“Pole, pole.” By Minette Yao

“Pole, pole.”

Since the very first day, this little catchphrase, (“slowly, slowly”) has been thrown out at us, the hurried wazungu (foreigners), nearly everywhere we go. Take your time, there’s no hurry, … relax. But by virtue of the very fact that I am mzungu, it took me a very long time to slow down and really do that.

Had I listened to the two things Tanzanians always repeat—nenda pole (go slowly) and hakuna matata (no worries), maybe I wouldn’t have gotten so caught up in the initial, inevitable hindrances we encountered getting LTP started here in Arusha. The process of finding a place for LTP here has definitely had its share of bumps in the road, but slowly, slowly the project seems to be finding a comfortable spot for itself.

The range of settings we’ve experimented with over the past six weeks have been like little wiggles for settling into this vastly new cultural context.

Tripping Over Our Feet
We began with a project at Arusha School, the English-medium school just down the street from our apartments. We followed the LTP process as outlined in a mini-workshop we had participated in alongside some teachers from the area—beginning with reading pictures, making lists of details, crafting stories about what the pictures showed. The LTP methodology got a little lost in our encumbering American accents; the teachers, eager to allow the class to remain uninhibited, made sure to stay away from the classroom. Our limited amount of Swahili meant that neither the students nor us were able to fully understand each other at all times. Not such good news for a project focused on self-expression.

Maybe we had been gradually been getting through to our students, but where was the sustainability that LTP was looking for? We moved on to a much larger workshop with teachers from further reaches of the area, many of them from the teacher’s college a few towns over. This workshop seemed to be the answer.

I was comforted by the way a generous handful of the teachers had picked up on our LTP mindset, hopeful for their ability to then take it back to their schools and implement it. But with the end of the workshop, it seemed that a number of the teachers were hesitant to actually use the methodology in practice for the very first time and unsure of its practicality. They hadn’t really been able to experience it yet.

So, we struck up a 3-day project with two schools where especially engaged and enthusiastic teachers worked. My school, in this case, was Shalom Primary School, a rather selective private school where we worked last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Rather than inserting ourselves into a classroom, a few of the brightest students were pulled from standards 4, 5, and 6, (ages ranging from 9 to 13). The isolated group of 30 students explored LTP with the helpful guidance of three Shalom teachers who had attended the second workshop.

For me, who initially felt bogged down by the slow discovery process, I began to see a steady progression of improvement. With each new setting, we were discovering more about the workings of the education system and getting to know exactly what we were working with. By fully exploring the possibilities of our surroundings, we are slowly, slowly figuring out the best way to navigate it.

Maintaining the Pace
The work we began this Monday only confirmed this unhurried realization. Three of us began work at Uhuru Primary, a Swahili-medium school. Our initial doubts about the seemingly impenetrable language barrier were swept away when we saw how much better it worked out for everyone involved.

After the students trickled in to the classroom following their morning assembly, Fabian, the teacher in our classroom of standard 7 students, conducted the class. Following closely along with what we said in English to the class, he would translate, explain, and embellish in Swahili. Watching him engage with the LTP method hands-on, it soon became clear that this set-up was an effective learning process for all of us involved. While Fabian spoke, the three of us were able to witness his involvement with LTP methods, and saw the gears start to turn in the students’ heads, who were not hindered by unfamiliar words. Fabian picked up on the process and practice of really using LTP with the guidance of our experiences from the past month and a half. During the reading pictures exercise, his students were able to do things like make their list of details in Swahili. This really seemed to facilitate their ability to pick up on details they would not have been able to even begin to name in English. And all the while, the three of us were able to pick up on a tiny bit of Swahili!

Nenda pole, ufike. (“Go slowly, arrive.”)
Though it seems wearisome that we could not have immediately begun with this sort of arrangement, I think it was necessary for us to first experience everything we had done leading up to the point. The first experience in the classrooms at Arusha School was what gave us the familiarity and comfort of working with LTP methods, which we were then able to effectively share with the teachers whose classrooms we join. The second workshop showed the basics of sustainability, allowing us to implement LTP here in Arusha, able to operate independent of a Duke presence. And the work at Shalom reassured me of the vast potential of students here to grasp the concepts that LTP tries to share.

The collection of experiences has allowed me to see our struggles as context for the relative success that I saw today as so rewarding. Looking at where we started, it’s actually satisfying to know how much we’ve learned through going pole, pole. With this relaxed stroll, we’ve been given to opportunity to take it all in. And stumble upon a much better idea of how to implement LTP here to work with for the future.

One thought on ““Pole, pole.” By Minette Yao

  1. Minette,
    I am organizing a resource for teachers in Brooklyn about LTP and I stumbled on your blog post with LTP. I didn’t get to fully read it, though I want to! BUT, the crazy thing is that I was in Mwanza, Tanzania LAST summer running my own LTP project. I had visited Wendy Ewald at Duke and was immediately inspired. I also “ran” a similar program in Pemba, Mozambique that same summer. I had 2 participants, brothers, actually. WOW, is all I can say. the images these children have created are outstanding and were on display in a local coffee shop. Now, I am a special needs teacher in Brooklyn. Let’s connect, my desire to is implement LTP in my classroom. I have high hopes of returning to Tanzania…I actually made contact with a taxi driver in Dar who wanted me to come to Arusha. SO, looking forward to hearing from you when you have a free moment.
    All the best,
    Miriam Walls

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