meeting the students – jb

We started working in the schools last Friday. We’re working at two while we’re here; Sazira and Kunzugu Secondary School. Our students are high school aged students, 14-18 years old. Sazira Secondary School is new to the Badili Mtizamo Program, but Kunzugu School has participated for the last couple years. Both schools have been extremely welcoming in what we’re doing. In fact, Delfena stated that Kunzugu School has said that they have noticed great change in their students, and they think the program has great value. I don’t think I was expecting this kind of response, but it makes me really happy to know that the program has a big impact on the students.

I was feeling really nervous while we were driving to school on Friday. I really did not know what to expect. I was not sure about the students English levels and as a result, our ability to create meaningful dialogue about very serious subjects. At the beginning of class Delfena intoduced us and what we would be doing with the student. We also tried to make it clear to the students that we’re here to learn from them as well, as we are students too.

Our first assignment with the classes was to discuss what jobs, traits and characteristics were for boys or for girls. For example, is a teacher a man’s work, or woman’s work, or both? This activity proved a bit difficult. The students, from both schools, had difficulties understanding how to do the activity and I think many of the students responded the way they thought we wanted them to respond (ie. both a man and a woman can be a teacher). I think as we progress through the material we’ll be able to explore this more.

The classroom was silent, and participation was lacking for a great portion of the class. I was feeling really nervous of how the following classes would go if the demenour didn’t change. Fortunately, after we broke off into smaller groups there was a huge change. The students appeared to feel more comfortable with us and each other. In our smaller groups we came up with definitions, ideas and concepts to help us understand gender roles, health, respect and sex. The students are all very smart, and they have a very solid understanding of these concepts. I think back to when I was their age, and I’m not sure I did; specifically what gender roles are. I guess that’s what is interesting about gender roles, is that they are often so engrained in daily life we forget about them and they way they affect our personal world view and our communities.

There were two standout moments for me during my first days at each school. When I was facilitating the discussion on sex in the smaller groups we talked about how in English sex has two meanings: (1) the biology that defines a male and female, and (2) an action. When I had suggested that sex can occur between two people, the students clearly defined the action of sex as being between a male and female. No one in the classes discussed same sex sexual relationships. Even when I suggested that sex can occur between people, the students explicity stated between a male and female. I have many friends and family members who identify as being gay, however in Tanzania, this is against the law. The discussion, or lack of discussion, I had with the student in regards to same sex sexual relations, made me curious of life for LGBTTQ* in Tanzania. How strict is the law? Can people safely express their orientation, and if so how? Is the LGBTTQ* forced to engage in relationships secretly? Can those who identify as LGBTTQ* access health care openly and freely?

Also, while I was facilitating the discussion on sex, the topic of abortion came up. A student made a comment of using a sharp pointy object to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. I was fairly shocked when I heard this, because everything I know about abortion includes seeking professional help. I defined what the student said as ‘abortion’, and I asked where woman could go to get one. I remember feeling happy as one of the students told me ‘hospital’. I’m not sure if the initial comment was due to a barrier in language, or if it is common for abortions to take place without medical help, but I had felt that the student was referring to was a home practice. I’m not sure how common abortions are or if they are even legal in Tanzania. I hope to explore all my questions with CPAR.

My questions also have me thinking about what the needs are for the students in our classrooms and how, as a group, we can best address their needs. I want to ensure that I am culturally appropriate in my responses to the students. I want my responses to allow the students to critically reflect on their ideologies, and society’s ideologies surrounding the issues of sexual reproductive health and gender. There are no right or wrong answers. I know I need to remember to use empathy; to see the world through their eyes. Tomorrow for our class we are facilitating discussions on discrimination, assertiveness and gender violence. All of this will be extremely important to bring to my work tomorrow.

talk soon.

Jesslyn

P.S. check out #umsle2015 on Instagram to see some of our photos

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