A reflection from Tanzania, Ami Kabadi

This past week was the start of two very new experiences here in Tanzania: teaching and the homestay.

School in Tanzania: the same and different

The students themselves aren’t that different than in America. I am working with a group of standard three students, ages 8-10. They are loud and rambunctious until you ask them a question in class. Then they are shy and quiet. We practically have to pull information out of them during class. After talking with some other Duke Engagers and teachers here, I think that this behavior is partially due to them being shy around strangers, partially that they are uncomfortable speaking in English to native speakers, and partially because in the existing school atmosphere. My impression is that students aren’t typically asked to make presentations in front of the class. I think that children in the US are also shy about public speaking, but from a young age we are forced to face this fear through class assignments.

While the kids themselves are not that different, the school atmosphere, itself, couldn’t be more different. First, the facilities are nowhere near what we have in the US. There are broken windows, few teaching aids, and chunks of concrete missing from the road. (And the school which we are currently working in was once an elite private school.)

Teachers here are given the utmost respect. Whenever a teacher enters the room, all the students stand in unison and greet them: good morning, (teacher’s name). As the Duke Engage group is classified as teachers, we receive the same greeting whenever we enter the room. While I think that it is great that teachers receive so much respect here, I can’t help but question whether the respect is always deserved. It is commonplace for teachers to arrive to class 10-15 minutes late. Sometimes teachers don’t show up at all.

One thing that I have found very surprising about the school organization here is how often students are left unattended. In the US, students are ALWAYS supervised. Students here may go the entire morning at school without even seeing a teacher if a teacher is sick or absent for some other reason. There are no substitutes.

To me, leaving children unattended and teachers regularly being late to class are unacceptable occurrences. But in a society where punctuality doesn’t appear to be a big deal and the life motto is hakuna matata (no worries), I am unsure of what locals think and whether it is even a concern at all.

The goal of LTP is to start a program that is sustainable once we leave. Trying to make this vision a reality has been quite challenging. On the days that teachers know that we are coming to their class, they tend to not come. One of the teachers has told us that this was done by design. He was afraid that his presence in the class would hamper his kid’s creativity. While his concern us understandable, we want to provide a model for the teachers. I believe that the teachers’ presence in the class is required for them to fully understand the utility of LTP and how it can be adapted for use in their normal course schedule. I worry that LTP won’t continue once we leave and instead be seen as a “fun project that the Americans come and do with the kids.” At first I wasn’t sure if this program is good fit for the Tanzania and if this type of learning is conducive in the existing educational system. Now that we have been working in the classes for a while and I have been able to see the children’s work, I know that it is possible. LTP can work here in Tanzania and that the children have much to gain from the experiences. I just hope that the work does not stop in our absence.

Overall, it has been an amazing experience working here in Arusha. The kids seem to look forward to our visits and the teachers are always warm and welcoming. I can already see that through this program the students are becoming more creative and starting to think outside of the box.


For me there have been a few large cultural differences which I didn’t notice until I was in my homestay: a different meal schedule, the presence of a ‘house girl,’ and the lack of male involvement in the family.

There is a very different living schedule here. People rise very early in the morning, around 6am to get ready for work. There is a light breakfast of bread and chai. Lunch isn’t served until around 2pm and then dinner at between 8-9pm. Furthermore, there is no snacking between meal times. I have trouble going 6 hours without any food. The hardest thing is that since people get up so early in the morning, they also go to bed very early. Typically we eat dinner, have some more chai and then go straight to bed. It is very hard for me to go to bed right after eating.

I can’t get used to the presence of a ‘house girl.’ A house girl is the equivalent of a maid in the US, but is treated more like a servant. Our house girl is the first to rise in the morning and the last to bed at night. She is on the beckon call of my mama every moment of the day. Her duties range from household chores like laundry and cooking to random requests from my mama. I understand that she is paid for her services and that should she not have this job, she would have no source of income. I just can’t get over the fact that she is asked to do such menial tasks that could very easily be done on one’s own. For example, my Mama calls the house girl to the dinner table from across the house to fetch a piece of paper from across the room. For this 24/7 service, the house girl is only paid 20,000 shillings a month, or less than 20 dollars. I can’t help but compare her life to my own. I make more in two hours at work than she does in an entire month. My mama describes the house girl as part of the family, but I have trouble accepting that statement.

Another shock has been the absence of what I consider a “typical” family structure. In my homestay house, my mama has been raising her four children completely on her own. At the moment she is also taking care of Adam, her 4 year-old grandson. (Adam’s mother lives close by as she is studying to become a lawyer).

I’ve noticed that it’s common for women to care for their children on their own, without much support from the children’s father. I’ve heard that some men drink heavily and spend their time and money at the bar. Some women may be unable to divorce their husbands—possibly because they live in a male dominated society. From my conversations with my homestay family and from observing other households, an absent male figure appears to be very normal. So far, I only know of the existence of one nuclear family here in Arusha.

The most noteworthy part of my homestay has been the hospitality that I have experienced. My host family bends over backwards to make me feel at home and make sure that I have everything that I need/want. In Tanzania people are the most welcoming that I have ever experienced.

While I have only been in Tanzania for three short weeks, I feel that I have learned more about the world than I have in my entire time in college. I have always been told about the problems faced in third world countries, but hearing is not the same as experience. In Tanzania I am experiencing first-hand the challenges in improving an educational system and the obstacles that women face on a daily basis.

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