in their country.
In Tanzania, most of the school subjects are taught in Swahili, the national language. However, once the students enter Form 4, I was informed that they are taught in English and have to take their national examinations in English. I witnessed first-hand how challenging this can be for some students. All of the girls at the camps were Form 4 students. Sadly, if they are unable to gain a good command of the English language, they fall through the cracks. I was disheartened when I learned of this and felt relatively helpless. My hope is that many more people, like Dorothy Mwaluko, would embody the drive and passion to enable the young girls and women in Tanzania to complete high school and tertiary education, especially in the male-dominated fields of science and engineering. Like the girls at the camps would say, 'We can do Science!'
Being abroad has also increased my awareness of the Tanzanian culture and society as well as the Swahili language.
In the end, my trip was AMAZING!!!!! I bonded with my City College buddies as well as with the girls and teachers in Tanzania. Being able to experience my first African safari, wearing kangas, learning Swahili, witnessing the natural beauty of Tanzania and Zanzibar and haggling with street vendors were some of the great opportunities with which this trip afforded me.
Two months later, I am still receiving calls, letters and emails from some of the students telling me how much they appreciated us coming to Tanzania and sharing with them our time and knowledge. To me, this surpasses any other experience and made my trip even more worthwhile!
Abolish all preconceived notions!!!!! Approach your study abroad experience with a positive mindset and stay strong even when you may encounter times when you feel helpless, unsure and even lonely. Trust me, those times would come but take them in stride.
Keeping a journal was a great way for me to express myself and keep track of all that was going on.
As always, be safe and alert but do not be afraid to experience new things! Keep an open mind and take a billion pictures =)
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