A photo reflection by Natalia Gallo

Three weeks into DukeEngage we’ve read pictures, mapped images, created picture alphabets, taken self-portraits, photographed professions, and thought out lesson plans. Throughout this process I’ve learned about LTP, creativity, language barriers, improvisation, and a lot about the art of teaching. Our hard work has been rewarding, for we’ve seen encouraging results both from the teachers and students.


However, the most impactful activity we’ve led so far for me has been the “Slave Trade Alphabet” with the teachers from different Pangani schools. We chose this topic because the city of Pangani was deeply affected by the slave trade, for it is from there that Arabs loaded people into boats to take them to Zanzibar, where they would be sold at slave markets.


Through LTP, I studied slavery in Durham by visiting Historic Stagville, a former slave plantation just 10 minutes away from Duke, and helped Durham 5th graders write narratives from the perspective of a slave owner and a slave. Although the activities would be different, in both cases interacting with powerful historic sites set a serious tone for the activity and I was sure our work would be meaningful.


To create a visual alphabet, you must first brainstorm different words for each letter and then pick one to photograph, print, and write about. We began with the word “A” and the first word that came to my head was “Abolition.” Theirs was “Africa.” A trend started, for as I thought of “Buying,” “Civil War,” “Danger,” the teachers thought of “Boat,” “Culture,” and “Death.” However, it was only when we got to the letter G and my DukeEngage partner Katie and I offered “Guilt” that the difference between our words really hit me, for the teachers looked at us quizzically and suggested “Gate” instead. I realized I had been unintentionally imposing the way that I learned about slavery as a white person in the Americas on people who experienced the other side of it. The other words they chose included “Oppression,” “Resistance,” “Torture,” and “Violence,” revealing a tragic, brutal history. This was difficult to absorb as these raw words evoked so much pain and suffering I had never been directly acquainted with. With the word “guilt” still in my mind, it was surprising to see how openly the teachers threw around these words. I was instantly humbled; arrogantly, I had been expecting to teach them and I was grateful to be having such an intense, impromptu history lesson.


When we walked to town to take the pictures the teachers paused to photograph an old stone building in front of River Pangani. They explained that this was the old customs building where the captured waited for the boats that took them to Zanzibar. We learned there was underground tunnel connecting the building to the river so that the slaves would have no idea where they were being taken.


Standing on the coast looking up at that building I felt as I did in Durham when we visited Historic Stagville: awed, helpless, vulnerable, and deeply touched.

Weak for Tanzania, by Dish Lamichhane

“I didn’t die!” I yelled as we made it back to Arusha home successfully after a one week trip to Pangani. That had become a motto of the trip for me after I survived a treacherous three hour boat ride on the River Pangani (My lack of ability to swim made this quite the feat for me). It was nice to be home. And it was nice to call those cozy Kundayo Apartments home after only three weeks. That’s where my kitchen was—the one in which I learned how to cook good pasta for the first time. That’s where my toaster was with which I made PBJs every morning for breakfast. That’s where my Horcrux Mikey, the cutest, fattest one and a half year-old toddler in all of Tanzania, was. That’s where my real bed was, and oh man did my body realize it after the one I’d slept on for a week. I needed the entirety of Monday to be able to bend my back properly again (and more importantly continue with LTP committee work), before embarking a few hours inland to Babati for a two-day teacher’s workshop starting Tuesday.

In Babati, we worked with about 35 primary school teachers who taught around the area. The teachers were divided into 8 groups, with each group doing half of a visual alphabet on the topics of vocational skills, mathematics, science, and sports. The teachers in my group taught sports at their respective schools, so they were eager to adopt a new teaching method … until they found out I was 19, the age of some of their youngest children. It was frustrating to deal with a lack of participation from some teachers, but I have tried to accept that the age hierarchy is a cultural barrier that is hard to overcome. Regardless of the gap, the teachers came up with some great pictures of sports.

A relatively easy Thursday and Friday back in Arusha were much needed after an unusually tiring time in Babati. On Thursday, we were at Arusha School during the school day for the first time, which was amazing because I worked with some of my after-school kids, and I also did not need to establish leadership because I was already well-respected by them. This made for a stress free day in a familiar environment. On Friday, we observed two classes at Shalom School, a very organized, private school in Arusha where we will be working in a couple of weeks. I realized that Shalom was the first time that I really got to see how classes were typically taught in Tanzania – the students have classwork, practice problems, and homework, and quizzes and tests just as I did growing up. The teachers were kind, the students were respectful, and the atmosphere made me eager to teach there.


Saturday was the extremely anticipated Mt. Kilimanjaro base hike. “Mt. Kilimanjaro”. “Hike”. The most we hiked at Kili was from the bathroom to the bat caves, which were at a lower elevation than the bathrooms. We sneaked in a quick picture with the Kili sign and our Duke flag though so maybe we can tell our friends and family that Kili was majestic, whereas the truth will be that we did not even see the peak because of the clouds. However, we did visit two waterfalls that provided for an exciting (but still scary because again, I cannot swim) time.

On Sunday, we had the lucky opportunity to learn how to cook at one of the most delicious home-cooked-esque restaurants in Arusha, Mirapot Restaurant. We made chapatti, coconut rice, beans, pumpkin leaves, and some other foods that I should have written the names of to remember. Of course the food was delicious, but what I really enjoyed about this activity was the memories it brought because as a kid – let’s be real I’m still a kid – as a pre-teen, I used to make chapatti with my mom all the time and she would always say I was doing a great job no matter how rectangular my chapatti looked. I miss her. And my dad. It was his birthday on Saturday, and the rest of my Duke Engage crew came up with the idea to sing him happy birthday in front of the Kili sign. Unluckily for him, I am lazy and forgetful, so the video did not happen. Luckily for him, I will make it up to him with a video of my Arusha School kids singing instead (sorry crew, they’re cuter).


I have now been in Tanzania for four weeks, which marks the halfway point of this trip. It is crazy to think that in just under a month, I will be back home in Colorado. Time has gone by too fast, but at the same time I feel like I have been here forever. I have learned enough Swahili to carry out a short conversation, bought kangas, eaten Tanzanian food, embraced the idea of LTP, befriended locals, and formed so many bonds with so many children which were all goals I had coming in. And to think, I still have four more weeks to feel weak for Tanzania.

Week Three Letter Home: An Overview and Reflection on “Signals, not noise,” by Helen Liu

“If you could hear this photograph, what would it sound like, smell like…?”

Invoking the five senses is one of my favorite LTP questions to toss out. The students always look at me like I’m a crazy person at first, but soon they’re excitedly discussing various sounds and not being scared to say something silly.


So, what are the five senses like for this third week of DukeEngage Arusha?

  River Pangani


Blue-green – for the never-ending sky and trees. Scarlet for kangas on the street. Magenta for rouge on a mwalimu’s cheeks – opaque in the sunlight, which lit Pangani alive, so bright that even dust shimmered like diamonds. I hearthe constant thunder of waves, the crisp chirping of birds hiding among thick leaves, and the bubbly giggles of children towing their pet crabs on string leashes. The smells of gasoline and coconuts are in the air. To our surprise, we’re lucky enough to taste a few – fresh off the tree! Everything is humidity and heat, combined to make a thick blanket of butter melting over the top of the land, sizzling into our skin.


We spent this last week teaching LTP workshops to both walimu and wanafunzi, teachers and students. After brilliant navigating by Kassim and Bakari, our loveable drivers, we’ve touched ground at both Tanga and Pangani, eight hours on the road each way. We worked with the teachers to create vocabulary related to the Oman-Pangani slave trade, posters relevant to the subjects they taught, word clouds based on example photographs, and more. As for the students, we learned about reading photographs and self-portraits through photography, complete with pictures of students doing everything from beatboxing to playing football (soccer). See photos below for examples.


  Emily and Pangani teachers taking photographs for the vocabulary word “coconuts”,  which were carried by slaves during the Arab slave trade.





 DukeEngagers with students after our workshop.


In addition to LTP workshops, we had the privilege of participating in several local activities. We visited the Pangani education ministry, where the woman in charge spoke about her work in the education field both in Pangani and in Denver, Colorado, where she worked with FastTrack Kids. We also learned about the slave trade from hundreds of years ago, where free men in Pangani and the surrounding region were captured and taken to Oman via the Indian Ocean. Finally, we experimented with beautiful henna patterns and spent our evenings along the Pangani River and Indian Ocean, where I spent equal amounts of time losing in various sports to other beach-goers, accidentally swallowing sea water, and being wowed by the sea’s inhabitants – tiny orange crabs, multi-colored sea dollars, and purple seaweed so thick that it’s an ocean of its own.


River Pangani.


What stands out most from this week to me, however, is a very specific group of walimu. In Tanga, fellow Duke student Nate and I worked with five geography and civics teachers. One of them was a feisty woman – young, well-groomed, and the designated group writer. She was relentless in her questions about LTP. It turns out, she was uncertain about the costs, its similarity to drawing, the lack of resources in local schools, and the time commitment compared with just lecturing at her students. At first I was intimidated with being interrogated, but I soon realized that her fervor showed not only skepticism, but also hope and curiosity and dedication to her students. Being interrogated also forced me to truly put my thoughts together on why LTP is so valuable. Having to defend it gave me a better perspective on how it looks from the eyes of the walimu and what points we need to emphasize – the higher level of understanding and application it enforces, the creativity it fosters, and the interactivity with students. The walimu’s uncertainty reminds us of just how new, how foreign of a method it is to teachers here. We still have a ways to go – but I think all of us knew that.


Uncertain doesn’t mean bad, however. Back to the five senses question – specifically, the sense of hearing. On our way back to Arusha, I spent my hours buried in a book on uncertainty and its necessity to creating something original and worthwhile. The author says that the point is to create “signals, not noise”. It occurs to me how much of education, here and elsewhere, sadly just feels like creating noise. I remember zoning out during high school classes, trying to avoid monitoring the clock’s ever-so-slow travels. Noise. Students at Duke in large lecture halls blindly scribbling notes or gossiping with friends – noise. Wanafunzi here responding to questions from “Where is the photographer standing?” to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with “Yes” – noise.

Only a slight exaggeration of my primary school experience. 


Nevertheless, perhaps the few signals we transmit are strong enough to last past DukeEngage summers. This week, a few teachers inquire curiously about the costs of LTP equipment, hoping to be able to use them in their classrooms – a signal. Some students get extremely creative with their photos, defending a football goal from an imaginary player – a signal. 


  Teachers taking a photograph to represent “Reunion” during an activity focused on the slave trade.


Throughout our weeks, there’s always lots of ups and downs in terms of how successful we feel with LTP. But perhaps when we’re doing something uncertain (read: something original and worthwhile), we have to create quite a bit of noise for every signal. But I think that’s worth it. And I hope, if we could hear it, that’s what this week sounded like.

from Tanzania, a letter home about week two, from Nathan Hsieh

Today marks the end of our second week in Arusha. Things have become much more comfortable as we have overcome jet lag and fallen into a routine: Swahili lessons with Godson and Beatrice in the morning, LTP classes with Meru Primary School students through the afternoon, and after school programs with Arusha School students into the evening.

Learning Swahili while we have been here has been incredibly useful to us, as both teachers and guests of Tanzania. Godson reminded us daily that “language is culture,” and being able to speak the language of Arusha has allowed us entrance to the heart of the city. Besides being able to better communicate with the teachers and students that we work with, being slightly competent in Swahili has enabled us to greet the locals that we come in contact with, hold basic conversations, and even bargain for the week’s groceries at the local fruit and vegetable market. But most importantly, learning Swahili has begun to transform us from a group of wazungu (foreigners) into a group of teachers and learners, ready to dive into the culture of Tanzania and willing to meet the Tanzanian people where they are.

Initially, working with the Class 6 students at Meru Primary School proved to be a bit challenging. Some of the students knew very little English and we had not learned enough vocabulary to perfectly explain LTP techniques in Swahili. However, through repetition and patience, we introduced both groups of Class 6 students to basic LTP concepts and techniques, and had them imagine and photograph professions and alphabets. The students worked quickly and excitedly; they loved both taking the photographs and being in the pictures as well. The novelty of the camera as well as the encouragement to be boundlessly creative seemed to give the students an energetic drive. They would take multiple pictures of each scene with different students taking turns being the photographer and the subject of the photograph. To enrich their photographs, the students went all throughout the school grounds and pulled out seemingly every resource the school had to offer.

At the Arusha School, we continued our afterschool programs that we had been holding for the boarding students. These students stay pretty much consistent throughout our time here in Tanzania, and we will be meeting with them almost every day that we are in Arusha. The constancy is crucial to relationship building, and building relationships with the students has made the sessions much more effective. As teachers, we get excited when we see daily improvement in our students, pushing us to come up with bigger and better lessons for our students. The students have come to expect us daily as well, and they have an insatiable hunger and incredible capacity to learn new things. In the span of two weeks, we have watched them learn new languages, new songs, new dances, and much more. But the students of Arusha School are not the only ones who are learning; the students of Duke University are learning as well, about the culture and lifestyle of Tanzania, about bridging the gap between two different worlds. The students of Arusha have graciously welcomed us to their home, and simply by allowing us to share our experiences and culture with them, they have expanded our vision and knowledge of the world.

Swahili words in pictures and signs

This post features examples from two overlapping LTP projects. In the first, a group of teachers of young children from various schools in Arusha, Tanzania made photographs illustrating the Swahili alphabet. For each letter of the alphabet teachers chose a common Swahili word, directed a photograph capturing the word’s meaning, and designed teaching aids with the prints.

In the second project we shared the teachers’ work with a group of students in Meru Primary School’s special hearing impaired unit. The students decided how to show the sign language version of each word from A for Andika (to write) to Z for Zao (to peel). This is the third  summer we’ve had the chance to work with the hearing impaired students, who are becoming expert at LTP. The words are as follows: U: Uso face; S: Soma to read; T: Tazama to look; B: Banjili bracelet; L: Lala to sleep; D: Darasa classroom; N:Nuna to sleepI: Imba to sing; K: Kofia hat. 


dig deep and get close, a photo reflection by Nathan Hsieh

This photograph, taken for a student alphabet project, depicts the face of one of the students at Meru Primary School. The particular word was “nose,” and I remember having to use steady hands at an extremely short distance in order to take the photograph. I did not use the camera’s zoom feature or find a special angle to mimic nearness; instead I simply got close. During our time here in Tanzania, I have found that in order to make the biggest impact possible, we must embrace proximity – not only physical proximity, but cultural and relational closeness as well. It would be much harder to accomplish anything if we stayed in our comfort zones and kept the Tanzanian teachers and school children an arm’s length away.


Learning Kiswahili was one large step towards proximity. Godson, one of our Kiswahili teachers, reminded us almost daily that “language is culture.” By taking the time and effort to learn the language of the people we are working with, we are leaving our comfort zone and entering cultural proximity. Beatrice, our other Kiswahili teacher, reassured us encouragingly that even if we connect the bits and pieces of Kiswahili that we have been taught to English to make “KiswaEnglish,” we will be well received. At first this idea puzzled me; I thought that it would be better to use my obvious foreign appearance as an excuse to avoid having to stumble through my weak Kiswahili phrases than to butcher the language and perhaps come across as foolish or offensive. However, the more time I have spent here, the more I realize that Beatrice was right. Simply attempting Kiswahili demonstrates a desire to know the customs and lifestyle of the Tanzanian people; it achieves cultural proximity and ultimately brings us and the Tanzanian people with whom we’re working closer together.


I have also discovered the importance of relational closeness with the teachers and students that we try to teach.  Simple things such as memorizing the students’ names and learning their personalities can make a large difference in the classroom. It is much easier to teach students who capture my interest and care than to teach nameless strangers because the teaching becomes about enriching a friend’s life, rather than being about accomplishing an agenda for myself. Though it would be quicker and perhaps easier to remain disconnected from the people we work with here in Tanzania, we would miss out on so much if we chose to stay distant. We are learning so much about the world and about ourselves through the interactions we have with Tanzanian people, and so though it may become tiring, I am learning that it is imperative that we dig deep and get close.

Acting Attraction, a photo reflection by Emily Yang


Learning through Play is one of the most exciting P’s to carry out (in all our versions of LTP, including learning through pictures and learning through participation), and one of the hardest to communicate across a language barrier. And yet, the process and the results are always memorable. Case in point: we were conducting a teacher’s workshop in Pangani, working with primary school science teachers to create visual aids in the classroom. Previous LTP examples in science were mostly body parts, the skeleton, or the five senses. Our group created our own versions of these, and they were useful visual aids, but not terribly unique.

As we rested by a hospital building, the idea of acting, specifically pretending to be a virus infecting a person’s immune system, popped into my head. My partner Helen and I tried a series of wild hand gestures, broken Kiswahili, and some acting of our own to express that many of the microscopic or cosmic events around us can’t be seen, but it is possible to act them out to make photographic representations. We thought this might also help with teaching more theoretical concepts through the ease of direct observation.


What followed was a fascinating series of photos from the teachers. The pictures above are my personal favorites, with positive and negative charges illustrating attraction and repulsion. Magnetism and electricity in real time.


The gender differences are incorporated as a clever and subtle addition. In fact, one of the teachers pointed out the possibility of using the same set of photos in HIV/AIDS education to reduce transmission risk, which I thought was extremely resourceful. When we set out we had no idea that this is where the project would go, but we were very happy with the results as well as energized from the exercise. 

Cameras are not always available for teachers, but their students’ energy is. Play-acting brings the textbook to life in a wholly different way, either in the process of learning or in applying previously acquired knowledge. And by appealing to all the senses including touch and motion, participatory education can thus extend both inside and outside the classroom, shaping how students perceive the concepts they learn in school in their environment and the world around them. You play, and then you learn.