Queens students in Tanzania
When she considered her options for the summer 2012 Teaching Fellows international study tour, Assistant Professor of Elementary Education Jennifer Collins knew she wanted to give her teaching students a teaching experience fundamentally different from what they were used to.
Her solution: two weeks in a small, rural village in the East African country of Tanzania.
After three days of travel-including two layovers, 20 hours in the air, and a two-day bus trek from the capital-the group arrived in Pommern. A modest but tidy village that serves as hub for the region's farmers, Pommern has no hot water, sporadic plumbing and power supplied only by generators.
Jeff Thomas, co-leader of the trip and Assistant Professor of Biology, said "By 9:45 at night the power was cut off and the village was dark. Bread and meat are scarce so most of the food we ate was seasonal and grown right there behind the mission house in which we stayed. It was an eye-opening experience for our students, many of whom had never been out of the country before."
The students, all of whom are studying to be teachers, worked in local primary and secondary schools teaching lessons in world history, math, chemistry, elementary science and English.
In Tanzania, primary education is mandatory and free. Local schools serve local populations. But secondary education is optional and students must pay to attend. They also leave their families to live in special, regional boarding schools. Because most families need time to save up, the age span for Tanzania's secondary students ranges from 12 to 22.
"The educational system in Tanzania was an eye-opener," said Shannon Martie '13. "I may complain about the school systems in the United States, but at least we have safety supplies for our science classrooms!"
Ashley Autrey '13 agrees. "Our idea of low income schools in America is nothing compared to what I experienced in Africa. If a principle asks me in an interview, 'Can you handle teaching with little technology and low supplies?' I can say that I have experienced teaching with no supplies and no technology. These students didn't even have textbooks. The only things they had were a pen and small notebook they took notes in. I realized how blessed we are in our education system despite its many flaws."
In addition to their teaching, students helped in the village health clinic and worked with locals on a project to cover the clay walls of a local school with cement.
They also got a chance to play.
"Each day there'd be a group of little kids who came to the mission house to wait for us to come outside," recalled Dr. Thomas. "Soccer is their sport of choice, but we also managed to get them into Frisbee!"
"The way of life in Africa consists of 'Hakuna Matata,' no worries," said Shannon. "Time was never a source of stress for the Tanzanians, and it made me examine what stresses me out in my day to day life."
One day the secondary school teachers challenged the Queens group to a soccer match. Although the Americans were soundly trounced in soccer, they proudly earned second place in a choral contest at one of the local churches.
Said Ashley Autrey '13, "Our group sang many old hymns and the coolest thing would happen: the Tanzanians would start singing the songs in Swahili. They had no idea what we were saying, but they understood the tunes and would sing along with us. It was the most surreal moment and I loved it."
Added Dr. Thomas, "Becoming part of village life was really the highlight of the trip. The people were just fantastic."