For my STEP Signature Project, I volunteered in Tanzania for four weeks. I worked with kids ages three to five in a school where I served as an English and Math teacher.
I am a fairly introspective person, so my understanding of myself really did not change from this trip. I always knew that I loved working with kids and that education was a passion of mine. However, after being in Tanzania for four weeks and listening to people tell their stories, I have a new appreciation for education in America. While our country’s education system surely has many issues that need to be addressed and fixed, receiving an education is always a given. We – Americans – do not have to worry about if our children will be able to go to school or not. As a matter of fact, it is mandatory that we send our children to school. However, in Tanzania, decent schooling is expensive and families have to work extremely hard to be able to send even one of their children to school. On top of that, the child has to work very hard to get good grades and pass their tests so that they can continue on to the next level/grade. Schooling in Tanzania is a privilege and people have to put in a lot of effort to get into school and do well in their classes. So, when they would tell their stories, I would get quick anecdotes about their families, but the majority of what they said centered around their journey through the education system and how they got to where they are now. Receiving an education in Tanzania is something to be proud of because not everyone is blessed enough to go to good schools and have the time to focus on their studies. This really made me appreciate both the public schools that I grew up in as well as, being able to attend Ohio State.
The people that I met and worked with in Tanzania had a huge impact on adjusting my perspective on education. Obviously, going into a third world country you know that the education system will not be as effective as a country like America, Canada, England, etc. However, the media often portrays the kids going to these schools as poor and helpless beings that are in desperate need of help. While these kids could use some more school supplies, they are not at all sad or desperate. The kids I worked with were some of the happiest, most loving, most accepting, and well behaved children I have ever met. They love going to school, working with us, learning new songs, and practicing new skills. The look on their faces when they finally figured out how to solve a math problem was priceless.
Working with the kids and the teaching staff helped to adjust my previous thoughts of what a school would be like in a third world country. Before my trip, I thought the school would be kind of gloomy and well, poor. However, the classroom was vibrant and so were the people inhabiting it. Like I said, the schools could use some more supplies and I am sure there are some schools that are less fortunate than the one I worked in, but the people there make it work. Education is a blessing and I think that is a message that should be enforced more often in America.
In my school, I worked with two other volunteers and two teachers from Tanzania. I think that because we – myself and the two other volunteers – went into the school with an open mind and the goal of connecting with as many people as possible, we were able to form lasting relationships with both the staff and students. We did not judge, we simply asked what was needed of us and offered any new information that could be helpful in the classroom. We also tried to get to know the staff as much as we could. Whether that meant learning phrases in Swahili or asking about their personal lives, we put in effort to get to know them and show that we were interested in the culture. We did not enter the classroom with the idea that we were there to fix the system that was already in place. We were there to work with the kids, teach English, and offer any knowledge from our personal experiences in the U.S. that would be beneficial to or enhance the curriculum. Because of this, myself and one of the other volunteers have been invited back to the school, and we plan on returning to Tanzania next summer for a longer stay. Forming those genuine relationships helped to emerge ourselves in the culture and to learn as much as we could from the people there.
This change in perspective on third world countries is so important to me. I can now tell others about my experiences and encourage them to go to similar places or suggesting that they travel with similar programs. Going to Tanzania made me appreciate our education system more, but it also made me wish that we valued how accessible education is here. I learned to love and want better for each country. This relates to my academic plans simply because it will push me to go as far as I can in higher education and to be thankful for any and all opportunities that are presented to me, because, even in America, that is not a reality for everyone.
This relates to my future plans because I would like to educate Americans on what life and the education system in Tanzania is actually like, and break away from the media’s representation of countries in Africa. I would also like to start some sort of fundraising or donation drive for when I return next summer. I am just so thankful that I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Tanzania and meet so many amazing people that welcomed me into their homes, schools, and lives.