Looking back at the past month, I realize that I have taught Literacy Through Photography to over a hundred people, from primary school students to teachers and education inspectors. This past Saturday, we had the opportunity to go to the Usa River Academy and work with about 30 students from the 2nd grade to 7th grade. These children are, in fact, orphans who are sent to study at the school through The Foundation For Tomorrow. Generous individuals or families sponsor these orphans’ education and living costs from K through 12.
My group consisted of 3rd grader Rachel, 4th grader Lomnyak and 7th grader Ashura. At the beginning, they were quite shy. Rachel did not speak at all in the beginning and was holding onto my hand throughout class. Ashura and Lomnyak were better at English but they were also reserved. At times like this, I always ask myself, how much will these children get out of the workshop given that it’s only a few hours long? Will they be able to grasp the spirit and values of LTP and remember them? How can I help them understand LTP in this short period of time?
In the afternoon, we did the dreams project with the Usa River children. In this project, children write out dreams that they have the night before/remember and then represent a scene in the dream through photography. Ashura wrote that in her dream her sponsor family came to visit her at Usa Rivers and brought her to the Snake Park since she likes reptiles a lot. After talking to her for a bit, I found out that she keeps in contact with her sponsors and wishes to meet them.
Since it was impossible for us to go take a picture at the Snake Park, Ashura decided to take the picture at the school playground, on the slides. For the whole time when we were walking around campus, she was holding my hand. Whenever I looked over, I saw her smiling warmly. In addition, the dreams project opened up a deeper conversation topic between my group and me. We got to talk to about their aspirations, what they care about, their happy moments and such. At the end of the day, I noticed that Rachel, who wrote only one sentence of English in the beginning, was able to write out a complete story in English. Lomnyak also excelled in his writing. Ashura took up the responsibility of collecting all the final products. After seeing her traversing around the classroom and talking to different students and teachers confidently, I recognized each of them began to open up and they seemed to have gotten something out of this experience.
Although I know that I came to Tanzania to lead LTP projects, I notice that we are also here to give these children a chance to work with new people. The fact that we are working in a small group (1:3 ratio) allowed us to have a deeper relationship with the children in our groups. Thus, we were able to give these children extra attention and encouragement that they would not ordinarily get in the Tanzanian schooling system. From the past month of classroom observations, we have all noticed the lack of one to one student-teacher relationships, both inside and outside the classroom. Given that a class can consist of 40 or even up to 80 kids, it is possible that the teacher does not know the name of every child in the class. At Al-Hidjra School workshop, we invited some students to join the teachers in one of the projects. We immediately noticed how nervous the students got. Most of them were too afraid to say anything, even if they did speak, they were making sure they only gave out ‘correct’ answers. This reminds me of how my group in Usa River was. They were reserved and afraid to say the wrong thing. But all of us always reinforce the idea that there is no right or wrong answer in LTP, and we also consciously try to build a one-to-one relationship with each child. I hope that is one of the reasons why Rachel, Lomnyak and Ashura opened up in the end.
It was truly bittersweet when my kids kept asking if I could come back again tomorrow. I know Ashura’s dream is not one that can be easily fulfilled, but I hope the past Saturday I satisfied a little part of that yearning by showering her with attention and care. If children only get two things out of LTP project, I wish that they realized that learning can be free, encouraging and supportive; also, teachers should not simply be those you learn from, but someone who you can count as a friend or someone you trust.