From Moshi, Tanzania to Livingstone, Zambia to Jambiani, Zanzibar

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 5 months since I last posted. Thanks to those who emailed saying they missed the blog. It was just the push I needed to start writing again.

Give a Heart to Africa – Moshi, Tanzania
GHTA LogoOn December 5, 2013 I left my beloved students at Give a Heart to Africa as it was the end of their school term. I really loved those ladies and enjoyed teaching them business and English for 2 months. They were very eager learners and they face many challenges, but they work their butts off on a daily basis to try to make a better life for themselves and their families. They were simply a fantastic group of women to work with and I cherish the time I had with them.

Since I left, several of my former students have summitted Kilimanjaro as part of a group fundraising event, and many of them have also friended me on Facebook. It feels amazing to be able to converse with them in English via the internet, considering that none of them spoke very good English when they started their classes 6 months ago, nor did they have computer skills. They have come such a long way and I am incredibly proud of them and I definitely gave a huge part of my heart to them.


Sweet Potato going for the hug but grabbing a kiss!

Back to African Impact – Livingstone, Zambia When I left Moshi, I returned to Livingstone, Zambia to volunteer for another month with African Impact’s Medical Program and spend the holidays with my friends there. I loved working with the community caregivers again and visiting some of the same patients in the outlying areas of Netebe and Sakubita. I also enjoyed seeing all of my buddies at the Maramba Old People’s Home again and playing with the kids in the after-school program at Linda Community Center and YCTC.

We held a fundraiser for the Happy Africa Foundation and I was lucky to get to work with fellow volunteer Stef Todd (a voice coach in her native New Zealand) to teach some talented young girls from my old school, Zambezi Sawmills, some Christmas carols. They performed beautifully at the Christmas by Candlelight event and the next day, we threw a Christmas party at Maramba Old People’s Home. It was positively glorious! The residents loved having the young girls onsite and really enjoyed their performance. Some of the girls even felt confident enough to perform solos – a real feat for 12-13 year old girls who are performing in front of a live audience of around 50 people. Stef and I were so proud of them! After the carols, we handed out cookies and other treats to the residents, as well as new shoes, which they really needed and greatly appreciated. It makes me smile to think of it again now. It was a very heartwarming day.

Christmas Carols by Candlelight in Livingstone Dec 2013 with Stef Todd Australia

The lovely girls from Zambezi Sawmills school who sang carols at our fundraising event Christmas by Candlelight.

While in Livingstone, I also spent a day as an exchange volunteer at Lion Encounter, where I took a couple of lions out for their daily walk, fed them lunch and managed not be eaten by them (although I was nibbled a bit.) It was a terrific day and definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever had the opportunity to do. Like most things in life, the greatest risks produce the greatest rewards and let me tell ya, I was definitely outside my comfort zone on this one! Luckily I avoided the food preparation which involves some rather unsavory tasks I won’t gross you out with here, but I did have to feed the food to the more mature lions. They were behind security fences, but still, their power and aggressive nature made my knees quiver. Honestly, just writing about it now brings back the fear!


Being nibbled by one of the lions I took for a walk.

Get a job! When I left Seattle in April, 2013 to do volunteer work in Africa, I could never have imagined all the amazing experiences I would have, or the astonishing amount of seriously cool people I would meet, or the incredible impact that volunteering for long periods of time can have on your soul. As 2013 came to a close, I felt especially grateful and thankful.

However, I knew that I could only afford to volunteer for about a year, so I had started looking for a job when I arrived in East Africa. It took a while, but luckily, my biggest dream of all – to live and work in Africa – came true. I was honored to be offered the role of Business Manager for African Impact’s teaching, community development, and conservation projects in Jambiani, Zanzibar. I started my job on January 10, 2014.

I loved volunteering with African Impact and their partner projects, and I feel very fortunate to be able to continue my work with them as staff. And let’s face it, doing so on a tropical island with some of the best beaches and scuba diving in the world isn’t a bad gig!

As a way to celebrate my New Job in the New Year, I spent a little time dancing around in the joy and delight of knowing that the huge risk I took in quitting my job and following my dream paid off in more fulfilling ways than I could have ever imagined and that if you can dream it, you can do it.

20 Years from Now

Posted in Adult Literacy, Advanced English, Africa, African Impact, Conservation, Give a Heart to Africa, Home Based Care, Jambiani, Lion, Lion Encounter, Livingstone, Medical Volunteer, Moshi, TANZANIA, Teaching, Teaching English, TEFL, Tena West, Volunteer, ZAMBIA, Zanzibar | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Give a Heart to Africa – Moshi, Tanzania

GHTA LogoAs I write this, there is a raucous thunderstorm happening in Moshi. You know the kind where there is deep, heavy, rolling thunder, then lightning, then more thunder, then it starts to rain, then it starts to rain harder, then the wind kicks in, and bam! All of a sudden you have a serious thunderstorm on your hands. It reminds me of the kind of storms we had in Mississippi where I grew up. I love it!  Even though Sunday afternoons are typically spent at the pool soaking up some beloved African sun, today I am quite happy to stay home with my wild thunderstorm and share some news from Moshi with you.

From Business to English  

Since arriving at Give a Heart to Africa six weeks ago, I’ve been teaching the Business course, which I’ve really enjoyed. But Amy, the volunteer who was teaching the English course, returned home to Toronto a couple of weeks ago, so I took over her class and Monika, the Founder of Give a Heart took over the Business class. At the end of the school year, Monika awards the top 3-5 students with a spot in the GHTA Co-op where they sell fabric as well as women’s and children’s clothing, and she helps the other students find jobs or start their own business, so it’s important that she gets to know the students well. Since I’m TEFL certified (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and recently spent 3 months teaching English in Zanzibar, it made sense for me to take over the English class.

I liked teaching Business so I wasn’t looking forward to going back to English, but after only a couple of days, I got back into the rhythm of it and I’m enjoying it much more than I anticipated. When Monika founded the school, she put together a curriculum for both the Business and English courses, which makes it easy for volunteers to pick up where the last volunteer left off. Because there are 3 groups of students, all at different levels (Group 1 = Beginners, Group 2 = Intermediate, Group 3 = Advanced), you simply adjust the pace of the curriculum to meet each group’s needs. Plus, each class has an interpreter, so the students hear the information in English first, then in Swahili. This way, they get used to hearing and understanding the English language, but have the comfort of hearing the information in their own language as well.

The lovely Christina, aka Baraka's Mom.

The lovely Christina, aka Baraka’s Mom.

One of my first duties in the English class was to hand back quizzes that Amy had given the students right before she left. Our students only have a rudimentary level of education and many of them haven’t been to school in 10 or 20 years, so quizzes are a big, big deal to them. The curriculum is set up to test often so we can gauge how well the students (and volunteer teachers) are doing, but also so that each quiz only counts for a small percentage of their overall grade.

The first hour of my first day of teaching English required me to hand back quizzes to Group 1, the beginners. I had helped Amy grade them the night before, so I knew that only about half the class passed, but I also knew that 3 students had scored a perfect 20/20. This is considered excellent, especially for Group 1, so anytime a student scores perfectly, we acknowledge them in class. But before we hand back the quizzes, we always start with the “supportive” speech.

We remind the students that the quiz only counts for 2% of their overall grade; that they should not be too hard on themselves if they didn’t do well because we are only in the second month of a yearlong course; that they still have plenty of time to catch up, etc.  While I was giving my speech, one of my favorite students, Christina, had her hands clasped together in front of her on the desk, her eyes were closed and she was silently praying.  Like I said, quizzes are huge here.

Christina is one of my favorite students because, well, first of all, she is Baraka’s Mom, and I am completely in love with that child, so by extension, with his Mom. But also, I have had the privilege of visiting Christina and her family in her home as part of our home visits on Friday mornings. So I know where and how she lives, and that she is divorced, and that it was a bad situation that she was very smart to get her and her children away from.

Christina's adorable son, Baraka.

Christina’s adorable son, Baraka.

But I also know that Christina interviewed with Give a Heart to Africa three times before they accepted her into the program. The woman is patient and tenacious! Every year, after having been turned down the year before, she would wait for the interview process to begin again and then come in and apply to be a student. But for many reasons, the staff at GHTA didn’t think she would have a good chance of succeeding. Until the third year that is, when she showed up again.  This alone showed commitment and  confidence and those qualities were what got her into the program on her third try.  So Christina knows that this is her opportunity, her chance at getting the education she is obviously craving.

But now Christina was in my English classroom, with her eyes closed and praying as if her life depended on it! I handed her the quiz and announced that she scored a perfect 20/20. I will never forgot the look of pride on Christina’s face, and the pride I felt for her.  The exhilaration was so overpowering that I almost cried. I wish Amy had been here to see it, because Christina’s high score was also partly due to Amy’s great teaching. But the remainder of my task was to return quizzes to students who hadn’t done as well as Christina, and to review the quiz question by question so the students would understand why their answers were incorrect. So that is what I did, but inside I felt like I’d just won the lottery, which is probably how Christina was  feeling as well.

Fellow volunteer Amy Watson, from Toronto, Canada.

Fellow volunteer Amy Watson, from Toronto, Canada.

I will never forget that. I was so incredibly proud of Christina for working so hard to get into the school, and then working hard on a daily basis to learn English and perform perfectly on her test. If you are considering volunteering, whether in your own local community or abroad, you should know that  moments like this happen often. Once you start, it doesn’t take long to realize that what you get from volunteering far exceeds what you give.

Posted in Adult Literacy, Advanced English, Africa, Business, ESL, Give a Heart to Africa, Moshi, pre-school, TANZANIA, Teaching, Teaching English, TEFL, Tena West, Uncategorized, Volunteer | Leave a comment

Give a Heart to Africa, Moshi Tanzania

GHTA LogoThe volunteer project I’m currently working on is based in Moshi, Tanzania, at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, close to the border of Tanzania and Kenya.  Moshi has a population of 185,000 and is home to the Chagga and Maasai tribes. It is known mainly for its prized Arabica coffee beans and the mountain itself, as the city is the starting point for climbers from all over the world.  Kili, as the mountain is fondly called, is the gem of the city. The surrounding foothills offer lush, tropical forests which are much cooler than the city of Moshi itself.  The mountainous region is stunningly beautiful and after living at sea level for 3 months in Zanzibar, it’s a nice change to have a mountain in my sights again. At 19,341 feet, Kili reigns as the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world, while Mt. Rainier, the gem of the Pacific Northwest and my hometown of Seattle, stands at 14,411 feet.

While the scenery is lovely, Tanzania is still very much a patriarchal society and only 5% of girls finish secondary school and a vast majority of people live in poverty. The patriarchal attitudes, combined with the lack of education, means that most women end up serving their husbands or struggling to provide for their children as a single parent. Give a Heart to Africa (GHTA) is a non-profit organization that empowers local women with the knowledge and skills to pull themselves out of poverty and become less dependent on others.


Move in day at the GHTA Retail Co-op. I helped Betilda set up her section of children’s clothing.

GHTA accomplishes this by providing free English, Business, and Vocational skills training (including Math, Hair Braiding, Tye-dying, Jewelry making, Crocheting, Soap making, etc). This equips the women with the skills to gain employment, which in turn allows them to better support their families.  Upon graduation from the one year course, some of the women become entrepreneurs who start their businesses in the GHTA Co-operative where they sell fabric and clothing. GHTA is truly a grassroots, hands-on organization that has a tangible, immediate impact on the women’s lives, but it also helps build a stronger foundation for future generations of Tanzanian women by giving their female children higher expectations of what they can achieve in life.

I feel incredibly blessed to be part of the GHTA team. Since my arrival on October 12th, I’ve been teaching the Business course. The 48 women who were accepted into the program this year are all eager learners, although they sometimes struggle with the concepts and subject matter. Keep in mind that many of them have not been in school since they were young girls, and some never had the opportunity to go to school at all. So just getting to class on time, sitting in class for 3 hours a day, taking notes, doing homework, and meeting the expectations of their teachers can be overwhelming for them. Some of them shed tears when they do poorly on quizzes, or get emotional when told they have a quiz coming up soon. And yet, they return to school every day to continue learning because they know they are incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and because they are starving for knowledge. As a teacher, it is an amazing feeling to work with them on a new topic for a couple of weeks and then see them finally connect the dots. When the light bulb comes on for them, it is positively joyful!


Herman, my co-teacher and the interpreter for the Business Class

The only paid staff at GHTA are the Tanzanian school staff and all of them are former students, including the interpreters that work with the volunteer teachers in the classrooms every day, as well as the security team, our cook, our cleaning lady, our tailor, our go-to music guy, etc. After having taught English to students in Zanzibar without an interpreter present, I can attest to the amazing difference it makes to have a native Swahili speaker in the classroom with you, especially one who is a graduate of the program. I’m honored to work with Herman Chelesi, the interpreter and co-teacher of the Business course. Herman is one of the few men that has been accepted into the GHTA program over the years. GHTA’s stance on accepting a few good men is that educating men about the plight of Tanzanian women can only help the women. They chose well in choosing Herman. He is one of the brightest, most respectful and professional young men I’ve ever met. He also happens to be my Swahili teacher, so trust me when I tell you that this man has an amazing amount of patience!

There are currently two other volunteers at Give a Heart to Africa. Amy is from Toronto, Canada and is teaching English, and Jean is from Sydney, Australia and is teaching Math. Once Amy leaves, I’ll take over the English course, and Monika, the Founder of GHTA, will take over the Business course. It’s been great to be back in a Volunteer House with other volunteers, as it truly deepens the volunteer experience.

The school is located next to the Volunteer House and the year-long course starts every October. The students (all adults) are split into 3 groups with each group having around 16 students. Each class is 1.5 hours long and students have two classes per day. I teach the Business course Mondays through Thursdays from 9am to Noon. On Monday and Thursday afternoons from 2-4pm, we have what we call Pre-School, but kids of any age can come, and “school” consists of anything from coloring to learning the alphabet, to singing or building things with blocks, to swimming in a tiny little blow-up pool, to playing football (soccer), etc. Pretty much we just do whatever the kids want to do, and it is always a lot of fun. Fridays are reserved for home visits with one of our students, where we get to meet her family and talk to them about their struggles and hopes. While the students are a little nervous about having us in their homes, the visits are usually welcomed, as they appreciate our desire to get to know them better. The students are extremely hospitable and generous, and even those students who truly struggle to support their family offer us a piece of fruit or a glass of water. I love teaching, and playing with kids is always fun, but I’ll admit that I really look forward to the home visits every week.


Our home visit to our student Maria’s house. What a great morning this was!

Given the geographic paradise we’re in, there are also a lot of options for afternoon and weekend activities. So far I’ve celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving, hiked to the Chagga caves and the waterfall at Marangu, “summited” the Mandera Huts on Kili where I met a lovely new American friend, and experienced Memorial Market. I’ve also watched the sun set on Kili while sipping cider on a rooftop deck, shopped til I’ve dropped in downtown Moshi, experienced my first Halloween in Africa, visited several bars and restaurants, and gone on a killer coffee tour!  But I’ve also laid by the pool and soaked up the African sun, fallen in love with Tanzanian music and a few more African children. I’ve gone dancing at Glacier, a local nightclub, where I met a Welshman with a tattoo of a sheep on his right butt cheek, and well, you get the idea. My life here is full and I am a happy camper. I’ll tell you more about my non-work adventures later.  For now, you should check out Give a Heart to Africa and consider making a donation or better still, come on over to Moshi and volunteer for a month or two. You will not regret it.

Posted in Adult Literacy, Africa, African Impact, Business, ESL, Give a Heart to Africa, Moshi, TANZANIA, Teaching, Teaching English, TEFL, Tena West, Volunteer | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creative Solutions – Mangapwani Village, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Goodbye to the Creative Solutions Project

My 3-month volunteer project at Creative Solutions (CS) came to an end and I’m now at my next project in Moshi, Tanzania. Before I tell you  about my exciting new project though, I want to say a proper goodbye to Zanzibar.

I find it difficult to write about a project and a place that I never quite settled into, but I also want to be honest about my experience. Other people have volunteered with Creative Solutions and had a different experience. I know this because I read their blogs when I was researching organizations to volunteer with and their experiences influenced my decision, so I recommend that you read those blogs as well.

One of the biggest reasons the project wasn’t a good fit for me was because I was the only volunteer. When I volunteered in Zambia, part of the richness of working with Book Bus and African Impact came from having a shared experience with cool people from all over the world. But, I also do not speak Swahili, and the people in Mangapwani (the small village where CS is located) don’t speak English, so it was difficult to have meaningful exchanges with them. Our religious beliefs are also very different: they are Muslim, I am not. The village itself is also remote, about 45 minutes north of Stone Town on the west coast of the island which is one of the only areas of Zanzibar that remains undeveloped. The first month and a half I was there, I also had a hard time getting the dalla-dallas to pick me up from the bus stop, so I didn’t have access to transportation to leave the village when I wanted. There’s also no internet for volunteers at Creative Solutions so communicating with friends and family only happened when I went into Stone Town or other parts of the island which had coverage. There was cell phone coverage, but it was hit or miss when sending texts or making calls. For much of the time I was there, I felt incredibly isolated.

To be fair, I knew before I went that there would be major cultural/religious/social differences. But I believe that life begins at the edge of your comfort zone, so it’s one of the reasons I chose to go to Zanzibar – to learn about a culture that I knew almost nothing about, and to learn a bit of a language I’ve always wanted to learn. So some of the discomfort was expected, some was not, like the lack of access to transportation and communication.

However, when I was with my students, especially my Advanced English Class, I felt engaged, excited, challenged and happy – like I was having an impact and making a difference – and it’s those moments I choose to remember, so I’ll share them with you here.

My Advanced Class consisted of 5-6 students who have been studying English for a couple of years now, so our time was mostly spent on practicing English conversation skills.  I would bring topics to discuss or debate and the students would share their thoughts, comments and opinions. All of the students are very conservative Muslims, so I was conscientious about being respectful with regard to subject matter. As time went on though, and we got to know and trust each other, I pushed their boundaries a bit, and they pushed mine, and it turned out to be a wonderful cultural exchange of information, ideas and beliefs.  I find this is true in most cases when getting to know someone you think is different than yourself. Once you peel back the layers a bit, we are often much more similar than we are different and if both parties can be respectful in your discussions, there is much we can learn from one another. I am certain I learned as much, if not more, than my students did, and I will always remember our exchanges as lively, respectful and incredibly interesting.

Just to give you an idea of the kinds of things we talked about, here’s a short list of topics we discussed in the last month:

  1.  Are social issues driving young adults away from religion?  (The general feeling was yes, and that tourists on Zanzibar are especially disruptive to their cultural and religious beliefs.)
  2.  Do you think there is life on other planets? (No way!)
  3.  Which came first – the chicken or the egg?  (The class was split on this, and the main reason I chose this topic was for a bit of comic relief, but also because Zanzibaris love their chickens, and treat them like most people in America treat their dogs or cats. They even give them names. In fact, one of my students has a chicken named Fabulous.)
  4. Is there life after death?  (Yes, and their views were similar to Christian beliefs in this regard, with “bad” people going to Hell and “good” people going to Heaven.)
  5. Death with Dignity (Euthanasia for humans)  – Should people be allowed to die when and how they want, like our animals do? (They couldn’t believe that we “kill” our pets. They feel this is inhumane, that we should let pets die naturally, so certainly we should not allow people to kill themselves. They believe it constitutes suicide, which is not allowed in Islam.)
  6.  Should everyone  plan their own funerals?  (This got a big laugh because in Islam, all funerals are pretty much the same. Each mosque has their own casket, and everyone uses the same casket, but only the body is buried, then the casket is reused for the next person. Also, women are never allowed to attend funerals, even if it is for their own children. Why? Because all they do is cry! That’s their job, but they should do it privately, so as not to disrupt the burial. And cremation is never allowed.)
  7. Inter-racial and inter-religious marriages – good or bad?  (Inter-racial marriage is fine. Inter-religious marriages are not.)
  8. Given how conservative Zanzibar is, how are young people educated about taboo subjects like  sex, HIV, AIDS, etc? (I will admit to being nervous about introducing this topic, but I asked the students if they felt it was an inappropriate topic, and they overwhelmingly said no. In fact, we spent more time discussing HIV and AIDS than any other topic we discussed the entire 3 months. They were hungry for knowledge and facts as these are incredibly taboo topics here, as in many parts of Africa. So much so, that I went into town the next day, armed with all their questions, and researched answers online and reported back with even more information. I found it interesting to learn that medical doctors go to the high schools to teach the kids about sex, and that there is still so much misinformation about HIV. For example, they thought that you could get HIV from kissing, or from using a toilet seat after someone that was HIV+.)
  9.  What are some examples of traditional medicine uses on Zanzibar?  (You can boil the leaves of the henna tree to make the dye used for applying henna, but the root of the henna tree is highly toxic and is sometimes used by young women to abort unwanted pregnancies. Because it is poisonous though, some of the girls die because they are afraid to ask anyone how much they should use.)
  10. Given that many Zanzibaris are very superstitious and often seek the guidance of witch doctors, do you think that politicians use witch doctors to put curses on their opponents?  (Yes, it is likely that they do, but if a candidate has to use a witch doctor to put a curse on their opponent, it is a sure sign that they will be a bad leader.)
  11. And many more topics – from the Seven Wonders of the World to capital and corporal punishment and whether or not urban life is better than village life and which is better: money or education?  (I would often research topics online that the students asked about and come back with pictures and stories to share with them. For example, they couldn’t believe it when I showed them $10,000 caskets. Why would someone spend that much money on something that posh that will only be put into the ground?  They also had no idea that the world had so many amazing natural and man-made wonders; Capital punishment is acceptable in worst-case scenarios; Corporal punishment is still widely used at home and at school; Village life is far superior to urban life, because if you run out of food or need someone to help you with something, people in the village will help you. People in the city will not;  the class was divided on money vs. education, although the only young lady in the class was adamant that money was much better! And the young men who thought money was better were driven by the belief that without money, it is very hard to find a good wife. )

A couple of days before I left Mangapwani, we had a certificate ceremony. Certificates are a very big deal in most parts of Africa because many people never graduate high school and therefore have no certificates or acknowledgement of their education. We ate, we danced, we gave out the certificates and we said our good-byes. It was a lovely afternoon.

Haji giving me a high five when giving him his certificate.

Haji giving me a high five when giving him his certificate.

Unfortunately, that night, while I was sleeping, someone cut through the security wire and reached onto the counter in my kitchenette and stole my computer. It had sat on that counter every day for 3 months, and yes, while it was not the smartest move to leave it so close to the window, I didn’t think it would fit through the well-spaced, offset bars, nor did I think anyone would steal from someone who was helping one of the poorest villages on Zanzibar. But that’s silly: this kind of thing happens everywhere, even in small, remote villages like Mangapwani, and in big cities like Seattle.  I’m upset of course, mostly because I hadn’t backed up my pictures from this great adventure I’m on. But when put into perspective, there are many worse things that could happen, and I refuse to let it break my spirit. I’m 6 months into my year of volunteering and I will be more careful. And…I’ll back up my pictures often. If you haven’t done that in a while, take a tip from me and do it now.

Coming Soon:  An update on my new project in Moshi, Tanzania with Give a Heart to Africa, a women’s empowerment project that’s seriously awesome. I love it already.

Posted in Adult Literacy, Advanced English, Africa, Mangapwani, TANZANIA, Teaching, Teaching English, TEFL, Tena West, Uncategorized, Volunteer, Zanzibar | Leave a comment

Creative Solutions – Mangapwani Village, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania

With Ramadan and the accompanying festivities now over, I was happy to be back in the classroom this week and it was great to see all my students again. We started a new class schedule too, so I am now assisting with Pre-school from 2-4pm, teaching Beginners English from 4-6pm and Advanced English from 7-9pm. It makes for long, busy days, but not teaching until the afternoon means I get to stay up late at night and sleep in the next morning, so it’s OK by me.


The kids queuing up for entrance to the Zoo a couple of weeks ago.

The kids queuing up for entrance to the Zoo a couple of weeks ago.

The Pre-school kids are such a delight, and for the most part I have to say I’m impressed with how well-behaved they are. We have one trouble-maker, a girl, who is very smart, but very bossy. She has that “Future Homecoming Queen” attitude about her. Prissy and cute as can be, but hell on wheels! But of course I also have my favorites. I know you’re not supposed to, but this one little girl named Fatima has the most beautiful brown eyes I’ve ever seen, and is so sweet and kind-hearted that I just melt when I see her. The teacher of the Pre-School is a lovely large woman named Nazra who does an amazing job with the kids. One day she got down on all-fours in the yard and took the kids for a ride on her back! She’s just a big kid herself and has a youthful way about her which makes her a joy to be around. She’s won awards for her teaching and it’s easy to see why.

My Beginner English students had 10 days off for their holiday, and it seems they forgot everything they learned the weeks prior, so this week was spent doing a thorough review. Hopefully next week we can start moving forward again.  It seems their confidence levels dropped as well, but hopefully that will begin to increase again soon. Even so, I love this class. The students are very interesting, lovely, hard-working people and I genuinely missed them when I didn’t see them for 10 days. I’m so happy to be back to work!


Some of the students from my Beginner English class.

My Advanced English Class is a whole other ballgame. These students have been at it for a while now, some of them for a couple of years, so it’s challenging to find something interesting and different to do with them. This week I asked them to bring at least one real-world topic to discuss and we ended up having a good old-fashioned debate! Topics included whether money or education is more important (it was 2 against 2); whether or not witch doctors are to be trusted (this is no joking matter, as there are many witch doctors around and many Africans are superstitious); and whether women should work outside the home and have their own money.

Yes, I had to reach down deep on that last one, but one of the reasons I chose Zanzibar is because it’s mostly Muslim and their beliefs are sometimes very different than my own.  However, my first obligation is to respect the culture I’m in, and so, I merely guided the discussion and offered alternative possibilities for discussion, and tried very hard to not offer my opinion, and guess what?  We had so much fun! Student’s opinions were voiced, counter-opinions noted, discussion and healthy debate ensued, and most importantly, all of it was done in English. Great job, Advanced Class!

English/Art/Computers/Sewing/Clay/Bottle Art! Oh my…

Besides English classes, which, by the way, are free or very inexpensive to the students, Creative Solutions also offers computer classes and art classes. One of the ways the organization is sustained is through the sales of many different types of art: wine bottles that have been melted and melded into things like jewelry, drinking glasses, wind chimes, etc. or beautiful rugs and baskets made from rags, along with handbags and totes. They also make knick-knacks from clay (this week I made a seashell, a heart and a flower), and they make customized craft paper from recycled paper, and much, much more. They sell the drinking glasses made from wine bottles to hotels and to shops around Zanzibar who resell them, and they also sell their wares at Art Fairs. One of the founders, Aida, is an artist herself and teaches classes in clay, sewing, bottle recycling art, etc. so there are always a lot of people around, learning fun stuff. It feels very much like Creative Solutions is the Mangapwani Community Center for Young Adult Learning, which is a great thing for this village because unemployment here is ridiculously high, and it’s tough to find places where you can learn so many different skills for low or no cost. Below are a coupe of shots of Aida being silly!


Settling In

I’ve had a tough time feeling settled here, for a lot of reasons which I won’t bore you with, but today brought a great example of how far things have come since my arrival in mid-July. Today I was waiting for a dalla-dalla (overcrowded mini-bus) and being the only mzungu in the village, I was feeling a bit like an alien, all self-conscious and shy, standing there all alone, not knowing very many people, but thankfully, an array of people stopped by to chat with me.

The first was a male teacher from the local primary school who I spent a few hours with a while back to help set up two recently-acquired laptops. He asked where I was going, and I said Stone Town, which is 45 minutes away by dalla-dalla. He was on his bicycle, and said he was going to Stone Town too, and would offer to take me, but his bike only has one seat. He was genuine in this offer, and I found it very sweet.

The next guy knew how to speak a little English and just wanted to talk to someone so he could practice the few phrases he’d learned. This was also rather endearing .

The next guy, my favorite, was riding in the small, wooden wagon being pulled by his ox. He could not speak English, but stopped the ox directly in front of me and pointed to me and then to the wagon and then to himself as if to say that he and his ox would be happy to give me a lift.  I laughed and thanked him (Asante sana – thank you very  much) and then we both laughed, and he pulled the reins on the ox and carried on with his day.

This was one of those small, lovely interactions that occur between two people, but that as a traveler in a foreign land, you just need to happen occasionally. I loved it…it made me laugh then, and it makes me smile every time I think about it. Thank you, Friendly Ox and Wagon Man, for making my day and for helping me feel welcome in your village.

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Creative Solutions – Zanzibar, Tanzania

I arrived at my next project, Creative Solutions, in Mangapwani, Zanzibar on July 17.  Mangapwani is a small village of about 500 people, located on the west coast of the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, and is about 45 minutes north of Stone Town.  Creative Solutions was founded by an American woman named Aida, and her Zanzabari husband, Mbarouk.


Teaching the Beginner English class.

The main focus of my project here is teaching Beginning English to 12 students who are in their early twenties, teaching Advanced English to a smaller group of about 6 adult students, and also teaching English to 10 pre-school kids.  The Beginning English class began only 2 weeks before I arrived, so they are very new English speakers. However, they are eager to learn and I am thrilled to say that I have already noticed great improvement, especially in their confidence levels, in only a couple of weeks.  The Advanced Class was supposed to end after the last volunteer left, but the students talked Aida and Mbarouk into continuing it, and kindly bribed me to teach the class by personally delivering fresh fruit to me! I’ve only had a couple of classes with the pre-schoolers, but they are just like kids anywhere…adorably cute and full of energy. We took them on a field trip to the Zanzibar Zoo last week and had a blast, even though it poured down rain. Honestly, the kids barely noticed. Their favorite part of the day? Getting to ride horses, of course!

A couple of the pre-school kids riding the horses at the Zoo.

A couple of the pre-school kids riding the horses at the Zoo.

It’s a classic tale I suppose, but many of my students come from a long distance away, and either have to walk, ride their bike or catch a dalla-dalla (overcrowded mini bus) just to get to class, so this makes their commitment to learning even more impressive. My Beginning English Class supposedly lasts from 9am-Noon, but like millions of other teachers all over the world, I often find myself still teaching an hour later. The students put in so much effort to get here, and are very engaged during class, and they always do their homework, so it feels rude to stop just because the clock strikes Noon. Same with my Advanced English students – they will stay as long as I’m willing to teach.

Zanzibar is 95% Muslim, so all of my students have been celebrating Ramadan since I arrived, which means they are fasting from sunrise to sundown. It’s also very hot here, so combine low blood sugar with dehydration and typically you get very low energy folks, prone to napping, or just generally taking it slow and easy during their Holy Month. But not these guys…these folks are seriously committed to learning. Ramadan just ended yesterday, and a week-long holiday known as Eid al-Fitr began, and I am enjoying all the food that goes with it!

In general, my project here is almost the complete opposite of my previous project in Zambia. It’s located in a small, remote village which has no stores, nor do they have internet access, and the cell coverage is spotty at best. There are only two staff members, Aida and Mbarouk, and I am the only volunteer. Given the remote location, no access to internet, no other volunteers to hang out with, and the fact that I don’t speak Swahili, it has felt a little isolating, especially as compared to Livingstone, and living and working with 20+ volunteers. I’ve been here three weeks and just now feel like I’m starting to settle in. The bright spot has been getting to know my students. They are very polite and kind, and I feel as if I’m learning as much from them as they are from me.

Zanzibar is known for its beautiful beaches, the spice trade, extravagantly carved doors and chests and historically, for its slave trade. The family of one of my students owns a spice farm so I toured it the first week I arrived and left with everything I need to make the best masala tea ever! I’m happy to report that I no longer crave Chai Tea Lattes from Starbucks. If you ever visit Zanzibar, you should take a tour of Mr. Abdullah’s farm – it’s very insightful and interesting. It’s called Kilimani Spice Farm and it’s in Mangapwani.  I’ve also had the opportunity to spend a few afternoons at several of the beaches here, and can vouch for their incredible beauty. I also recently went scuba-diving, and while most of the fish are small because of over-fishing, the Angel Fish are huge, and the coral is stunning.


On a more somber note, another thing Zanzibar is known for is the prolific slave trade which took place here in the 18th and 19th centuries. Records show that by the 1860’s, somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 slaves passed through slave markets here every year, with a total of 600,000 slaves sold.  One of the caves that was used to hide and house the slaves is located in Mangapwani, just a quarter mile from Creative Solutions. Tours of the caves offer educational yet harrowing insight into a time that is long past thank goodness, but also serve as a reminder of how awful human beings can sometimes be to one another. It was emotionally difficult to be in the caves, but I felt it was important to see them, and would recommend doing it if you are interested in history, are fit and are not claustrophobic.

In Zambia, I lived with 7 other women in one room and we all slept on bunk-beds. Here, I have my own self-contained apartment, complete with full-size bed, kitchen and bathroom. It’s located on the grounds of Creative Solutions, and is conveniently right next door to the classrooms.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in Aida and Mbarouk’s house. My neighbors are dogs, cats, chickens, oxen, goats, cows, and an animal called a bush baby, which I’ve only heard, not seen. To get internet access or any groceries I need, I take a dalla-dalla into Stone Town, which is something else you should do if you come for a visit, because riding in an overcrowded minibus while speeding down the highway and swerving constantly is a quintessential Tanzanian experience!  I usually stay in Stone Town on the weekends, mostly to have internet access, and I’ve become a fixture in several of the cafes and coffee shops around town, namely Tatu Café and Hot Spot Bistro, as well as Hotel Kiponda. Special thanks to all these businesses for letting me hang around for hours on end!

Posted in Adult Literacy, Africa, Creative Solutions, Kilimani Spice Farm, Mangapwani, TANZANIA, Teaching, Teaching English, Tena West, Uncategorized, Volunteer, Zanzibar | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Volunteer of the Month!

African Impact Logo

I’ve been remiss in not posting about my new project, Creative Solutions in Zanzibar, but I promise to do so soon. In the meantime, I wanted to post about one of the nicest recognitions I’ve ever received.  African Impact-Livingstone recently honored me as Volunteer of the Month. I am so proud of the work I did with African Impact in Livingstone, and I very much appreciate the recognition, especially since I worked alongside some incredibly impressive folks.

Thank you, African Impact. I can’t wait to come back and see you all very soon.


Posted in Africa, African Impact, Tena West, Volunteer, ZAMBIA | Leave a comment