by: Susan Cole Ross (former President NEALS)
Three of us head out from Logan after checking 300 pounds of donations to the girls at SEGA Girls’ Secondary School**, including 42 scientific calculators sent by my friends. We meet two others in Amsterdam for lattes and chocolate croissants, which I expect will be our last for the coming 3 weeks.
During our 10 1/2 hour flight from Europe to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I review the basic level ELL curriculum I will use to teach SEGA’s incoming students. Their English fluency is limited, an obstacle to higher learning. The curriculum seems a good jumping off spot, but I most look forward to taking the girls out into the sustainable gardens and obsessing, as I do, about plants, compost, and food while pointing, pointing, pointing. Or that is my hope…
Hope. Enroute I read Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams’ Book of Hope: A survival guide for trying times. Goodall’s gentle but stalwart commitment to the people, the places, and the animals of Tanzania inspire me. When she speaks of hope in her original, increasingly desperate search for chimpanzees, she says, “of course there was a nagging worry - did I have time? I suppose it’s a bit like climate change. We know we can slow it down - we’re just concerned as to whether we have sufficient time to effectively turn things around.” I share her hope and her concern. I hope that I can make a difference, and I query, “will I have time in just 9 teaching days?”
Waking from a five hour bus jostle from Dar es Salaam, SEGA finally looms ahead on the dusty road. For the girls’ protection, we do not share the address. The girls come from villages where early pregnancy and marriage are common, and young women work relentlessly to access water and food, to create meals and clean homes, and to care for children at an age when, by US standards, they are children themselves. There is little time for school, often a one to three hour walk away, where the inconsistent attendance of teachers sometimes makes the walk futile. The futility of education is reflected in girls 33% attendance in secondary school in the country, lower still out in the bush.
After a day of training we strive to embrace cultural humility and recognize that these girls know things we will never know, and most already speak at least two languages other than English: their native language and Swahili. Surely they are learners and likely they will be our teachers as well. We wonder how.
A bit of a curveball, we learn that due to changes in the national testing protocols, the new girls will be just arriving, directly from their villages, to work with us starting Sunday. Sega’s teachers will have no time to meet with them, to assess their English skills, to evaluate their emotional needs, etc. Young women often bring stories and burdens to set aside when they come to school. So our English Fluency Program leader hops into action creating a game for us to share with the girls, an opportunity to practice the language and to get to know one another. She creates a spreadsheet for us to use during the activity, to measure our new students’ English fluency levels as we go along. Anticipating an exercise of our students’ resilience, I find this is an exercise in our resilience as teachers, as well.
But all that will wait until tomorrow. First, on Saturday, we attend SEGA‘s graduation day. It is a grand celebration of SEGA’s 14th year and 10th graduation, of the girls’ dedication to their studies and to each other, of each of their villages, of heritage, of nationalism, and of joy. Families, in traditional dress, collect around their young graduates. The Maasai, in particular, stand so tall, proud, and intimidating, but I overcome my reluctance, step right up, and greet them, “Jambo!” Men in their warrior garb, holding their long sticks, turn and smile, “kwiheri!”
(To be continued.)
** "Nurturing Minds (NM) is a US-based 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to support quality education, life skills, and entrepreneurship to help girls in Tanzania become leaders in their communities. Nurturing Minds achieves its mission through its partnership with SEGA (Secondary Education for Girls’ Advancement) for the development and operation of a quality secondary boarding school, a continuing education scholarship program, and a community outreach program that brings elements of SEGA’s Life Skills program to girls in rural communities throughout Tanzania. For more information: www.nurturingmindsinafrica.org."