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Peace Corps volunteer Kelly Stenhoff wouldn’t trade experience in Tanzania for anything (Part 2)
Peace Corps volunteer Kelly Stenhoff wouldn’t trade experience in Tanzania for anything (Part 2)
Part II of Peace Corps Volunteer, Kelly Stenhoff
By Jan Lee Buxengard
Nangwa New School Library
Tanzania, one of the world's poorest countries, is located in eastern Africa and borders the Indian Ocean. About 85 percent of its people live in rural areas and farm for a living.
U.S. Peace Corps volunteer Kelly Stenhoff explained that Nangwa Secondary School, where she taught, is located in the middle of Tanzania about two-thirds of the way from Singida, which is three hours away, and Arusha, six hours away, in the northern part of the country.
The school compound includes more than 100 acres of farmland where they grow corn, beans, and wheat. There is a dairy barn with more than 10 cows and also some goats. A garden is planted to produce food for the school meals. Pumpkin is a very staple food at harvest time in August and September.
The soil, which is red in color, is loamy and fertile. Stenhoff noted, "This was the wealthier side of the mountain."
She explained that the students take care of the farm work. A tractor that remained on the property from the school's original owner was used to work the ground for planting. Students weed with hoes and cut down stalks with scythes. It is very primitive farming.
"People are mostly vegetarians. They don't eat meat. Their cows and goats are considered a sign of wealth, and they don't eat their meat. If they eat meat, it's mostly fish and seafood." At open markets in town, bananas, mangoes, and other fresh fruits and vegetables are available. Another area of the market had meats for sale, but Stenhoff didn't buy or eat any.
She noted that the people believe being fat is great. It means you are wealthy because you have food.
Classes are held at the school Monday through Friday. The school day begins with a 7 o'clock morning assembly, followed by classes from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., during which time students are required to speak English. Chemistry, physics, biology, and math are all taught in English.
Students know and respect the authority of teachers. "When I enter the room, all the students stand up and say 'Good morning, Madam.' Students look up to teachers a lot and want to learn. They do try to apply what they learn in their life." She instructed the students that they shouldn't hit people in the classroom. America doesn't allow that, she said.
There were 16 teachers at Nangwa Secondary School. Some, like Stenhoff, stayed in housing provided on campus, and some lived in the nearby village. Also living on campus were the principal, two cooks, and a shopkeeper, who kept inventory of school property.
In addition, there were three classroom buildings, a dining/reception hall, library, three unfinished laboratories, dormitories, and a kitchen.
The cooks used wood to provide heat to prepare the food in the kitchen, a building that stood alone. They would bring the food to the dining hall in big pots. There, students would bring their own dishes and dish up their food and then sit outside to eat it.
Students paid $5 a semester to eat at school. The menu is mostly rice and beans, or ugali and beans. Stenhoff described ugali as a corn flour mush that is stiffened. To eat it, you would grab some in your hand and make it into a ball, then poke a finger indentation into it and use it to scoop up and eat the beans.
It costs students $30 per term to board at the school.
Students bring their own notebooks. To write, they use pens, no pencils, Stenhoff pointed out, adding, "I couldn't see how they could do math with a pen."
Students sit at wooden desks in the classrooms. Due to lack of textbooks, all teaching is done verbally and written on the blackboard. Classroom walls are very bare. We couldn't hang anything on the walls because there were no panes in the windows and people would steal things from on the walls.
There were clubs organized for math, chemistry, and geography, with the students in charge and teachers there for support.
A television was donated to the school on which they could get the Discovery Channel.
The three laboratories were unfinished because there was a problem collecting taxes from villagers to pay for completing the project.
Electricity, which comes from a village five miles away, is supplied only to the western side of the campus, which includes teacher housing and the student dormitories, where lighting is needed for doing schoolwork. There was no electricity on the eastern side of the school compound where the classrooms and laboratories were located. They weren't used at night and didn't need lighting.
Electrical power is not used for cooking or heating. "The goal is to someday get the school electrified," Stenhoff stated.
Water is difficult to find, but during the rainy season, rainfall is gathered from the roof into a storage tank, which has a spigot at the school to draw the water.
An empty building called the "library" had no books or shelves when Kelly came to the school. All books were in the small academic office with the school principal in charge. "They had tons of books in this office, but only the teachers had access to them," Stenhoff reported. "During my second year there (in March), I wrote up a grant asking for funds to build a library, furnish it, and secure it with grills or doors."
In April, Kelly sent an e-mail home to her family asking if there were any organizations or companies interested in donating books to Africa. "My uncle back in Minnesota knew of a library that was closing, and he got a lot of books. He also got in contact with the organization, Books for Africa, and learned they had a big container going over," she continued. "With his donation and ours, we got 5,000 books donated."
In September, they started the school library preparation by contracting local craftsmen to build the shelves, which lined the interior walls of the building. In November, the shipment of books arrived at a village nine hours away. Stenhoff rode on several buses to get to the village, and then stayed there a week while sorting through every book, one by one, and hand selecting those she wanted including encyclopedias, high school math and science books, college level books, novels, and more. At the end of the week, she contacted a truck driver and rode along in the truck back to the school. Imagine the excitement of the students and staff when that truck arrived.
After the students unloaded the books, they helped Stenhoff label and catalogue each one with the computer and get them organized on the new shelving.
"By the end of November, we had a library," Stenhoff said. The school now had a library that was accessible to all the students. "I handed it over to the person who came after me."
HIV AIDS education
"We did a lot of work with HIV AIDS education." Stenhoff said she and a counterpart would teach the students how to live lifestyles that would prevent them from getting HIV/AIDS. They learned life skills including how to be assertive, to communicate well, and how to have healthy relationships and live a healthy social life.
A peer education group of 13 students would get together each week. "Students were very interested and will take in what you say," Stenhoff noted.
Students were selected from the school to go out into the very remote areas and do puppet shows about HIV/AIDS. A Canadian group funded this outreach effort to reach both sections of society. "The largest challenge is to get people to realize it's a threat to them and to be careful," Stenhoff pointed out. "So many questions were asked, but it's the only way for these people to learn about the disease."
In September, Stenhoff continued, we brought in two women who were HIV positive (didn't have AIDS), who stood in front of the students as healthy people. You couldn't tell these women had HIV. The students were very impressed by these women. Their message was: Don't be afraid to go get tested. Testing is available at two hospitals in the area.
Lifestyle in Tanzania
Under Tanzanian law, women have the same rights as men. In practice, however, women still have lesser rights in such areas as education, marriage, and ownership of property. Women are largely responsible for homemaking and raising children. In rural areas, they often perform more farm work than men.
The land they work is family land that is traditionally passed down to generations of family. They don't feed any of their crops to animals. Animals graze on grass, and the corn they grow is considered "people" food. They use part of their crop to feed themselves and sell some, so they can purchase clothing, other foods, and basic needs. Some who have a job off the farm can store the crop until the price improves and then sell.
Regarding family size, Stenhoff explained that women in rural Tanzania are having babies about every three years and many families have 10 children. "The birth rate is high. The more children you have, the higher your status."
Girls who board at the school don't have all the distraction as those who go home and are expected to work, which allows no time to study or concentrate on school.
Girls need to become empowered to have jobs and to realize that their only role in life is not to marry and have children.
Eighty students attended a girls’ empowerment conference that encouraged them to succeed and to show them it was possible to succeed. They learned what careers girls could have. As a result of the conference, two secondary and two primary schools paired in a mentoring relationship, and a peer education club was formed.
For females, wearing skirts above the knees is considered to be improper and even scandalous. Seeing knees indicates a significant low social standing. When girls start school at about age 5 or 6, to dress properly, they wear uniforms that have longer skirts.
Also, tops and shirts must have sleeves because it is not proper to show your shoulders. Women wear a long length of colorful cloth, called the kanga, around their waist and tuck the end at the waist. Some would wear this cloth on their head.
Traveling markets would come once a month with used clothing to sell. From the assortment displayed on a large tarp on the ground, people could pick what they wanted and give a small amount of money for each piece. Stenhoff purchased some of her clothing there. Some women would purchase cloth and have a tailor make a dress for about $7.