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.


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


Getting Started – mm

Day one in Kunzugu school yesterday.  Among the many differences between Canadian and Tanzanian schools, I am surprised by the formality in the classroom. We did do some research on the Tanzanian education system before we left, but I don’t recall reading anything about teaching styles or classroom etiquette.  I was fully unprepared for the delightfully well-behaved group of 14 – 18 years old that we met.  Taking nothing away from the group of students that we met at Sazira school – they were also excellent, and admittedly part of me wondered if that was a fluke…

I thought that perhaps we would be seen as the “substitute teachers” and that attentiveness would drop.  Perhaps students would be skeptical of us, maybe just due to the language barrier.  Instead, we had the attention of the entire class for the duration of our time together. Despite a slow start, probably a little shyness on everyone’s part, students were politely raising their hand to answer a question, standing up to introduce themselves and quietly moving around the room in their assigned groups.

I can’t decide if it’s just been a while since I’ve been in school, whether this is a cultural and structural difference between school systems in different countries or whether the approach to education is taken a little bit more seriously here.  Students in secondary school in Tanzania need to pay for their secondary school education, or rather, their parents do.  I understand that it’s roughly 20,000 Tsh per semester with an added contribution for lunches, uniforms, etc.  Perhaps this has an effect?  The population in the catchment area for these schools is primarily farmers which could mean some difficulty coming up with the required money at the required time.

When I think about this some more, it occurs to me that these students are quite privileged as not all children in their age group will be able to attend secondary school.  This makes me think of the years when I took school completely for granted.  It was a nuisance at worst and a means to socialize at best.  Not that we had enough time together for me to fully know, but I certainly felt as though the students yesterday were in the classroom to listen to us, not to chat with their friends or pretend they didn’t hear the question (that was my go-to back in the day).

So I’m really grateful.  For a very good start in both schools and for the chance to make good on some undervalued years spent ducking teachers and avoiding homework.




Here we are, we made it to Bunda! After being here for nearly a week I decided that I should get a good workout in. It seemed like a good time Monday evening when we returned from the CPAR office. Since the sun was beginning to set, the guesthouse casted a shadow on the courtyard sheltering it from the hot African sun. I changed into a t-shirt, shorts that went down to my knees, put on my headphones and walked barefoot out onto the courtyard with a skipping rope in hand. I started skipping to warm-up then moved onto a series of exercises that consisted of squats, lunges, burpees, core exercises and push-ups. My group mates sat around the table in the courtyard enjoying the weather and a cup of tea. It wasn’t until I started my second set that I realized that just outside the gate of our guesthouse a small audience of local children had gathered to look on at us. At first I didn’t think much of it since we often attracted stares and attention from the locals where ever we went because we looked different, but then I realized how silly I must have looked performing my exercises. It became humorous at one point because some of the kids started copying my motions.

In a place where walking is the main mode of transportation, and chores like carrying water require physical exertion, exercise is incorporated into the daily lives of the people in Bunda. Exercise for the sake of exercising is a privilege and the need to exercise derives from our privileged lives. In a world where there are people who don’t have enough to eat in the first place, choosing to physically exert ourselves only causes us to consume even more food. Our lives of excess eating and lack of need to physically exert ourselves due to the conveniences of running water, electricity and transportation makes exercise a choice rather than a daily necessity. This makes for an interesting comparison to a place like Bunda where physically exerting yourself is not a choice and physical/financial access to healthy nutritious food is often times not sufficient.

Next time you go for a run, head to the gym or workout, think about how privileged you are to be able to have that choice and how privileged you are to be able to properly replenish your body afterwards.



A Perfect Start – DF

What a journey so far, and it has hardly been a week! The people, the weather, the food –everything has been brilliant and incredibly welcoming, “karibou sana!” It is quite clear we are new to the area, as we have been the focal point of many stares, pictures and endless friendly greetings. However, I am blown away with the amount of kindness and benevolence we have received from the CPAR staff, the school staff, and the local people of Bunda.

The children too, have already reserved a small piece of my heart. In this short amount of time, the young children have genuinely opened up my insight to some Tanzanian culture. They are very curious about us; they enjoy practicing English or even just waving from a distance and smiling from their ears. We were so impressed with their skills when we brought out the soccer ball! The talent, sportsmanship, respect, and organization level they displayed had credited them a much higher level of maturity than their physical age suggested. This is a perception I see through my own eyes, as I compare them to most of the children I have worked with back home.

Why is it that these children seem so “grown up,” and mature, when compared to the image I have for children of the same age range back home? Based on my brief observations as a pedestrian in Bunda, I am making the assumption that the parenting styles are a key source of the difference. I am certainly not suggesting that one form is right or wrong, but I am noticing several differences. For example, children in the Winnipeg are often closely watched by their parents, with fewer responsibilities around the house, whereas the children here are always playing, walking, attending church, and completing chores without the close tuck of a parents’ wing (from what we can see from a distance). Perhaps this earlier onset of responsibility and independence allows these children to excel quicker in competence, maturity and other social skills. I am aware that there are very good reasons behind the parenting styles in each culture, and it is likely that these family dynamics only account for a fraction of the outcome. I am obviously far from the details yet, as this is just the formation of my inference, and I am eager to learn more from these children.

At the end of the day, a few conclusions about these children that I have begun to consider thus far include; they are much better soccer players than any other ten-year-old child I have ever seen, they learned how to use my new camera embarrassingly quicker than I did, and they exhibit a remarkable amount of respect to us and to each other. I am so grateful for the spontaneous soccer game that we played with the children, as it certainly broke through a shyness barrier that may have existed between us and their curiosity. I look forward to our future encounters with them, and I am excited to learn more from them in the days to come, as well as from the secondary students that we will meet tomorrow in the classroom.

One more thank you shout out to everyone from CPAR, our hosts at the guest house, and from the rest of Bunda that have made our first week such a positive experience,



Jambo Kutoka Bunda! – mm

I’ve been thinking a lot about the parallels between reserves in Canada (especially Manitoba) and the Bunda district here in Tanzania.  It’s difficult not to sound paternalistic when speaking of things I know so little about, but I’m interested and am in search of a role to play.  I don’t have all the answers, probably not even one, but from my vantage point as a fairly healthy person who is currently pursuing post secondary studies, I know what it feels like to live without pain and insecurity.  I know what it’s like to have possibilities and have access to food whenever I need it.

After speaking to some of the CPAR staff, I’ve learned about some recent initiatives aimed to ameliorate methods of crop production and harvesting in this region.  This includes the diversification of crops as well. I’ve learned that only recently have carrots been introduced as a crop into the region.  Currently not a favorite among the locals, carrots are fairly hearty and easy to grow and contain many nutrients that are essential to a healthy diet.  Diversification + increased yield may mean more food to sell and eat.

People around Bunda are traditionally farmers, so this initiative makes a great deal of sense.  The end goal of perhaps achieving greater food security in the region, the trickle down effects of this being innumerable.  A worthwhile endeavor. But what about Canadian reserves? Granted this is not an area of expertise for me, but I wonder how and what initiatives are currently being undertaken to address the lack of food security in these areas?  I ask this earnestly, because I truly don’t know. Historically, Aboriginal people have hunted and fished for their food. If these methods are no longer utilized, what then? Some farming maybe, imports, but are these solutions culturally and sufficiently appropriate?

The other aspect to consider is how methods to increase food security are being approached and by whom.  Here in Bunda, CPAR staff are from Tanzania and live in the community that they are developing programs for.  This seems an important feature in developing solutions that are appropriate for the area…but maybe not?  Are there NGOs, agencies and groups staffed by Aboriginal people located on reserves that are implementing similar programs?  While this appears to be a good method for Bunda, is it appropriate in a different context?

Just some things I’ve been thinking about lately.  I’m excited to learn more about CPAR, their programs and the methodology behind them. Can CPAR’s approach be emulated or would it prove ineffective due to cultural, geographical or social differences?  How do agencies around the world audit what’s previously been done in order to tailor it to their needs without recreating the wheel?

More to come!  Still healthy, happy and looking forward to starting the program at the schools.  Thanks for reading.


we made it – jb

Well, we’re here, in Bunda. It’s been a long few days of travel, but its been good. Something about airports and planes makes me feel excited. I do have to admit I was feeling nervous while we were landing in Dar es Salaam, but that has since passed. Our trip here went smoothly, with only one minor complication. Something that I have learned over my travel experiences, is that there will usually be some sort of complication and the only way to handle complications is to ride them out with patiences. Really, it was hardly an issue. There must have been some miscommunication in regards to pick up at the Dar es Salaam airport to our hotel. We had thought there would be a ride waiting for us, but apparently the hotel did not get the email to confirm pick up. After some confusion, a phone call, and negotiating a taxi fare, we made it there. Getting back to the airport the next morning was a breeze.

Mr. Kombo picked us up at Mwanza airport and drove us to Bunda. It was a beautiful two hour drive, although I had difficulties staying awake. Bunda is really close to Serengeti National Park and Lake Victoria; in fact we even got to see some zebras from a distance. Once we got to Bunda we went to the CPAR office where we were welcomed with open arms. Everyone we have met so far has been so friendly and generous. After the tour of CPAR office, we went out for lunch to a local restuarant. We had rice, beans, veggies, and fresh bbq fish from Lake Victoria. Everything was so tasty and delicious.

Normally I eat a vegetarian diet, but sometimes this proves difficult while in a different country and other times I don’t want to limit my experiences by staying restricted to a diet. Also, something that I have thought more about, is how priviledged I am to make a conscious choice of what I eat. At home, I choose a vegetarian diet because of moral and ethical reasons that fit my lifestyle. I know that I am still able to stay healthy and nutritious with these choices. However this is not a choice most of the world gets to make. Especially for those who live in poverty, or who have limited access to food. As I was reading through the Background Information on Bunda that Susie provided us, the awareness of my priviledge became undeniable. The 2005 Poverty and Human Devlopment Report indicates that as many as 68% of people living in Bunda District live below the poverty line, and according to the Bunda Health Department, anemia is a major cause of death in children under the age of five (malaria is the number one reason). In Bunda District, over 80% of people work in the agriculture sector. However, production of food and cash crops has decreased over recent years because of environmental concerns, traditional farming, and lack of access to agricultural input. This results in farmers selling crops at a low price, and can cause serious economic stress for families.

This is why I believe that my diet choices are a privilege. With the above statistics, its easy to see that the choice of what and when to eat is just not a reality for most people. This is not just an issue in Africa, or a world issue, this is an issue that is happening in Canada too. The child poverty rate in Canada has increased in several years according to Campaign 2000. In 1989, 15.8% of families lived in poverty compared to 19.1% of families in 2012 lived in poverty. The 2014 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Canada also indicate that 2/5 Aboriginal children live below the poverty line. On reserves in Canada, this number changes to 1/2 Aboriginal children who live in poverty.

Poverty is clearly a serious issue in Tanzania and in Canada. I have to ask, shouldn’t it be all of our responsibility to make sure that every child is not going to bed hungry? And how can we do this at a national and international level in a sustainable manner? These are dificult questions that I am not sure can even be answered, but still are important to think about and ask. I hope I can explore how the issue of poverty and hunger is being addressed from a development perspective with CPAR and relate it to a Canadian perspective.

talk soon.