Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Glory and Happyness (and Marta)

The teachers are off and running! An absolutely fantastic group of 14--not all of them teachers, but all of them enthusiastic, energetic, and ready to experience anything Tanzania has to offer. I have to say that those that are teachers are very impressive...anyone who complains about the state of education in the United States just needs to get out and meet teachers! Just talking and listening to them for 2 days and I'm reminded why I loved teaching, why I often miss it, and really how many great teachers there are. We are so blessed to have them here willing to learn and share with their Tanzanian colleagues.

Today we sent 4 groups out--two groups on student verification and 2 groups to visit a local school. My group did not have a typical experience--one family had gone to a funeral and the other was found very quickly. They did get to see the teachers handing around the student pictures to see who knew them, but the work was done relatively quickly. Marta did not pass her primary exams, in part because she missed a lot of school taking care of her mother who has TB. It was quickly clear from visiting her house that she was a great candidate for our school and we were happy to say "HONGERA!" (congratulations).

The other group headed waaaaaay out by the airport in search of their students. They may have traveled the farthest in this selection process, but still had a pretty typical day when it comes to finding a PHS student. You can (and should) read the volunteers' posts on their thoughts and experiences here but I'm cribbing Rob's post to give you another impression of the verification process.

What a day! Terry, Ginger and Rob (that's me!) set out this morning with two Tanzanian teachers, Raymond and Nicholas, the project engineer Max, and our amazing driver Zach. We were off to find and interview 2 potential PHS students, and we knew the trip could be an adventure.

After a short trip east out of Arusha, we were disappointed to find that the road we wanted to turn onto was no longer passable, unless our van could float. So without hesitation we took the long way around - bumping and bouncing our way over smaller streams, by the Tanzanite mine, alongside fields of maize (very different from corn!), rows of sunflowers, a coffee plantation, flower farms and mango trees. We watched girls carry water or wood on their heads, and cyclists roll by on cell phones (they have a better network set-up here than we do in NYC).

Finally we arrived in the students' village. But alas, Glory was not to be found. She was in town staying with her aunt and taking classes. We did spend time with her family though, playing with the children and showing them how to use binoculars, but the decision of whether or not she would attend PHS would have to wait until she could be interviewed in person. Luckily, someone there knew the other student, Happyness, so we were back on track and hoping for better luck.

We wound our way through farmland, punctuated by small but beautiful homes and tiny shops or dhukas with shiny red signs made by Coca-cola (clearly the world's best advertised drink). Of course when we arrived at our destination, Happyness and her mother were not at home. It could not be that easy! They were off looking for water, so we set out looking for them. Chomping away on samosas and popmaize (very different than corn), we were already happy just soaking in the sites and enjoying the warm Tanzanian sun, but our day was to end on a wonderful upswing. We spotted a woman in the field who turned out to be her mother and with a cheerful mom in the van we were able to find her charming daughter in no time. Happyness ran to the van and jumped in, not hesitating to join all these strange wazungu and teachers. She was a born risk-taker and the interview at her home didn't take long. Happyness was coming to PHS!

So after an equally tiring and rewarding journey into rural Tanzania, Glory would have to wait but Happyness was here to stay. I must admit that we were all impressed with the amount of energy and dedication it took to find just 1 of these students. PHS now has over 100 students enrolled and that means an enormous commitment of time by the teachers and the staff who have set off to interview each and every family and student. It was wonderful to witness and I can't wait to see what tomorrow has in store. Wish I was going to get to teach Happyness... Until next time. Rob

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Teachers Are Coming!

On Saturday night 14 teachers from Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, and California hit the ground in Tanzania (well, not literally, because they're flying in and that would be a disaster). They will be visiting schools, spending a day learning what it's really like trying to verify a student for PHS, and planning for a 2 day teaching seminar. We had hoped to get 60 teachers to attend, but we have 160 registered and have had to turn away even more! The larger numbers bring their own share of headaches, but they are welcome ones, believe me! The group has set up its own blog here where you can get to know them a bit more. They hope to post daily, although I wouldn't hold your breath for pictures (see my post below on Blogger woes).

Safari njeme na karibuni!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Safari Scenes--A Different Perspective

As I mentioned my mom, sister, and I spent 3 days on safari last week. If you come to Tanzania, I highly recommend purchasing a book on birds in Tanzania/east Africa. Everyone seems to come with books on how to identify elephants, giraffes, zebras, etc. I have one, too. But honestly, how hard is that? I've never been interested in birds before, but after this trip (our driver was very knowledgeable about birds) I am definitely investing. There are so many--and they are all so beautiful and interesting. We saw saddle bill cranes, marabou storks, kingfishers, weaver birds, pied wagtails, woodpeckers, guniea fowl, and ibis. I wouldn't be one to sit for hours and look into trees or bushes, but it really added a lot to the trip.

We also saw 13 lions which was great, but the highlight for me were the rhinos. We spotted 3--considering there are only 15-25 in the whole country, that was a real treat! They were close enough to see clearly from the road, another bonus.

We had a quick trip to Pangani where we were fortunate to see a pod of 8-10 dolphins near our dhow as we finished snorkeling--definitely a highlight!

A day trip for student verification--waaaaaay out to a village on very bumpy roads, crossing ditches and creeks and a washout--showed another side to life in Tanzania.

They left yesterday and we are sad. Good thing friend Karen is coming NEXT WEEK to give us something to look forward to!

By the way--I officially HATE Blogger. The only reason I'm still here is because I'm too lazy to change. And it wouldn't hurt them if I did because I'm using the free version anyway. I had a terrific post on birds with great pics even. And the rhino. And the lions. But nooooooooooo--after 2 weeks--no pics are allowed apparently. Stupid Blogger. Not me, the service.

Update on Life.

I'd be posting pics of our life lately, but as the previous post indicates, I'm having some trouble in that area, so I'm taking a short break to regroup (otherwise I might heave the laptop through the window). But an update is in order...

We are having a great time with my mom and sister here for 3 weeks--our first official visitors not related to volunteering! I spent 3 days on safari and had a great time (quiet, too, with no kids). Finally got to visit Ngorongoro Crater, which was spectacular. The magnitude of it is beyond description. I was sorry to realize it does have a bit of "zoo" feel, in that I think everyone feels guaranteed to see what animals they want and everywhere you look you can see lots of cars--at one of our lion "stops" there were 10, each holding 5-7 people. That aside, being that close to all the wildlife (including randy wildebeests, as mating season is approaching) was a fantastic experience. We were very priveleged to see 3 rhinos, one quite close to the road (for a rhino, who usually are quite wary of cars). We are hoping to head to Pangani for a taste of Tanzanian life on the coast before they head back to Montana (sniff).

We are also preparing to host 14 teachers who will be arriving on the 24th of June from California, New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis. They will be spending some time learning about our student selection work and education in Tanzania before planning and then leading a 2 day seminar for Tanzanian teachers. I had hoped to be able to invite 60 teachers to attend, and finally had to close the seminar at 150 teachers, which is a great response! The teachers will lead a 2 day seminar covering hot topics such as lesson planning, science/math activities, higher order thinking skills, cooperative learning, and extracurricular activities. They will also be spending 2 days in a Maasai village (including an overnight stay) and some safari time. Definitely busy!

Student selection proceeds on. On good days we see 4 students. On my last trip last week we saw 2. The student's house was about 15 miles out of town on a "road" that involved crossing a river (no, no bridge--you actually cross through the river), numerous irrigation-type channels all over the road, and an off-road stint through a wash-out that was very questionable. We have approximately 70 of the 120 students and are very confident that these students meet our PHF criteria of being orphans or extremely poor. While we have been frustrated at times by not being open officially, this time has proven to be invaluable in terms of building morale and a sense of pride and ownership among our teachers, who have really taken the lead in this process. Secondary schools will be closing for winter break in July so we will slack off a bit in the next few weeks to focus again on lesson planning and curriculum writing.

Construction continues very slowly and continues to be the frustrating aspect of the job. Max has been a tremendous blessing as he does so much coordinating and managing on this front, allowing Mark to focus on the operations. Max also takes his turn at student selection, though, too! The site is beautiful and far enough along to really get a sense of how the school will be. We are eagerly anticipating being able to be out at the site! The herb garden planted by P40 in February has taken off magnificently. When we look at it from the our house it is a beautiful addition to the dining area of the campus and will be place of learning for cooks and students alike!

Personal tidbits--last week my rental car had a boot locked on it because someone sometime didn't pay a ticket. Same car woke up with a flat tire that morning, too. The week before my family arrived we went 4 days without water and again last Saturday. My cat killed and disemboweled a mole in the clean laundry basket tonight--while the electricity was out so I could have the opportunity to manage angry spitting cat, mole parts, spatula, plastic bag, and flashlight all at once. No one helped. My sister and I went riding for a day and my horse laid down in a knee deep mud puddle. While I was on her. Definitely a first in my riding experience. The above-mentioned car now has 2 flat tires again. My freezer gave up the ghost and is getting a new compressor.

Just a typical week in Tanzania!

On the upside, the movie theatre is open and very nice, albeit loud. I'm not sure I can watch any action movies since we all had earaches from the sound for "Mr. Bean's Holiday." I need to remember to pack earplugs next time. And my sister brought a bunch of movies to watch while she's here so I've been catching up a bit. The best of the bunch has been "Casino Royale". Amazing opening chase sequence, so-so movie the rest of the way, but Daniel Craig...dang.

More later, including pics--I hope!