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Teaching in Tanzania

Moshi, Tanzania, at the base of Kilimanjaro, is heavily invested in the hiking Kilimanjaro and safari business.  We’re here in order to volunteer for 2 weeks teaching in a primary school.  After that, Mark will hike up Kilimanjaro and Betsey will be off on a Safari in the Serengeti.  The volunteer organization we’re connected with, Youth In Action Against Poverty and HIV/Aids (YAAPHA) has many efforts throughout Tanzania in schools, women's homes and Maasai villages to name a few.


We certainly feel thankful to have been born in the US. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world with almost 50% living below the international poverty level. The country struggles with affordability of food, housing, education, and health care. Moshi is a medium size city struggling with all of these issues.  That said, we found people to be uniformly friendly, happy, and very hardworking.  

Our mission was to assemble a “computer lab” with working donated desktops and then teach MS Office to students in the 5th and 6th grades.  The classrooms and school are very basic - an open room with a blackboard at one end with one overhead light (a prior volunteer installed the light and a few outlets).  We put together 4 computers out of 6, bought several keyboards and mice and got all the software to launch. No internet but all good.  Each afternoon we taught a group of 12-13 5th or 6th graders about the hardware and then how to use one of the Office programs - Word, Excel or PowerPoint.  BTW, did I mention that most speak mostly Swahili with a lot more English than we speak Swahili. 

We started each group with MS Word.  Though the kids hadn’t used computers before, they mastered the mouse and keyboard, learned to type their names, change fonts, colors, insert clip art, copy, and paste, as well as many other basic computer skills – amazing.  We had groups of 3-4 on each computer, and one of the surprising things is how helpful they all are to each other – showing how to move the mouse or where a letter is on the keyboard.  After a short time, they typed their own short stories (in Swahili) which were typically African folk tales.  On the second day, they tackled either Excel or PowerPoint, depending on their grade.  Naturally as they started to explore the computers, they also found a few games and videos! We ended up teaching about 60 students - half of the two grades.  The students and teachers will then carry on teaching the rest.

The computer room doubled as the food storage room with large bags of beans and corn stored in the corner.  A few students came with big buckets to get supplies for the day’s meal.  The corn and beans are soaked in water overnight and cooked in a charcoal fired kitchen the next day for their lunch. For some students, this will be their only meal.

The teachers we met were dedicated and hard working.  Most spoke limited English but were welcoming and understood the need for computers.  A few even asked for help with their own computers or with Word and Excel.  Our primary contact was an English teacher, Adah, who had used a computer and could translate when necessary (which was often!).  We would not have been as successful without her. 

In the end, we bought two more desktops for the lab as well as a printer for the principal since there was none at the school. The district education leader even came by to thank us for helping the kids.  

On Friday afternoon, our volunteer coordinator took us to a Maasai village about 2 ½ hours away (half on heavy dirt roads) for a sobering experience.  While the school we teach at in Moshi is very basic, the Maasai school was much more basic. Many children walk 4-6 km to school each way – sometimes dodging herds of elephants.  There is no running water, no electricity, or doors.  We brought out a few large bags of corn and beans which will give children their one meal when they come to school.  Adults need to walk 4-5 km to buy water and bring it back to make the meal. The food at school will last a week or two until someone brings more.  

Though the children were noticeably undernourished with skinny arms and legs and of short stature, they all were happy to see us.  They wore their threadbare uniforms well and sang songs to us – they were incredibly happy and friendly.  They were so excited to look at the pictures and movies we took of them and showed them.  The teachers, who live in the village for a couple of years, are very motivated even though they are trying to teach reading, writing, math and science in English and Swahili though the children speak mostly Maasai.

On a Saturday, there were no classes, so our volunteer coordinator, Eliza, took us up into the Kilimanjaro Park to see the coffee growers, the caves, and the Materuni waterfall.  The Chagga local tribe living in the mountains are the 3rd largest tribe in Tanzania.  About 200 years ago, they built a series of cave networks, extending tens of kilometers to live in when they were at war with the Maasai tribe.  The Chagga were farmers with domesticated animals – the Maasai were nomadic herders from the north.  Unfortunately, during a decades-long drought, the Maasai moved south and began to attack the Chagga for their food.  The caves were extremely basic, housed many families, and interconnected with storerooms, the river, and other cave networks.


Above ground the Chagga live mostly in small, round huts made out of sticks and mud, that housed each family (4-6 people), animals, kitchen, and food storage above.  There is an elaborate scheme (including a ‘men's only hut’) to assure the father gets his needs met but the younger children are kept out of the action – this was all described in detail by the local guide. Not sure about the women's needs!

The Chagga farmers today grow wonderful coffee.  We got a full explanation of coffee growing, harvesting, shucking, roasting, pounding, and brewing process.  A lot of work for a cup of joe but boy was that coffee good!  After the coffee, we headed off to the Materuni waterfall, hiking to the bottom through the lush rainforest through a series of trails and steps.  After about a kilometer, we arrived at the bottom of the beautiful 150m waterfall.  Mark, of course, decided to go in the cold water for a swim – going up under the falls.  Not too cold – just a bit refreshing.

Throughout the trip we have met many other world travelers.  While making coffee we met a young group from Spain, while having dinner one night we met a group of 4th year med students volunteering in Moshi’s hospital, lots of Brits, Dutch, Aussies, Americans, Germans and others hikers back from climbing for Kilimanjaro. Without fail, all were excited to be in Tanzania and incredibly friendly.  They gave us, and we returned the favor, lots of tips on hiking Kili, places to eat, hotels in other parts, and places to go and see.  One of the joys of travel is to hear from other people about their countries and experiences.