Colors, a photo reflection by Camila Vargas

Blog Post 2.1 Colors. Some can see red, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. But, I … I see light yellow, I see lime green, seafoam green, cerulean, carmine… I see golden yellow, and sunset orange, and ultramarine blue.

Not everyone knows, but each pencil has engraved on the side, close to the top where it cannot get sharpened away, a unique code. I learned this early and I used to sit on the living room floor with dozens of my mom’s color pencils in front of me. I would spend innumerable hours putting them in order and observing how beautiful they looked when arranged together.

I now believe that by doing this, I slowly developed the ability to distinguish hues and shades. This practice evolved into the habit of color coding and creating gradients wherever I can, and it nourished a close relationship between me and… color. For me, there are few feelings like that of walking into an art store and looking at the wall where yarns and markers and oil paints are organized in gradients. Colors awaken a side of me that is sensitive, careful, and patient.

This summer I had the opportunity to share the love that I have for colors, with different students in Arusha. In the picture you can see Jesca from Meru Primary School sitting next to a row of pencils that we arranged together. We first read the name on every pencil and colored randomly in a piece of paper so that we could compare it to others of the same hue. Jesca quickly realized blue is not just blue and yellow is not just yellow. Sharing this quirkiness of mine, this passion of mine, with Jesca meant sharing a very fond part of my childhood and an intimate part of who I am.

I also had the chance to share color wheels with my students at Arusha school. Each one painted their own gurudumu la rangi by starting from the three primary colors: yellow, blue and red. In their unique ways, they all expressed awe as orange emerged when they moved their brushes in circles mixing yellow and red.

Throughout these past two months, with their smiles, their questions, and their complaints, my students awoke a side of me that is enthusiastic, listens carefully and is understanding. With Jesca and with my kids at Arusha School, I experienced what it feels like when your students fall in love with the things that you love, the very things that move you … And that is a feeling that beats walking into art stores.

Camila Blog Post 3

G is for God, a photo reflection by Kara Fox

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My entire life, people have wanted to know about my faith. They ask a lot of questions. “What religion are you?” “Do you believe in God?” In Africa, at one of the teacher workshops, I got: “Are you Christian or Muslim?”

These are questions I’m not particularly good at answering. I’ve found something that works alright: “I am open-minded and I like to learn as much as I can.” It doesn’t really cover it all. But it is true.

Though my religious identity isn’t clear-cut (whose is, really? Faith is difficult), my life has not been without religion. I went to Jewish daycare and preschool and still eat matzo all the time as a snack. I went to many Christian churches and a few camps with my friends growing up. I went to Unitarian Universalist church for a while when I was little – I loved to light candles at the services, and I read the magazine whenever it came in our mail. I also read the books on world religions that my mom bought us, and in middle school and high school, I enjoyed looking up and finding meaning in spiritual and philosophical quotes online. In college I seemed to befriend the entire Jewish population of the greater New York area and celebrated my first Passover this year. I just spent two months in a very Muslim community in Africa during the holy month of Ramadan. I don’t belong in any one place. I have learned about many places, and felt benefits of many of them, but I have felt that I don’t completely fit anywhere.

Not that it’s anyone’s business what I do or don’t believe, but I’d rather put something out there than have people fill in the gaps with their own assumptions. Another thing I’ve had going on my whole life is having people try to speak for me or give me what they think I need. No one has bad intentions, but I’ve realized that I need to speak for myself. My parents advised me that I shouldn’t talk about religion or politics with people because those conversation subjects can lead to conflict quickly if there is disagreement. I don’t like conflict. I have a very diplomatic personality. My fourth grade teacher called me “peacekeeper”. Sometimes it makes sense to hold my tongue to keep things running smoothly. But it’s also not fair to stay silent to keep someone else comfortable if it hurts me.

In the loosest possible (and probably most cliché) wording, I believe in something bigger. Love, movement, light – powerful things we can’t touch, but we can feel. In the slower moments of the last two months, these strong forces have been working together, around me. I often found myself in awe, taking it in, reflecting on their presence, my presence, and the presence of everything else.

One week, I was working with a group of students to come up with words for a photographic alphabet about dreams. For G, one suggested God. Oh boy. I wasn’t sure how we were going to visualize God in a picture, and I worried that it would probably be offensive.

We headed outside and I asked the kids for ideas of what to photograph. Simultaneously, they all pointed up to the sky. I couldn’t help but laugh. Okay, yeah, we’ll put the sky in the picture. It made sense. The sky doesn’t begin or end, it surrounds. Sounds like the right idea.

But we need to make this picture about God. Not the sky. How will we do that? Why is God important? What does God mean to you? Why did you choose God for dreams?

Selemani, a fifteen-year-old boy, told me that he prays to God to help him through his life and to accomplish his goals. To represent that, he asked another student to take the picture below:

He is praying. Behind him is the sky, supporting him, letting him shine, yet beautiful on its own. This picture took my breath away because of its universality. I think it shows what people get out of religion and spirituality – he looks so peaceful. It shows things that cannot be seen. I saw a quote at Shalom School that says it better that I can: “The beautiful Hebrew word ‘shalom’ means ‘I understand, being complete, having all a person requires for a happy and meaningful life. It encompasses the whole of human life: spiritual, intellectual, social and material. The world desperately needs shalom.”

Religion is such a huge part of Tanzanian culture, so I found myself reflecting on it even more everywhere I went.

I went shopping for kangas, beautiful pieces of fabric with African designs and Swahili sayings. I was trying to find one with a saying that was meaningful and relevant to my life. Many of them were religious in nature, and since I was thinking that religion wasn’t a huge part of who I was, I was trying to find one that wasn’t. I ended up finding a gorgeous navy blue piece with gold stars that I couldn’t pass up. The saying on it was “Ee Mungu Twakushukuru”, which translated to “Oh God, we thank you”. At the time, I thought that even though that phrase wasn’t ideal for me, I had to buy it anyway.

I got the kanga made into a dress that I wore on the last day with the students in my afterschool dance program. They were very excited that I was wearing it, exclaiming, “Teacher, this is our culture!” and “Teacher, you look smart”. They held the hemline of my dress gently and slowly read it aloud. “Oh God, we thank you, teacher, it is nice.” And I felt thankful, looking at their deep brown eyes, their polite smiles, for whatever force, however godly, brought us together, if only for a little. As we hugged goodbye, my oldest one whispered, “God willing, we will meet again.” I breathed in the sweet scent of their little heads. They always smelled like soap. (Meanwhile, as a camp counselor I’ve noticed that American kids, though also lovable, smell like spit.)

Our group was spirited. I watched them dance and smile and I watched the sunlight catch the dust that they kicked up. Somehow, we were all there. We weren’t alone, either.

I’m home now. We talked a lot about our homes, our privilege, in reflection sessions. It was something that was always on my mind – why was I born where I was, with the family, things, and opportunities I have? What energy in the universe laid out my life that way?

It is a privilege to reflect on privilege. To feel lucky for all the good things that I have. To think about all of the blessings that I have been given, whoever or whatever gave them. I think that they were given, because I have received them. I have felt, seen, taken in many small wonders. I’m still not really sure I can put it into words. I am not sure that is something that I will ever be able to do. Perhaps some things in this world are just too big for that.

A Change in Perspective, an Adjustment of Perception, a photo reflection by Brittain Hughes

It’s a funny thing how perspectives change. They change even by the very slightest of circumstances. Even by just taking one step. One step and I was already on a plane. One step and everything already seemed as if it were behind me, done.

While starting on the first flight of my 3-leg travel home, I was casually flipping through pictures and the minute I saw one from our final LTP exhibition, I got really sad about leaving.

Up to this point, I was ready to head home. I had seen my time in Tanzania as successful. I felt like I had learned a lot, so, I was ready to go home and see my family. I was ready to leave it all in the past, for it to be a memory… I was ready until I saw this picture.

Brittain

I don’t know why it was this photo but it hit me how much I will miss this place. Tanzania is somewhere I can say feels a bit like another home. Now, technically looking back at it already, separated from it all, I can really appreciate how unique and incredible an experience it was. I realized I learned so much more than I even thought about before, because I was caught up in stress and the busyness of our work.

But above all of that, I learned how to integrate into a new culture and I learned about how incredibly difficult it is. I learned about the kinds of barriers I would face trying to enter in; namely language, cultural, racial, etc.

I learned that group dynamics could be more difficult than I had expected. But I also learned from those hard group dynamics about when I should speak up, when I should stay quiet to listen, and how to be more cognizant of word choice.

From schools, I learned how helpful structure could be, but also the importance of allowing students to be creative and generate their own ideas through problem-solving.

From our community partner Pelle, I learned that even if we speak the same language, there can be a lot that is lost in translation.

From my new friend Zahra, I learned that sometimes you have to look hard to find the people you will love the most.

From our driver Hassan, I learned how language and verbal communication is important but not always necessary for relationships to grow.

And from a staff person at Kundayo Apartments, Agape, I learned to value everything in life, and to see things in a positive light always, for what is the point in seeing a glass as half empty?

So, I just want to say thank you. Thank you Tanzania for all the wonderful things I have been able to learn. Thank you to all of the amazing people there for welcoming me in. Thank you Katie and Kamal for leading our group in such a respectful and open-minded fashion. Thank you to my classmates for working well together and getting through tough situations. And thank you DukeEngage for providing me with this opportunity.

Kwaheri, Tanzania, nitakukosa wewe lakini tutaonana tena.

Goodbye, Tanzania, I will miss you but we will meet again.

Fractions and Wholes, a reflection by Kara Fox

Fractions_29

This morning, we taught an LTP lesson about fractions at Shalom School. Adrian and I explained to the students that fractions are all about the parts of a whole, and talked about the idea of complements: how every part has another part that fits with it to make something complete. For example, if I eat one third of a pizza, there are two thirds leftover for later, and together, three thirds add up to one whole pizza. We asked the kids for other examples of real-life fractions, emphasizing that everything they can see in the world is made up of smaller pieces.

I could think of one – the process of teaching reflects the material that we taught. There are eight of us Duke students and we are about as different as it gets. Though we have varying teaching styles, strengths, and weaknesses, each individual has to come together with the others to teach as a team.

We often find ourselves in unexpected situations due to miscommunication and have to adjust quickly. Bouncing ideas back and forth with another person in the moment makes this necessary improvising a lot easier. Yesterday, we were observing a sixth grade civics lesson about the advantages and disadvantages of watching television when the teacher said, “Okay, now our visitors are going to come up and tell you more about this lesson.” This announcement completely took us by surprise, but we got up and walked to the front of the room. We paused for a moment and made eye contact with each other – an unspoken “we got this” – and then Adrian began speaking, moving a piece of chalk across the blackboard. “Another disadvantage of television is that it takes a lot of time.” Amused by this classic busy-Duke-student answer, I jumped in: “One show can take up to an hour to watch. What are some other things that you can do with your time?” Students’ hands shot up, snapping. Instead of TV, they answered, they could study, exercise, cook, do chores, or play sports.

Adrian and I had never learned about the perils of television directly in school, but were able to tap quickly into our own knowledge and play off each other to create a quick, meaningful lesson. When one of us needed a moment to think about what to say next, the other sensed the hesitation and started to speak. We complement each other well.

Aside from being able to work together as a unit, everyone is a good teacher individually, which is seen from the changing effects on the class when a certain person starts to talk. A fun teacher holds students’ attention and has them smiling, leading games or cracking jokes during the lesson. A firm teacher keeps control in the room and challenges students to think harder and deeper, demanding respect and maintaining expectations. A quiet teacher is trusted by the students and approached when they have difficulty with a task, easy to talk to and share ideas with. Added together, these parts make a strong group.

It’s funny how teaching is very much a learning process. We can prepare our supplies and our lesson plan ahead of time, but in all of our experiences we’ve figured out that we have to adapt to the dynamics of our students and the strengths and weaknesses of our coworkers as we go. We have to listen to each other and pay attention to the needs of others. When we do that, everyone comes together to create a perfect whole.

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The Benefits I see, a photo reflection by Camila Vargas

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This picture was taken by a standard 4 student at Swifts Primary School in Arusha. We were working on a project about identifying who they are today, and the girl jumping in the picture chose netball as something meaningful to her. After I suggested a couple of options, the girl holding the camera lay flat on the ground and pointed it upwards. We called “one, two, three, jump” and the result was extraordinary.

As a photographer myself, I got used to laying on the floor, moving to diverse locations, and shifting to unexpected poses to get the best shots. In the process, I got used to planning, thinking outside the box, and stepping outside my comfort zone in order to come up with creative compositions. This became natural to me and so, if I had seen this shot a couple of months ago, I would have thought ‘beautiful’ or ‘interesting,’ but nothing close to ‘extraordinary’.

Nonetheless, working with students in Durham and here in Arusha has revealed to me the intractable way in which we learn scripts and the tenacious way in which we follow them. In our contexts, we are taught particular ways of working and of looking at the world. An example is the way we label papers: at my school in Colombia we used to write the date on the upper left corner and our names on the upper right corner; in San Francisco, where I lived for a year, we wrote our name, the date and the subject all on the top right corner; at Meru Primary School, here in Arusha, students trace a line with their rulers at the top of the page and write their names above it. Students at each of these places learn one way of marking their work and stick to it, maybe even carrying those habits into high school and college.

When creating visual aids with different students, I have noticed that they paste their printed pictures on the top left corner of the page. Every single time. Even when I try suggesting other orientations, students tend to follow their already ingrained practices and the pictures end up in the top left corner, again and again. I have also observed that when taking pictures outside, students always start by holding the camera in landscape orientation right in front of their face. They try to include their subject just like they see it and are hesitant to try something where their subject is not depicted in its entirety.

Yet, through LTP activities students and teachers start trying new things and get progressively more creative. For some, squatting to take the picture is great progress, for others, getting really close to the subject is an advance. In the picture above, falling to the ground and pointing the camera upwards was outside of the girl’s comfort zone, but she tried it, making this shot extraordinary.

During the first LTP sessions, students usually have trouble if they can’t find what they want to photograph. To photograph ‘mango’ I need a mango, right? (wrong). Yet, as they get more practice, they become better problem solvers and start to play with frame, point of view and time to depict things that are actually not there. In the picture, the girls jumping, together with the wooden pole that falls outside the frame allow the viewer to see ‘netball’ even when we didn’t have a net or a ball. This ability to think outside the box is another reason why the picture is extraordinary.

Coming back to why I chose this picture: this shot is the result of a creative process that I would have never imagined is so difficult to teach and to learn. It is the result of students problem solving and stepping outside their comfort zones. It shows that students have begun to understand interpretation. It represents, for me, some of the many benefits I have started to recognize in LTP.

I have to accept that when I started learning about LTP, I was skeptical and often too focused on how the methodology would aid learning factual knowledge (which it also does). However, working day after day with different types of learners, with adults and children, with 3rd graders and 6th graders, has allowed me to see that the real benefits are much more abstract and much more durable: observation skills, learning by doing, problem solving, visual literacy, challenge by choice, kinesthetic and embodied learning…the list goes on. These are not the bullet points we usually find in a curriculum, but these are some of the abilities, skills and traits that make students creative innovators. And, to be honest, these skills are much harder to teach and transmit than are definitions and facts.

Light Photography, a photo reflection by Andrea Kim

Biltyur2 On Thursday, Ziqi, Chamas, Adrian, and I began our two-day “Light Photography” project with a lesson on how a camera works. We wanted to emphasize how a painter’s tool is paint and a photographer’s tool is light. We gave the 5th and 6th grade students at Swifts Academy a half-sheet of paper, which they colored with a single color. Each student and their colored paper represented a ray of light. Then, I stood in the back of the classroom holding a paper that read “Light Source,” with an image of a sun. Each student walked to the “Light Source” then walked to the chalkboard and stuck their “ray of light” onto a frame, which represented a photograph. After this interactive exercise we explained how a photograph is comprised of millions and millions of these rays of light.

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Students place their “ray of light” onto the frame to simulate how light makes a picture.

Then, we explained that to create a light painting, the background needs to be dark so that the flashlight is the sole light source. We made this an interactive discussion by asking the students questions and encouraging them to take guesses of how sample light photos were created. Afterwards, each student was given a sheet of paper to practice drawing what they intended on painting the next day in front of the camera. The main challenge was helping the students understand that they needed to write a word backwards because the camera captures the reflection. For instance, students would need to write “MOT” in order to see “TOM” on their picture. To practice we asked students to paint in reverse in front of the class, while classmates guessed the word they were trying to paint.

On Friday we rearranged the desks in the classroom for more open space, and with the help of three teachers, covered the windows with curtains and kitenges. We arranged two cameras on tripods back to back, and had six students in the classroom at a time with the rest waiting outside. Meanwhile, Adrian printed the photos in the room next door, so those who finished taking their photo could begin pasting and decorating their images.

Throughout the process, the students were engaged and excited. I thought our project exhibited LTP goals because the students were required to think critically and use their problem solving skills in a context entirely different than their typical classroom activities. For example, many students had a difficult time understanding the concept of writing in reverse, even after we spent a good amount of time the first day explaining and practicing the concept. On Friday, I worked outside with the students waiting in line to do the light photography. One by one we practiced once more, writing the words backwards with sticks in the dirt. When students felt the immediacy of taking their photograph, I noticed they made sure they were writing the correct way and memorizing it. For instance, the student who painted the word “DOG” initially drew one letter on top of the other. By Friday, however, she responded to our suggestions and moved her body right to left while writing and flipping the letters.

Initially, I was critical of the complexity of the process. My main concern was whether the exercise could be replicated in a classroom without us LTP interns, who have access to tripods, professional cameras, and technical skills with these cameras. (The focus of our LTP teacher workshops is to encourage sustainable methods of participatory learning with the available resources.) However, I found the exercise to be valuable in and of itself and to have a purpose of its own. It resonated with LTP’s philosophy in that we made the most of the resources available to us at the time. It challenged us as teachers to be creative and flexible in executing an ambitious exercise. For me personally, the success of this exercise reflects the potential of being creative with resources and working through new lesson plans.

Furthermore, the lesson about how a camera works is easily replicable with the resources available within a typical Tanzanian classroom. Even if the actual light photography on Friday was a special exercise for the students, teaching light (in a Science class, for example) in an applicable way (how a camera works) by having the students simulate rays of light when a photo is taken, is a fun example of participatory learning.

Finally, on a technical note, something I would do differently is to have a more organized method of communication about each of the stations (taking pictures, printing, decorating) for crowd control.

Water and Happiness, a photo reflection by Katherine Morawa

Makes us happy

Towards the end of our trip we visited Saint Joseph’s, a Catholic school for girls. Most of our LTP collaborations were with primary schools, so I was excited to work with older students for a change. St. Joseph’s works with a Sister Cities of Durham program that focuses on improving access to water. Since the school moved out of the center of the city it has been difficult for them to find an adequate source that is not too expensive. So, for our LTP project we wanted to focus on this issue of access to water. The students are all aware of the issue, and I was excited to get started. Each group was given a different subtopic, and the goal of my group was to show the advantages of water.

To brainstorm about our topic I asked the girls think about what it would be like if they had no water at all. I told them to imagine what they do when they wake up, as they go to school, and to think about all the parts of their day but without water. Then I asked them what they would not have in this scenario. I asked them to tell me what is missing when you don’t have water. The girls rattled off many different answers including anything from diminished health to problems with irrigation, but one particular answer stood out to me. One of the girls said, “Without water you can’t have happiness.”

This answer really struck me, and it made me reflect on how often I use water and how important it is to my life. I thought about the shower that I took in the morning and how it was definitely too long. I thought about the half cup of water it took to brush my teeth and the bottle of water I drank in the morning. I thought about every drop of water.

What was even more impressive was the way they set out to take the picture. I am struck by the way that the water is falling and how the girls are smiling.

That day at St. Joseph’s the girls in my group taught me a lot. Granted at every school with every student I learned a lot, but this seemed so applicable to my every day life. I know that I don’t understand all the complexities of the water situation at St. Joseph’s, but I do know that I can be more conscious about how I use water. Water does give us the opportunity to be happy, and that’s something I came to better appreciate that day.