At home my family and friends call me the loud one. I talk way too much and at a volume that’s uncomfortable to almost anyone (thanks for passing that on, mom). In many spaces that I occupy I quickly become the loud one. However, the opposite became the case in my DukeEngage group. I became the quietest, most introverted version of myself. In group discussions I would feel accomplished when I could squeeze one quick sentence out of myself. I wanted to talk, to be myself, but I just couldn’t.
Then came our after school projects. Each DukeEngage student has the opportunity to run an after school class on whichever topic we want four times a week for an hour. Our program director, Katie, told us all that this was often the DukeEngage student’s favorite part of their trip. But, before leaving for Tanzania I became nervous. Other students were doing music videos, yoga classes, and history lessons, and I couldn’t think of a single thing. On our fourth day in Tanzania we went to visit Arusha School to meet with the Headmaster and talk about our ideas for after school. Katie helped me decide on doing a school magazine, and I felt confident that this would be a fun and informative class for my students.
Right when I thought we were about to leave, a teacher at Arusha School told us that today the students would pick which group they wanted to be in. He told us that we would all line up with the name of our class on a sign, and the students would run up to us and decide which class they wanted to be in. I felt my confidence draining but went and stood in my spot waiting for the students to run up. A few minutes later, I looked around me and other lines were filling up. Students were excited to learn Chinese and become an engineer, but only a few small faces looked up at me when I turned around. When Riswanee came by he tried to even out the lines a little, and he pulled students from other groups and put them in mine. I felt like I was back in middle school, where I was only picked in P.E. by default because everyone had to be on a team. After every student had the chance to pick a group, I turned around and saw ten students behind me. I looked to my left and there were what looked like thirty students lined up behind another DukeEngage student. My confidence was gone. I went and sat down with my group of students to explain to them what we would be doing, but every word I spoke was returned with blank stares. It looked like my group was filled with quiet, introverted students.
I looked around and other groups were playing games and singing songs, and my group was uncomfortably staring at me. Each question I asked felt like I was pulling teeth. I wondered how I got so unlucky to be stuck with the quietest bunch. Why did I get put with all the students who didn’t want to talk? Not only did I feel completely unlike myself around my fellow Duke students, I felt that my after school class was going to be filled with awkward silence and blank stares.
It was not until almost four weeks later that I realized how lucky I am to have the group of students that I do. It had been our longest day since arriving in Arusha, and we still had after school left. It was a Friday, and since many of us were tired a few groups decided to join together and play games. Toward the end of the session one of my group of Standard 7 girls quietly walked up to me and said, “Teacher can I borrow a book?” I bring books to every class for the students to use and read, but I take the books back at the end of the class. I turned to her and said, “Which one?” Her face lit up and she said, “Teacher I didn’t think you would let me borrow one.” She paused for a moment and then she said, “Thank you for trusting me.”
When I was looking back through the pictures I took that afternoon, this picture struck me. Two of the Standard seven girls are laughing in such an open and genuine way (and if you look closely you can see the book tucked safely under a sweater). I realized how much trust has gone into my relationships with everyone I have encountered. Opening up is a vital part of Learning Through Pictures (LTP) and DukeEngage as a whole. When we work with LTP, taking pictures and encouraging participation, our students trust us to represent them the way they would want to be represented. I can see it when I work with my girls in after school. The way that they shied away from conversations and the camera the first week, compared to the huge smile in this picture shows me how much they have opened up to me. Looking back at the past four weeks I realize how much my fellow Duke students and I have opened up. We’ve had political discussions, we’ve talked about relationships, we’ve cooked together, and basically spent every moment of four weeks together. The openness that has come along with our work has pushed me, and I hope those I have encountered, to grow even in some small ways. Looking back at this picture, I realize that a quiet bunch of students was exactly what I needed to learn to open up.