Live From Kwala Blog provided by first NTC On-Site Project Director Lisa Walker from September 2009-August 2010

August 2, 2010
Dear friend,

My eyes jolt open before the sun has come to its shed light. As I glance from my bed to each corner of my room, they slowly adjust to the darkness. I see the blank wall where my tapestry used to hang, yellowy brown stains hidden by the shadows of night. I see the desk where my elephant bookends used to sit, the wooden desk now full with somebody else’s belongings. I peer down to the floor of my room and see one large bag, ready for travel. I know the day has come. I rise up in my bed, stretch out my arms, and let my feet dangle down toward the ground. Placing one foot on my warn wooden ladder, I leap to the ground in one silent swoop so as not to disturb Emma who is sleeping peacefully below me. I lift my nightgown over my head and place it on the suitcase which now sits ominously beside my standing body. I take my dress from its usual resting place, the last dress hanging on my plastic hanger, and swing it over my head. I grab my torch, and leave the room. Outside my bedroom the light of the moon glistens through the hallway window. I know I have woken too early but I cannot sleep any longer. I feel too many emotions springing around in my head. I walk to the kitchen and spark a match sitting on the table. I bend down, twist the knob, and light the gas stove. I pour fresh water into the pot my mother had sent, and lay it to heat on the blue flames. I pull out three large empty jugs, which were once filled with water, and sneak back into my room to find a children’s book hidden in the cabinet. Its one of those flipbooks which moves with each page you turn. I then return to the kitchen to pull my clean blue cup from one of the plastic boxes it sits in. I take these objects and walk slowly out the back door of my house. First, I walk to the house of my neighbor, mama Lema. There, I set down the three large jugs that she had been asking for. Beside the jugs I place the book, a gift for her children who, after many relaxing afternoons of reading together, have now developed a passion for the activity. I glance up at the moon, a massive half circle hanging in the sky, and back down to the grassy path which it is lighting for me. Walking back toward the house, I visit my other neighbor, mama Annu, who is already up preparing her morning tea and chapatti. There, I hold out my cup and smile. Naomba maziwa, I say. She chuckles to herself and takes my cup with a single gentle motion. Calling Aniceta, her small sister, my cup is filled with fresh cold milk from her fridge as she sits and gossips with me about the things gone unfinished from yesterday. As I walk back to my house with my half cup of milk, I glance up at the sky. The sun has started rising in the east, scattering the enveloping darkness of night. The sound of waking life stirs around me, chirping birds singing beside me, strong wings of a crow passing above me, lizards racing in the grass below me. Hold on morning, I find myself thinking. Give me a few more moments of quiet before the busy day begins. But time will not wait now just as one year ago it would not pass quickly enough. My time in Kwala is up, and I must begin preparations for my final morning. As I enter through the back door of my house I hear the radio click on, familiar sounds of African music and shuffling feet pull me from my thoughts. I pour the fresh milk from Mama Annu into the pot, sit, and allow it to finish heating. I lift the pot and allow the thick liquid to slide through my strainer and back into my blue cup. Walking onto the front porch, I sit and take in the view of the school, my school, my students as they work to begin their morning chores. I feel a wave of peaceful satisfaction overcome me. I feel pride in what I have done here at this school and within the community. I feel love for the students I am observing. I feel reassurance in the knowledge that I will be leaving my work in the capable hands of Alex and Emma, and I feel excitement for my journey to my other home.

Many many thanks for reading,


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July 26, 2010
Dear Friend,

I awoke this morning to sounds of shuffling feet moving to and fro outside my window. The students have returned from their break and NTC activities are in full swing. We have broken ground on our water harvesting project, as our mafundi (workmen) work hard to dig into our sandy ground, preparing a space for the new tank to rest. This has been an exciting week in Kwala, not just due to the construction of our massive tank but because of the people who have joined the team and are helping with its construction. Alex and Emma, NTC’s new project directors, arrived last Saturday along with Teagan, a Boston University undergraduate, and Brendan Duggin, a student from Oak Hill Middle School in Newton MA. Together, we spent Alex and Emma’s first week here in Kwala exploring the community together. Wandering along the main road of Kwala Village, we stop at nearly every house to greet the families that occupy them and introduce them to the newest members of the Kwala community, the new NTC team. Hesitant at first, Alex, Emma, and Teagan have now found their own rhythm within our African village and are adding their unique ideas and enthusiasm to our work.

So many things have happened in the past week that I find it hard to take the step back and describe each one. First, to Brendan, a thirteen year old with enough energy and pizzazz to invigorate the entire village. By his third day here in Kwala, he had successfully charmed nearly all the children, who would race one by one to grab his outstretched hand as he headed to Mahundi primary school to play football. Bringing with him a team set of jerseys for the Mahundi football team, he quickly went from friend to legend amongst the children here in Kwala. As our students pulled the new shirts over their heads and began to sprint around their overgrown soccer field, a sense of pride in their new uniforms quickly overcame the team. Thank you Brendan, for diving into our community with such a wonderful enthusiasm and eagerness to participate. We hope to see you back in Kwala soon.

Teagan has come to begin work on our science program. She has kicked off the work on this program by bringing eight new microscopes along with various other tools for teaching the sciences. Beside the materials themselves, she has brought with her an enthusiasm for science and commitment to teaching which I can only hope will spread like wild fire amongst our teachers. She spent the greater part of last week teaching all our forms the basics of microscopes. This week, she will work with the form four class, conducting the first true lab periods here at Kwala Secondary School. This is an incredible opportunity for our students, and I am happy that our form four class will have this opportunity before graduating in the fall. Several students have approached me asking for more microscope lessons. Previously, tools such as microscopes were only learned and understood in theory at the school. Now, with the microscopes’ availability, the students’ knowledge has expanded from the theoretical to the practical, and a love of science is rapidly spreading. Thank you Teagan, for all your hard work and eagerness to provide our students with the science training they have long required.

Now for Alex and Emma, who have been training with me for the past week. Nervous at first, they have both begun to open up and find their pace amongst the busyness of our activities. Traveling to Mlandizi last week with Head teacher Gunda from the primary school, we purchased supplies together for the first project they are overseeing, the construction of a staff room at Mahundi primary. Following Mr. Gunda and I all over the town of Mlandizi, they assisted me in teaching Mr. Gunda about the ins and outs of adhering to a planned budget. They also learned about the shops that they will be visiting throughout the year. Returning to mahundi primary with motorcycles full of materials, we unloaded quickly before being enveloped in a group of students.  We formed a circle beside the soccer field and taught the kids ring around the rosey and the hokie pokie. The students then taught Alex and Emma a Swahili dance, singing loudly in a circle while individual students jumped into the center to shake their little hips. Leaping from the sidelines, Emma found herself in the center of the dance party, teaching the kids an American favorite, the lawnmower dance move. On our walk back from the festive activity, Emma voiced her concerns about her ability to form relationships as meaningfully as I have. Just as she finished her nervous speech, a small child came racing towards her, jumping into her arms and playing with her hair. I am confident in Alex and Emma’s ability to find their place within this community and expand the role of NTC and the programs that I have started. I am excited to see how they build upon my relationships and projects and make them uniquely their own. NTC and the Kwala community are lucky to have these two incredible people. Welcome Alex and Emma, and thank you for joining the Kwala team.

As for me, I am preparing for my final week here in Kwala. Last week, I was feeling rather nervous about both my return home and my departure from Kwala. But, after working with Alex and Emma and experiencing their eagerness and ability to expand upon what Ross and I have started, I am feeling confident that the next year of NTC, led by our new project directors, will be bigger and better than the last. Now, it is time for me to start my day alongside our new team. Today, we will visit our bookshop and see how Josephine is moving along. We will then visit a family who has requested that we read with their children. Following a long meeting with Headmaster Kitinya, we will hunker down in our backyard to prepare a feast for our dinner party tonight. Hopefully, we are successful in our food preparation. Alex must still learn how to use a knife, another practical lesson for the day. Wish us luck!

Many thanks for reading,

Lisa Walker

July 9, 2010
Dear Friend,

Today has been a busy day. We are officially opening our school again on Monday, and in accordance with school policy, we have held our first staff meeting today. Amongst the many topics discussed at this meeting was the arrival of our two new NTC Project Directors, Alex and Emma. They will arrive next week, and both the school and community at large are eagerly awaiting their arrival. My final few weeks in Kwala will be spent training Alex and Emma in all that I have learned during my year in the village. Together, we will be purchasing and prepping materials for our water harvesting project, which is to begin at the end of July.

The water harvesting system has been long awaited. After three failed attempts at drilling a well, we hope that this will be the final solution to our water problem. We will be building a 90,000 liter cistern, the amount estimated to provide water to the school community for a little over a month. During the rainy season, we will connect the tank to a series of rain gutters in an attempt to collect rain water. During dry season we will connect the tank to a 2mm pipe which is directly connected to the water source about seven kilometers away from the village. This pipeline is the government’s contribution to our water project, and we are truly grateful that they have followed through with this promise in a timely and efficient manner.

The other building project which Alex, Emma, Athuman and I will be pursuing in the upcoming weeks is the restoration of the staff room at Mahundi primary school. In an effort to increase community involvement, NTC will be limiting ourselves to the purchasing of materials. To ensure community participation and ownership of the project, staff and parents from Mahundi primary school will be donating their hands to complete the project. This is a major shift from the way we have operated in the past, in which we provide not only the materials but also paid for hired labor. It will be an exciting adventure to watch the community come together to build themselves a much needed staff room.

That’s all for now, time to go paint my nails with mama annu. She uses tea leaves and local flowers to create a rather permanent orange color. Last time it lasted nearly three months, until my nails were fully grown out. It will provide me with a little reminder of Kwala for months after my return home.

As always, many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

July 8, 2010
Dear Friend,

I have just returned to Kwala after a two week holiday in Dar-Es-Salaam. The feeling of familiarity of this once foreign village feels strange within itself. I return home, place my bags down in the hallway, and creep into the spare room to pull out the kitchen supplies which were stored in there. I creep to avoid waking the creepy crawlers which may have taken residence in my absence. Lifting the large wash basin full of clean dishes, I walk back into the kitchen/living room and I place all the dishes back on the shelves. I then remove a packet of tea stored in my travel bag, pour some tea into a pot and place it on the gas cooker to heat. Looking around at all the dust and spiders which have accumulated, I lift the broom from its resting place beside the piles of wood out back and sweep the floors. I call my mom to tell her I have arrived, check my room to see how many rat droppings have been left to greet me, brush off my bed and unpack my pillow and blanket. I go to the next door neighbor’s house to say hello. There, I am greeted warmly by Mama Annu’s two baby boys who quickly resume their regular chanting of my name. I check on our new comer, Marika, who is volunteering in Kwala through United Planet, our sister organization. I hug Mtende and Hassan, Athumans children. I return home, light a candle to illuminate our dark kitchen, pour my tea into my clean blue cup, and I sit. I place my tea on the wobbly plastic table, lift my arms into the air, and take a deep breath. I am home. This has become home.

A Letter From Alan Rosenbaum: “A Glimpse of Heathcare in Kwala”

ClinicHello! I am Alan Rosenbaum, a second-year medical student from the University of Pittsburgh. I work in the Kwala dispensary thanks to their relationship with NTC. Needless to say, this experience has been unlike anything I have encountered in the United States. I consider it a blessing and a privilege to be trained in some of the finest hospitals in the world, but the opportunity to see this aspect of healthcare is not only relevant to the practice of medicine, but to my understanding of societal, economic, and health challenges that impact humankind.

The dispensary is a cement and sheet metal building that consists of a large, open waiting room, 2 or 3 small closets, one examination room, a basic lab, and an open doctor’s office. The windows have horizontal metal bars that lack any glass such that wind can occasionally give the workers a reprieve from the heat while permitting insects, birds, or bats the opportunity to swoop in and out. In fact, there is a space under the roof that has become a favorite haunt of bats, and despite attempts to remove them, their presence persists. The floors are covered with ever-pervasive dirt and dust, making it appear as if the dull gray cement has been covered by a brown cloak. The ceiling is littered with spider-webs and throughout the day’s work I can turn my eyes upwards and witness the demise of some unfortunate creature thanks to a spindly-legged arachnid. It is evident that the walls were painted at some point, but over time chunks have disintegrated away, leaving gaps in the finish. In the sole examination room, the walls have been splattered and stained with miscellaneous liquids over the years, as if it were the setting of a gory video game. Indeed, the aesthetics of the dispensary are more akin to a haunted house than a healthcare center.

The equipment housed in the dispensary is in a similar state of disarray, encouraging the observer to question if it has always been as such. There is a Range Rover–turned–ambulance sitting in front of the dispensary, but I’m told that it hasn’t worked for over a year. The water purifier has been broken so the staff is resigned to using soap and water to clean blood, pus, and chemicals off of the single gurney after procedures. Another of the many good examples of their supply shortfalls was when an elderly woman came in complaining of chest pain and heart palpitations. The doctor looked at me and asked “what do you think?” I replied “Do you have an EKG?” even though I knew the odds of that were not promising. “Well, we could check her blood pressure, right?” He looked at me, walked to the closet, took out the blood pressure cuff, and said “Yes, we have, but is not working.” I then inquired as to what he intended to do with her, and he handed her a bag of Aspirin and sent her on her way. Medical waste – anything and everything from glass, biohazards, needles, and documents – are tossed into a pit behind the building, set aflame, and left to smolder under the blistering African sun. I quietly released a sigh of relief when I saw that surgical tools, on the other hand, are soaked in a disinfecting chemical mixture.

I do not want to discredit the efforts of the people at the dispensary; their performance is commendable given the available resources. In one week here, I’ve seen a hydrocele that’s swelled a man’s scrotum to the size of a cantaloupe, diagnosed impetigo, tinea capitus, and respiratory tract infections, identified worms eggs in stool samples and malaria parasites in blood smears, assisted in the circumcision of a 19 year old man, and seen more pus-filled infections than one could have imagined possible; the dispensary was capable of assisting all of these people.

Some days there are only a handful of patients; on others the line can stretch out the door. Some days there is access to the tools and medicines to assist the patients, other days they are told to come back later or go somewhere else. This is Africa.

I am very fortunate to have this opportunity to learn, and very grateful that there are physicians who are willing to teach. There are two doctors, a man, Dr. Mpili, and a woman, Dr. Ngowi, who also wears the hat of Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Mpili speaks English very well, is quite young – only 28 – and has walked me through many differential diagnoses. It has been tremendously helpful having them quiz me on what sort of questions to ask the patients based upon the responses received. I’ve learned a lot about clinical medicine, and have particularly appreciated their allowing me to take a very participative role. It takes about twice as long to get through a single patient when they stop to translate the Swahili into English, but they have given no indication that they mind.

I have little to offer the dispensary clinically – medical students in general tend to be liabilities rather than assets on the wards – so to avoid becoming a ‘medical tourist,’ I’ve attempted to ponder over ways that I can help repay the people of Kwala for their kindness and generosity. One of the first things that became evident is the common themes of the diseases that appear here. There are those which are inherent to the environment, such as malaria or tuberculosis; others are a result of the poor living conditions, such as worm, bacterial, and viral infections. Yet there remains a significant portion that can be deemed behaviorally influenced diseases, particularly in the form sexually transmitted infections. After flipping through the STI registries at the clinic, I was startled to find that about half a percent of the villages’ population is diagnosed as new cases of HIV each year. When combined with the amount of advanced cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and other venereal diseases, it becomes evident that prevention could greatly reduce the morbidity and mortality of these people.

None of the shops in the village sell condoms, there is little in the ways of sexual education, and often the stigmatism and misinformation about STIs is counter-productive to combating the diseases. Because condom availability and education is so lacking, and condom use is one of the simplest steps to greatly increase the quality of life of the people, I believe that coordinating the education and establishing a condom source will be the brunt of my project. To achieve this aim, I intend on using Lisa’s numerous contacts to spend time shadowing a physician in Dar who works with STIs, contact other NGOs that may have condom suppliers, and meet with those in positions of power in the village.  I hope to have established a source of condoms that can be sold in the village, such that when the schoolchildren return to the secondary school in July we can initiate a curriculum involving sexual abstinence and protection. Hopefully, from there, we may be able to spread out and speak to the rest of the village.

Thank you very much for reading.

Alan Rosenbaum
MS-2 University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

June 25, 2010
Dear Friend,

I am sitting at Jamila’s Hotel, the newest addition to Kwala community restaurants, sipping freshly brewed chai and eating maandazi, donuts. This is the first restaurant in town with checkered table cloths, metal chairs, and brightly colored paintings on the walls, reminding me of my favorite New York City pizza parlor, minus the pizza. Its only 7:30AM but the village is already hopping. Across the way, big baba is sitting outside with his grandchildren, reading the book I brought to him last week. His beautiful baby grand-daughter is bouncing around the table in front of him, smiling as he shows her the pictures from the story. Motorcycles go whizzing by, bringing people to and from different places in our small village. And all the mamas are outside their homes, perched beside charcoal cookers and crackling hearths, preparing breakfast for their growing families.

It’s been a good few weeks in Tanzania. Last week, my brother, Alan and I traveled to Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island off the coast of Tanzania. With the exception of the ferry ride, which was uncomfortably bumpy and generally nauseating, the trip was a success. Stone Town, with its winding cobblestone streets, scent of Arabian and Indian spices whirling through the air, and burka-covered Muslim women gossiping in colorful street-side shops, is truly a fascinating place. After two days exploring the historic town, made famous by its key position as a trading post along the East African coast, the three of us headed to the beach to relax. At the northern tip of the island rests a once small and modest fishing community. Now, with a rise in tourism, this beach is hopping with busy bars, earsplitting dance clubs, and American-style burgers and chip joints. While sitting on the beach relaxing, I looked up to see the oddest contrast. Three white bikini wearing women walked along the beach. Two Muslim women, wearing typical religious garments and burkas, trailed behind. While the clash of cultures is certainly apparent, a welcome attitude and friendly nature is the only way to define this African paradise. All in all, it was a truly fascinating experience. I highly recommend this trip to all future travelers exploring Tanzania…though if you can afford it, take the plane.

Back in Kwala, Michael, Alan and I cooked up the lentils we had purchased in Zanzibar along with freshly baked bread (baked on charcoal!) and fresh chicken for a dinner party. Coming together with the academic leaders of the community in addition to the local doctor, we began a conversation about sexual education in the village. Both the local doctor and Alan witness multiple cases of STI’s in the Kwala dispensary. Presenting this fact to Headmaster Kitinya and Head Teacher Gunda, we agreed to begin sexual education classes in both the primary school and secondary school as of mid July. The doctor and Alan will teach together, covering everything from sexual reproduction to sexual health and safe sex practices. We all agreed that this is a good first step in tackling this problem in a culture where sex is considered taboo. We hope to begin sexual education classes at a village wide level as well, realizing that sensitivity and baby steps will be the only way to move forward with such an endeavor.

group at Mkuki 1Josephine (our book shop owner), Zaina (a local volunteer who is leading our village reading corner), Headmaster Kitinya, Athuman and I traveled to Mkuki Na Nyota Publishing house in Dar-Es-Salaam last Friday to purchase books for the book shop, village reading corner, and potentially, Kwala Secondary School. Stopping at a local restaurant to get some lunch, I was introduced to the most spectacular banana soup. When asked why I was not indulging in the goat which was served on the side, I stood up, spun around, and explained that upon my return to America I was expected to be in shape. Both the women laughed, and I was grateful to have been excused from yet another serving of blackened meat for breakfast. At the publishing house, all four of them moved from one selection of books to the next, looks of excitement on their faces. The enthusiasm felt during our field trip has carried into Josephine’s and Zaina’s involvement in the village. Josephine and Zaina have decided to work together to sell the books. Zaina will be borrowing books from Josephine’s shop and reading them during her weekly reading corner. She will then be reminding the kids to visit the shop, as they can purchase them there. I hope the enthusiasm for reading continues to grow. Their positive attitude and excitement is certainly contagious.

In other news, rodents have infested the headmaster’s house, in particular, the room in which I live. In an effort to get rid of them, we have set traps all throughout the house. After catching five, with an estimated two remaining, the little guys got clever and figured out how to avoid getting caught while still eating the cheese. Adding poison to the mix, Michael and I awoke the other day to traps going off throughout the house. Instead of catching the mice, we had two chickens squawking around, and no poison cheese to be seen. We may have killed our neighbor’s chickens. I am hoping that they just got a little sick and are now choosing to avoid our house as opposed to the alternative.

Michael left this week and is now in Italy exploring the beautiful city of Rome. This was the most incredible opportunity for us to get to know each other as adults. The cool part, I truly enjoy the person he has become. I thank you buddy, for your willingness to come out here and work with me. Your tolerance for your twin sister’s orders, your enduring work ethic, and ability to adapt, are both an inspiration to me and the community of Kwala. Thanks Mikey, and good luck in Italy!

I am returning to Dar-Es-Salaam tomorrow to spend the next two weeks living, working, and finding my rhythm in the city of peace. I am working as an editor for Mkuki Na Nyota. I have just started my second assignment, and despite the tedious nature of the work, I am welcoming this brief change of pace.

As always, many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

IMG_8270June 10, 2010
Dear friend,

Sitting outside on the shade covered cement porch beside my home, the cool morning breeze sways the green leaves above my head. The sound of singing birds and crowing roosters is all that rings in the morning air. The students have left Kwala Village for their winter break, and the absence of familiar voices which usually stir me to life in the morning is abundantly clear. Without the sound of busy feet and giggles, the abandoned school takes on an almost eerie feel.  Of course, we have a new pet at the headmasters house. A massive snail has meandered into our lives, leaving a string of slime as he moves through our kitchen and up the wall. He has been the source of far too much entertainment over the past few days, representative of the snail like pace of life in Kwala when the kids are not around.

It has been a relatively slow week here in Kwala, though our new volunteer, Alan, has jumped head first into his job at the medical dispensary. Confronted with multiple cases of sexually transmitted diseases and young pregnancy, he and I have decided to pursue sexual education both within the school community and village community at large. Upon our students return to Kwala in mid July, we will begin these much needed lessons. We plan to meet with Msemakweli, the village chairman, next week, to inquire about how to go about village wide classes. I know Mama Annu, the headmistress at Kwala Secondary School, leads a weekly woman’s group. That may be a great place to start. Additionally, we hope to reach out to different condom companies and NGO’s in the US and Eastern Africa, and to begin to distribute condoms on a village wide level. Without health classes in either the primary school or secondary school, many people here do not know how to use a condom. Some fear that condoms actually increase the risk of disease. These are issues which we hope to tackle in the upcoming weeks.  If you have any recommendations for companies to reach out to or curriculum to include, please send an email. This is new territory for me, though I am looking forward to the challenge.

With no classes to keep us occupied this week, Michael and I have resumed the research which my sister and I began a few months ago. We are exploring children’s conception of pictorial representation to determine if there is a difference in development between Tanzanian children and their American counterparts. Here in Kwala, children are not regularly exposed to pictures, and so we are testing to see if there is a delay in their understanding that a picture is representative of an object. Our research thus far has proven that there is in fact a five to six month delay in their development. After making the rounds around the part of the village in which I am familiar, Michael and I have begun to reach out to the more peripheral parts of town. Because the children are less familiar with me, a white woman, we are finding it more and more difficult to get accurate results. The children, with limited access to white people, tend to fear Michael and I as well as the camera we are using to document our results. There is nothing more frustrating than a crying baby, in a state of hysterical fear, which I cannot tame with a warm smile. We have decided to wait on a few of the children, visiting them regularly throughout the week with maandazi (donuts) and other friendly bribes, in an effort to get them used to us.

In other news, Athuman and I have begun to work on the budget for our upcoming water harvesting system. Prices have risen over the past few months, as the shilling loses value and the price of oil sky rockets. We are still hoping to complete this project on our six thousand dollar budget. We hope to begin purchasing materials near the end of this month. This will be my last major project here in Kwala, and Athuman and I are looking forward to working together to bring his long awaited water solution to life.  After experiences the hard rains which characterize February through May, I have no doubt that this cistern will change the lives of the student community here in Kwala and decrease the challenges they face on a daily basis. Michael, Alan, and I raced to arrange buckets in a row below our roof yesterday to catch just a little rain water. With gutters and a 90,000 liter tank, that race will become less frantic.

With no school this week and a brief reprieve between projects, the three of us will head to Zanzibar this afternoon to explore the historical archipelago. More next week.

Many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

June 6, 2010
Dear Friends,

I am sitting on a white sandy beach on the Southern Coast of Tanzania, a little piece of paradise nestled on the shore of the Indian Ocean. As I lay here I can feel the sand seeping through my toes, molding to the shape of my body, my muscles slowly relaxing from a long week of work. The waves, crashing up against the sandy coast, sound like the steady peaceful hum of a lullaby, soothing me to a  state of repose. And the sun, slowly rising in the morning sky, is urging me to leap into the warm Indian Ocean and rejuvenate my lazy bones.

IMG_8268Another week in Kwala has passed, and as I walked through the streets of the village this past week, I could see the impact I have had on the people living here. NTC has assisted one of the women from the village in opening the first book shop here in Kwala. NTC will be subsidizing the books to ensure that their costs are kept affordable for the average citizen, but Mkuki Na Nyota Publishers has promised the shop owner a minimum of 30% discount, so the shop is nearly self sustainable. People are buying books, walking down the village streets glued to the pages they have purchased. After giving out about 50 childrens books for no cost, Adrian and I realized that the only real way to instill a sense of value in these books is to have people purchase them themselves. The price, ranging from the cost of a kanga (typical Tanzanian dress) to the price of a beer, remains accessible to nearly all community members. And our shop keeper, Josephina, allows members of the community to move freely in her shop, arranging benches so that people who do not wish to purchase the book can sit in the shade and read. Families are inviting me into their homes to read with them, and children chant “naomba kitabu” (I want a book) as I pass them in the village. Its…wicked cool.

During Adrians time in Kwala, he and I wrote a childrens book together. It is called “The Boy Who Brought Thunder” addressing some of the economic realities of the village in a child accessible manner. Adrian and I will be working on the illustrations with the graphic designer from the publishing house over the next two months. We are discussing the prospect of making the book bilingual, Kiswahili on the top of the page, English on the bottom, to make it accessible to both our American and Tanzanian students. I hope one day to see “The Boy Who Brought Thunder” claim a shelf in Kwala’s Book shop.

Adrian headed back to America on Tuesday, and the village said farewell with a big meal of fresh goat meat and wali (rice). Celebrating his time in the village, many members of the community stepped forward to extend their warmest thanks for his hard work and dedication to education.  Adrian, a bit shy at first, stood to thank the community. Dressed in his new Tanzanian suite, made by one of the tailors in Kwala village, all the people who attended this celebration agreed that he is now truly African. As Adrian departed, a new volunteer, Alan, arrived. Alan, a second year medical student from the States, has come to pioneer NTC’s involvement in the Kwala medical dispensary. He will be living and working in Kwala for the next two months, and we are very happy to have him. Welcome Alan, to our growing Kwala community!

With the school nearly empty, form four has remained in Kwala for the next two weeks to continue to prepare for the final examinations in September. Michael and I are happy to continue teaching them English literature. Their improvement in literary analysis over the past few weeks has been astonishing, and as our conversations become more in depth and meaningful, Michael and I find ourselves reinvigorated and excited for each days lesson.

Alan, Michael, and I taught our students capture the flag this past week, an American game similar to tag. Breaking our students into two teams, Alan, Michael, and I take our places in the field, consistently being outrun by our very quick form four students. Racing for the flag, I am consistently sent to our makeshift prison, switching from player to cheerleader in the game our students are now dominating.

That is all for this week. Time for me to jump into the water and enjoy every drop of this beautiful ocean. After living in Kwala, where water is a rare luxury now that rainy season has ended, I find myself appreciating the ocean in new ways. I am thinking it is time to move Kwala village to the coast. Just need to get the elders of the village to agree.

As always, many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

May 20, 2010
Dear Friend,

I am sitting on my front porch watching as my students gather for morning assembly. Soon, all motion in the school will stop, each student will raise his or her chin to the sky and sing the Tanzanian national anthem together. Their beautiful unified voice rings throughout the schoolyard, and the hum reaches my doorstep to greet me each morning.

Headmaster Kitinya, my brother, and I have had many interesting conversations this week. As  the national election approaches, the results are already known.  The CCM, Tanzania’s ruling party, has dominated the Tanzanian political scene since national independence in 1962.   Despite the multi party system, or rather in spite of the many parties which have splintered the votes of potential opponents, the CCM is poised to win again. Mr. Kitinya pointed out that even with nearly 20 opposition parties, the CCM still managed to get 80% majority in the 2005 elections. He explained that the Tanzanian election paradigm was created, rather brilliantly, by Julius Nyerere, the first leader of the CCM. By allowing a multi party system, and offering the illusion of choice, he was able to render the CCM impervious to any opposition.  A combination of inertia and resounding pride in the leaders of Tanzanian independence has secured CCMs domination, while the facade of choice has kept opponents quiet and peaceful. Despite this acknowledgment, Mr. Kitinya too will continue to vote for the CCM, as will the majority of the population. How long can this historical party stand on its legacy? How long can the people of Tanzania turn a blind eye to corruption within their historical leaders? Discussing the role of the CCM and performance of incumbent president kikwete, my form four students voiced their  frustrations with the status quo.  When I asked if they had registered, their hands went flying into the air. They will vote. Despite their concerns for how the CCM is running their country, many were hesitant to say that they would vote for an opponent.

Form four has finished their national examinations, and forms 1, 2, and 3 will begin their local testing this week. Today is my last day of classes with my form one students, and upon their return to school in July, I will have only one final week to act as their teacher. Its been a privilege teaching in Kwala. I hope I have nurtured a sense of pride in learning which will guide my students in their future endeavors.

DSC_0509Wandering into the village yesterday, my brother and I introduced baseball to the children of Kwala Community. With tires placed in a diamond shape on the main road of the village,  the kids threw the bat in the air and raced to first….second….third base. Adults in the village walked by the game, chuckling to themselves as they watched their children play this silly American concoction.

The library at Mahundi primary school is officially complete. Walking toward Mahundi after the game, the kids grabbed my hands and led me to their new library. With pride, they pointed to their many books, donated by Judy Citron, an American volunteer who came to visit us in February.  Then, pointing to the new benches which our Brooklyn volunteers donated, they explained that they sit there to read together. Watching this project come to life has been incredibly rewarding. And this project has gone hand in hand with the love of reading which is rapidly spreading throughout the village.

DSC_0481Walking toward Msemakweli’s house, children come running to me asking for books. “Naomba kitabu” they say as they reach for my hands. This week, I told them to follow me to read with mama,  Msemakweli’s wife. Sitting upright in her large wooden chair, children perched around her, mama read the story of the Crow and the Crab to many of the children from the village. After the reading, she went back through the story, asking the kids questions about different aspects of the plot. With joy, she told me she planned to read each Monday and Friday, and informed the children of the schedule. This is first program which is 100% led by a member of the Kwala community, and I am hoping that with her leadership will come increased participation by the community at large.

Time to go teach my last class. As always, many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

May 13, 2010
Dear Friends,

I am sitting in my backyard, watching as our new house mates race and cluck around my chair. We have seven chickens who have crashed our house, and while they can be moderately amusing when my brother wants some exercise and chases them around the yard, they are generally annoying creatures. Not thrilled about our new guests. Mikey was initially excited, as he saw this as an opportunity to get fresh eggs. But after taking several eggs from their newly built nest, we realized that they belonged to our school security guard, and that we were stealing his lunch.

Its been a good week in Kwala, despite the arrival of these new clucking machines. As the summer turns to winter and the rain washes the heat away, the corn grows tall, ready for harvesting. All the gardens in the village seem to have been successful this season, and the village is glowing green. Our form four students have begun to take their midterm tests, and there is an excitement spreading around the school as the semester is nearing its close.

DSC_0481Representing NTC, I continue to explore the relationship NTC has with the village community. Yesterday, during my meeting with Kwala’s village chairman, I asked him if he knew of a community member who would be interested in continuing with the village reading corner after my departure from Kwala. His wife, who was sitting beside us and correcting my bad Swahili grammar, immediately offered her assistance in this endeavor. She has been present at every reading corner, and her house is generally flooded with small children who play in her yard. She has asked to begin this Monday, and would like to read “Cinderella” (or “Sinderella” in Swahili), to the children who tend to congregate around her house. I am so excited about this development, and hope that this is only the beginning of larger community involvement.

DSC_0425We have kicked off NTC’s newest program in Kwala, a program focused on early childhood reading. Moving from one household to the next, I sit with mama and toddler and read basic ABC books with them. More often than not, the mama quickly takes over the reading, mimicking my style and teaching their children how to sound out each letter in the Swahili alphabet. On occasion, the household will have fun testing me, asking me to pronounce longer words in Swahili and laughing as I sound out each letter and butcher the word entirely. I hope to find another interested community member to continue with this program, though at the moment I am having too much fun being invited into households and watching as children open their first books.

Last week, the NTC girls and I traveled to Ruvu together where we visited an A level school. We were welcomed warmly upon our arrival, and both students and staff were dispersed into different classrooms so as to observe a normal class day. I accompanied some of my students to an agriculture class, where I observed a classroom of students truly engaged in the subject they were learning. This is not something common to Kwala Secondary School, and it was clear that the students in this class had chosen this subject and were happy to be studying. In A-level, just like in college, students get to choose the subjects they study.

At tea time, our students were taken to sit with several girls from the Ruvu school; they had the opportunity to ask informal questions about how an A-level school operates. I mentioned to the headmistress of the school that our students do not have a science laboratory here at Kwala Secondary school and that they would be very interested in taking a look at Ruvu’s lab. Twenty minutes later, the biology teacher headed to the kitchen where she collected 15 cockroaches for an impromptu dissection. (I honestly don’t know how they collected that many cockroaches in one sweep of the kitchen, but I guess I don’t really want to know).  A few moments later, the girls and I were directed to the science laboratory where my students had the opportunity to learn about the digestive track of these little monsters. A sense of vengeance overtook me as I watched my students slice these cockroaches open, revenge for all those months of being tormented by these multi-legged creatures. And as I circled the room, each of our students, working closely with a girl from Ruvu, looked enthralled by the process she was participating in. After the dissection was complete, the biology teacher pulled out some test tubes and taught our girls how to test a solution for protein and starch. I kept my eyes on some of my quieter girls,  and I was amazed at how active they were and anxious to participate in the experiment.   We now have 14 girls considering the field of biology and chemistry as a career path, subjects largely ignored at Kwala Secondary School due to a lack of laboratory.

After our exploration of the science laboratory, we were given a tour of the school dormitories. As we entered the large, unbelievably clean room which housed nearly fifty female students from Ruvu, eyes opened wide at the site of their first bunk beds. “How…how do I get on it?” one of the girls asked. And one of the Ruvu students, with a running start, leaped atop the top bunk of the bed in an effort to demonstrate. “Can I try,” I heard from a few girls as they giggled with excitement, and four bodies went leaping onto the closest bunk bed.

The girls sang the whole way back from Ruvu, smiling and excited, making up songs in Swahili about this school which they hope to attend in the future. Since we have returned, the girls have been spreading this enthusiasm about moving on with their schooling. I have no doubt that some of them will.

Adrian, NTC’s Educational Director, left Kwala today to begin his week long hike of Mount Kilimanjaro. He will be heading back to the States on June first, and after only a few hours in his absence, we are already missing him in the village. Thank you so much Adrian, for your time and commitment, and endless enthusiasm while working with me. Your ability to approach the challenges we faced together during your stay in Kwala has been inspirational. We wish you the best on your hike, and hope you will return to Kwala to spread your love of education many times throughout your future journeys.

Time to get going. I must go to the village and buy tomatoes for eggplant parmesan tonight. Once I learn how to make something I like here, I tend to stick with it. Some of the teachers at our primary school have asked Michael and I to teach them how t prepare an American dish.  We have decided to introduce them to the world of Italian cooking instead.

As always, many thanks for reading,

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

A letter from Michael Walker: “Living and eating in the village”

Since my first week, rainy season has started and the weather has cooled.  When I arrived, most was brown and dusty with very little green, but already the grasses are tall and it seems like a different place entirely.  I’m happy for the rain and Lisa is happy for the abundance of water.  It doesn’t rain every day, but when it rains, it pours.

Living in the village is a lot like an extended camping trip.  It’s a constant battle between us and the elements –insects, weather, sand- generally it’s a losing battle.  However, I have found some of the conditions actually suit me quite nicely.  For example, years ago I decided that wearing deodorant was simply “civilization” trying to suppress our natural animality.  Here, no one seems to mind my natural perfumes, and I have grown to appreciate theirs.  Additionally, the complete absence of modern conveniences like washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, fast food,… has allowed me to live a simulacrum free day-to-day lifestyle.  Now when I say I have to wash my clothes, it actually means scrubbing each item individually with a bar of soap, rinsing in a bucket of water, and hanging it on a clothesline to dry.  It is a lifestyle I always romanticized, and I am proud to say that unlike my various apartments and houses at university, my room here is seldom overflowing with dirty clothes three weeks past their prime.  When it is time to wash, I sit on a shaded part of our front porch, and sit for an hour or two, until all of my clothes are clean and good smelling.  It is relaxing.

Cooking is a major part of each day.  At home in the States, it has always been one of my favorite activities.  Here its serious business.  The majority of Tanzanians cook using firewood. Those that can afford it use a giko, which is a stout two-story charcoal stove.  Most cannot afford kerosene to light their giko, and so they go to a neighbor with an empty coconut shell and request one or two pieces of burning charcoal to get theirs started.  Alternatively, they will use a black plastic bag which they light on fire and let melt onto several briquettes, hoping it will light.  A student from the school told me this was the traditional method for lighting the giko.  I thought she told me this tongue-in-cheek, but she looked confused when I laughed, so I’m really not sure.

The diet of the villagers in general is poor.  For most, their only source of protein is beans sold in the village; they alternate for carbohydrates between rice and ugali.  Ugali is cornflower mixed with water and cooked.  When it is finished it forms a tasteless white cake which has to be cut with a knife.  Its very filling and very cheap, and that is why all Tanzanians eat this, some at every meal.  Vegetables are hard to come by in the village.  Tomatoes, potatoes, onions and hot peppers are always available.  Less frequently I can buy okra, carrots and sour yellow tomatoes, and once I have seen cabbages being sold.  The occasional orange tree grows in the village, and the last two weeks there have been bananas imported from a neighboring town market, but aside from that, fruit is almost never available.  Eggs can be bought, but for most of the villagers they are too expensive.  Fortunately many of the villagers, including me, keep chickens and are provided with either meat or eggs once or twice a week. Interestingly, there are two kinds of eggs.  Eggs which are purchased in mass from a larger town miles away.  These eggs are brown and the yolk is almost completely white.  There is a stigma against these types of eggs, most villagers don’t like them because they know that the chickens are fed with some artificial chemicals which is the reasons for their lack of color.  The local eggs which are too valuable to be sold come in all shapes and colors, and the yolk has a healthy yellow orange hue.  I would prefer only to eat the latter, but unfortunately they are not always available and we need the alternate source of protein.  Eating beans everyday can take its toll on your GI track as you might imagine, and it doesn’t help in the friend making process.

Meat can be bought at a local butcher, but not always.  Wild dogs generally surround the shop until the butcher gets fed up and throws a bone or a tin can at their heads.  Also, dried fish is always available, vendors have piles and piles, often covered with flies and letting off an odor that makes it less than appetizing.  I have not cooked with these fish but I have had the pleasure of eating one, and I must say it wasn’t bad, though its small bones got caught in my teeth and the head left a bad taste in my mouth.

My most dramatic experience with cooking thus far has been slaughtering and eating a chicken.  Mamma Annu, the head mistress at our school, our next door neighbor, and my best friend in the village, also happens to be the best cook around.  She is a natural teacher and has taught me everything I know about cooking in Tanzania.  She is patient with me and I believe she enjoys watching my untrained hands fumble with dull knives over carrots and potatoes as much as I enjoy watching her skilled hands at work.  Naturally, when I told her I wanted to cook a chicken, we were both excited at the prospective amusements of watching me squirm.  The only one clearly not amused was the chicken.  I had watched a student carry out the gruesome task once before, and at home I had assisted in the slaughtering of a duck, but had never killed anything more substantial than an insect in my life.

With unsteady hands and a dull blade, I barely managed to scratch the bird.  Mamma Annu showed me to shave the feathers off the neck with one foot on its wings and another on its feet.  I thought it rather morbid when she burst out laughing as I slipped and the bird nearly escaped, flapping its wings, but unable to get off the ground as its feet were bound together.  I reestablished my position and made the first cut, starting from the back of the neck instead of the front as I was instructed.  The bird, clearly in pain startled me with the high pitch of its squawking, and I grimaced but concentrated, knowing I was adding unnecessary seconds to a painful death.  It took over a minute for me to get the head clean off and I still remember its body convulsing under my feet as I finished the task.  Finally it stopped twitching and I felt relieved the job was finished.  I wouldn’t call it a kosher kill, but a kill nonetheless.

Mamma Annu had water boiling and we took the chicken and poured the hot water over its body and cleaned it of its feathers.  They came off easy.  The smell reminded me of a weak soup broth; it gave me the encouragement I needed.  We then gutted the chicken, its rubbery entrails constantly slipping from my fingers, trying to tear out the bells and whistles from inside.  The heart, liver, and gullet, (Mamma pointed out each of these and gave the name in English and Kiswahili) we saved for cooking later.  I’ll spare my readers of further details, but it wasn’t pretty.  The next step was to cut the chicken into small pieces. There are no ovens here, so the pieces have to be small enough to be cooked all the way through by deep frying in oil.  Imagine my surprise when I realized she intended to cook and eat the feet of the bird after peeling an outer layer off of its claws.

Nonetheless, after frying the small pieces  we added them to an eggplant tomato and okra concoction and it all came together nicely.   All and all the process took about two hours.  It was good.  I was very pleased with myself until Mamma Annu insisted I eat the liver and the gullet.  Not the worst in the world, but next chicken I think I will pass it up.   and the poultry section of the supermarket will never be the same.

Michael Walker, May, 2010

May 5, 2010
Dear Friend,

Just jumped off the front of a piki piki (motorcycle) after my very first lesson! My students all gathered to watch as I circled the school a few times before heading out to buy some vegetables in the village. After struggling with the clutch for about twenty minutes and getting another round of instruction from every male in the village, I returned to the school where I could hear the cheers of my students welcoming me home. Driving a motorcycle is…awesome. This will not be my last piki piki adventure.

Reading Corner April 12 2010Switching gears (hehe) it’s been a busy week here in Kwala. The girls and I went to the village yesterday for our final village reading corner before their winter break. My hope is that even after my departure, the girls will carry on with this activity and continue to encourage a positive association between reading and recreation. The opportunity to lead this program has been my greatest pleasure, and I extend my warmest thanks to our generous sponsors for donating these books, the NTC girls for pursuing this activity with such commitment, and the village chairman for allowing us to read under his mango tree.

Tomorrow, Adrian and I will accompany 25 girls to an A-level school where we will be given a tour and sit in on classes. The girls will then have tea and lunch with the students from this A-level school and will have the opportunity to ask questions about advanced study. A-level is the next step after students graduate from Ordinary level here at KWASS. Last year we had only one student move on to A-level. We have planned this field trip in hopes that it will invigorate our students and spark an enthusiasm about the next steps in their education. All the girls have been told to dress smart, as they say in Tanzania. I am excited to take this trip with our girls and I am eagerly awaiting their response to what could be their future homes. Our form four class is doing wonderfully this year, and we are hoping that several of them will choose to continue.

My brother and I have taken on our form four English Literature class. Together, we are teaching post-colonial literature in a neo-colonial world. As my brother Mikey has pointed out, this dynamic is quite neat. Together, we are exploring the violent story of Kenyan Independence; navigating the historical relations between East Africans and white settlers raises important questions about foreigners’ roles within Tanzanian communities.  Our students have been incredibly insightful throughout this journey of colonial history.  Together we have reflected on contemporary economic development and social relations within their country. I find myself wondering which role I am playing within this historical dialogue, and how the role of contemporary NGO’s will be recorded in future African literature.

Last Friday, Adrian, Mikey, and I sat down with representatives from the village, the primary school, and the secondary school in an attempt to address this very question. What do these three communities want from their relationship with NTC, and how can we ensure that our lines of communication are always open? The meeting went wonderfully, and two representatives from each sphere were chosen to volunteer their time and act as NTC coordinators, similar to the role Athuman Msangi has been filling for the past four years. The question of what projects to pursue next led to rounds of laughter as Mr. Kitinya, our headmaster here at KWASS, admitted that he has been wanting to climb atop the new swings at the primary school and “feel the wind in his shorts”. In fact, he is not the only one feeling the temptation.  We discovered during the meeting that the whole community, (including the village drunk who he has no doubt already attempted to jump onto a swing) has been envious of the primary school’s new toy. He is wondering if NTC can work with the community to build an adult sized swing set at the secondary school. We promised to try our best.

Not only have we introduced American playground culture to Kwala village, but we have now also introduced the taste of Italy. Mercilessly sorting through piles of purple, Mama Annu showed us (to the chagrin of the salesman) how to pick the freshest eggplants. Breaking open several of the larger eggplants to prove their lack of quality, she finally settled on four smaller ones which were perfectly ripe. Returning home, Mikey and I sat down to prepare eggplant parmesan, breaded with locally made flour, Challah bread which Adrian discovered in Dar-Es-Salaam the weekend prior, and eggs hatched by the chickens now being kept in our back yard. Unfortunately, with only one electric burner, the process took about four hours to complete and four minutes to devour.

The sun is slowly falling in the sky, my cue to head to the secondary school and set up another movie for our students. We have promised them they can watch The Mummy tonight. In an attempt to make the film educational, we have provided them with a brief lesson about the building of the pyramids in Egypt and the culture surrounding mummification….

Many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

April 22, 2010
Dear Friend,

I am sitting in my backyard, starring at an ominous stack of dirty dishes piled high on the table from the feast my brother prepared for the headmaster, Adrian, and myself last night. My brother Michael has come to live and work in Kwala, and for the next six weeks he will be teaching math classing and cooking up delicious meals. He is a welcome addition to the household. The only problem are the dishes, which nobody wants to do. In Tanzania, the chef is responsible for the chore; in America, the chef generally gets to relax while others clean the dirty dishes. In my opinion, we should follow Tanzanian tradition. My brother may disagree.

PreschoolProjectKwala 2010- 006 5x7Michael arrived 2 weeks ago with my father. Together we returned to the village after the departure of the Brooklyn volunteer group. My father brought with him two cultural exchange projects which we did together with the teachers at Mahundi Primary School. Walking into the preschool at Mahundi primary, the children were all chanting my name, a cacophony of “Lisa! Lisa!” which was not so easy to quiet. The teacher of the primary school, with an unbelievable amount of patience, did a wonderful job of presenting the project to his students. Walking up and down the aisles of four and five year olds, he displayed the pictures that American students had drawn and sent to them in Kwala. They all cheered as we pulled out a big bag of markers, crowding around my brother and father in an attempt to get the colors they wanted.

PreschoolProjectKwala 2010- 009 4x6After an hour of chaos and giggles, (and the realization that I could never be a preschool teacher), we headed to the Standard six classroom where our older students read a story together in Swahili. Our sister classroom in America read the same story in English, and drew pictures of their favorite scenes from the story before answering more general questions about themselves. Using the same sheet of paper as the American students had used, our students learned about their American counterparts and then drew their own pictures, effectively beginning what we hope will become an ongoing dialogue between the kids. At the end of the class, the students left with bright smiles, each with their own copy of “The Crow and the Frog” in hand. The opportunity to own a book is not common in Kwala Village, and our goal is to instill a sense of pride in reading; this was a good first step.

PreschoolProjectKwala 2010- 006 5x7Walking through Kwala Village, my brother and father were greeted by various members of the community, all excited to meet my family. Desiring to communicate, but lacking even a basic vocabulary, my father and brother smiled warmly and replied “asante” to each greeting they recieved. My father has headed back to America, but my brother remains here to continue learning and teaching alongside Adrian and I.

Yesterday, Mama Annu came over to ask us to if we wanted to see her farm, “shamba“ in Swahili. Walking through the tall grasses which have sprouted up quickly during rainy season, we arrived at her beautiful farm. Corn stalks and pumpkin leaves danced on her land. She taught us how to pick the best pumpkin and bean leaves, choosing the tender third leaf on each stalk and bending and pulling them gently so as to ensure a clean break. We then sat together on our front porch, learning how to clean the vegetables we would later eat for dinner. The work was tedious but my brother sat beaming, with a smile from ear to ear. (This activity suiting perfectly his penchant for fresh vegetables). She then showed us how to prepare these leaves, almost like spinach, for a meal we devoured together.

Later that evening, my brother tackled the chore of laundry (or rather, it tackled him). Laundry in Kwala is not as simple as pushing a button. Just as his chore was nearly finished, the clothes line snapped, and his clean clothes fell to the dusty ground. He smiled coolly and said, “I guess I’ll be dirty tomorrow”. We giggled together about this misfortune, realizing that with somebody to share it with, it would be amusing as opposed to frustrating. I am happy to have my brother here.

I can hear the bell ringing and students gathering around to begin morning assembly. Time for me to get ready for class. My Form 1 students are doing well, learning present continuous tense and basic reading comprehension. As stated in previous posts, I have found that one of the biggest challenges in being a teacher is not teaching the content itself, but rather teaching students how to learn. As a result of the educational system in most African countries, which prizes rote memorization, our students struggle with reading comprehension and inferring answers “outside of the box“. Today, we will press forward with our endeavor. On the agenda is a class wide competition. Competitions excite the class and I hope it will bring many raised hands and enthusiasm for learning this week’s (somewhat boring) grammar lesson.

Many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

A letter from Michael Walker: “Reflections from week one”

Lisa, my brilliant and beautiful twin sister, invited me out to stay with her in Kwala months ago.  I arrived on April 8th along with my father and after a week safari with the three of us, my father took a plane home, and I have been living with Lisa in the village ever since.

Though I am sure they don’t compare with the challenges Lisa faced when she first arrived here all the back in September, my first few days in the village were difficult.  My first impressions of the village were not at all what I expected.  With that said, I suppose I didn’t really know what to expect.  When we arrived, it was a dark and moonless night.  Dazed from the unending and treacherous road leading into the village, when the car finally stopped and Lisa told me we had arrived, I was totally disoriented.  I heard hip-hop/R&B music coming from unseen speakers, and here and there was the familiar sight of artificial light, but the people and things they illuminated were mostly a blur.  I found myself avoiding the eye contact of the coal black faces with surprising white (and sharp looking) teeth, feeling as though they were peeling off my white skin with their eyes.  It was difficult to look at anyone or anything for too long.  Meanwhile, everyone was calling “Mambo!” to Lisa and before I knew it she was pushing me forward and introducing me to faceless people and whispering the proper responses in Kiswahili in my ear.  I tried to play it cool but I’m not sure I succeeded.  Once we got to the house, I think I clung to it and insisted we skip a tour of the village for now.  I hoped it would seem a little less scary during the day time.  In retrospect  I had nothing to fear, and I knew I was in no real danger but I won’t forget my visions from that first night.

During my first introduction to the students of Kwala Secondary School the next morning, I nearly lost consciousness.  It was only 7:30 am and already the temperature was at 90 degrees.  My sister, my father and I marched out to greet the students who were arranged in their standard morning assembly, and I was already feeling dizzy.  After a lengthy speech (also standard) by the headmaster of the school, he began introducing my father and I to the 350 students. Of course I didn’t know what he was saying but I smiled and looked up every time I heard my name mentioned. I felt myself losing balance, and I was beginning to see spots.  The sun was strong and my vision was narrowing, and from what seemed like miles away I heard my name and felt my father nudging me forward, and could see far enough to realize that all eyes were turned on me.  Knowing only very few words in Kiswahili, I spoke in English and automatically blurted out one or two sentences I had been repeating over and over in my head, saying that I was Michael and I am looking forward to teaching some classes in mathematics. As soon as I felt the attention shift away from me I clutched my father’s shoulder and told him to take me to sit down before I fell down.  I spent the better part of that first day in my bed, making excuses for giving a personally humiliating first impression.  Lisa and my father were non-judgmental, and I still appreciate it. Needless to say, it wasn’t what I hoped for from my first day in Kwala.

I am committed to spending at least six weeks here and knowing that my sister has been doing it for almost half a year is reassuring.  Of course, anything she can do I can do better… Old rivalries never end.  I know you have been enjoying her blog for some time now, I hope you don’t mind my piggybacking, and I hope my writing will fill in some of the gaps about the village she may have left and that you enjoy some of my own  impressions.  In reality, since I have arrived I have been blown away by Lisa’s ability not only to cope but to speak Kiswahili, teach the kids, interact with the villagers, and do everything she does with a smile on her face.  It’s a great opportunity for us to catch up and I’m so proud to have her as my twin sister.

Michael Walker, May, 2010

April 11, 2010
Dear Friends,

It has been a busy few weeks here in Kwala. As always, I am struggling with where to begin. Students, staff, and parents from Brooklyn Free School came to Kwala to volunteer this week, diving into the community and rolling up their sleeves to help us make this community a better learning and living environment for all. This is the first time that we have had such a large group of Americans visit the Kwala Community, and their presence and energy were incredibly uplifting for Kwala and all of us living here.

Working together with NTC and the community of Kwala, members of the Brooklyn free school built a library, painted a mural, and built a playground at Mahundi primary school. Beyond that, they created a sense of pride and unity within the community itself, as everyone joined hands to get these projects done. As I sat at the primary school with the NTC girls, reading a story to some of the children from the village, I watched as other volunteers worked together with students to complete a mural on the outside of the new library wall. Within the library, students from Brooklyn free school and Mahundi primary school worked to paint the walls of the new library. Holding the brush together, Milan, age 8 (one of the youngest volunteers on the trip) taught a smaller child from the village how to paint. “Up and down, slowly, slowly” she instructed the youngster, picking him up so that he could reach the higher parts of the wall they were painting.

April 9 to April 14 071As work was being completed on the library, another group of volunteers lifted children from the ground and placed them on the swings which were built during the week in the new playground. Our construction crew sat down to watch as the children from the primary school played on the playground built by volunteers and secondary school students.  Watching the children race to the playground and giggle as they learned to pump their legs, we all felt a sense of pride in the work we were doing.

The coolest part of this experience was watching as this group of foreigners made themselves a home in the heart of the community. The group was diverse, incorporating many different ethnicities, religions, and interests. And one by one, each person created their own niche, made their own friends, and discovered their own pace and capacity within the community. Just as our group goals were actualized through lessons taught at the school, playgrounds constructed, and walls painted, so too were individual goals actualized through interactions within the community and relationships formed. On our final morning, as our bus drove through the community on our way out of town, tears were shed as children shouted the names of the volunteers they had worked with throughout the week. This group of volunteers will not be forgotten within our community, as I know Kwala will remain in their hearts and minds for years to come. This was the beginning of a new relationship, and NTC and Kwala are happy to welcome new faces to our community.

Some very important questions were raised during this busy week in Kwala. Bringing a fresh perspective to the community and our work within it, members of the Brooklyn Free School asked questions about NTC’s operations within Kwala. As a new non profit, these questions are ones that we struggle with daily. What is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations’ role within such a community? How do we move beyond cultural differences and come together to reach our shared goals? The community of Kwala and NTC are working toward the same end of lifting the quality of life and enhancing the educational environment of our schools. How do we do this collaboratively, how do we bring together our cultures and experiences, how do we work together to advance our goals? All around the world, NGO’s are seeking answers to these questions; there is no proven philosophy for how to ensure the success of a non-profit within a community. The most we can do is ensure the channels of communication remains open and the movement of ideas from one party to another remains fluid. This communication ensures that together we can continue to explore new possibilities for development, which remains an ill defined term within itself. So now I find myself backing up, asking myself these large and important questions, and posing them to my co-workers here in Kwala, to be discussed and explored together.

Ultimately, it was the youngest volunteer in our group, Martin Jr., age 6, who seemed to face the least difficulty when integrating himself into the community. Walking in with an open heart and no knowledge or context to hold him back, he found his first girlfriend here in Kwala, and created an incredibly meaningful relationship in the absence of verbal communication. Watching him and Laila walk through the village center together holding hands and giggling, I felt pride in humanities natural ability to connect and support one another.

Many thanks Brooklyn Free School, we will continue the work that you have so generously started. Thank you all so much for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

March 25, 2010
Dear Friends,

I am sitting on the ledge of a beautiful old porch, looking out onto a new world, substantially different from that of Kwala. The mud below the porch is a bright red color, with massive trees sprouting from the ground, their branches hanging over the top of the porch. In front of me, corn fields grow tall. Beyond the green corn fields, beyond the red brick houses which interrupt the growth of the stalks of corn, I can see another mountain, hazy in the morning light. I can smell the greenness that makes up my view, and I can hear a noise which can only be a pig, snorting from somewhere in the distance. Children walk on the red mud road in front of the house, waving to me on their way to school. I am in Pommern, a village about ten hours west of Kwala, in the mountains of central Tanzania. I am staying with another non-profit organization for a few days, Global Volunteers, while my students are on break from school.

pommern roadwaterfallpommernAdrian and I traveled here on Tuesday. After a nine hour drive, we arrived in a town called Iringa where we spent the night. Wandering the street of Iringa, I got lost in the winding roads that make up this hidden place in the mountains of Tanzania. Yesterday, a staff member from Global Volunteers met us in Iringa and traveled with us to this magical little village called Pommern. Global Volunteers is an organization which acts as a liaison for Americans wanting to work in Tanzania. Providing housing, food, and work placements, this organization has been established in this region of Tanzania for nearly 20 years. In Pommern, the volunteers and staff live in an old mission house, built by the Germans in the early 20th century, and donated to the organization for volunteer housing.

We have come to Pommern to visit a past student from Kwala village who is now living here re-taking her form four classes. Her name is Dotto, and she contacted me last month explaining that she had failed her form four examination. In Tanzania, if a student fails this exam, as most students from Kwala do, they must then enroll in a private school to continue their studies. Unfortunately, most students cannot afford to continue their education in a private school, and thus so many students fall through the cracks of the Tanzanian educational system.  My parents, who have supported me throughout this adventure, have chosen to sponsor Dotto so that she can continue her education here in Pommern. The country manager of Global Volunteers assisted me in arranging this transfer, and now Dotto is living here, happy to be moving on with her studies.

dotto and IWhen I arrived yesterday, after taking a brief tour of the village, one of the volunteers from Global Volunteers walked me down to the secondary school to say hello to Dotto. When she saw me, she came running forward, smiling brilliantly and clearly happy to be here. She gave me a tour of her school and dormitory, and I felt a bit like a mother visiting a child at college or summer camp. She introduced me to her friends and teachers, and lit up as she told me about her studies.  The school here seems to have more funding than our government Secondary School in Kwala, with a massive computer laboratory, fully stolked library, administrative block, and real beds in the dormitory. Today, I will attend classes with Dotto, and see more of the schools daily operations.

Last night, sitting around the table with my temporary family of global volunteers, we discussed the fact that Dotto is not allowed to wear her Muslim clothing here at school. This is a Christian school, but beyond that, it is a school which prizes a group mentality. Edward, the country manager for Global volunteers, explained to me that to wear a sign of your religion so openly would differentiate you from the group. After a long heated debate about the necessity of enabling religious freedom and individuality, one of the other volunteers asked if this school wanted to create a generation of independent individuals. The answer was no. That is not the goal of this school. As with most schools in Tanzania, the goal of this private school in Pommern is to create a generation of people who forfeit their individuality in an effort to enhance group mentality.  The concept of individuality is distinctly western, and I imagine it will take many years before this idea translates to African culture.

The other volunteers have begun to gather in the dining room, and I can hear chatter as everyone gets ready for their work placements. It is time for me to go join the group as well.

Many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

March 18, 2010
Dear Friends,

I am laying in my hammock listening to the sounds of morning in Kwala. Hiding below me, there is a massive multi-colored snail inching his way along the shade in an attempt to avoid the morning sun. Beside me, the grasses have grown tall, and are beginning to invade my cocoon in the trees.  The bell already clanged, six loud chimes that pulled me out from my bed a bit late this morning. Because it is examination week, school will not begin for another hour, and the students will spend their pre-test time cleaning the school and preparing it for their break next week.

This week has been packed full of activity. It began last weekend as I dragged my sister from shop to shop throughout Dar-Es-Salaam in search of materials required to host our group of 23 volunteers arriving from Brooklyn next week.  Returning on Sunday with a massive lorry full of everything from mattresses to rice, Adrian and I rode atop the lorry parade style, waving our arms in the air atop this massive Kwala float.  Construction has begun on the primary school library, and refurbishments on the secondary school classrooms that will house our volunteers for the week and a half they will be here. All of the materials purchashed to host this group will then be donated to the primary and secondary school. Working closely with the local fundi (handyman) Adrian and I are relieved that the process is going so smoothly.

Yesterday the district commissioner arrived in Kwala to celebrate water in the area. He has promised the people of Kwala that the district will begin small scale irrigation systems here in the village. This is a massive economic promise, and we hope to see new piping and the construction of these systems come to Kwala in the upcoming months. As a volunteer working for a non-governmental organization, I am excited at the prospect of increased government presence within our village. From the vantage point of the secondary school, it seems as though the government is entirely absent. But it is long past the time when NGOs and governmental agencies should be working together to establish a presence in Kwala and other villages in the area. I find myself a bit skeptical of the government’s ability to provide such a system, though I hope that they are successful and that Kwala community members get the capital they need to run efficient farms.

IMG_1031Yesterday afternoon Adrian and I kicked of the family reading program. Book in hand, we visited one of our favorite families in the village and asked them to read a book with us. Three generations of the family sat down to listen to the story of Katope. Mama began reading, but struggled a bit and asked her daughter to join her and assist in the task. The mama and her daughter read aloud to bibi (grandmother) and to the quickly growing group of young ones who joined us in the shade of their hut. As the story came to a close, Mama and her daughter began discussing the events that had unfolded within the story. Watching this program come to life, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I know this type of activity is entirely new to the inhabitants of Kwala, and I feel honored to be the one to introduce it.

In the evening, Adrian and I walked to the primary school to check up on the construction of the library and determine the appropriate place for the playground which Adrian has been designing. The arrival of this group from Brooklyn has given NTC an incredible opportunity to formalize our relationship with the primary school. Both students and staff at Mahundi are welcoming us warmly and seem excited that we are increasing our presence at their school.

Finally, late last night I went to shower. Kneeling below our sun shower, I noticed a moan behind me. It was Lestor, my chicken. Just as I turned around, his wings went flying into the air in confusion and he began racing around the shower room in an effort to escape. As I tried to open the door to release him, he went flying upward, bumping into me and then scurrying out the door. Lestor and I continue to bond, though I would really prefer to shower alone.

I can hear the national anthem being sung from the school area, my cue to wrap this up and head to class to proctor an exam.  Today will be another busy day, as I practice preparing some American style food with the chefs we have hired from the village to cook for our upcoming volunteer group.

Many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

March 11, 2010
Dear Friend,

Sitting on the front stoop of my house, I am watching as the night slowly turns to day. I can hear my sister snoring in the room beside me, and I am relieved to know that she is getting some sleep. We have a busy day ahead of us, as we head to Dar-Es-Salaam to purchase materials for the group of 26 volunteers arriving at the end of the month. All the materials purchased will be donated to Kwala Secondary School after the volunteers depart, and both Kwala staff and community members are eagerly awaiting their arrival. Several teachers and students are working together to prepare a welcome and farewell ceremony. They have informed me that they will have a formal preview prepared by the end of next week. They all seem excited to show me the songs and dances they have prepared.

prettyfrom the porchin the water with Adrian

It has been a busy week here in Kwala – but it all started with a relaxing trip to Zanzibar. Adrian, my sister, and I traveled to Zanzibar last weekend to explore a new area of Tanzania and enjoy some much needed lazy days. Zanzibar is a small semi-autonomous island off the coast of Tanzania; endowed with white sandy beaches, fresh fruits, and splashing dolphins, it feels like a world away from the heat and tall grasses of Kwala. Together, my sister, Adrian, and I took a boat ride out to the middle of the Indian Ocean to swim with the dolphins. As it turned out – swimming with dolphins really meant chasing the dolphins in a small wooden motor boat, snorkel and fins in tow. Jumping in the ocean, and then getting pulled back into the boat – we chased the dolphins over the span of a few kilometers, watching as they leaped out of the water and snorkeling under to touch them as they glided through the ocean.

caren and babiesReturning to Kwala after the weekend, I gave my sister a tour of the village. Hesitant at first, she quickly grew accustomed to the ways of the village. Learning basic greetings, my sister Caren found herself confident in her ability to adapt and socialize with Kwala inhabitants. I enjoyed the process of introducing my family to my new home in Kwala. Caren spent the week working with Omari, a good friend and volunteer for NTC. Together, they continued conducting research with children from Kwala and spreading a love for reading.

Continuing with our new village reading corner, the NTC girls and I stampeded through the village calling to children and adults to join us in reading a story. Each week the crowd grows larger and the children seem more and more willing to answer questions and think critically about the stories that we read. Our NTC girls prepared a series of questions to ask the kids after their reading. Hands flying into the air, the children shouted out answers and leaped across the yard in an attempt at imitating the movements of the frog they had just read about.

me and LestorLestor, my new chicken, has just come to join me on the porch. He and I bonded this week as I tried to remove a piece of rope that was wrapped uncomfortably around his leg.  Chasing him around my backyard, it took the headmaster, me, my sister, and Adrian cornering the little guy before we were able to pick him up. Once in my arms, he calmed down a bit and I was able to remove the piece of rope. He has been a welcome addition to the household, though I worry that if he continues to sneak into the house without permission my roommates may get fed up and have him for dinner. For now, he is both a pet and garbage disposal, eating scraps of food and cleaning the house from unwelcome crawling guests.

The students have begun to gather around the school and it is time that I join them for morning assembly. Today will be the last day of classes before midterm week and break. We have prepared our students as best as possible, and we are hoping they succeed on their tests. We wish all the students at Kwala Secondary School the best of luck during their exam week.

As always, many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

March 4, 2010
Dear Friends,

Perched atop my bunk bed, I am listening to rain pitter patter on the tin roof above my head. The rain has come early this season, and so too have the sea of ants which speckle the sandy ground. The sky remains dark this morning, but the sounds of shuffling feet and radio voices within our house signify that the day has begun.

It has been a busy week here in Kwala, as we have begun preparing for a group of 26 volunteers who will be visiting us from Brooklyn Free School at the end of the month. NTC and the Kwala school community are working together to ensure the success of this program. We have planned several service projects for them, including building a library at our primary school and building a playground. We have also planned several cultural exchange activities including a soccer match which I think our Tanzanian students may win. We are all very excited to be hosting this group in Kwala, and as we come together to prepare, I feel lucky to be working with staff and students who are so eager to participate.

Yesterday, the headmaster arrived at the school early in the morning with a gift for me. Standing outside his car, he pulled out a giant box marked “hot sauce”. As he handed me the box, I could feel squirming and scratching inside. Before I could lift the top to peer inside, a chicken head pushed through the top flap and went flying through the air. Landing on the ground, he clucked twice and bobbed his head as if in approval of his new home. The bean vendor from Mlandizi has given me a chicken as a gift. I have named him Lestor, and I have promised to keep him safe despite my roommates wishes to have him for dinner.

Adrian and I gave a test yesterday to our form 1 class. Administering an oral examination, one of us had to pace the rows to ensure that the students were not cheating. Cheating seems to be a common practice among our students in Kwala, and I feel frustrated by their insistence on it. I have tried several times to explain to them that their grade matters less than the mere fact that they have tried. And that I do not care about what their neighbor knows, rather, I need to know what they know. Still, the students insist upon cheating. I think that ultimately, cheating is the result of lack of confidence. I am hoping that as the kids gain momentum in their language learning, they will stop glancing at their neighbors’ paper and start trusting themselves.

HulaThis week, each day after school, the students gathered together for soccer and netball tournaments. Joining our students to cheer on their schoolmates, I brought out a hula hoop to be enjoyed by all those not playing. Starring at me with a look of confusion, the kids slowly gained interest, lifting the hoop one by one to see what tricks they would do. Turning it from an ordinary hula hoop into an acrobatic tool, the kids went flying through the colored ring, doing back flips and somersaults and turning my toy into something entirely new.

The radio has just turned off and I can hear the headmaster walking toward the door. It is time to join him at morning assembly and say good morning to our students. This afternoon I will head to Dar-Es-Salaam to meet my sister at the airport. She has come to visit me and work on a research project in collaboration with Boston University. I am so excited to have her out here and introduce her to my students, the community of Kwala, and, of course, Lestor.

Many Thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

February 25th, 2010
Dear Friends,

Stretched out on a straw mat behind my house, I am listening to birds chirping loudly in the tree beside me. Between the cacophony of the birds and the crows of the rooster, I can hear Mama Annu playing with her children as she cleans dishes from the night before. And as I gather my thoughts this morning, I watch as the sky changes from a deep blue, to purple, and now to yellowy lightness. It has been a challenging two weeks, and the rising sun has yet to shed little light on my jumble of thoughts.

IMG_0542Every week here provides new learning experiences, new lessons that reflect our adaptability, growth, and slowly developing maturity as a young non-profit organization. Our most recent venture was hosting Judy Citron, an American visitor, who came here to work with the primary school. Working with a welcoming English teacher at the primary school, she taught both student and teacher how to enjoy the process of learning. As Judy walked into the classroom with me, I could hear students chanting her name. At the end of each period, the students rose to give her a standing ovation. She has given to the students at the primary school more than a couple of English lessons—she has given them a pride and love in learning, which I hope they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. We, meanwhile, gained an invaluable perspective on ourselves through this hosting, and further determined how we can improve as an organization, especially with regard to future volunteers. Judy was a wonderful pioneer, and we thank her for her help and patience.

Lessons with our Form 1 classes here at the primary school are progressing as well. Our students are doing beautifully, learning faster and faster each class period. Yesterday, as Adrian and I were finishing our breakfast, two students came knocking on our door. Ten minutes early for class, they rushed us out of our house (eating some of our instant strawberry flavored oatmeal on the way) and into the classroom. They were so eager to start the day’s lessons. We taught the students kitchen vocabulary, ending the lesson with the sound of popcorn popping and students giggling in delight. We also introduced them to an American food called cheese. As students took their first bite of this delicious food (which I cannot imagine my life without), their faces wrinkled in disgust. Dashing to the windows, the students sent most of the cheese flying to the ground outside of the class. They will not forget the word cheese, and I imagine many of the students will avoid it for years to come.

soccer 2Last night, Adrian and I attended a football game, Form 1 against Form 2. I have never been much of a sports person, but I felt pride in watching my Form 1 class take on Form 2 with a vengeance. As I entered the field area, I could see cliques of students surrounding the field. This place transformed itself from a poor Tanzanian government school into a lively and rich high school like any other in just moments. It was the first time since teaching here that I was reminded of my own days in high school. Even on the other side of the world from America, I could recognize the familiar cliques collecting around the field. And as students surrounded me, clamoring for my company, I finally felt liberated from my own high school cliché self, free to sit where I like. I sat with the smarter, quieter kids, the ones neglected by popularity. Soon, so did many of the “cool” kids.

This week I began work on a project which my sister and I are doing together. It’s a research project meant to examine a child’s understanding of the referential nature of pictures. Thus far, research has shown that despite lack of consistent exposure, children age 2 and above do accurately interpret pictures regardless of amount of contact. As I worked with two and three year olds from throughout the village, many of the younger ones began to cry when they saw Adrian and me. The little exposure that they have had to white people has come from receiving vaccinations at the clinic. Thus, Mama told us later that they must have been scared that we had come to inject them with needles. Hopefully, the kids will replace that memory with one of reading and playing with white people, and ask for stories in the future rather than run away in fear.

Another day has begun and the sounds of the morning birds have been replaced by the sounds of children stomping through my yard and toward the school. Time for me to join them and see what this days holds in store.

Many Thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

February 11, 2010
Dear Friends,

The moon, a sliver hanging in the cloudless sky, refuses to disappear even as the sun begins to rise. It is resilient against the light of the day, its whiteness shinning in contrast to the yellow glowing below. A lizard is racing up the rope of my hammock, leaping onto the branch above me and disappearing into a shadow. And the green lush leaves, wet from morning dew, stand tall beside my motionless bed in the jungle. It’s another day, and I have so much to tell you.

Computer Class in New RoomThe computer room is running in full force, students racing to their computer class early for a few extra moments exploring the new technology. The smallbean team has worked hard over the past two weeks, and will leave Kwala tomorrow as a place substantially changed by their presence. Next week, we will begin regular open hours in the computer laboratory, run entirely be student monitors who have been trained to operate all of the new technology.

The NTC girls and I walked into the village yesterday to kick off the new village reading corner. Walking together in stampede like fashion, they called to all the children we passed along our way. “Twende” they yelled to various children, “Lets go” and the kids came skipping to join our quickly growing brigade.  We picked a spot under the shade of a large mango tree outside Msemakweli’s house, the leader of the village. He, his wife, and children joined us as Fatuma, one of our NTC scholarship girls, read the story Village Reading Corner 2of Katope to the children. Sitting up and leaning in, Fatuma nearly disappeared below the bodies of eager listeners. When the reading was done, the girls, Adrian, and myself headed to the local soda shop to relax and discuss the activity we had just done. Together, we discussed the importance of reading, and some of girls pointed out that next week we should not only read but ask critical thinking questions after the reading. The girls are excited to be working with NTC to spread a love of reading. I think this is going to be an incredible program. And our NTC girls will be wonderful teachers.

Primary School Library Preliminary MeetingWith the other books that Judy Citron was able to purchase for NTC through her fundraising efforts, we have decided to build a library at the primary school. Working together with our local fundi (workman) and headmasters of both the primary and secondary school, we chose a primary school room to renovate and turn into a reading center. Next week, when Judy comes to join us in Kwala, she and I will work with students and staff at the school, learning how run a library and how to use these new books effectively.

Classes are going well at the secondary school. Adrian and I have taught our form one students a variety of songs to help them in learning English. Yesterday, we taught them old McDonald, changing the words a bit to make the song less challenging. “Mkulima (farmer) had a farm, shamba shamba shamba (farm). The kids voices tended to quiet during the “here” and “there” parts of the song, and then come back full force at hearing the words they recognized in Swahili. We will practice the song again today, slowing it down so that they can learn the English vocabulary. As I walked by their classroom in the afternoon, I could hear a student whistling the tune, and an “oink” sound from another student sitting in the classroom. They are learning.

Last night, after a long day of work, Adrian and I sat down beside our new gas stove to prepare a Tanzanian dinner called chips mayai (fried potatoes and eggs). Trying to replicate this common Tanzanian dish, we ended up with scrambled eggs and French fries. We laughed as the headmaster walked by, asking us what in the world we were cooking. It will take us some time to learn how to cook like Mama Annu. For now, our cooking will have an American twist.

I can hear the students moving around in the school beside my hammock. Desks and chairs are being pushed and lifted as the girls sweep under the furniture. I can see a group of boys, racing through the field, trying to get to the school before the headmaster notices their tardiness. And the moon, shinning white as I started to write this morning, has disappeared in a sea of yellow lit clouds. It’s another day in Kwala, and I am eager to get started.

Many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

February 4, 2010
Dear Friend,

DSC04672Sitting beside the NTC mural, the best place to catch a cool breeze in the heat of the afternoon, Ross and I watched as the programs we have been working on for the past year came to life. A group of strong boys carried a hefty cabinet from the teachers’ lounge to our new computer laboratory, breathing heavily under the weight of the wood. Smallbean staff sat in our NTC library, chatting with students and staff while teaching the new technology they have brought to Kwala. We could hear the headmaster’s laughter, enjoying his computer lessons while workmen pounded on metal, fitting our new door into the oversized doorway leading into our computer room. Adrian raced across the school yard with about a dozen tiny Tanzanians, playing soccer while teaching them outdoors vocabulary in English. And the well drillers, working together, were trying to fix the pump they had installed the day before. It was a good day in Kwala, and I am excited to begin anew.

DSC04470Our computer laboratory will be completed today! Solar panels should be installed this afternoon and all materials will be organized and ready for use. For the past three nights Smallbean and NTC staff have been teaching computer lessons in the NTC library. Eleven students and two teachers were chosen to partake in the first Kwala Secondary School computer class. It is a two week introductory class in which students learn to use all sorts of equipment and are then taught how to undergo an interviewing process, questioning and learning about folks living in Kwala village while using the technology they have learned. The kids are enjoying their class, and more and more students are coming to me, asking when it will be their turn to learn. The light in their faces captures the reason why Ross and I have come to work here in Kwala.

Yesterday, NTC and smallbean staff worked together to practice the interviewing process in the village. Sitting down with an 80 year woman and long time inhabitant of Kwala, we learned about this history of Kwala. She spoke of the days of colonization and independence, the first time she saw a car, and the grandchildren she has helped raise here in Kwala. After interviewing her, we walked through the village, touring the primary school before exploring the abandoned railroad station built by the Germans. Wandering through old colonial houses, we felt as though we had stepped into the late eighteen hundreds. Looking out over the European style houses, we could see African style mud huts positioned in the center of these homes. The two style houses, juxtaposed, were truly a bizarre sight.

full girls with LisaOur NTC girls have turned into an incredible group of young women, and thanks to generous donations from sponsors, NTC was able to choose four more at risk girls to join the group. In our second meeting, the girls bounced around playing hop scotch and four square before taking control of the games and teaching me how to play a variety of Tanzanian games. Trying to keep up with their singing in Swahili, I found myself watching their play, enchanted by their giggles.  This is my favorite program, as it has given me the opportunity to be a big sister to so many of our girls.

As for the well, this story is far less enchanting. Unfortunately, our third drilling process has proven unsuccessful. We will have to begin rethinking the water situation in Kwala, and start researching water harvesting systems as opposed to a well. The drillers will pack up and head out this morning, and we are truly grateful for their efforts in Kwala. NTC and Kwala community members hope to have a new plan in the upcoming days so as to take advantage of the March rainy season. We will hold the first Kwala board meeting today to discuss our options. We are considering building one large cistern and lining the school roofs with piping which will collect the rainwater and direct it to the cistern. We are also discussing connecting to the village pipeline, which carries water from a water source a few kilometers from the village. We hope to collect water during the rainy season, and then tap into village resources when the rain water is not enough. If you have any experience with water development, please contact us. We welcome your advice in our efforts to overcome this challenge.

The bell has just rung at the secondary school, and I can hear the chatter of childrens voices and they clean the school grounds and prepare for the day. Students are passing by my hammock waving their arms and wishing me a good morning. It is time to get up and begin the new day.

Many thanks for reading,

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

January 29th, 2010
Dear Friends,

I am laying in my hammock, grasses tall and waving in the morning wind beneath my swinging body. A bright blue bird rests on one of the long branches of my tree, singing his morning songs and watching me with a curious satisfaction.  The sky is blue with white blotches of clouds, and the sun is slowly rising.

It’s another day in Kwala, and so much has happened over the past two weeks that I do not know where to begin. We have many muzungus (foreigners) visiting, and I am happy to be experiencing this beautiful place with my friends from America. Ross, the founder of NTC, is here working hard to prepare for the year ahead. Together, we travelled to Mkuki Na Nyota, our partner publishing company in Dar-Es-Salaam, to buy many books for our new literature program and to buy textbooks for our primary school here in Kwala. We have been working with this wonderful publishing company for the past three months, and feel privileged that they have welcomed us into their dedicated team. They believe in bringing useful textbooks and reading materials to the student population of Tanzania. They believe in the power of reading and are fighting the battle to enhance the quality of education by providing these valuable resources.  Thank you Mkuki Na Nyota, for working with us to create a learning-friendly textbook previously absent from the schools of Tanzania. Written in both Swahili and English, it will enable students to thrive in a non-stressful reading experience, while also enabling students to practice English skills with their fun and well written recreational readers. We are hoping both to teach our Tanzanian students to love reading and also to introduce these books to American students, giving them a glimpse of Tanzanian tales and stories.

We were able to purchase nearly 800 books, thanks to the efforts of Judy Citron, who raised enough money to purchase all the books. Judy will be joining us in Kwala in two weeks, and after spending some time with her in Dar-Es-Salaam, I know she will love Kwala. She will be coming here to work in both the primary and secondary school, and will bring her enthusiasm and love of children, setting a positive example for both teachers and community members in her willingness to teach, play, and laugh with our children. I am very excited to have her in Kwala.

After returning to Kwala with Ross, we have spent the last few days preparing our new computer laboratory, which is now nearly completed. Going to a nearby village, we haggled down prices for doors and windows, and will be installing them into the new classroom today. Luckily, we did not have to start the room from the pile of bricks which it was only one month ago, as headmaster Kitinya took incredible initiative and started building the room before we returned to Kwala. This showed such remarkable commitment to our students and our school, and we know we are lucky to have him.

Yesterday, Smallbean founder Sean Hewens and  Price arrived in Kwala to install solar panels on the roof of our new computer laboratory and to begin a two week course that will help students to learn computers and ensure that teachers here in Kwala know how to teach about computer usage. Attending a banquet dinner last night with all staff of Kwala Secondary School and all NTC personnel, we celebrated this incredible achievement together.  The muzungus also prepared a dish to share at the feast, garlic mashed potatoes, which our Tanzanian counterparts ate with just a bit of apprehension, followed by satisfaction. We were relieved to see when a teacher got up to get seconds.

But with all these guests, I have left out somebody truly spectacular. Adrian Coyne, a Boston University undergrad studying education, has  taken the semester off to come to learn, work, and play with us here in Kwala. Adrian and I will be teaching classes together, and I am so excited to have his creativity and enthusiasm in the classroom. The kids have responded well to his arrival, and I know he will do incredible things while in Kwala.

Last week, while Adrian and I were teaching a lesson to our form four students, one student asked to be excused to use the bathroom. He came racing back into the classroom screaming “Nyoka, nyoka.” Of course, Adrian and I looked around confused. “Nyoka, nyoka,” he shouted again, and all the students jumped up and went galloping out of the room. We followed them with curiosity, and found a massive snake slivering along just outside the classroom. I could feel my body jump back in nervous revulsion as our students grabbed rocks and began hurling them at the unsuspecting body of the snake. One, two, three big boulders landed on the snake at once, and his body came to a halt. As I urged the children to re-enter the classroom and resume their work, I realized I learned a new Swahili word which I shall never forget. Nyoka. A snake! Hoping I do not need to know that word again.

As I walk around the school and village with my American counterparts, I feel pride in all the greetings I receive. The children come running up to me, shouting Lisa Lisa, and looking at me with a familiar ease. I am using my Swahili more and more, and finding that I can now haggle down prices like any Tanzanian. I am finally finding joy in using the language; it’s only now that I realize how much I have learned during my first few months in Kwala.

The drilling machines have just started up on the far end of the school; I can hear our well drillers beginning their work, a third attempt to drill a functioning well. They have been working, morning noon and night, for the past two weeks. Our first well was a success until the inside caved in. The same has happened with our second attempt. Now we try one more time to bring fresh water to Kwala. They seem confident in their ability to do this. And both the staff of NTC and the people of Kwala are hoping for success.

Yesterday, some of our NTC girls came to me in tears. They would not afford water and were both frustrated and ashamed of their situations. After speaking with them and assisting them in purchasing water from the school, the reality of our lack of water is even more real. So, I am now going to cook breakfast for our well drillers. We hit 38 meters yesterday, and with a sweet breakfast of maandazi, they will feel prepared to work hard for yet another day.

Pictures will come soon, though with both Ross and me here in Kwala, you will have to wait until we return to the city on Friday.

Many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
Project Director

January 17, 2010
Dear Friends,

Looking out from the height of a flying aircraft, sky blanketed by clouds, the earth looks the same from any vantage point. Pinks, reds, and purples flood the plane as the sun sets in the west. Its only as the plane begins its descent that I notice the world beneath the clouds looks substantially different. The green on the earth is not cut into perfect squares as it is in the developed world. There are no lights on the ground, illuminating the city below. Only a few cars pass beneath the plane. Instead of the humdrum of a developed country and light pollution of a city, I see lush green earth, undivided, not disturbed by the insanity of humanity. It’s peaceful. And in its differences from all that I am accustomed to, a bit intimidating. I am back in Africa.

A bit hesitant at first, I step off the plane prepared to embark upon new adventures. It’s only now that the nervousness fades and excitement begins to stir in my stomach. Why was I nervous to return? A plethora of reasons which range from shallow to very much real and nerve racking. Leaving the developed world of instant entertainment, running water, accessible food of any type, and the domination of my native tongue, I now re-enter a world where I must create the entertainment, where I must carry water if I want it, where food is largely limited to a daily diet of rice, beans, and ugali, and where English is far from ubiquitous. Beyond the basics of living, NTC has planned many new programs which we will be implementing in the upcoming months. An acceptance of inevitable hiccups and failures is not something I do well. But I shall have to adjust, re-evaluate, and acknowledge the challenges in order to be successful. Life in Kwala is not easy. Though at times, it is beautiful. And it’s both the hardship and the beauty that I have returned to be a part of.

It’s been a long day. Time for some sleep. Fill you in on upcoming adventures as the week progresses and the work prepared for in America is implemented in Tanzania. For now, I resume my life in Kwala. Missing running water but welcoming the family I found living in this village in the last few months, a new stage in this journey is about to begin. I Hope you will join me.

Many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

December 3, 2009
Dear Friends,

The sun is rising on my last day in Kwala. I can hear baba Athuman turning on the radio as his children shuffle about preparing the house for the day. Our dedicated drilling team is already outside building bricks which will encircle our new well! And I am sitting in my favorite place, in my hammock in the African bush, trying to reflect on the past three months and putting off cooking breakfast for our well drilling team.

I find myself shuffling between memories, trying to recall my favorite moments, my most memorable conversations, and my most challenging experiences.  At the moment they are blurring together in a way which I find difficult to decipher or articulate. I have enjoyed so many moments with my students, and it’s their faces that come to mind when trying to pick my favorite. I can recall them all dancing, faces lit up to the songs of Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin.  I can picture the NTC girls, faces contorted in amusement and bewilderment as they watched me hula hoop around the school. I remember sitting with Mama Annu on the floor of her kitchen learning how to cook chicken and trying not to vomit as she plucked the feathers from the dead bird. I remember sitting with the older women in the village learning how to play games in the dirt. I remember sitting with Athuman at the village bar planning out programs for NTC. I remember sitting in the streets in Dar-Es-Salaam with many old Tanzanian men, discussing politics over charcoal heated coffee and sweets. I remember being squeezed between two massive Tanzanian women in the daladala on my way to Dar-Es-Salaam, thinking that I will never complain when taking an American bus again. I remember hitch hiking with two Maasai men via motorcycle to return to Kwala when my daladala broke down. I remember standing in the back of the lorry heading to the river to get more water for drilling the well. I remember feeling on top of the world at that moment, wind blowing in my dirty hair, strong and capable as I participated in the process of bringing water to Kwala. I remember watching students bicker amongst themselves because the food at the school was not enough.  I remember struggling to stay quiet when I disagreed with certain aspects of the schools operation. And I remember finally screaming and being angry at myself afterward for losing my cool. I remember doubting myself, wondering if I made the right decision by moving to rural Africa. I remember looking up at the African sky, glistening with twinkling stars, and I remember thinking, this is where I am supposed to be at this very moment. I remember knowing that at this point in my life, Kwala is right for me. So many feelings and memories are spilling out of me. How to organize them or reflect on them will come in time.

As for updates on our incredible well…we have drilled 40 meters and have successfully found water! The drillers will be leaving this afternoon but will be returning in one week to install the pump. As far as we can tell, the water we have found is plentiful and should supply water year round without problem! My words can’t quite do this development justice. You will have to wait until you visit us here in Kwala and drink the clean water drawn from our beautiful well. Thank you Ron, Castor, and your incredible crew for sharing the gift of water with us.

drilling, laILA, iclp 002drilling, laILA, iclp 034tidbits as the final days wrap up 038

Many other programs are being developed for implementation around the New Year. I will be leaving Kwala tomorrow and heading to Mkuki Na Nyota Publishing Company prior to my flights back to America. There, Athuman and I will sign a contract with this wonderful publishing company, and I will be returning home with books to sell in America. For every book you buy, you purchase a book for a student in Kwala as well. We are happy to be working with this company to bring books both to America and to our students in Kwala.

Am I ready to be travelling home? Yes I think so. But I am happy to be travelling back here after the New Year, ready to implement new programs in Kwala and continue my life in this incredible village. As far as my knowledge of how to live, work, and play in Africa, I came here an infant and I leave a toddler. I am happy to continue wobbling around next year. I hope you all will join me.

Many Thanks for Reading. Talk again next year.

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

Need water to get water
Need water to get water
Our incredible crew
Our incredible crew
Final touches on our new well!
Final touches on our new well!

November 26, 2009
Dear Friends,

I have just returned from the village market where Mama and I bought bundles of food for the upcoming week. Wrapped in large plastic bags, she helped me pile kilos of rice and beans atop my head and walk, with an utter lack of grace, back to our home. Food wobbling atop my head, I could hear our neighbors laugh each time the bag slipped and my hand shot up to stop it from toppling to the sandy ground. I hope to one day perfect this skill. For now, I will continue to be the crazy mzungu leaving a trail of beans wherever I go.

drilling, laILA, iclp 037Mama and I have purchased this food to prepare a feast for the drillers who will be arriving in Kwala on Saturday. THAT’S RIGHT! Last week, Athuman and I met with Ron Reed and Castor Sanguya of Star Pump Company. After sharing a delicious lunch and listening to us describe what we are doing in our school, Ron and Castor announced that they believe in our village and in our program and will donate their services and expertise to drill a well at Kwala Secondary School.  We can’t wait to host their crew in Kwala.  Thank you Ron, Castor, and Star Pump Company for your generosity! We are so excited to be working with you.

Unfortunately the students won’t be around to see the drilling of our new well. The headmaster held a ceremony early this week, officially closing school until the 18th of January. The morning of the closing was a lively one, as students ran about the school moving desks and chairs to their final resting place for the next two months. Without the students, the school feels a bit lonely. And I am relieved to have the drilling crew arriving on Saturday to breathe life back into the school.

hodge podge of pictures 032hodge podge of pictures 044hodge podge of pictures 039For now, we sit tight and hope that water will come springing from our sandy grounds within the next couple of days. Keep you posted on the process.

Many Thanks for Reading! And Happy Thanksgiving! No turkey here, but plenty to give thanks for!

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

November 19th, 2009
Dear Friends,

I awoke this morning to the sound of shuffling feet and busy hands.  Now, I am sitting on the balcony at the YMCA in Dar-Es-Salaam watching women prepare chapati with far greater efficiency than myself. One rolls out the dough while the other fries it, and I can hear the sizzle and crack of the boiling oil as the sweet smell of fresh chapatti rises in the air to greet my nose.  MMM I’m hungry.

I have returned to Dar to continue to conversations regarding water development which I began last week. I am excited to be meeting with both WaterAid International and several drilling companies and am hoping to walk away from this week prepared to make an educated decision about which technology NTC will be investing in.

The more time I spend in Dar the more I am enjoying the chaos that is this enchanting city. Sitting down with a row of Tanzanian men, I drink my morning coffee on the street from a large pot heated by charcoal. Taking part in conversations about politics, families, and work, I feel part of the Tanzanian team.  As I rise from the bench and leave the old men to continue their banter, I hear them bidding me farewell and wishing me a good journey. “Safari njema” they call after me. As I walk down the street I can hear the American version of Happy Birthday playing from the back of the ice cream guys bicycle. I hear the lyrics going through my head and wonder if he has any idea where that song came from.

peacocks and water in the village 001Last week I discovered a park as I explored the city. Walking toward the entrance of the park, I watched as a family of monkey’s raced me to the gate. Why does the monkey cross the road? To get to the park in Dar-Es-Salaam. That’s right. They jumped the gate and wrestled in a public park, turning somersaults over each other in the morning sun. It was spectacular. Of all the times not to have my camera, my words will have to suffice this time. Next time, I won’t be caught empty handed. I found myself wandering to this out of the way spot repeatedly over the next few days to no avail. No more monkeys in sight. What I did find was a rambunctious peacock, blue wings glistening, who refused to pose for me.  Of course in the majority of the pictures I have of myself, I too refuse to pose and tend to be caught looking rather foolish mid sentence, as you can see from the photograph below.

Mo Ibrahim introducing the event
Mo Ibrahim introducing the event
President Kikwete not shaking my timid hand
President Kikwete not shaking my timid hand
If the peacock won't pose why should I?
If the peacock won’t pose why should I?

Sitting in the Holiday Inn last week busy on my computer, I met a man from Ghana who was in Tanzania attending the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Events. For those of you who do not know what this is, no worries as I did not either. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation is an organization which prizes good governance in Africa. Thus far, three African presidents have been awarded this honor, and last weekend was meant to be an event awarding the 4th. Unfortunately, due to a chaotic year in Africa, the prize committee was unable to select a candidate. Luckily for me, the event was to take place despite the lack of winner, and I was invited to both the award ceremony and lecture series.

Running out to find a dress before the concert and celebrations on Saturday night, I found myself feeling a bit like Cinderella. Timid at first, I quickly found my pace at the event and met some very interesting people eager to discuss NTC’s work in Kwala. Well, maybe it was I who was interested in discussing NTC. But they listened politely either way. President Kikwete, the current president of Tanzania, and President Mogae, the former president of Botswana, danced Saturday night away with some of the African entertainers. There is nothing like watching two generally serious and stiff African men get their grove on to lively African tunes.   On Sunday I listened to some of the top people in their field discussing topics such as agriculture and climate change on the continent. Sitting in the audience with pen and paper in hand I felt like a student again, a familiar role which I was only too excited to resume after too many months away from college.

Returning back to Kwala on Monday, I found our students busy with their final round of examinations prior to their summer break. As I rode up to the village on the pikipiki, I felt as though I was returning to the familiarity of my home. This is a welcome feeling after three months of feeling like a guest.  Before I departed yesterday, my neighbors, three children, came running to me to show me pictures they had drawn of mangoes and dishes. Smiling brightly, they handed me their artwork and bid me farewell for yet another journey to the big city. As always, hoping these meetings will bring good things. More next week!

Many Thanks for Reading,

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

November 12, 2009
Dear Friends,

As I rushed into class today, I saw eyes half closed, heads bobbing in mid air, and looks of exhaustion on each face throughout every corner of the room. The kids have been working hard, and now they are feeling the stress of examinations too. In an attempt to stir them, I shouted “get up, get up up up.”  They know this exercise well, as I tend to do it when they are unresponsive. “Jump up and down, ruka, jump” I yelled as my own body went flying into the air. “Okay now one foot” and that broke the silence, the kids were all laughing.

raps and water 025Classes have been going wonderfully though my heart feels heavy at the moment. I am sad to think that this was the last day of teaching until January. Next week will be filled with examinations and solemn faces. This week, instead of cramming their heads full of last minute knowledge, I decided to get them using their brains in a new and creative fashion. I began the week by telling them three American fables. I then asked them to create their own stories.  I gave them the freedom to use English or Kiswahili, realizing the difference in quality I would get if the kids had access to Kiswahili. Yesterday and today they read their stories, and I found myself learning much about Tanzanian culture. I learned why rabbits have short tails. I learned about why frogs have rough skin. I learned about how families are coping without water. And I learned that many students seemed timid and the task of being creative seemed to have been too overwhelming, thus they simply wrote the names of their family members and order of births in their families.

I have noticed that copying and lack of creativity is a problem in many schools throughout Tanzania. Many teachers enter the classroom only to write a series of notes on the blackboard and then excuse themselves to the teachers’ room. The kids copy the notes beautifully into their notebooks, but re-reading the notes, learning from them, or discussing them is something that rarely happens.  Thus, when I asked my students to think creatively, the freedom of writing about anything they wanted was more of a culture shock than I could have imagined. As many students learn to copy beautifully, they have not learned how to be free thinkers. This is something I will work hard to address in the year ahead.

I was happy to listen to stories by two students who choose to write about the water shortages in Tanzania. Hearing their stories about people dying from lack of water confirmed the importance of the water development planning NTC has been pursuing. Of course after living here for 2 plus months, the problem of lack of water in Kwala has become abundantly clear. Life without a close and reliable source of water makes everything, from farming to cooking to cleaning and washing just that much more difficult.  The drought which we have been enduring has made this problem more apparent; as I am watching much of the corn Mama Annu had planted begin to wither and die in the dry heat of the day. Without water to support irrigation, the plants will die. Without corn, Mama Annu and her family will have to buy more of their food. And so the chain of events has begun to affect the life of a family in ways which may seem unrelated to water until further inquiry.

I will be traveling to Dar-Es-Salaam today to meet with contractors to discuss the prospect of building a well or water harvesting system in Kwala. The question now is “below these sandy floors, are we going to find water or more sand and stone?” I hope to find a contractor to come survey our land and answer this question before moving forward with either project.  Educating myself on the complexities of something which in America begins and ends at my faucet has been an incredible experience.  If you have any input or advice regarding water development, it is most welcome!

In addition to meetings about water development, I will be meeting with Tanzanian publishing companies and business men kind enough to give me their time. We will be discussing future projects in Kwala as well as the sustainability of our program as a whole. More on the outcome of these meetings next week.

I can here Mama yelling for me to hurry, my Pikipiki has just arrived to take me the first leg of the journey to the city. Time to head to Dar-Es-Salaam and see about the next steps for NTC and Kwala. Hoping this will be a fruitful trip.

Many thanks for reading and I look forward to writing more next week.

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

November 5, 2009
Dear Friends,

Baby chickens, following their mother, are racing to and fro underneath my hammock. Running in a perfect row, one has just slipped on the grass, wet from the morning dew. She looks irritated to have lost her place in line and is hurrying to catch up to her siblings. The others do not stop to wait for her, but instead continue on what would appear to be a mission to distract me as I write to you.

athuman leaving, dar, classroom 004Athuman has returned from his adventures in America. He seems to have enjoyed himself immensely and sends his love to all of you. Now he and I will be busy, preparing the school for the water harvesting project which we hope to begin in mid January. I am eager to watch him assert himself as he bargains down prices for the supplies we need. Athuman is a very good haggler, a skill I am still trying to master with sloppy Swahili and ambivalence, as this is a skill we do not learn in American stores.

pumpkins chickens braids and andazi 003I cannot believe that it’s already November. Time is passing quickly in Kwala, and I realize that I have only one more month before returning home to visit my family and friends. I realize that I missed my mother’s favorite holiday, Halloween, though I imagine the creatures whose angry howls filled the crisp night air last evening are far scarier than any American children. I realize some parents may disagree.  Without being aware of its significance, Mama prepared roasted pumpkin on October 31st and I found myself relieved to be celebrating if even in that minor way. The pumpkin was delicious, and a welcome treat after far too much rice and beans.

Mama Annu will be departing today to spend the next month in Mororgoro University grading the form 4 national examinations. I am sad that she will be leaving me as she has taught me so much about living here in Kwala and she has become such an incredible friend. She taught me how to prepare maandazi this week, a donut which is taken with morning tea (though I find myself sneaking them throughout the day).  We added jelly to the center of some of the donuts, making them a mix of Tanzanian and American pastry. Mama Annu’s cooking is like a dance, and while I will try to reproduce some of these recipes in her absence, I know I won’t be nearly as graceful as her in the kitchen.

pumpkins chickens braids and andazi 025

pumpkins chickens braids and andazi 061pumpkins chickens braids and andazi 075

dictionaries! YAY 005

My students are doing beautifully, working hard and preparing for yet another round of exams. I worry a bit about my form three students, wishing I had arrived sooner and had time to do more preparations. Next year, they will be Form 4, and so beginning in January we will be working very hard to ensure their success on their national examinations.  For now, we will study together in preparation for their local exams, and I will try to make this process fun despite is grueling nature. I am very aware of the importance of my class, as English is mandatory if the students are to pass any of their exams, all proctored in English. To make the process a bit easier, we now have the use of English to Swahili and Swahili to English dictionaries in the classroom, a generous donation from my incredible Aunt Sande. Turning the classroom in an Olympic race, the students hurried to find the words I had put up on the board before their peers. Running to the front of the classroom, the tripped over each other in an effort to write the Swahili word beside the English words I had written. As always, it’s so nice to see them excited about resources which NTC is able to provide to Kwala.

During my dictionary lesson, I noticed one of the kids had a baby bird, too young to fly, sitting atop her desk. When I went to look at the bird, giggling to myself in delight, she picked the bird up and offered it to me as a gift. I took the bird and placed it atop my shoulder where it remained throughout the class. Unfortunately, after the class I realized the baby was too young to be separated from its mother, and despite my insistence that it eat some rice, it refused my offers.  I decided to return it to a place close to where the girls found it, and as it went bopping away, I bid it farewell and let nature take its course.

I have met with the NTC scholarship girls again this week. They are an incredible group of young women and I am happy that most are in form three and thus I am their teacher and big sister. We played freeze dance and musical chairs this week, dancing around to the voices of Led Zeppelin and Michael Jackson before sitting down to discuss their lives in Kwala and the challenges they face. Despite the many obstacles they are facing, they are strong and determined, and I have no doubt that many of them will succeed and choose to continue their education.

As always, the full moon has dropped out of sight and the sun raised high in the sky, signaling my time to return home to prepare for school. Many thanks for reading! I look forward to writing again next week.

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

October 29, 2009
Dear Friends,

Tanzania 839I have just returned from my daily stroll around the village, where everything has a new green glow and vegetables are sprouting up from the lush ground, thriving in the Tanzanian spring. When I first arrived here in Kwala, I found going to the village alone to be a daunting task. However, over the past few weeks it has become my neighborhood, and its inhabitants, my friends. I have become a regular at a few of the soda shops, greeted warmly by the families that run them. Craving friends, I have formed a relationship with some of the older women in village. Without any spoken language, I have created these friendships through games. Mancala (a simple board game) has become a quick favorite in the village. Women huddle around the board giggling excitedly each time one of them beats me.

I travelled to Dar-Es-Salaam this past weekend to meet with some friends and visit with a former professor of mine from Boston University. Escaping the hectic trip entailed in public transportation, I joined Athumans son and his friend in their car to drive into the city. After about 5 minutes of driving along the dirt path which takes you out of Kwala, the boys looked at me and asked if I had a license. As soon as the word yes popped out of my mouth, I felt the engine cut and the driver ask to switch places with me.  I drove 18 km down an incredibly unsafe dirt road; avoiding chickens, cattle, and piki piki’s at every turn. On the main road, I discovered that there are no rules, no speed limit, no lines, nothing. You can drive on either side of the road, as can cars going in the opposite direction. AHH a truck! Which way do I go?? I got pulled over. Mind you…no rules to break on these roads. I did nothing wrong (I swear). But the cop saw a muzungu and took the opportunity to talk with me. After telling me I had to pay 100,000 shillings (about $85) and pretending not to know any English, he told me in English that he was just kidding and let me go. I think next time I will take the piki piki.

I have learned some interesting facts about the names of the public transportation used throughout Tanzania. As foreign technology, there were no local names for the motorcycle and taxi vans when they started being used throughout the country in the mid 1980’s. The dala dala has received its name from the form of payment required to ride it, as the driver would stand outside and collect Dala Dalas (American “dollars”) from the government workers in the mid 1980’s in exchange for a lift in their big foreign made taxi vans. The piki piki has received its name from the sound that it makes, piki piki piki piki piki piki, as it speeds haphazardly down the mud roads of Tanzania.

Victor, a professor at MIT and most recent visitor at Kwala, seemed to enjoy himself as he sped down the mud path and out of sight on the back of a piki piki last week. He came with a wealth of knowledge about basic technology which we hope to implement in Kwala. As we traveled from house to house inundated by a constant influx of soda’s and greetings, he seemed eager to learn more about Kwala. The most prominent questions for me had to do with issues surrounding water. NTC will begin construction on the water harvesting system come January so as to ensure a water supply for the school throughout dry season.   The lack of water is a very big problem for the people living in Kwala, using an average of only 2 liters of water per day for everything from cooking, to cleaning, to bathing.

This past weekend I stayed at a hotel with a swimming pool on the peninsula of Dar-Es-Salaam. Staying at this hotel in the city was an experience to describe another day, but I must say that it felt a world away from the small village of Kwala and the people therein. As I dove into the pool to submerge myself entirely in the water I have been craving for the past two months, I couldn’t stop wondering exactly how many liters of water this pool held in relation to the cistern we will build. Not only do I live, eat, and breath Kwala these days.  But I am swimming in thoughts of it too.

More on my fun with water and washing in Kwala, last night, standing in the shower room soaping up and trying not to fall over as I kneeled down to endure my bucket bath, the lights went out throughout the village. Unfortunately, only moments before, I had not only put gobs of soap in my hair but I had also noticed a massive spider crawling quickly towards me. Unable to see with the blackness that surrounded me, I remained in the room, eyes squeezed tight, trying desperately to get all the soap out of my hair while trying to ignore the thought of the spider crawling on me. This was far from a leisurely shower, but I forced myself to laugh at both the situation and myself as I sought to navigate around the dark room.

My experiences at school are an evolving process, and slowly I am learning about the operations of the school and my place in it.  One of the biggest challenges is how to carry out an effective and beneficial debate as opposed to simply wasting the students time. Debate time is on the national syllabus, and thus despite the lack of organization at the school, we continue to put this event in our weekly schedule. The topic chosen by my fellow teachers to be debated this week was “African Culture is better than Western Culture.” Upon hearing their choice, I felt immediately frustrated with the task of assisting in such a self defeating topic. I have spent the greater part of two months overcoming the stereotypes attached to my nationality. Yet the arguments the kids presented to defend African or Western culture amounted only to an exaggeration of these stereotypes. Following the debate, onion and pepper in hand (apple and orange in mind), I explained to the students that African ways of life are different from Western ways of life, but that neither can be deemed better or worse. You use onions in rice and pepper with beans, and both add a unique flavor to any food you are preparing.  They seemed to understand, though my battle with stereotypes is far from over.

Many more thoughts are spilling out of me, but that is more than enough for this week. As always, I welcome feedback! Many thanks for reading.

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

October 21, 2009
Dear Friends,

9.24.09 016At the moment, I am sitting in my hammock watching an iridescent layer of pink cloud grow bigger in the sky above. Soon, the sun will sit high in the sky and I will have to abandon my favorite place so as to avoid the heat of the day. But for now, in the early hours of the morning, I lay in the open plain daring the day to begin.

I find myself having difficulty, to type another sentence or take another bite of my favorite candy, sugar cane. Only recently have I discovered this delectable alternative to a snickers bar.  Biting into it is like biting into a crisp apple, but the burst of sugary goodness with each crunch far surpasses even the best granny smith. You do not swallow the grass itself, but instead chew the candy, sucking out the flavor, before spitting out the left over shreds. I am still trying to master the skill of an elegant spit.  But for now, it’s sloppy and fun.

October 22 2009 010School is going well. Our play is progressing, and it’s great to watch as more and more of the students are improvising as opposed to reading the lines I have written. Unfortunately, this picture does not do their improvisation justice. Used a bit of Michael Jackson to spice up class yesterday, a welcome reward for my students who have been working incredibly hard at their studies.  All the kids were up singing and dancing to Man in the Mirror, learning new vocabulary and identifying parts of speech with enthusiasm.  Later in the day, I overheard some of the girls singing the lines to the song as they helped me to clean the library. Made me smile.

Students listening to their peers debate
Students listening to their peers debate

This week the English teachers worked together to prepare our students for a school wide debate. The topic was meant to address the question of positive vs. negative reinforcement. Unfortunately, conversation quickly deteriorated into a discussion about corporal punishment vs. candy giving. This was ultimately my mistake, the topic was too complex and we lacked adequate time to teach the meaning of these terms thoroughly enough to debate about them. Nonetheless, it was nice to see many students stand and present their arguments clearly and with pride. I am currently trying to think of a better topic for next week. If you have any ideas, please shoot them my way.

Rainy season is certainly in full blast. And with the rain has come a flood of creatures. Never thought I would be grateful for the simplicity and familiarity of a cockroach until this week. Walked into my room, started rummaging through my stuff, and looked up to find a tarantula about the size of my face starring at me from the outer side of my luggage. Far too close for comfort. I jumped up, screamed like a mad woman, and stood there frozen until Mama came to help me.  She was nice about it. Got rid of it rather quickly for me and didn’t give me trouble about my girlish screams. In hindsight, I should have taken a picture of this thing. But at that moment, the only thing I could do was stand there and stare at this massive hairy too many legged creature. Ugh. Ew. Oh my goodness. Oy. About 10 minutes later, a cockroach came crawling out of somewhere and onto the floor of my room. I stepped on it.  Somehow the cockroach didn’t seem so scary anymore.

mama annu the powerful! 007In addition to all the bugs comes the surprisingly welcome task of planting seeds. Hoe in hand, Mama Annu looked more powerful than I could have imagined. And I found myself following her obediently, placing seeds of corn in the holes she has prepared for me. In only a few months time these seeds will sprout into the first food I have ever planted myself. I imagine it will taste just that much sweeter when time to eat.

Well, another day in Kwala has begun. I am awaiting the arrival of a guest, a professor studying developmental technology at MIT.  Tell you how our meeting goes next week.

I spoke to my parents last night, who have both been unbelievably supportive. They were so excited to have met the NTC Newton community, and sang praises of their trip to Boston and all the wonderful people they met. Thank you all so much for your involvement in NTC, and I am looking forward to meeting you come December!

Sending so much love to all of you who are reading. Thank you for being a part of this experience with me. It’s a relief to know that so many people are so close despite the physical distance.

Many Many thanks for reading!

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

October 15, 2009
Dear Friends,

Well, I awoke this morning to find an unwelcome sleeping partner beside me in bed. One of the biggest cockroaches I have ever seen. So now I am awake, writing this post a bit earlier than I would have liked because I am afraid to get back into my bed. Athuman has told me many times that these creatures cannot hurt me, and yet, ugh.  I think I slept enough for one night. The sun is starting to rise…and so shall I.

athuman leaving, dar, classroom 019This week has passed quickly, and I cannot believe it is time for another blog. My classes are progressing well and my students seem to be enjoying the lessons I prepare. As my literature class discussed the book we are reading, I stumbled upon an opportune moment to discuss stereotypes. This is an interesting topic for so many reasons, but for me, there is a more personal angle which I never thought would be relevant within my own life. Since I have arrived here, I have been the only mzungu within 20 kilometers. As such, the villagers, students, and I have had to confront some commonly held Tanzanian beliefs about white people and their place in Tanzania. It has been an interesting task to explain to the people of Kwala that despite my color, I am not rich. Despite the fact that I am white, there are many things I do not know. And despite the fact that I am an American, I can in fact wash my own cloths. My class and I explored various cultures, discussing commonly held beliefs about people around the world and discovering one by one that these assumptions are not only incorrect but unfair. It was an interesting lesson for both the students and myself, and one of the most valuable class times I have yet to share with them.

I have confirmed that positive reinforcement has in fact been incredibly effective! Athuman…I have won our bet! The first day I assigned homework, only four students turned it in. Today, I received 60 notebooks stacked ominously on my desk. The kids are not only doing their homework, but they are lively and participating in class. Despite the stack of papers I have in front of me, I am feeling good. It’s so nice to have the students respond as opposed to talking to myself for an hour and a half.

preparing for graduation 008Our form four students are wrapping up their examination week, looking exhausted and ready to be complete.  I don’t blame them. Since I arrived in early September, these students have been undergoing an extensive testing process.  Sometimes it seems a bit odd to me. The majority of our students will fail. And this will not be there fault as we have wasted over a month testing them as opposed to teaching them. Of course, throughout this entire testing process Mama Annu and I have been left alone to teach our courses. Various other teachers have been sent to another testing sight to oversee the examination process of other students. And our new student teachers? I have no idea where they are. But, it seems to be expected for teachers to miss their classes. Even if the students are hit by these very same absent teachers for missing idle time in the classroom. Yes, it’s a bit of disgust you are sensing in my tone. Nonetheless, these are surmountable challenges. And I will do my best to set a positive example for student and teacher in my attendance and participation.

All of Tanzania took the day off yesterday to mourn the 10th anniversary of the death of Julius Nyerere, the first president of Independent Tanzania. His image flashed across the screen of the television all day as the national anthem and other Tanzanian songs were played.  Nyerere’s picture was not the only face I saw yesterday. As Mama Annu prepared to cook, she pulled out a kanga (piece of fabric the women wear) with Obama’s face splashed across the front. I felt proud. As Mama Annu and I discussed the meaning of the day, I realized that only in the last few months have I been able to feel the patriotism that all of Tanzania feels at the thought of Nyerere. How is Obama doing over there? I haven’t picked up a newspaper in weeks.

Well, the sun has risen in the sky quickly this morning and I feel the rise of quiet excitement within my body – it is the start of a new day in Kwala and I will make the most of it. The bell has just rung and I find myself feeling eager for my morning classes. I hope you all have a wonderful day.

Many thanks for reading!

Lisa Walker
NTC Project Director

A Letter From Athuman: Living with a Mzungu

It is very easy to stay with a Mzungu for a day or two. There is a lot of preparation to be done before he or she arrives. You buy new bed sheets, pillows, and pillow cases. You buy chicken, bread, butter, fruits, and anything else you think the mzungu will eat. You also have to shift yourself and your kids to other places. After two to three days, they are gone and you are back to your normal life. Eating Ugali (stiff porridge) and beans.

When Lisa came to Tanzania, she was not a one day guest. She was here to stay. In that case I couldn’t afford to shift everything. The first question was where will she stay permanently? The teachers quarters in which I stay has only three sleeping rooms, a sitting room, and a kitchen. The first room is for me, the second room for my sons (I have three) and the third room for my daughter and relatives. You can imagine what a headache I caught when I realized that she needed her own room. Here, 5 girls can stay in one room and its taboo to mix girls and boys. It’s hot here and this matters. Every mzungu needs his or her own room. Luckily, Lisa was patient, and waited for me to situate, living with my 86 year old mother law and 2 fifteen year old girls for over a month while we organized.

cooking with mama annu and madie 020Then, we wondered if she could wash her own cloths. We were very worried about this. But guess what! Lisa can wash her own cloths as anybody else in Africa. What about her fetching water? Can she carry a bucket of water balanced safely on her head? Let’s wait and see.

Now Lisa cooks her own breakfast of Chapatti and omelet using charcoal. You have seen her in her blog. Mama, that’s my wife, and Mama Annu, the Head Mistress, are teaching her well. I am still waiting for the day she will cook ugali for me.

Its difficult to cope with the tough African life in Kwala. Here, everything is manually done. But Lisa is doing it and I just need to hug her sometimes.

Apart from being a vegetarian, she is doing well when the meal is on the table. Can she use her hands to eat? Only time will tell. I am sure one day she will enjoy dried fish and chicken.

im an african woman ) 006Lisa is doing a wonderful job at our school. She is changing Kwala. She is teaching student and teacher alike. Many teachers and students are using the internet and learning to type. Two years ago, that would not have even been a dream. As we have installed electricity at our school now, students can come for evening sessions and study under the supervision of Lisa. So, Lisa is teaching and assisting in the Library. Lisa is teaching computer skills. Lisa is teaching English and literature. Lisa is corresponding weekly with NTC friends all over the world. Lisa is preparing for new programs and projects in Kwala. Lisa is cooking. Lisa is washing her cloths. Lisa is fetching water. Lisa is working hard and bringing good things to the people of Kwala. We are happy to have her. And that is our mzungu, Lisa.



October 8, 2009

Dear Friends,

I have just returned from a hectic day in Dar-Es-Salaam, the country’s capital and a bustling city with a life of its own. Traveling to Dar is always an adventure. It takes three to four hours, a motorcycle (pikipiki), two vans (dalladala), and innumerable up close and personal moments with fellow travelers to get from the village to the City Center. Leaving the village, I could hear my name being called from all corners of the village as students raced to bid me farewell. Settling in behind the motorcycle driver, we sped through sand, rocks, and no road, racing the sun as it rose beyond the hills. On the dalla dalla, people and animal alike were crammed liked sardines into a bus which was holding 30 people and a few chickens above its recommended 12 person capacity. Just when I thought absolutely nothing else could fit into this van, it stopped and three more travelers piled in. The more the merrier…I suppose.

Coming to America, Part 2

Coming to America, Part 2

I traveled to Dar to wish NTC Coordinator Athuman Msangi a safe and productive trip to America. He will be visiting the Boston area for the next two weeks raising awareness for NTC. Luckily, I did not return to Kwala alone. We have another American guest in Kwala this weekend, Madie, who has come to learn more about our community and assist me with my classes tomorrow. Everything feels a bit less daunting with a friend and fellow muzungu (foreigner) to share in the adventure, and I feel relieved to have her here.

The rest of the week has been productive and enjoyable, as I continue to settle into myself and learn more about the life of the village and school. The classroom is the place I crave to be. I have taken on form 1 and form 3, 15 year olds and 17 year olds, respectively. In accordance with the national syllabus, my form 1 class requires an abundance of grammar lessons. I will need to find creative ways to keep their attention in what could be an incredibly boring class. I hope to begin using songs and short stories to teach more advanced grammar, but for now, I have resorted to bribing them with candy. As soon as I awarded participating students sweets, all students’ hands shot up. It was like magic, suddenly all the students knew the answers. Athuman and I have decided to do an experiment. We are going to test the effectiveness of positive reinforcement as opposed to the negative reinforcement which Africans seem so partial so. Thus far, the candy has been effective. And the number of hands eager to answer questions in the classroom continues to grow.

Teaching Form 3

Teaching Form 3

My form 3 class is spectacular. Form 3 English is composed of different types of literature, and we are currently working our way through one of the more challenging novels, Passed like a Shadow. The story is beautifully sad, about a family who becomes infected, one by one, by HIV as it spread throughout Uganda. The kids and I have been working together to transform the complicated text into a play, and the kids seem to be enjoying the process of performing. Becoming more and more creative with each new chapter, they have all started to speak more in class, and even those who I fear I would have lost had we continued reading are now active and understanding the plot of the text. One of the more interesting aspects of teaching English here is that I myself am a student of language. Luckily, the kids have been eager to help me with my Kiswahili, and watching me stumble through my words without shame seems to have given them the confidence they needed to do the same.

Slowly, the Msangi house has started to feel like home. I have taken on the role of big sister to Athuman’s children, a relationship which I am truly enjoying. I awoke one day this week to Fatuma, one of the kids I share my room with, insisting that she cook for me. She woke me at 5:30 in the morning adamant that I must rise so as to eat. When I told her that I was not yet hungry and tried to roll over to go back to sleep, she became flustered and explained that she had broken my mirror. She said she was incredibly sorry and that I had to get up so that she could prepare food for me. I smiled and told her not to worry about the mirror, but I simply was not hungry. Why did she want to cook for me? Well, in Tanzania, if you break a belonging of somebody’s, you must cook for them. This was an unfortunate cultural lesson to learn at 5:30 in the morning, and I promised her she could cook for me later. She looked relieved.

That’s all for this week. Check back later for updated pictures and for a letter written by Babu Msangi about life with a muzungu (me).

Many Thanks for Reading! Much love from Kwala.

Lisa Walker

Project Director

October 1, 2009

Dear Friends,

I began writing this post while laying in my hammock watching the run rise, however, the weather refused to wait for me to finish. It is October first, and in anything but African fashion, rainy reason has begun on time. A sea of ants has accompanied the rain, and I found myself running, computer in tow, atop a crawling ground, to the safe haven that is Kwala Secondary School. Now I am trying again, writing this week’s post from the new NTC library and listening to the pitter pat of raindrops as they hit the tin roof outside. The NTC library has become a favorite place for both students and teachers, and I find that the room itself has taken on a life and light of its own as an academic and recreational center for all. Even as I write this, students are shuffling in to pick out books and study together.

9.28.09 time is passing quickly 048

The graduation celebration last weekend was larger than life. I was overseeing the food for the event (don’t ask me how I got sucked into that) and spent the end of last week preparing a variety of dishes to feed over 500 guests. I have never peeled so many potatoes in my life! Things got a bit silly in “kitchen” and I found myself thinking, it’s a good thing they are graduating. It would be impossible to respect me as a teacher after watching my ineptitude in the kitchen. Despite the fact that I have no idea how to work a knife, this ended up being a wonderful bonding experience between me and the students.

On Saturday, as the guests rolled in, I watched as our Form 4 students sat nervously awaiting the start of the ceremony. As I walked through the rows of students, dressed elegantly in black and white, I saw the pride they felt in their accomplishments. This is the second class to graduate from Kwala secondary school, and I have enjoyed the privilege of getting to know a few them. Watching them rise to collect their certificates, I felt a sense of honor in the fact that they wanted me to be a part of this experience.

After the graduation ceremony, the students took part in the feast and then partied until dawn. Listening to a mixture of American rap, too much Michael Jackson to recall, and Tanzanian hip hop galore, the kids danced up a storm. The headmaster also took advantage of this joyous occasion, calling all the teachers together to tell us how happy he was to be joining our team of teachers and students. Soda in hand, we raised our bottles to say cheers in Swahili (“Afya” meaning “health”).

9.28.09 time is passing quickly 1189.28.09 time is passing quickly 0789.28.09 time is passing quickly 153

Now, the insanity of graduation has passed, and our Form 4 students will be buckling down to do final preparations for their national examinations. This is a nervous time for both students and teachers, and we are all wishing them the best!

The rest of the week has been productive. I have taught more computer lessons than I care to think about, as students come to me by the bunch wanting to learn. It’s impossible to deny an interested student. I have been preparing the form 4 NTC girls for their first internet lesson, creating E-Mail accounts and teaching typing and letter writing lessons so that NTC can stay in touch with these girls even after they graduate. I have enjoyed getting to know the girls, and they have proven to be incredibly motivated and interested students.

The English classes that I have assisted in teaching seem to be very challenging for both teacher and student. A big problem at Kwala Secondary School is the expectation that every student (and teacher) know and speak English, and that each class be taught in English. Mind you, this is not a problem unique to Kwala but a national challenge which has plagued the educational sector since the 1960’s. Ultimately, the students struggle with both content and language. Despite the insanity of the system itself, I am here and I will teach.

9.28.09 time is passing quickly 011I have continued to introduce Mama Annu and the Msangi family to bits and pieces of American food as they teach me more and more about African cooking. This week, I prepared spaghetti for Mama Annu and her family, though this was far from Italian style cooking. Adding coconut milk, carrots, and African spices, the spaghetti was a delicious jumble of American, Italian, and Tanzanian. Additionally, I have introduced her to the delicacy that is hot chocolate. In truly Mama Annu form, she has made this typical American drink uniquely African, adding crushed ginger and some sugar for flavor. If you are interested in learning about Tanzanian style cooking, I have put a few recipes up on our “In the Kitchen” page.

That is all for this week! Thank you so much for reading. Please check back soon for updated pictures.

Much love from Kwala,

Lisa Walker

Project Director

September 24, 2009

Dear Friends,

im an african woman ) 001As I write this, I am sitting inside the home of Babu Msangi eating fresh coconut which I have shaved myself. No doubt it was picked only yesterday from the Tanzanian trees which line the coast. One of the more unique skills I have picked up is the ability to know if a coconut is ripe or not before opening it. A good coconut is one which holds little water and makes a clear ringing sound when tapped with a coin (as opposed to emitting a hollow or dull sound). Give it a shot next time you go to the grocery store! The things you learn living on the African coast.

Another week has passed since my arrival in Kwala. This week has been slow yet seemingly hectic, as our new headmaster has taken the reins just in time to lead the school through it’s rather elaborate Form Four graduation celebrations. The new headmaster seems to be a genuine man seeking to effectively enhance the quality of education provided here at Kwala Secondary School. He is excited to work with me and NTC, and while I feel a bit intimidated by the emphasis which he has placed on my presence here, I will certainly try to fill the massive shoes which he has given me.

I taught my first class today! It was absolutely wonderful and left me feeling invigorated and capable, the latter being a feeling which I had nearly forgotten since my arrival in this place where I know how to do just about nothing. I had the students jumping and running all over the classroom, enthusiastic to be actively participating in the lesson. Before I knew it, the other teachers had crowded around outside of the room, watching me with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. I can only hope that some of my silliness will rub off on this very somber group of the teachers.

I was not supposed to start teaching my own class until January. However, I have watched so many classes sitting idly without teachers and couldn’t bear to watch the students time being wasted a moment longer. Not all news from Kwala can be happy, and this is a facet of my experience which I have found extremely discouraging. How can we expect the students to care if the teachers do not? Unfortunately, the indifference exhibited by many of the teachers is a product of a much larger national problem whereby both teachers and the educational system are severely neglected. I suppose when you are paid nothing and denied a positive educational experience yourself; you lack the incentive and know-how to provide a better schooling environment for your students. Despite their indifference regarding classroom activities, there is no shortage of formality and official procedure here at Kwala. Thus, African time…where everything takes FOREVER. That’s Africa baby.

9.24.09 more 078I have spent the greater part of my week organizing the library. I have learned an important lesson: You can give a man a library – but if you don’t teach him how to use it, the books just get dusty. Back to good news, the Headmaster has been very pro-active in getting us lights for the library! Beginning next week the library will stay open until 10 pm and provide a wonderful place for students to come and study quietly or receive academic support from myself and other teachers. I hope to provide a brief introduction to the library for each form respectively, teaching them how to check out books and the importance of returning them. Beyond all of the academic books which the new NTC library has collected, we have created an impressive section for recreational reading. I am hoping that the students learn to enjoy reading.

Introduced the Msangi family to Italian style pasta last night. Unfortunately, without premade sauce to add to my vegetables, the meal was surely lacking. But they appreciated the effort. And, it was a good way to say goodbye to Bibi (grandmother) who has left Kwala to return to the home of her other children living in Northern Tanzania (Ever seen an 86 year old on a motorcycle?). Goodbye Bibi! Safari njema (Safe travels).

That is all for this week. Please check back in a few days for more updated pictures from Kwala. Many Thanks for Reading. And much love from all the students and teachers here at Kwala Secondary School.

Lisa Walker

Project Director


September 17, 2009

Dear Friends,

It has been two weeks since my arrival in Kwala Tanzania, and I have started to find a rhythm whereby I carry out my daily activities. At the moment, I am swinging in my hammock in the jungle beside the Msangi house, watching the steady rising of the sun, blazing red as it welcomes in the new day. One would think this to be the quietest part of the day, however, I am surrounded by noises of the waking natural world, chirping and cooing, roosting and crowing, all around me in a symphony of life.

athuman leaving, dar, classroom 010This week was full of activity, spectacular moments, and constant surprise. The students finished their midterm examinations on Friday morning, and most departed from Kwala to visit with their families in other villages throughout the region. The students remained on break this week. Only a few students and teachers stayed, and I spent the greater part of the weekend and this week providing basic computer training to all those who were interested. Because most were gone, this gave me the truly enjoyable opportunity to meet with students and staff here one on one and begin the process of learning about their lives.

9.24.09 more 035Mama Annu, the head mistress at the school and one of the most remarkable women I have ever had the opportunity to meet, has taken me under her wing. I find myself grateful for her, as she has become not only my friend, but my teacher and mentor, and has been incredibly patient with me as I learn how to live within this truly foreign environment that is the African bush. She has taught me how to make nail polish from local plants and how to sew, assuring me that once I learn, I will find this activity relaxing (at the moment that is debatable). She has also started to teach me how to cook, which is not quite as simple as defrosting a frozen dinner in the micro wave. Not only am I learning how to cook beans, rice, ugali, and different types of vegetables, but Mama Annu insists that I (the vegetarian of 10 years) adjust to my surroundings and learn how to cook kuku (chicken). She let me off the hook this time as far as participation, but she insisted that I watch as she broke off the legs and beak and threw them in a pot. What’s more, as she began to pull the feathers from the bird, four live chickens came running into the kitchen, squawking and flurrying around the pot in what I could only describe as a chicken uprising!

MovieKwalaAAs stated in my last entry, I showed the students their first movie on the walls outside of the school last week. We watched War of the Worlds. The students love action, and screamed in excitement as aliens attacked the world. One by one, many approached me, asking when this had happened in New York City. As soon as the movie was set up and the children all watching, I found myself distracted by something distinctly different. As I looked up, for the first time since I had arrived, I noticed all the beauty that was held within the glowing African night sky. The wild American sci-fi juxtaposed with the peaceful serenity of infinite stars hanging in the wide open sky made me laugh out loud. The scene I was gazing upon could only be described as a physical manifestation of these two worlds combining. For the first time since I had arrived, I found myself truly enchanted by this incredible opportunity to bring experiences together within my own life, and within the lives of our students and teachers here at Kwala Secondary School. I found myself feeling invigorated by the knowledge that so many more moments such as that one would inevitably arise over the next many months.

9.17.09 011Some of the lessons I have learned thus far were enjoyable, some were experienced with the realization that there would be a massive learning curve, some moments were totally disgusting, and others completely invigorating. I look forward to the opportunity to share more of my experiences with you next week. Until then, much love from Kwala!

Asante Sana Kwa Kusoma (Many Thanks for Reading),

Lisa Walker

Project Director

September 10, 2009

Dear NTC Supporters,

Live From Kwala September 10I am happy to be writing to you from the porch of our NTC Advisor, Babu Msangi, in Kwala Tanzania. As I sit here, on the other side of the world, watching the sun dip slowly into a bath of pink clouds in the sky, I realize that it has only been one week since my arrival in this new and complex world that is Kwala.

I have come to understand that my dream of Africa, as being a perfect, pure and communal society, was only ever a construct of my own imagination. In fact, most of Africa, and more specifically Kwala, is populated by people living in a different culture but with similar imperfections to our own. The realization that the members of this community are plagued by not only the difficulties of living in poverty but also by the same human faults and strengths as any other group of people, I have been forced to re write my own story and expectations. I find myself in the dual role of teacher and student as I try to assimilate myself into this community. While my vision has changed, by removing my rose colored glasses, my goals have not. I am here as NTC’s Project Director, and in that capacity I am enjoying bringing education, technology, and hope to many of the students attending Kwala Secondary School.

I arrived just in time for the students to begin a week long examination process. As such, I have been assisting in proctoring their exams. Rulers and pencils are shared between the students as they take their exams, passing these materials silently around the room. I find myself pacing up and down the rows, glancing over their heads to see their work. I pace until the urge to blurt out the correct answers becomes unbearable, and then I force myself to sit down. When I catch the students watching me during their exams, I find myself smiling warmly, trying to impart on them silently that I sympathize with their test taking process. They seem to be doing well thus far, yet I am eager for this time to come to an end so that I can begin to figure out how I will fit into the normal routine of the school.

The school is the only place in Kwala with working electricity. Each night following sun down about 100 students gather in the lit classrooms to study together. Tonight, the night before their English exam, I will show the students the film War of the Worlds. I hope that this activity will not only reinforce their English, but provide a stress free and fun listening exercise whereby they can review their materials prior to their midterm exam. Thanks to the kind donation from NTC friends, I will be able to show this movie on a projector in one of the school classrooms.

Yesterday I met with the girls from the Scholarship program for the first time. Despite the fact that the village water pump was malfunctioning and the students were forced to walk 7 kilometers to get water, most of the girls went out of their way to attend our first meeting. I brought a hula hoop with me to Tanzania to play games with the students. I brought my hula hoop to our first meeting as a casual form of introduction and we were able to play games with it prior to our discussion. It was the first time they had seen a hula hoop, and after looking at me with a baffled expression, they each picked it up one by one and giggled as they swung it around their hips. After my American game, they taught me a Tanzanian dance, and we sang together as we danced around the school. During our discussion, the girls told me what they would like to get out of our weekly meetings. We decided to do a combination of computer lessons, English learning activities, open discussions and games. As we went around the circle for the girls to introduce themselves, they also listed their preferences for future occupations. We have a lot of prospective teachers, doctors, and entrepreneurs at Kwala secondary school. I am hoping that through my presence, your continued support, and their amazing desire to learn, we can help them to achieve these goals. This can truly be a collaborative experience for us all.

I am looking forward to carving a place for myself in the lives of the people of Kwala. I am hesitant to say too much about my experience in Kwala thus far as I am still adjusting. More next week. Until then, I welcome your feedback!

Asante Sane kwa Kusoma (Many Thanks for Reading),

Lisa Walker

Project Director

August, 2009

Dear NTC Supporters,

arg 012My name is Lisa Walker and it is my pleasure to introduce myself as NTC’s new Project Director. As a recent graduate of Boston University’s International Relations and African Studies program, I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to get directly involved with Tanzania’s education system – a subject that has been my interest for many years. My passion for working with children and young adults has been an evolving theme throughout my life. My commitment to African development has been more recent, and confirmed during my most recent trip to Tanzania in the Summer of 2008, during which I taught under the auspices of Cross Cultural Solutions. My experience provided me with the opportunity to challenge my teaching skills and expand my cultural and educational horizons. The experience also reinforced my belief that Tanzania, with a stable government and a functional economy, is on the brink of major change. As such, I believe that a focus on educational development will provide the necessary tools for the next generation of Tanzanians, empowering students to take an active role within their families, communities, and country.I will be leaving Boston for Kwala on September 1st 2009. During my stay in Kwala, I have many goals that I hope to accomplish for NTC. These include:

  • Creating community based NTC Clubs in Kwala that will correspond and work with pre-established student based clubs within Newton schools.
  • Learning about the Tanzanian bilingual education system by working with students and teachers at Kwala Secondary School and Mahundi Primary School.
  • Creating a peer-mentoring initiative and English Club designed to enhance Kwala students’ English conversational skills
  • Working with Kwala staff to further NTC’s development goals for the Kwala School Community while also establishing local ownership of NTC within the Kwala community

  • Creating a holistic educational model to ensure the ongoing success of NTC’s Girls Scholarship Project

We live in a global world. To recognize this fact is to acknowledge our collaborative responsibility to each other and to generations to come. With this in mind, I plan to begin this weekly blog in September of 2009. I look forward to receiving input from the larger NTC community, and hope that together we can have a positive impact on the community of Kwala, the community of Newton, and each other.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to continuing our conversation.

Best wishes,

Lisa Walker
Project Director

Click here to return to the most recent posting by current Project Director Marika Mura