August 6, 2012
I was barely five years old – a clumsy and timid child of recent immigrants – gripping the hand of my grandmother as I led her up the classroom stairs. The teacher ushered us to her desk, where she extracted a pencil rendering of a flower vase from a stack of paper sheets.
‘Meaghan drew this; very good!’ she articulated slowly, pointing at the sketch while my grandmother feigned comprehension.
I remember this moment with extraordinary clarity because, I believe, this was the first moment that I felt a sense of pride and achievement as a student. My teacher had acknowledged my drawing, and, in the process, acknowledged me as an individual with distinct strengths, weaknesses, and characteristics. From then on, a passion for art and drawing became engrained within my identity, and I believe that this moment had a transformative effect upon my development as a student.
Leilani Doktor, a fellow student who led the after-school Drawing Class at Arusha School, wrote that: ‘In the end, the best part is when a student holds up their portrait and thinks, “This is me. I did this, and I’m proud of it.”’ The educational philosophy of Literacy Through Photography follows this intent by encouraging creativity and self-expression as a means of recognizing the value of each individual student and their distinctive contribution to the classroom community.
The activities and methods that we introduced to the students, teachers, and administrators over the past two months were incredibly diverse, ranging from reading photographs and self-portraits to charades and commerce games. What was comparable between these activities, however, was their ability to create a personalized experience for each student, thus connecting the academic curriculum to their daily lives and experiences.
All too often, children are taught that their value as a student is strictly dependent upon their degree of academic achievement. This is a conviction that is entrenched within national schooling systems worldwide, thus nurturing a generation of students who practice memorization and rote-retention more often than critical thinking and academic enquiry. LTP activities do not reward the mindless absorption of unquestionable facts; instead, they encourage students to be creative problem-solvers who are perceptive of the world around them and assertive about the value of their own voice and opinion.
These past two months have taught me that the most insightful and praiseworthy students are those who are curious, innovative, and perceptive. I now understand that achievement is not strictly a branch of academia, that student success cannot be accurately represented by traditional assessment methods, and that a child’s self-worth is all too often correlated with an unbudging red ink mark on a piece of paper.
‘To Miss Hanna.
Thank you for teaching us dance. Before your class, I did not think that I was special enough for people to look at me. I was so happy to hear everyone cheering for me during our dance.
I will not forget that feeling.’
In an educational environment that isolates the teacher as an agent of authority, discipline, and unquestionable knowledge, it is difficult for us to grasp the impact and impression that we made upon the students of Arusha School through this summer’s after-school programs.
It is difficult to ascertain just why the students of Arusha School left such a deep indent upon us. Some of us rediscovered a passion for a hobby that we had misplaced amongst the fast-paced commotion of college life. Some of us realized that we needed neither wealth nor fame nor power to make an impact upon the lives of others. Some experienced the sense of fulfillment that can only result from knowing that we contributed to something bigger than ourselves.
I watched the students of the Arusha School Theatre Club transform and blossom over a period of two months. What had started as a cluster of clumsy and meek children grew into a troupe of confident and creative artists who had developed a sense of unity and pride. A defining moment for me was watching the students bow before their peers after their first performance; fifteen minutes of script, blocking, and choreography had been memorized within three weeks and executed with humbling brilliance. The students ran backstage beaming and shrieking, their bodies flooded with the post-performance ecstasy and exhilaration that me and my collaborator, Jenny Sherman, could recognize all too easily.
Katie Hyde, our program director, mentioned that she had difficulty remembering the provisional teachers who came and went during her childhood years. Last Friday morning, when the students of Arusha School farewelled us with an emotional display of grief and gratitude, I still could not shake the feeling that the students were too young, too forgetful, and too carefree to truly comprehend the way in which they had touched and changed our lives.
Even if the students forget us, they will not forget the accomplishments and experiences that we sought to provide them with: the contentment and fulfillment as you look upon a piece of artwork you completed, the sensation of your heart thumping against your ribcage as you stood upon a lighted stage, the rush of adrenaline as you strike a football to the symphony of your classmates cheering your name. We hope we’ve offered these students a moment of pride. It may have been fleeting, undisclosed and intangible, but it is the most valuable, rewarding, and transformative gift that one could give to any student.
I am two hours away from Hong Kong as I sit next to a man named Dario. He has high, angular cheekbones and a curly brown mass that frames his temples. He surreptitiously claims that he works in the ‘modeling-slash-acting industry’ and boasts that he has travelled to twenty-something countries.
‘You should visit Africa,’ I say.
‘Isn’t it a bit…’ he pauses discretely, ‘…messy there?’
‘You’d be pleasantly surprised.’
‘I’d rather not take the risk,’ he replies.
My eyes narrow until I realized that I shared this very same perspective before I embarked on my trip to Tanzania. I always envisaged Africa as a war-torn confine for the impoverished, malnourished, and corrupt. I amalgamated its individual nations into one blank, vapid mass; embellished CNN reports and Hollywood blockbusters taught me that Africa was bountiful in nothing but need.
I eventually discovered that this popular depiction of Africa was, in fact, a projection of the first world’s own fears and prejudices. I realized that my original conception of ‘poverty’ was skewed; whilst statistics such as Tanzania’s GDP and employment rate paints a paltry picture, this nation certainly is not impoverished. Never before have I been immersed within a culture that abounds in such limitless amounts of resourcefulness, compassion, selflessness, and human spirit.
The 2012 DukeEngage team will remember Tanzania as a nation of white sand, crystalline waters, untamed fauna, and pallid mountain peaks. We will remember the humbling warmth and generosity offered by all its inhabitants, be it the unwavering patience and compassion of Pelle (the local LTP leader), the shopkeepers who greeted us at every street corner with a singsong reverberation of ‘Karibu!’, or the students who absorbed our teaching with curiosity, respect and enthusiasm.
In Swahili, there is no direct translation for the expression of ‘missing’ someone. Instead, when Tanzanians grant their farewells and adieus, they say: ‘nitakukumbuka:’ I will remember you. This is a fitting cultural appropriation; whilst ‘missing’ evokes the notions of yearning, grief, and loss, ‘remembering’ asserts that you have been endowed with memories and impressions that you can always recall with fondness and warmth. Whilst our two-month visit was momentary, the insights, experiences, and relationships that it has provided us with will last a lifetime.
July 31, 2012
I didn’t take this photo. I wasn’t even there when it was taken. I saw it for the first time yesterday, actually, at our final exhibition for all the LTP work that’s been done this summer. It was in the middle of an alphabet project that some of the teachers at Meru School had made with Yvonne. Can you guess the word this photo is showing and the letter of the alphabet it represents?
Choosing a photo for this reflection was a daunting task. Looking back on literally thousands of photos from this trip, how could I choose just one moment, one of the many things I’ve learned here, to talk about? I decided to start with a photo I loved. So here it is. Out of two months worth of photos, this is the one I love.
This photo stopped me in my tracks because I recognized it. Even though I had never seen it before, I instantly understood it. I know the feeling of being held exactly like that. I’ve seen that look on the faces of my aunts and my mom. I used to hold my little sister like that, my legs stretched out at just that angle, not wanting to move even though my legs were slowly going numb.
In the midst of the crowds looking at the projects at the exhibition, every so often I’d hear the excited yells of people finding themselves in a photo or identifying a photo they had taken. I overheard one little girl joyfully explaining to her friend: “Mimi hapa. Wewe hapa. Na mimi hapa!” I’m here. You’re here. And I’m here. The girl was maybe seven years old, which explains why I was able to understand her Swahili. But I think she was on to something. Recognizing yourself where you expect only strangeness is an amazing feeling. Looking at all their LTP work, the kids—and even the teachers—were seeing themselves as part of something that’s always been kept separate from and above them: their education.
In another area of the exhibition, Anneliese’s after school group of young inventors had hung posters of their designs for new inventions. One girl who had invented a more affordable alternative to shoe polish wrote about how she had been making this polish for her shoes long before she ever came to the inventing club. But when she got there and her teacher started talking about inventions, she realized that she was, in fact, an inventor. She had joined the ranks of all the famous and lofty inventors she was learning about in that moment when she couldn’t afford shoe polish and decided to do something about it. In that moment, her inner world and her education came together.
In most schools in Tanzania, students are not learning to be creative. But most children in Tanzania are incredibly creative—the way they play, dance, doodle and solve their own problems shows extraordinary imagination. But they see these two worlds—the worlds outside and inside the classroom—as irreconcilably divided. When we ask kids to use their imaginations to solve problems creatively in the classroom, we are hoping to bring these two worlds together, to show that you can be your creative, playful and innovative self as you go through your education.
In my own life and in the lives of the students here, we’re constantly given images of what we should be or what our education should look like. But what if those images were our images? The pictures in our heads, our dreams, the things we see each day, the things we recognize: what if those were in the textbooks or hanging up in the classroom for all to learn from? And what if we saw ourselves in the images of others, saw that we had the same fears and hopes? And after seeing what we have in common, maybe we would be able to understand the differences a little better.
For me, LTP is first and foremost about moments of recognition, of seeing yourself in the story of a great inventor or in the wary eyes of a child wrapped in a loving embrace.
M is for mother. Do you recognize this picture? Do you know it from your own life? Or from some outside idea of what “mother “means? Do you think this woman’s expression ever crosses your face? Does the child’s? When? What is different? What is the same?
In this photo, I see a late, hot night in footie pajamas, a hope for the future and a home waiting at the end of a long flight that leaves tomorrow.
What do you see?
July 31, 2012
As I reflect back on the last two months spent in Tanzania, I find myself trying to define success. With our LTP work, there is no big finished product that we built over time and our group really will never know if the teachers we taught embraced our method of learning or abandoned it to continue rote chalkboard ‘learning.’ Education has no scoreboard, there’s no number scale to calculate your impact as a teacher and no report back months or years later that automatically tells you how much of an influence you had on the students and teachers. Although tests are education’s judge of knowledge and understanding, they are not a grading scale for a teacher and how much success and influence teachers had on each individual. Tests can only give the answers to the questions you ask and for LTP and my Duke Engage experience, no matter how many tests I give out or questions I ask, I will never understand how meaningful it was for the students and teachers I taught, and I will never know exactly what they gained from our time together.
What is the full impact of the time I spent in Tanzania?
Although I leave Tanzania still wondering about the answer to this question, our final LTP exhibition reminded me of why LTP is such a unique teaching method and why it is so rewarding.
On our second to last day, I stood at Meru Primary School greeting over 600 students and teachers. Smiling faces walked past, accompanied by waves, hellos, handshakes, and hugs. With each person I struggled to connect a name with a face. Despite my lack of memory, this was still a moment of realization of the impact and success of my time in Tanzania. I realized I knew something more personal than the name of each individual. As people arrived to the exhibition, with each student and teacher, I saw a story, a memory, or a personality originating from their LTP project.
· A boy who dreamed of being a pilot
· The values of a Tanzanian proverb
· An artist who could draw a scene like you were actually there
· The ferocious look of a lion
· The memories of a home story
· Advice to prevent HIV
· And so many more.
LTP gave me the chance to see each person as an individual rather than another face in the blur of the crowd. Both my personal success and LTP’s success is brought to light by these memories. As a teacher these memories would have never been possible using only a chalkboard. Because of LTP I was able to learn more about students personally and create a memorable learning experience for both myself and the students.
Coming to Tanzania I knew I would not meet the end result of successfully integrating LTP into the Tanzanian school system. My goal from the start was, as a group, take LTP to the next level in Tanzania. I am proud I played a part in being a stepping stone for continued future progress and success, and I leave Tanzania confident our Duke Engage group left a positive impact on the teachers and students we worked with.
July 31, 2012
心 (xin): Heart, Passion and Love
“If I were a heart, I will be loving people because we have to love each other so that we can’t have enemies. I love the word ‘heart’ [because] it means for us and if you don’t have heart how can you stay in the world[?] So I love heart and if you have heart, you will even love your parents, teachers, friends. So as I am love all of my friends, teachers, parents.”
- By Kabula from Arusha School
Out of all the students I have met in these two months, I build the strongest bond with my afterschool project students (they call themselves the Super Chinese Kids). Everyday from 4:30 to 5:30pm, I teach Beginner Chinese to 12 wonderful children. We started the journey with the basics of Chinese language: pingyin, phonetics, tones and strokes. Step by step, they began to acquire some basic vocabulary. Yesterday, at the end of our program, they performed four Chinese songs in front of 600 children and parents.
Having been working with LTP for the past two months, I tried to combine LTP with my Chinese class. One of the projects we did was the Chinese Pictogram Project. Pictogram (象形文字) is the earliest form of Chinese writing. These characters are stylized drawings of the objects they represent. In order to help my students better understand Chinese and have an easier time remembering Chinese characters, I decided to have them each pick a word with a pictogram origin. Then, they had to act out and use their body to represent the word they chose. Afterwards, I asked each student to write a story or a paragraph related to the word they chose. Without a doubt, my students enjoyed using their bodies to construct the word, but what I valued the most was the piece of writing they did.
As shown above, Kabula chose the word 心 （pinyin: xin) “heart.” Her writing doesn’t have the perfect grammar or fancy vocabulary, but it delivers such a strong message that one cannot ignore.
“We have to love each other so that we can’t have enemies”
What a thought that is needed in this unfriendly world! I am often pleasantly surprised when children are those who remind us grown-ups how the world should be. At the same time, this piece of writing reflects Tanzania’s peaceful culture-thanks to Tanzanian’s first president Julius Nyerere, who spread the ideology of peace, unity and family love in Tanzanian for 20 years. Some of the channels include education and the hip-hop culture – Nyerere encouraged rappers to include those ideas in their songs. It is not hard to see how his effort has eventually paid off now. Even though there is such diversity in the population, Tanzania remains to be one of the most peaceful countries in the Africa continent.
“… if you have heart, you will even love your parents, teachers, friends.”
Although we once had doubts about our children, all of us have grown to love and cherish our afterschool kids. We began to call them “my/our kids,” we began to know about each student’s personality, and we began to care for them as if they are our family. These kids found a position in our hearts. They were the anchors to my Arusha daily life and seeing them is what I l look forward to, no matter how terrible my day has been. They are the ones who introduced me to new Swahili words, to the school culture, to Tanzanian children games (“Mother in the Kitchen, cooking chapatti…”). At the same time, I was able to introduce a new language to them and provide them a haven to learn without worrying about exams and grades.
“… if you don’t have heart how can you stay in the world[?]”
In the end, we have given our hearts to each other. Like our favorite Arusha School teacher Mr. Rizone said at the closing ceremony today, “you all (the Duke students) gave your love [for different subjects] to us.” This afterschool experience helped me locate my heart for education, especially for teaching something I care about. At the same time, my students gave me their heart to learning Chinese. On the day we bid goodbye to our kids, my girls were all crying their hearts out. Although I was equally heartbroken, I find that morning very hopeful and calming. My children cried because they have made such a deep connection with the Chinese class, with me and with their classmates. It shows that they have devoted their heart to this class and that they have found someone they care a lot about. To me, I accomplished my mission here, knowing my kids have found something their heart would beat for.
With only 1 day left in Tanzania, how am I supposed to reconcile that I will have to leave all these loving children behind? My Super Chinese Kids, 你可以告訴老師嗎 (can you tell ‘teacher’)？
“So next July when you come, we can do more projects like this?” Well, jeez we won’t be here next week, much less next July. As our last week of teaching boils down, the overwhelming feeling is out of control. No more lesson plans, no more out there ideas becoming afterschool activities, no more of our usual ‘hakuna matata routine’. Even as the most concrete form of our work—the final exhibition—comes together, our control over what we’ve set out to teach here for 7 weeks falls apart. We have no control over what people here take from our moments together, but in some ways that’s the beauty of teaching. You have no idea of what wonderful things could come out of your time spent.
So yes this may be our last Alphabet project with Class 3, and we may never get to do another Best Part of Me project with Meru students ever again, but who knows –there is always that possibility that some of us will be back here doing more LTP projects next July.
As the adrenaline rush from our brief Safari encounter with lions, elephants, and baboons, simmers down and we settle into those last moments in the classroom with our kids, we can’t help feeling the mounting anxiety that any goodbye brings. But we can also take pride in the enormous feeling of satisfaction that comes from knowing that we accomplished what we set out to do, and we did it well. I can take hope from the fact that the students are asking and expecting for more LTP, and I hope that they never stop expressing themselves.
On Sunday we had our final LTP workshop with the Sakina Scholars, a program that provides scholarships to primary school students so that they may continue onto secondary school. Anneliese had worked with these students, who happened to be about the same age as us Duke students, for several years now and challenged us to come up with a fun and complex lesson plan. We decided to focus on the student’s personal knowledge by creating a ‘Book of Wisdom’. We spent our Sunday reflecting in the sun and sharing past events that changed us and then compiled these lessons and illustrative photographs into a book intended for future mentees. We laughed, we cried, but most of all we all were able to participate in an LTP project that empowered every participant, and we could not have asked for more.
Over this week, I cannot help but relish every moment we have together whether it is the snorts of laughter while we sing “In the Jungle” Acapella style during car rides, our nearly religious reverence for chapatti, or our groggy and grumpy faces as we drag ourselves from our afternoon cat naps to our afterschool programs.
photo: Kyle and I strip pumpkin leaves.
We have finished our time as teachers in Tanzania and now it is time to tie up loose ends, its just too bad we didn’t get our cooking lesson until our last weekend here.
July 31, 2012
On the first Tuesday of July, the campus of Shalom Primary School was littered with children writhing in feigned agony. Shouts of ‘Help! I’m on fire!’ and ‘Call the doctor now!’ rang across the school as the Grade Five students wrapped toilet-paper bandages around each other in panic.
Hanna and I were the designated leaders of the science lessons during our week at Shalom, and we deliberated for a long time when selecting a topic that was both stimulating for the students and relevant to their national syllabus.
We finally decided upon a lesson plan that was interactive and participation-based whilst also yielding practical benefits for students and teachers alike. The theme of the lesson was ‘First Aid and Emergency Response,’ and each group within the class was designated with the task of learning, photographing, and performing a common first-aid procedure before the class.
These procedures ranged from treating strains and cuts to CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver. It was apparent that the students had never been exposed to concepts such as washing out wounds and using ice to reduce swelling after an injury. Thus, in an environment where resources were limited and student access to first-aid was an exceptional privilege, it was important for the Grade Five students of Shalom to gain an practical and applicable experience within the classroom.
Participation was the major emphasis of this lesson. I was in charge of the ‘choking’ group; which was a much simpler term for the children to remember than the Heimlich Maneuver. After a short introduction, I led the students outside and had them pair up with a partner. Using instruction cards that Hanna and myself had prepared the previous night, I performed each step upon a student while ensuring that they were holding, striking, and positioning their partners correctly. It was rewarding to see that the students were increasingly comfortable with interacting with one another’s bodies, and this was an important barrier to break if we were to successfully fulfill the aim of our lesson.
After each partner had practiced many repetitions of the Maneuver, we chose two students to perform the Maneuver before their peers while the rest of the group contributed by performing a mini-scene that was set in a restaurant. The boy leading the class presentation, Baraka, elicited many laughs as he stood behind his classmate and clasped his hands around his navel. Impressively, the he was not fazed, and completed the segment after ensuring that he explained the importance of each step in a loudly projected voice.
With the photos that we took during the group session, the Duke students assembled a poster entitled ‘First Aid and Emergency Procedures.’ With the combination of humourous photos, lively illustrations, and simplified steps for each method, we hope that this poster will serve as a valuable resource for Shalom School.
The most rewarding moment of this experience was the day that we returned to Shalom to exhibit the posters that the students had created in class. The lunch bell rang as herds of excited students stampeded out of class and flocked around the first aid poster. I could see that they had surrounded the wall in a tight semi-circle formation, and I craned my neck in curiosity for what lay between the sea of bodies and the wall.
There, I saw the stout figure Baraka as he pointed at the poster and belted out in a booming, authoritative, voice: ‘First, you check the mouth for obstructions…’
Over the past eight weeks, I have had a sort of creative renaissance. Throughout the program I have been pushed to find solutions where I thought they couldn’t be found, and push others to do the same. Our director Katie once said in discussion, “They say genius is the ability to take two totally unrelated things and connect them.” Over the hours toiling over work at my desk in America this was essential fact that I may have forgotten: critical thinking is inherently born out of creativity. Ideas, connections, those bits of tangential information I am renown for, they require critical and thus creative thinking. That is where my creative renaissance began.
I have loved this photo more for the experience it represents rather than the actual picture. When I gave these Shalom Primary School students the assignment of enacting the first aid procedure for a burn victim, I dreaded the idea of lecturing each step as the students acted out my words for the photos. Instead, these students began jumping at the opportunity to be actors, volunteering the idea that the kitchen in the school had caught fire and several students were trapped perilously in the flames. I handed the camera over to Collins, our designated Class 5 photographer, as the students burst into action. First they were screaming from the fire, while firefighters (students) ran onto the scene. Pulling yelping victims from the kitchen, they laid them out on the ground as the nurses (also students) tended to their wounds with toilet paper bandages, and all the while Collins snapped one excellent shot after another. Finally Eric, the ‘worst’ burn victim, was picked up by his fellow students and carried in the ambulance all the way to the classroom, wailing the entire time. It was as if I stepped into a movie, and I did not have to do any prompting. I was shocked, until I realized that I was shocked because the students had thought creatively and executed a collective idea without any interference.
One of the greatest challenges teaching here in Tanzania has been the uncertainty about whether the students will even respond. Sometimes we will begin a lesson, hand out photos, ask the students to invent a name for the person in the picture and then receive blank stares. This experience has left me hopeless for the few seconds it takes me to recover and come up with a new way of posing the question so that the students will be more receptive. It was through these lessons that I began to reevaluate my priorities as a teacher and see the importance of creativity.
LTP makes room for creativity, whether it is through participation, pictures, or play; it is a process that engages the creative process and successfully channels it directly into curriculum. My Shalom students were able to take the idea of a burn and connect it scene by scene into a story. They took on roles and personas they didn’t know and had fun while doing it. It was a critical thinking process that inspired education, and allowed students to discover their own knowledge.
Over my time as a teacher I have begun to see that teaching is more about facilitating learning rather than actually teaching information. And thus the onus is on me to be creative and find the right questions to allow students to discover their own knowledge. I have spent countless nights here debating the pros and cons of one lesson plan versus another, racking my brain for a new approach that could solve all my problems. The good news is that it is getting easier- my mind jumps, and sometimes it wanders; but overall I have seen the value in creativity. Most importantly I have given my own creativity room to bloom.
At first I thought I was here to inspire creativity in others, but I have found that in order to do that you must inspire creativity in yourself. You need creativity when you take a photo, you need creativity to write a word problem from a picture of goats, you need creativity to ask questions, and you need creativity for genius. I have seen students and teachers alike light up when they discover a new answer. It is that illuminating effect, which has driven me to make creativity a priority.