When signing up for CCS and going over the website there is an abundance of information available. It can get a bit overwhelming. There is info on the homebase, the staff, info on what to pack, there’s a forum for posts on past alumni with tips and shared experiences etc. When you fill out the forms you’re able to highlight your skillsets and request specific volunteer opportunities. I knew when I signed up that all I wanted to do was work with the younger kids. I love being around children, they bring me so much joy. It’s amazing how all they require is love and patience and they are so content and happy.
Prior to leaving for Africa I knew my placement was at Presbyterian nursery school. I was aware that the kids would be from ages 3-7. There was not too much else I knew. I found out during intros and orientation that 2 other volunteers would be at the same school. It was helpful that after our orientation and lunch we were introduced to some of the teachers at the schools to become acquainted and help establish a relationship and talk out any concerns while setting expectations. It was great that we did so as us volunteers were quite a bit nervous and had no idea what to expect. We met one of the teachers, Mama Frida, and her son Ahobokile who helped assist at the school on occasion. Mama Frida didn’t speak fluent English but her son was able to translate. The main take away I got from our meeting was that we were to focus on English and basic math/counting and that there would be lots of singing! Mental notes of old nursery songs ensued..
Although the nursery school is under the church it is open to all children of different religious beliefs and was established in 2010. It has 3 classrooms of up to 150 kids total during the school year. The kids are to wear purple uniforms but some families may not be able to afford them so some kids wear what they have. While I was there 2 teachers were present, Mama Frida and Madame Eva, and there was probably around 45+ kids in attendance depending on the day. The classes are divided into the ‘baby class’ and the bigger kids who were 5-7. Some days I was with another volunteer, Kelsey, in the baby class in one classroom. Most days I had the more advanced of the younger kids, the 4 year olds in my own classroom. I’ll get into that craziness another time… Every day there is porridge served around 11AM.
While it was our summer it was nearing the end of their winter rainy season. Given that most of the kids walk to school not everyone was in attendance as the rain deters. Unfortunately, the biggest need is during their summers as there are more students but there aren’t that many volunteers.
I was hoping that by the time I arrived in Tanzania the sun would be ready and consistent. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case as it rained on and off. It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t ideal as when you have with a lot of kids at such a young age the want is to play and to especially play outside in the sunshine.
The educational system is Tanzania is as follows:
- Nursery school/pre primary: 4-6/7 year olds
- Primary school: 7 – 13
- Secondary: Must pass an english exam to be eligible for Secondary school, 14 – 17 year olds
- Secondary Advanced: 17-19
- University: 3 or more years
Our workdays started early. We would leave homebase at 7:30 am. There were 24 volunteers and 2 big vans. A larger group than I expected. Typically school starts at 8 AM and ends at 12PM. Because we had such a big group of volunteers some of us would get there before or after 8 depending and get back after 12.
Can I just say I’ve never taught before. With that said I’ve been around kids a lot of my life. I don’t have a big immediate family but I have a huge extended family. My mom is the oldest of 11! And although they’re for the most part in the Philippines growing up there were always a lot of kids around. Teaching kids though? A whole ‘nother story in it’s own.
The first day we were doe-eyed and eager. We met Eva and were so relieved to know Mama Frida. The kids showed immediate excitement when we arrived. They were already in the classroom and in the midst of songs. The greeted us with wide beautiful smiles and such happy faces eager to please. Every morning as the school day begins Madame Eva says a prayer, has the children join her in another prayer and goes over a verse from the bible the kids recite throughout the week.
My first day I had a very special moment. Let me preface this by saying that although I grew up catholic and attended a private school from kindergarten to 8th grade I don’t consider myself to be a very religious person. I do consider myself to be spiritual. My beliefs are that of my own and I probably lean more towards a Buddhist way of religious thought if any at all. I don’t believe in the need to advertise or preach to others one’s own religious/spiritual beliefs. My relationship with God is that of my own. I am openminded to other’s beliefs although I feel religion separates. Which given history seems to be the purpose. I don’t feel that we as humans need more ideas of thought to separate. With all that’s going on in the world right now what we need is compassion and unity. Anyways, that’s neither here nor there.
Back to my sentiment..
That morning on the first Monday of volunteering at my placement I felt something so beautiful and so much more powerful that I can explain. I’ve felt this before. The best way I can explain it is that I felt so humbled to the fact that in that moment I felt that there was a divine power so much greater than me; so much greater than I could explain. It was comforting and full and overtook me. I guess what it felt like was pure love. I don’t know how to explain it better than that. It was love and it was incredible. Eva was leading the kids in prayer in swahili and everyone had their hands up to the heavens and I was getting teary eyed as I did the same. In that moment things felt right. There’s a certain peace in succumbing to the fact that I am just a tiny spec in the universe and that there is a greater power so much bigger than me and so unexplainable.
These beautiful kids and my very short time in Tanzania thus far were already teaching me so much. I couldn’t wait for more of what was to come.