I have traveled a fair bit, but participating in this service learning program has been so much more than just traveling. I have learned so much about Tanzania, culture, and most of all I have learned so much about myself. Tanzania has been, by far, one of the most amazing places I have visited. The people here have a very special way of welcoming you, loving you, and making you feel like family. 5 weeks is not nearly enough time. My heart is heavy knowing that my time here is finished. As I write this, we’re in the CPAR truck on our way to Mwansa. Susie’s flight leaves today. Our flight leaves tomorrow.
Friday was our last day at Sazira School and Monday was our last day at Kunzugu School. I am so proud of the students and their commitment to the program. All the students we talked to had very positive things to say about their experience. They said they felt that they had learned something very valuable that they will take with them to their friends, family and community. One student that Melanie had talked to at Kunzugu said that he wishes that he could participate next year as well. A student from Sazira commented on his new understanding of gender and equality. I bellieve the students were happy to learn about sex and how to protect their health, which is so important. Yesterday we even stopped at a local hospital where we saw a waiting room full of HIV+ individuals who were there for meds and a routine check up. Even one of the CPAR staff talked about how her family has been affected by HIV. I feel so far removed from HIV and AIDS; in fact I don’t know anyone personal who is HIV+. I hope the students we’ve met take their knowledge to become our leaders of tomorrow. I know I will share my knowledge with my friends, family and community.
I’m struggling with the lack of contact I will have with the students now. They have been so influential on my life. I’m having a hard time accepting that our connection ceases now that we leave. It may be a selfsih thought that I would like to remain connected to them, I hope they view me as a friend and a resource. That is just my wish. We created an email so the students could contact us and remain connected if they have any uestions, thoughts, or just to keep our friendship.
There’s an African proverb that I learned our last day at Kunzugu School when we were celebrated for our time with the students; “Mgeni njoo, mwenyeji apone”.It means the guest comes so that the host can heal. It’s a beautiful proverb, but Tanzania, my friends, my new family, its so important that you know that you have healed me. I have had an incrediably hard start to my year. But the time I have spent here, has brought me back to myself. I am inspired. I am blessed. I am forever thankful. You have reminded me to stay tue to myself and follow my heart. My dreams of helping people, my strong desire to advocate for human rights and builld a healthy, peaceful sustainable future has been reconfirmed. All of the people I have met here have touched my heart in such a significant way. Words could never express my gratitute and love.
The last week at Kunzugu about half of the class did not attend the program. We saw some of the students outside of the class, and even though we encouraged the students to come, they didn’t come. I was feeling really disappointed by this, and I felt really surprised because the students that were picked for the program are considered leaders in their schools. I’m also surprised because Kunzugu School has participated in this particular program in the past. I wonder if last year attendance was an issue? Delfina has told us that this is because some of the students are done school and live far away, and because of language barrier. I know that this is likely the case, but I’m finding it hard to remove myself from the equation; I have a feeling that we could have done something to improve the attendance rate. For the students that have continued at Kunzugu I am noticing a change in their willingness to participate in the classroom. The students at Kunzugu were shy at first, especially compared to Sazira School. However I imagine this was because of language, and not a reflection on the students willingness to participate. Delfina has said that our interactive classroom style is very different than the ways the students are taught at school, so I imagine this is also an adjustment as well. I believe the way we have been conducting our classroom encourages the students to formulate their own thoughts and opinions about the material we are presenting to them. I believe they have done a really good job at this.
At Kunzugu one of the students asked the question box “Why are you teaching us bad things?” My heart actually felt really heavy when I read this question. The combination of this question and the lack of attendance at Kunzugu has been quite bothersome to me. We were asked this the day that we practiced using condoms. We also handed out condoms to them this day as well. I think I have been feeling upset because the last thing I want is to make the students feel as though we are imposing our beliefs and cultures on them. I understand how some of the students perceive our intentions as encouraging sexual behaviours, but this is not what we are here to do. Our intention is to inform our students about sex (correct condom use, male and female reproductive systems, HIV and STIs, etc), and to get the to explore if they are really ready to engage in sexual activity. A part of me worries that the students have not been attending because of the subject material. The last thing we are doing is encouraging them to have sex, and I’m worried that somehow our intentions have been lost to the students. I am also terrified that our intentions have come off as the typical colonization approach that has been so harmful to people in the past. I don’t think this is what we have done at all, but it really opens my eyes to how easy it is for people to forget about the population they work with (I think about residential schools, and the 60s scoop in Canada).
This has been a significant part of my learning experience here, and I hope to explore this issue in a development and social work context a bit more. I work with a vulnerable population, and as a future social worker, I will continue to work with a vulnerable people. I feel as this issue, of imposing my culture, beliefs, opinions (and likely policy), is something I need more experience and understanding in. I need to be well informed about how easy it is to marginalize and oppress the people I work with. I’m learning there is a fine line between advocacy and help, and oppression and harm. Even with the best intention it’s very easy to harm others.