“You Are Welcome,” a photo reflection by Grace Shin

Four Arusha administrators “voting” for an alphabet project on the topic of History

This photograph was taken early in June (it’s already July?) during the workshop for Arusha education inspectors and administrators, which was held at Uhuru Primary School for two days. Since I had not been a part of Katie’s LTP course at Duke last semester, working with this particular group of adults for the duration of the workshop was the first time I actually led a group in LTP activities.

Needless to say, working with a group of real people was different from reading texts and watching videos, which were the preparations I had done for this DukeEngage program. We’ve had a number of workshops and classroom visits since that first workshop, and I’ve learned new things each and every time I actually interact with a group of teachers or a group of students. I’m sure this will continue to be the case, and I think that even the others who have done LTP for a whole semester still have a new experience each and every time.
One of the biggest realizations I had while working with this first group of mine was that I am a very reserved leader. It sure wasn’t a shocking realization—I already know that I’m on the less outspoken side and that I usually like to follow pre-existing, organized rules and stay on such a path. It was an important realization nonetheless because I realized that my being this way could limit the LTP process for the people that I work with.

For example, this photograph was taken to represent V for VOTING for an alphabet project focused on History. Four of my group members stand in a line as if they are waiting to drop their ballot into the box on the table. That box might seem like an ordinary box, but I saw with my own two eyes how it came to be what it seems to be.

There had been two teachers that were sitting at the table when we walked by, but they excused themselves to allow us to use the table in our photograph. Then one of the male administrators in my group stepped into the secretarial office of Uhuru Primary (where the workshop was held) and asked if there were any boxes in the room. There was a box. It was filled with papers, but the secretary told us that we were welcome to take out all of the papers and use the empty box. But my group members agreed that a ballot box shouldn’t have an open top—it needs to be a closed box with an open slit. So they asked if there was a stapler we could use to make the box look more like an actual ballot box. There was a stapler in the office that we were welcome to use, and we used it.

I was already starting to feel uncomfortable at this point because I was afraid we were unnecessarily barging into important parts of the school. I thought that we could make do with a less perfect box, and maybe even no box at all, so why should we inconvenience others that are at work?

For another one of our letters, we wanted to represent the word, SKULL. The administrators in my group headed over to ask around for any science kits. There was a science kit at the school, but it was locked up in storage area at the corner of the school. We needed to find the teacher that would have access to a key that would open the lock.

Again, I wondered if we really needed to go to such lengths. I definitely felt that we were inconveniencing Uhuru administrators who had important logistics to take care of, and teachers who were teaching in classrooms of 40 or 50 young children. I was thankful for their generosity and the willingness and respect they gave to our group for being city inspectors and administrators.

I still don’t know to what point I feel comfortable asking or depending on people outside of the specific workshop or classroom while doing LTP projects. And sometimes, I feel frustrated when my group members don’t seem to go to any lengths at all—when they are content with the first photograph they take and don’t seem motivated to think further. I still don’t think that it’s necessary to take teachers away from their duties and students from their studies to take photos for an LTP project, but I also don’t think that it’s a problem if they are willing and excited to be of help. I’m a foreigner in this land, and if the leaders of the education system don’t feel that they are being disruptive, who am I to say that they are? The phrase, “You are welcome,” is much more full of meaning here in Tanzania, and I need to learn to accept that genuine welcome.

I am supposed to be leading a group, but I should also be a supportive leader that encourages my group members to do as much as they want and have ownership over the process and result of their own LTP experience. It’s going to take some work, but I need to be more free and less afraid of disturbing anyone so that I don’t unconsciously work against what LTP most advocates—creativity and participation.

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