Day 1- Sunday 15th October
Dar Es Salaam
‘Jambo’ from Tanzania.
Covering over 5000 miles by plane, our flights took us from Birmingham to Dubai and the after a short wait, from Dubai to the main airport in Tanzania's largest city- Dar Es Salaam. 12 hour of flight time.
On arrival in Dar Es Salam, we were greeted with the warmest of welcomes by our colleagues from schools in Tanga, the region we will be visiting. This is where I met Halifa for the first time. Halifa is the headteacher at Chumbageni School, where Mr Wilson and I will be working for the coming week. Halifa has been the Headteacher there for 11 years, the vast majority of the 13 year link Somers Park has had with Chumbageni; Halifa also co-ordinates the link for the other schools who have joined us on this visit: Hanley Swan, Great Malvern, Malvern Parish, The Wyche, West Malvern St James. Our watches were then adjusted to two hours ahead of UK time, money exchanged (you cannot get the Tanzanian currency outside of the country) and a mobile SIM card bought to give me internet access.
The planning was superb - transport to our stop over accommodation was organised, bags transferred and we took our stop-start journey through the city to the Catholic hostel we stayed in. After a swift cold shower and arrangement of the mosquito nets, we drove through the vibrant streets of Dar to the location of our evening meal, an Ethiopian restaurant by the name of ‘Addis in Dar.’ Although there are no common borders, Tanzania neighbours Ethiopia.
This is my first visit to Africa so many of these sights, sounds and smells are completely new to me. The street sides are filled with markets: shoes, fruit and vegetables, nuts, clothes… the sellers approach drivers at the traffic lights offering to sell watches, scarves, bottles of drink or to wash your windscreeen. This is all very calm and not in any way intimidating, but a beautifully authentic experience. Children play football, play with tyres, play ‘marbles’, ride bikes or simply sit and watch the world go by. City life reminds me vividly of the pictures created in the Elizabeth Laird book ‘The Garbage King’, which I read to Year 6 classes I taught on more than one occasion. Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it is one of my favourite books, but certainly for an older primary/ lower secondary audience.
The food at the restaurant was again completely different to anything I have experienced before. It was a shared eating experience, served in a large dish lined with a spongy pancake-like food, made with teff and called an injera. The different meat, pulses and vegetable based sauces with varying degrees of spice, were then dipped in by strips of the same spongy pancake using fingers. To ensure hygiene our hands were first rinsed in lovey warm water from a very grand looking metal teapot. Both Mr Wilson and I enjoyed the food and left the restaurant very full indeed. One of the things that is evident is the cost of things compared to home. The restaurant we ate at was superb: a beautiful setting, excellent service and delicious food and our meal worked out at 20,000 Tanzanian Shillings (TSH- the currency)- just over £6; our stop over hotel, although only very basic (but comfortable) was TSH30,000 - less than £10 per person.
The morning after was an early start to begin our 7 hour transfer to Tanga region. Notable as we drove through the city is the prevalence of multinational companies such as Coca Cola, Pepsi and Fanta, whose advertising is everywhere!
There are homes and villages consistently along the duration of our journey along the main road to Tanga, with a lot of greenery and deep red, sandy soil. People going about their daily lives, however because of the climate this is mainly outdoors- different to Malvern! People sitting around groups chatting, selling, weaving, carving, cleaning, ploughing fields, or tending to their cattle. Such an interesting part of the journey.
Being made to feel very special, our arrival in Tanga prompted a swift turnaround before we were treated to a late lunch by the Tangan Headteachers, where we also met the Principal Primary School Advisor for Tanga schools- we are meeting him an official capacity tomorrow morning for a formal welcome to the city. We'll let you know how that goes!
Day 2- Monday 16th October
Chumbageni Primary School
Chumbageni is a very special school indeed. The Somers Park link has been going for 13 years and it oozes through the veins of the school. Walking through the gates, you are greeted with a proud sign indicating you are walking into the Somers Park Forest.The forest was planted at a similar time to our woods at Somers Park, with the first tree planted by Mr Sewell who also accompanies us on this visit. This tree, planted 13 years ago, is now over 20 meters tall and shelters the gardens below; plants and trees grow incredibly quickly here which could be deemed as surprising as the soil is so sandy and appears to lack nutrients. What it does have in abundance is sunlight! Today was a bit cooler apparently, and it was in the low 30s with clear blue skies. This does meant that the ‘forest’ serves a purpose though, sheltering the windows of the classrooms significantly meaning that they are much cooler during the day.
The welcome we have received has been incredibly warm. The smiles of the children are infectious and this was evident right from the start of their celebration dance and song to welcome us- it game me a lump in my throat! (see Twitter for just a few brief clips of their song and dance).
Prior to our arrival at school this morning, we attended the City Council offices where we were first introduced to the Primary Advisor once again, before being ushered into the office of the City Director who is responsible for the strong running of the City- a very important man! He gave blessing to our visit and spoke very highly of the links the Malvern schools have with the Tanga schools.
Our tour of the school encompassed all of the projects enabled by our link that have had such a significant impact in Chumbageni- unbelievable to see in reality what I have heard so much about. Around school there are constant reminders of the partnership, with murals depicting the Somers Park name. This overt celebration of the shared work is something we will be looking to develop at Somers Park upon our return to Malvern.
Today our school visit was very much a familiarisation and introduction. We met children and looked at the work they completed and got to see how the school functions. However, it should be noted that the excellent work of Mr Dowling last year, when he introduced touch rugby to the children, should be celebrated. The field was full of children playing the game to different standards in carefully layered groups. The standard was particularly high in one of the games where children were using the space effectively and demonstrating excellent speed, agility and ball handling skills. I must also confess that I enjoyed joining in their game for a few minutes, although I was left wanting by their youthful skill and exuberance- it was great fun though (if not a a little warm in a shirt and trousers) and video evidence can be seen on the school Twitter feed! I will be sharing some of my coaching skills with the children later in the week too.
Some of the successful projects that we have worked on with Chumbageni:
The sewing machines
Sports… and lots of it, but more about that later in the week
The school roof, fence and water collection system, kindly supported by SISK, arranged by our Chair of Governors, Peter Bailey.
I hope that you enjoy the photographs which are currently being uploaded onto the school website. http://somerspark.com/news-and-events/gallery/album/Tanzania-2017 ‘Jumpy’, the Key Stage 1 school link giraffe has also come with us so look out for some pictures of him too. On the school’s Twitter page, we are also posting pictures and videos which I hope will give you some flavour of what is happening on our visit- Parents: please share them with your children.
After school had finished, Halifa accompanied us to the market where we enjoyed fresh coconuts and purchased fabric for our shirts which we have all bought- they are being made this week and will be with us when we return. The city is a very relaxed place- the apparent absence of road laws is unnoticeable as people are patient and safe in their driving. There are bicycles everywhere, often with a pillion passenger sat on a luggage rack on the back, and thousands of motorbikes, however people are very understanding and I suppose, laid back in their approach to driving. To put it into context, the city has recently had its first set of traffic lights installed and when a train approaches a level crossing there are no barriers, it simply sounds it horn loudly and people move out of the way tot he side of the tracks.
Everywhere we went we got a positive response, but I think the thing I notice the most is the colour everywhere. The women wear the most fantastic, bright, vibrant clothing all of the time- they are always dressed beautifully. The market stalls are filled to the brim with fresh fruit, clothing, fabric, paintings and carvings. It really is a sight to behold. I have been in Tanga for 24 hours and am already falling in love with the place!
Day 3- Tuesday 17th October
Chumbageni and Neighbouring Schools
Today began with a second, more in-depth visit to Chumbageni and concluded with visits to other local schools within and outside of the link. The link’s positive impact on the ethos of these schools was a recurring theme throughout the day.
Arriving at Chumbageni, we were first invited to the Standard 1 and Standard 2 classes. Formal education begins at age 7 in Tanzania. Year groups are called ‘Standards’, beginning with Standard 1 and ending at Standard 7 for primary education. Standard 1 class would be an English Year 3 class. As a sign of respect, children always stand when teachers enter the classroom. Standard 1 were kind enough to treat us to a song - see the school twitter page to see if you can recognise what it was!
Immediately evident when entering any classroom in the link schools are the quality of displays. The walls are invariably decorated in bright, colourful and informative images and text which inform the learning and transform a simple classroom into a purposeful and unique learning environment. The use of ‘working walls’ was particularly effective. Chumbageni’s headteacher was proud to say that this policy was borrowed from his staff visits to Somers Park - a great compliment to the school and the link.
After that, Mr Hansen, Mr Sewell and I were given the opportunity to observe lessons throughout the school, first separately and then together. I chose to observe a Maths class on column subtraction and was intrigued by the mix of familiar and unfamiliar strategies taught. In the following English lesson, we were able to interact with the children and invited to ask questions and provide challenges to the pupils as they worked. As in all lessons, the presentation of written work was invariably stunning.
Since the link’s beginning, the planting of trees and crops within school grounds has been a major practical and symbolic act. Trees signposted as ‘Stuart Sewell’ tree - planted 13 years ago - now provide shade in essential areas and represent the ever-growing impact of small but powerful gestures. It was therefore very fitting that we were included in a gardening session, planting spinach alongside Standard 6 pupils that would be feeding pupils within months.
From the outset, we were very keen to enjoy time interacting more freely with the children during their playtimes. When this was granted, we soon agreed it to be the highlight of our day! Mr Hansen and Mr Sewell were invited to serve the pupils ‘uji’ - a liquid mix of oats, sugar and rice flour - and later led an impromptu session of rugby training, while I spent time bridging the language barrier by sharing magic tricks. The children’s enthusiasm and eagerness to engage made the entire hour a wholly wonderful experience. The provision of uji is a part of the Chums charity work; currently providing for 550 servings a day, and for many of the children this is their main source of nutrition each day. To provide for so many, our contribution is now subsidised by through selling vegetables grown in the garden, a project which has been such an important part of our link. Did you know they can harvest up to 5 crops of potatoes a year- a bit different to the UK!
When Malvern Vale Primary School opens in September, it will share much of its character and resources with the other schools in the Mercian Educational Trust. This includes a link with a carefully selected Tanga school, which we visited after our morning at Chumbageni. Kisosora School is led by a former Chumbageni teacher called Frank, who visited Somers Park several years ago and took a great deal away from his time there.
Frank is proud to include children with special education needs within the mainstream of Kisosora - something quite uncommon in Tanzania, and inspired by his visits to Somers Park. Children with a variety of needs, from near-blindness to developmental delays - participated fully in classes, accepted by peers and receiving support in and out of class. This inclusive ethos, combined with a well-maintained environment and an inspiring and dedicated headteacher in Frank, suggest a bright future to the link between the schools when Malvern Vale opens in September.
We concluded our day with visits to other schools. Mamabokweni is unlinked to a Malvern school but keen to begin one, while Changa has a strong relationship with St Josephs Catholic Primary. It was all quite a whirlwind of names, smiles, music and memories, but suffused with warm affection for the link and keen interest in its continued growth.
Day 4- Wednesday 18th October
Martinshamba, rugby and lovely hospitality
To celebrate our local partnership with Great Malvern Primary School (including the sharing of Mr Hansen!) we spent the morning at their link school, Martinshamba to compare and contrast. The connections between GMPS and Martinshamba is incredibly strong; indeed one of the teachers has visited Tanga 9 times beginning in 2006! Similar to our first day in Chumbageni, we were invited to observe classes, greet the teachers and children, and plant ceremonial trees and tomatoes in their gardens.
But the standout moment for me was the interactive 'Skype' assembly orchestrated by the Great Malvern staff. Using a pair of iPads, they filmed both a Martinshamba class and an assembly back at Great Malvern's main hall. Both groups took turns to share traditional songs, applaud each other and exchange greetings in English and Swahili, all across a distance of over 5000 miles. A tiny digital window between two different worlds - amazing!
One thing we were keen to build upon during this visit is the super work of Mr Dowling from last year. Mr Dowling worked with a couple of local volunteer coaches to introduce rugby into Chumbageni. It has really taken off over the last year, with these fantastic coaches giving up their afternoons everyday to provide sports opportunities for not only the children of Chumbageni, but also of six other local schools.
The quality of the work they have done is clear when you see the children playing touch or tag rugby. They have strong ball skills and even those who are less confident in a game situation have a strong grasp of passing and catching. Both boys and girls join in with effortless enthusiasm and they will play non-stop until they have to stop (or the balls are put away!).
This afternoon I found this out for myself- I had been keen to join in some coaching and worked with a large class for what turned into a couple of hours (I was enjoying myself so much that I was oblivious to the time passing so quickly). The temperature was in the mid 30s- however the children’s efforts were relentless and I had to ensure that I varied activities to look after them. The children wear their normal uniform for the sports, including the hijab for the girls; some of the boys took shirts off and the Chumbageni teachers did comment that this is the hottest it has been for some while. While the other coaches supervised games with the most able children, I worked with the beginners and slowly overcame the language barriers and the children made some brilliant progress and smiled throughout- humouring my physical demonstrations and limited attempts at Swahili!
This evening we were invited to one of the teacher’s houses for a meal. Veronica was one of our Tanzanian visitors in the summer and she cooks beautifully. We were welcomed into her house and learnt a lot about the way that finances are raised to build houses. Veronica’s house sits on a beautiful plot and is in the middle of being built, but the building of houses can take up to 15 years as it is built in stages. The house’s foundations clearly showed the layout of the house as it will be when it is finished and Veronica was able to to talk with detail about how it will look- very exciting!
During the drive home, Halifa, the Headteacher told us of the community scheme which the teachers at Chumbageni run to enable them to fund the building of their houses over time. The teachers (15 of them) contribute 20% of their salary each month into a central fund which it the given immediately to the next teacher in line, to go towards a major project agreed by the group. Every teacher gets a lump sum every 15 months. A really good way of ensuring that their teachers are able to develop their homes over time.
The hospitality of the Tanzanians is so warm. On our first day, we were measured up by Veronica. This evening, Mr Wilson, Mr Sewell and I were presented with beautiful matching handmade shirts. Making it particularly special, these shirts were tailored on the sewing machines at Chumageni, a project that has been a part of our parternship over the years.
We had an interesting experience for part of the journey home this evening too, catching a bajaj (or piki-piki) which you may also recognise as a tuk tuk! It was rather cosy and very bumpy!
Day 5- Thursday 19th October
Sports at Chumbageni
The day started in the normal way with breakfast at the hotel and collection at 7:45 to get into the school to see the children’s morning songs. Our breakfast consists of a choice of fresh fruit: pineapple, watermelon, papaya and avocado, as well as chapatti and toast. There is always the option of eggs too; they are readily available across the city and often form a staple mid-morning snack at the schools for the teachers too. Today our ride in to Chumbageni was once again in a bajaja, I think the three of us have got the bug (the ride is hair-raising, loud and very authentic!) and costs TSH5000 (approx £1.50) to get across the city to the school. It also saves Halifa (the Chumbageni Head) from whizzing around after us as well as trying to run his school.
We arrived at 7:55 and were ushered to the centre of the school where 550 children were stood in lines ready for us. Their daily morning welcome is spectacular. The children sing to the sound of drums- first the African National anthem which is beautifully emotive, and then the song of Chumbageni, which includes veracious drumming and energetic arm swinging (take a look at Twitter to see some video!) This will remain in my memory as a true example of the enthusiasm of the children towards their education.
During the morning we popped into classrooms. The lessons are much more relaxed, often without a teacher for periods of time, but the children remain in their seats and many them rehearse and copy work from the board when not directly supervised. For the younger children, they may be supervised by an older children in the absence of a teacher, but there is never an overt need for discipline as the children really want to be at school. The children are amazing in our company and respond exactly as we would children to reepond to us in our schools. Some are confident, others intrigued, and there are always a very small group who children who giggle through the whole experience!!
There are many children with strong conversational English too, whilst others may have very little. Those who are confident with their English have enjoyed taking central stage with their peers, translating for friends and generally using the language skills they have learnt. One child in Standard 5 (Year 6) said to me today, accompanied by the most amazing smile, “When I am grown up I would like to come to the UK. I would love to come and see Somers Park School.” If only my Swahili could match the sentiment in this comment.
It was an absolute pleasure to welcome the other English teachers with our travelling party to Chumbageni for a sports tournament during the morning, where children played games in searing heat for both cricket and rugby. The events were certainly on ‘Tanga time’ which may be interpreted as “when they happen’ which meant a lot of opportunity for sitting around, however it meant I also had the privilege of touring the school with my colleagues to talk them through the impact of the partnership for both Somers Park and Chumbageni as a result of the link.
There has been a theme of rugby this week, and this solely is because of the dedication of the coaches who I mentioned yesterday. Today we were able to present the coaches with some training shirts, donated by Worcester Warriors (see Twitter and the Gallery for pictures), as well as over 150 Worcester Warriors t-shirts for the children and over 30 rugby balls which will be used in the schools to develop the game in Tanga. A bright future for the game and we look forward to seeing the future developments of Tanga Warriors!
Our later afternoon involved a walk around the community of Chumbageni School. The area is one of the poorer in Tanga and walking around the local streets was a real privilege. The children were keen to speak to us having seen us around school and we were welcomed in local houses We were introduced to the leader of the village (over 300 homes): People come to him if they have problems that need sorting out or if big decisions need to be made. Without planning the visit he summoned us into his home, much to the initial shock (!) but delight of his wife. The home was typical of one of the more prosperous in the area, however the first thing to notice is that the rooms were smaller than you may expect. There are no internal doors, instead sheets are draped across doorways, can you think about why this may be? The centre of the house had a small courtyard with no roof, with areas such as the kitchen and the chicken coup adjacent, and this outdoor area was common to all homes.
It should be noted that only the main roads in Tanga are tarmac, the majority of streets, including the one leading to Chumbageni are compacted sandy tracks. Around the village these tracks are very narrow and there is no vehicular access; chickens run free (as well as children!) and people relax outside their homes, in the shade to escape the heat. Where cars do drive around Tanga, they need to be driven very slowly as the tracks are very uneven and full of deep hills and furrows. More roads are being developed all of the time though.
Both Mr Wilson and I cannot believe the week has gone by so quickly. Tomorrow is our last day in Chumbageni School before we begin our journey home at the weekend- we’re going to get there early to make the most of it!
Day 6- Friday 20th October
Goodbye to Chumbageni School
As promised, we were up early and into school to hear the magnificent morning song, before we were afforded the opportunity to wander the classrooms and spend time with the children. I sat in maths with Katherine, one of the Tanzanian teachers who had visited us in the summer whilst Mr Wilson taught in Standard 5 and 6, sharing some of the letters the Somers Park children had written for their friends in Chumbageni.
I felt privileged to be able to witness this mathematics lesson. There is certainly rote learning, whether this be through chanting or copying, however what struck me today was the slight variation in the demarcation of measures, which it is easy to assume are standard around the world. In Swahili, the units are written first followed by the number and there are also slight variations to some of the abbreviations to reflect the language. For example 1m=100cm is recorded as M1=SM100. The children demonstrated what they always do; in classes of up to 75, the children want to work and if they are unable to , they will often sit quietly and not disturb others. One of the barriers to learning I observed today was that some of the children were sharing pens for their maths work. Stationery, including exercise books, is not provided by the school and so you will often see children writing in pencils smaller than their own little finger. This has really given me some food for thought regarding our priorities when we return next year.
After emptying my bag of every writing implement to my disposal and sharing them with grateful faces, I was able to watch the work being completed with meticulous precision and accuracy. Please take time to look at the photographs of the children in their classrooms. I was particularly touched, that during their playtime, the children then came to find me to offer the pens back to me- I did not take them back! During lessons the children sit in crowded rows, in buildings that need constant maintenance because of the damage caused by the heat and constant use. Concrete, paint and metal work deteriorates far more rapidly than we would expect in the UK.
A few years ago, Peter Bailey, our Chair of Governors, facilitated the company he works for (SISK) coming out to do works on the roof, playground, water collection and fencing. These contributions made a significant difference to the school's provision and we are now considering how to proceed to support Chumbageni School in its conversion of a disused and rundown building into a library.
A library is relatively unheard of in a primary school in Tanga, in fact until two years ago the city’s library was in complete disrepair and lacking books. We visited today and saw the magnificent work that has happened and met Martin, the man who has driven this renovation, with global support from Finland, Korea and Bromyard- yes you read that correctly! In fact some of the books in the children’s section were donated by Somers Park School. Martin gave us a swift tour, however it is not only the buildings that have developed- it is clear it is being greatly used. As well as students conscientiously completing their work, there was also a Friday afternoon children’s session, where young children from different schools bring themselves along to enjoy a book share and learning activity. Today they had been reading a ‘Maisy Mouse’ book and learning about colours in English. It should be noted that none of these children were accompanied by adults and some were as young as four or five years old. This building will clearly have a huge impact on the community for years to come.
Our farewell from Chumbageni was heartfelt and I can truly say I have made some amazing friends over the last week. However, removing the incredible emotions from the equation, I leave Chumbageni enthusiastic and passionate about the impact and benefits our partnership brings to young people at Somers Park, and those in the middle of a city in Tanzania. I look forward to speaking to many of you about it after Half Term. Enjoy the break with your children.