Good things take time, a photo reflection by Nathan Glencer

Good things take time. In the United States, that simple phrase is a clichéd consolation. So what if you didn’t make the soccer team this year, just practice and maybe next year you’ll not only make the team but also be a key defender in a critical game. The wisdom of proverbs has often been marginalized for me. Rather than reading into these sayings, I have learned to simply take them in passing. That’s why when teaching at Shalom Primary School last week I was at a loss when asked what my favorite proverb was.

For one of our LTP projects with Standard 5 students at Shalom Primary School, we taught a Swahili lesson on proverbs. From the start, the workshop was a challenge. Though our DukeEngage group underwent two weeks of Swahili language class when we first arrived in Arusha, none of us are really conversational in the language, let alone qualified to teach it to a group of bright young native speakers. So we modified the lesson plan to allow for our lack of experience. We conducted the lesson in English and asked students to write in Swahili, translating to English when they read their work aloud.

My group began with the proverb “Mvumilivu hula mbivu,” which translates roughly to the Good things take time. As the first part of the lesson, we asked each student to translate the Swahili proverb into English. Unlike our simple translation, all my students expressed a similar story of patience and overcoming obstacles to attain success in their translations. To illustrate their story my students decided to photograph a series of images that described a farmer who plants a field, waits for his crops to grow, tending them carefully and patiently, still finds time to give to the poor though his crops take exceptionally long to grow, and finally meets success with the growth of tomato plants.

The photographs the students took for this project are some of my favorite, but standing out among them was the final shot my group took. In it two of the students, Grace and Laurence, stand next to a tomato plant with not-yet-ripe green fruits. Though the tomatoes do not perfectly fit the plot line of the story, the students’ expressions surely do. What is great about working with LTP is learning how photography is all about being in the moment. We focus a lot of our time on making sure the students consider all aspects of the picture they are taking. We ask them whether they want to hold the camera horizontally or vertically, how close to the object they want to be, and what their image composition reflects about the scene, but what the students do best is act naturally. They are taking photos among their friends and because of that they come away with some of the most natural looking and joyful photos I have seen, even though they are very much staged.

This photo in particular is an example of how the pretend and the real intersect in LTP. Though the students are acting to portray a scene in their story, their smiles are certainly real. LTP offers a different kind of learning one that is experiential in nature and naturally fun because it demands creativity and involvement. Each and every student is a part of the process and can see in the course of a lesson the result of their efforts. There is a special pride that comes with creating something new rather than regurgitating memorized facts and dates.

I think the picture with the tomato plant perfectly summarizes the meaning of the proverb. The students took time setting up and executing their photograph and it certainly turned out to be a good thing.

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