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4/16/11

My Typical Day ~ Siku Yangu

There was a bit of structure to our weekdays in Africa. Each volunteer at CCS had a placement, most of which revolved around teaching kids. There are very few trained teachers in Tanzania. Their schools rely on international and local volunteers to reach their children. I worked at a school of 3-7 year young kids, at least that is what they tell me! When I would ask the children their age, many of them were not sure. Adults would guess the kids' ages based on their size. Image the wheels moving in my head as I hear this. I brought in a measuring tape and a scale to assess their height and weight based on their age - to see if they were getting enough nutrition to adequately grow - only to find out they guess their age based on what size they are. This means if a child is growth stunted, a teacher may mistake the child as being five three years in a row! Of course, if a teacher is around consistently this won't happen, but as volunteer teachers, schools see multiple people over the course of a school year. Parents have a card with health information for their kids that will have this important information. A child is scheduled to go into a health center every month until the age of five to assess their growth rate (in height and weight). If the parents are choosing to take their child in, the only catch is they are going to see health professionals who are not trained in how to assess this, so often they will just write down the information and not plot them on a growth chart or analyze the data. If they do notice the child is not quite keeping up with a growth rate that is typical for a child, they will advise the parents how to feed their child. This sounds nice; however, there is no assessment on whether these parents are able to or have access to getting these appropriate foods. It also may not be an adequate food-intake issue if a child is not growing properly. The health professionals in Tanzania do not quite think in terms of asking those questions, so when I did it was very hard for them to understand why I was questioning it. Nonetheless - that is a different tangent to talk about!
Our typical day started with breakfast at 6:30am. For me, it was roll out of bed, put on my work skirt and grab by breakfast, some of which was finished in the van on the way to placement. The folks I shared a ride with got to share in the morning ritual of watching me brushing my teeth. We would work at placement from 7:30am to 12:30pm. In my school, I would arrive as the kids are walking in (anywhere from 3-5 kilometers away). We had sixty students at our school. Mr. Massawe is the only teacher, and he also acts as principal administrator and the kitchen manager - in addition to his other job as farmer. Usually, we would have about 40 students show up. Of course as Murphy's Law works, the majority of students would show up on the days that I did not have the help of my local volunteer! Students could be missing for weeks at a time for any given reason. They just have to jump back into the lesson when they decide to come back. 

The lesson of the day starts around 8 or 8:30 - we start based on the position of the sun, so this time is variable. The main goal of a pre-school is to teach the children how to read and write. They learn in Kiswahili up to 6th grade. Then, if they pass the test to enter secondary school and have the support from their family, they begin English-speaking-only grade 7. Most students do not get that far in their education. My classroom, the group of 20-30 kids who were older, would learn letters and how to pronounce and write them. (Ex. da de di do du) Sometimes we would work with numbers. They knew 1-10 in English and could sing the alphabet in English, although somehow in Tanzania their version of the song repeats LMNOPQ twice. The kids would get their lesson and then write in their composition books. These books would run out of space after a while and since the parents could not afford to get their kids new ones, we would have to come up with creative ways to make more room. Many of the kids would write backwards or have trouble concentrating. Without the volunteers present, this problem is never addressed. By the time it is time for the kids to write in their books, Mr. Massawe has to leave the kids to teach the second classroom of the younger children (who are left unattended during the older children's lesson). 
For schools that can afford it, Tanzanian students get 10am ugi. This is the porridge that is made of ground up corn, sugar, and boiled water. Our school, Kilimahewa, is in Mr. Massawe's home which is also a maize farm. Although their is a school feed equivalent to $2 a month, most of the parents cannot pay it, so Mr. Massawe donates this food and teaches these students from his own funding. We calculated it would cost an additional $100 per month to feed the 60 students with a porridge that contained milk and ground nuts added to the ugi. I am still working to figure out how to create a system that would get this school that funding. The children have spoons and plastic cups that were donated. For some, ugi is the child's only meal. Other children may eat the porridge and have one other meal at home that consists of the same ingredients.

Swing sets donated by former volunteers
After porridge, they will go outside to play. This gives the hungrier kids time to have seconds, thirds, and fourths of the ugi (since Mr. Massawe is making enough for 60, the typical 40 can eat extra). The last and final part of the day is coloring. This part of the day, I try to take the opportunity to teach a bit of English and food. It is quite difficult teaching food when the kids do not get to go home and eat that food. I have to be very careful to be sensitive to them. It seems that Tanzanian kids LOVE songs, so during this time we might sing as well. I was the song director one summer at the day camp I worked at, so I thought this would be a cinch. With the language barrier, though, it was not so easy! What did I do? I made stuff up. Whatever I learned in Kiswahili I would make into a song and slowly creep in the English version of it. It actually worked really well! If I needed the kids to listen and be quiet (you know, if I wanted them to stop climbing on the desks and climbing out the windows - typical kids stuff!), I would do the 'Acha Kelele' song. This means stop the noise, so of course we would start the song super loud (how else are screaming children going to hear me?). We'd clap our hands, stomp our feet, hit the desk, then do it softer as we go (kind of like the song 'Shout!'). It was magical! Eventually, my CCS van would pick me up and the kids would chant, 'Gari na Mzungu!' Translated: car and white - or Kelly's car.
After my first stop post-placement - the shower - we would have lunch. The afternoon was free for the volunteers, but the interns could opt into doing extra work. During our first three weeks, all volunteers would take language lessons, cultural understanding classes, etc. In between these lessons, I would beg to go to a medical center or a community program that worked with food. Well, as my previous posts state, this was no easy task. Some of my fondest - work-related - afternoons consisted of meeting with doctors and nurses in AIDS community centers and watoto (children) wards. While the sun was still up, we could walk into town - I liked to look at the grocery stores, farmer's markets, and restaurants. I will say after learning the details of food-borne illness and food safety laws in the U.S., I am not going to be your favorite dinner date to a Tanzanian restaurant! Sadly, I was not able to sneak pictures of these things as it made the locals uncomfortable. Dinner would close out our day, then it seems we would spend the rest of our time getting to know our house-mates and laughing!

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