John and Babs in Tanzania

Page 5

31/5/07 (Written in middle of March)

Well, since our wonderful Christmas holiday, the roller coaster ride has begun! We have certainly had some very low lows, which red wine has helped us get through, and a few highs in between! The usual communication problems mean that we haven’t been able to publish this until now, and we’re not including any pictures on this page.


The school year began with the registration of Form I on 8th January. These students are generally 14 years old, but some are older, including those who could not pay the fees for Secondary School education at an earlier age. The girls started arriving before 9am, some just accompanied by parents and others with whole families. As you can imagine, they had luggage for a whole term, but also had a very large washing bowl, a bucket, a mat, a sickle and a hoe. After the check that the school fees had been paid into the bank, lots of details were recorded - by hand in a large ledger. Then the girls had to move to another room where they had to completely empty out their suitcases and other bags onto the floor for inspection by a member of staff - male as well as female. These staff members then proceeded to write the registration number of the student on every item with thick marker pen; this included frilly dresses, underwear and packets of sanitary towels - we had never seen anything like it in our lives! John’s duty for the day was collecting the obligatory donation of a book - a must for every girl, or an additional 5000/= was added to the bill. Babs had the privilege of showing the girls to their dormitories, as well as helping to carry all their luggage; by the end of the day, she was exhausted. This procedure continued until about 7.30pm; families were left to sit around and wait in the sun until it was their turn to register. In the whole day, we didn’t see a single tear, either from girls or parents - very strange! We think that over 300 girls sat the entrance exam, and over 200 passed, but, here at Hekima, they work on the principle that everything will be OK because they won’t all turn up. They had about 100 places but 139 registered; within a couple of days, this had risen to 163. There were not enough beds, mattresses, etc - it was chaos. Two Form I classes had been planned, but, because of the numbers, they created a third; but it still means over 50 students in each class!


Within a couple of days, the English Orientation course for Form I began, and this lasted for 6 weeks. There were no subject lessons, but, instead, there was this nationally agreed course to acclimatise students to learning in English, and all teachers contributed. During their seven years of Primary education, pupils learn English as a foreign language, and most of the teaching is in the national language, Swahili. Some go to English medium (speaking) Primary schools but many do not. At Secondary school, however, it is mandatory that all subjects are taught in English, and, here at Hekima, they are very strict about this. The students in each class have hugely differing abilities – as do the teachers. So, it has been hard work, but fun. You don’t realise how difficult the English language is until you have to teach it to foreigners!


The remainder of the School – Forms II, III and IV - returned two weeks later, and we have been very busy ever since. The dropout from last year’s Form I meant that there were only 102 in Form II, so they reduced the three classes to two! 418 students are squeezed into 9 dismal classrooms with antiquainted furniture. There are not enough teachers, and the timetable changed several times in the first few weeks; John was involved in this, and succeeded in implementing some minor improvements. Since we arrived at Hekima in November, one teacher has been asked to leave and four others have left at a day’s notice. The secretary went for her Christmas holiday and did not return, there was no replacement for several weeks and the new secretary has now been sick for two weeks. This might give you an idea of some of the problems that we are facing, as well as no transport, no phone signals and no internet!


John has started visiting his Schools and has begun to assess their needs. He has enjoyed meeting the science teachers and the variety of work is good. He is able to organise his own schedule, which has been very useful at times. Meetings for the whole group have also started, and it seems that there is plenty to be done.


Apart from the English Orientation course, teaching for Babs started with Form III Nutrition, and there are only 37 in the class, which is quite manageable. The main problem she finds is learning names; all students are in school uniform and have the regulation short hair cut and so they all look very much alike to her. Practical sessions are certainly different. The Cookery Room is large but has only limited equipment with 6 cookers and 8 benches, so group work is the norm at the moment. Cooking at home has also been fun; sometimes there is no electricity, so we have bought a kerosene stove – it’s just like camping, really. Babs is learning to adapt and has made scones and biscuits rolled out with an empty wine bottle and cut out with a jam jar; she even made an icing bag from file paper to feather-ice a cake, which wasn’t easy!


John went to the VSO Education Conference in Dar es Salaam on 22nd & 23rd February; travelling added a full day before and after. Babs felt unable to take that amount of time away from teaching, especially as Form I were finishing their English Orientation and were about to start the real subject of Nutrition. It was good to meet up again with other VSO volunteers, many of whom had been in our intake, in October.


Life continued to be hectic but bearable. This was brought to a sudden end when Babs witnessed a line of girls being caned by a young male member of staff outside a classroom, for all to see. Other girls were caned for being late, even though it was not their fault; teachers, however, can be as late as they wish, and sometimes don’t turn up at all. Another method of punishment – sorry, humiliation – is to make the girls kneel down on the stony earth pathways for varying lengths of time, which can be at least 30 minutes. We thought that, in a catholic girls’ school, kneeling would only be for praying. Following the crisis of the first beatings, John came across a girl lying almost flat on the ground whilst she was severely beaten by a very angry young male member of staff. He shouted at the teacher to stop immediately, and by then half the school was out to view the spectacle. This was very upsetting and led to a lot of ill feeling - we were told, in no uncertain terms, that it was a cultural thing and quite normal. At present, we are waiting for further advice from VSO, and the staff are now gradually becoming more friendly again. We see fewer beatings now, but we can’t help wondering what happens when we are not around. After a very heated discussion with the Headmistress, she has agreed that we can have further dialogue on corporal punishment when she returns from her three-week trip to Dar es Salaam. We are feeling more positive at the moment and have agreed, between us, to keep going, doing the jobs we came here to do.


On a much brighter note, we are very excited and looking forward to travelling to Australia for Eve and Mark’s wedding on 5th April. We leave Hekima on Monday 26th March and stay overnight in Bukoba ready to catch the 7am bus to Entebbe the following day. The journey takes 6 hours, which should be very interesting. We fly from Entebbe on Wednesday afternoon to Dubai, have another overnight stop and then fly to Sydney, arriving on Friday at about 6am. We will be there for nearly 3 weeks, and are looking forward to seeing most of the family whilst over there. The difficult part will be returning - but we are trying not to think about that yet. Hopefully, our next update will have news and pictures of the wedding and more of our adventures. We both agree that, although we are not totally happy, the experience of what we are doing and seeing could not be missed, and, at the moment, we have no regrets about our decision to come here.

More to come from John and Babs in Tanzania soon.