Ella’s Story, Taking the LEAD Conference Home
Peace Corps Tanzania currently supports three main sectors for regular volunteers: Health, Agriculture, and Education. Life as an Education Volunteer can be very different from life as a Health or Ag Volunteer. Every day, Ed PCVs work with secondary school teachers and students, facing the challenges ever-present at schools here in Tanzania – poor student attendance due to work or issues at home, failing grades despite every effort of the PCV to teach thoroughly and to reach every student, corporal punishment that champions fear as the necessary force behind successful learning, even an all too-common rape culture between male teachers and female students that compounds that fear and the power structure at its root. As Ed PCVs navigate this challenging and often depressing system, they look for the little things to keep them going – the small successes that can give them motivation and remind them of their purpose (and of the fact that they are indeed making a difference).
Many Education PCVs know that when given the opportunity and support to take initiative, something that is not always encouraged in the current education system, students will surprise you. Students want to stretch their wings, want to try something new, and may even want to have the responsibility of leading their peers. It is important always to try to give them the platform and encouragement to do so.
Ella, an Education PCV at Sovi Secondary School in Njombe, attended the LEAD TZ Youth Conference back in April 2016, with her fellow teacher and four students. When they returned home from the conference, the students’ excitement, ambition, and initiative was inspiring and motivational. They hit the ground running, working hard to organize events/lessons to bring the conference back to their peers. And Ella ran with them, helping them to take the lead and pave their own way to success. Here is her story.
“The Monday after the LEAD conference I was busy catching up on my classes, figuring out what I needed to do to catch my students up after a week away from site. To be honest, thinking about what activities my LEAD students could do wasn’t the first thing on my mind. However, before first period they approached me in my office with their first idea on how to spread their gained knowledge to their fellow students. They had taken the initiative to create a plan of action: they wanted to take over the period of debate that takes place on Tuesday and use it to spread the message of teamwork.”
At the LEAD Conference, students participated in a series of activities meant to build trust and to emphasize the importance of working as a team. One activity was the trust fall: when one student stands on a chair and falls slowly backwards (willingly) to be caught in the arms of his/her team.
Trust falls at the LEAD Conference, April 2016
After visiting the headmaster together, Ella and her students were given a time period to do a short presentation on teamwork. “It was a great success. The students spoke in English, with Swahili translation so the younger students could understand, and they talked about the importance of teamwork to all their fellow students. They demonstrated trust falls and explained the other team building activities that they participated in at the conference. The other students laughed, and loved it and got to try some trust falls themselves.”
After these fun activities and demonstrations, the LEAD students took a few minutes to discuss the importance of teamwork in everyday lives. They explained as an example how students could benefit from working in teams to study, and also made the point that trusting one another at school gives us a positive workplace environment. These points then spurred a discussion in which the entire student body participated.
After the excitement of a successful lesson and discussion at the school, Ella’s LEAD students were hooked, and wanted immediately to do another lesson to showcase some of the other things they learned at the conference. “The next week, my students came to me again, this time wanting to use the after-lunch period to demonstrate how to make a bag garden. They said they had been talking about it with their friends, and they thought it was a cool idea, so they wanted to show everyone what it was all about.”
At the conference, the students enjoyed a session on the importance of good nutrition and a balanced meal (during which they made guacamole). Nutrition was then tied in to the benefits of home gardening. The students from each school made and planted their own bag/sack garden.
Making guacamole and bag gardens at the LEAD Conference, April 2016
After her students brought up the idea to teach a bag garden lesson, “I said of course, and we went to the headmaster to ask permission to use that time to teach form 4s. He agreed. That day at the end of school assembly, the LEADers asked their fellow students to bring manure, seeds and bags so that they could do the demonstration.”
During the bag garden demonstration the following day, the form 4 students were very receptive. They quickly saw the benefits that a small home garden can bring to a household, and they were encouraged to implement the lesson and to make bag gardens at their own homes.
Even though the challenges of teaching at schools here in Tanzania may be overwhelming at many times, these small moments when the great potential of your students is revealed make it all worth while. When they take what they have learned from you, and spread the knowledge to their peers and beyond, motivation is revived, and you remember why you are here. Thank you to Ella, and to all volunteers who work at primary and/or secondary schools, for your perseverance and dedication. Your students will forever remember you.
Written by Chris Biles, Pictures from Ella Wynn, Bekah Munnikhuysen, and Chris Biles