After a number of technical difficulties, adjustments and readjustments, I’m back. Thanks again to Brian Hart for his tireless and cost-effective (free) labors. This blog is now being brought to you by the letter S (Solar Power) and the number 2 (2 solar collector panels and 2 computers in year 2).
In conjunction with the Olive Branch for Children NGO, headed by Deborah (Mama D) McCracken (www.theolivebranchforchildren.com), *Undisclosed Location* Secondary will be entering the computer age. To all of the private donors who earmarked funds for this project, thank you. Karibu Tanzania.
I have returned from Dar-es-Salaam where I purchased 2 85 Watt Solar panels, 4 solar batteries, 35 metres of wire and a charger controller, all of which will be set-up in the next couple of weeks to provide an electricity source in the school’s library to power lights and at least 2 desktop computers. I should be able to get both the DC-AC inverter and the new computers by May at the latest. However, there should be one computer immediately available to begin staff training when the school re-opens at the beginning of next month.
We just had a visit from our member of parliament a couple of weeks back. Among other messages, he told our assembled teachers and local community leaders that a school without a computer was not a school. On the right track maybe, but counterproductive given that he knew nothing of the current project. As I told him about the project, I made sure he knew that many Tanzanian schools suffer not for lack of resources as much as for lack of utilization of existing resources.
Case in point, our school has a nice library. It could still use more books, especially textbooks and Kiswahili language materials. However, when I got to the school the main problem with the library was that the students hardly used it. It was open during school hours only, when they were supposed to be in class. It was closed at all other times. What I have done with our library over the last year and a half has been simply to make the library resources available in the evening study hours and to train students in its proper use. This cost only labor and did not need any outside grant.
Before coming to UL Secondary, I trained at a school in Morogoro that actually had a couple of computers. However, no one knew how to use them and they remained in the headmaster’s office, unplugged and taking up space. I took the time to remind our parliamentary representative as well as the assembled school and community leaders that this computer project would not be a success just because of the financial resources. We needed commitment, time and talent or it would become no better than a locked library and unplugged computers.
All that being said, I am excited and optimistic. While every teacher, staff member and student with whom I have discussed the project has assured me of community-wide interest, I personally feel confident that 3 of our teachers will take the necessary time to train according a regular schedule in order to become proficient in word-processing and spread sheet use. It also appears quite likely that after my departure in late November, the Peace Corps will replace my site with another education volunteer to continue with this work. As I said, all realistic pessimism aside, I am happy about our prospects.
As for the gardening projects, I have had a couple of small successes but have had most of my goals delayed. The orphans’ vegetable garden has been put-off by scheduling logistics. However, I plan on getting some seeds in the ground by the end of the month and having a full-training session with the students in permaculture and bio-intensive farming by the middle of next month. The rains have not been ideal up to this point anyway (sour grapes?). Heavy rains with no sunshine (lots of mold problems) have been followed by 10 days periods of drought, hardly ideal. We usually get substantial rain in my region until June. Since I’m planting vegetables that mature after 1-2 months, all is not lost. I’m still counting on eating broccoli by May.
On a personal note, I healed up quite nicely in South Africa. My collarbone (sans metal plate) is about 95% back to normal. I’m still taking a little easy when it comes to doing ju-jitsu with my students, but am otherwise back to my regular exercise routine.
As for teaching, things are hectic but well on course. As the only biology teacher available, the students are not getting as much class time as they ought. In particular, my Form III students have only one double-period, once a week. On the other end of the spectrum, my Form IV students have already finished the biology syllabus and will be reviewing the past four years of biology until they take their national exams in September. We got through quite a bit of material last year when we had two biology teachers and they are now enjoying the benefits of being ahead in their studies.
I have found that in my second year, I am much more qualified to teach the Form I students. Most of these students know absolutely no English until they reach secondary school. This means that I need to teach everything throughly in Kiswahili before I teach them in English. Last year the words for nuclear membrane (utando wa kiini cha chembechembe), catalyst (kimeng’enya) and liver (ini) hardly rolled off my tongue. I can answer most of their questions now in class rather than writing everything down and getting back to them later. Right now they are using the microscope (Thanks again to Ma and Pa Levens!) and learning about the parts of the cell. This is probably my favorite topic and the one that I use to launch into every other topic: Nutrition, Digestion, Genetics and etc. It all starts with the cells, right?
The other fun new project this year has been a peer-education project. A group of about 8 Form IV students (male and female) go with me every Monday to the local primary school to teach life skills and material about HIV/AIDS. This is my favorite project because I do none of the work. The kids prepare the lessons and do all the teaching. I go with them, watch and meet with the later to talk about what went well, what did not, and why. It has also been the first time that i have found students talking freely and bluntly about issues of sexuality. They discuss the issues with each other. I mostly listen and only occasionally interject.
Well, I’m running out of time and need to be getting back to the village. I’m not sure when I’ll be back to town next, but I promise another update before 3 more months slips by.