A Travellerspoint blog

All Good Things Unfortunately Must Come to an End

Goodbye and Thank You


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Time flies! I know I seem to say this a lot, but I guess when you are having a good time, time just seems to slip away more quickly than you wish. It has been 9 weeks since I’ve arrived in Tanzania and started volunteering with Wildlife Connection and sadly it’s time to say ‘goodbye’. My experience here has been amazingly positive largely because of all the wonderful people that I have met in the villages, in the schools and on the project, which is why it was difficult to say ‘goodbye’. Appropriately my last night was spent celebrating with a group of youth at our camp in Pawaga. I danced and enjoyed the beautiful night sky until early in the morning (in fact, I didn’t sleep at all since I had to catch an early bus into town. It was great!)

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The celebration was to celebrate the accomplishments of this special group of youth from the village of Mbuyuni whom I have started meeting once a week since the middle of September. We made this to be a celebration of them graduating from being “students” to “teachers” on wildlife and conservation matters. There are 11 of them ranging in age from 14 to 19, plus the leader of the group, Richard, who is the only one who has attended secondary school. Yes, going to secondary school here is not mandatory, it is a privilege. In fact, I was surprised when I found out that a lot of students have to move away from their home to attend secondary school because there is not one in their village. I don’t know what the percentage of Tanzanians with at least a Form 4 education (equivalent to Grade 11 in North America) is, but in the villages, the percentage seems quite small, most would simply just have completed primary school (standard 7). In Mbuyuni, there is actually a secondary school, so why are these youth that I have been teaching not attending…. I have never asked them this question but my guess is it is because their family cannot afford to pay the school fees. To board at the school, including tuition, food and accommodation, it costs about $200-300US per year, which is a lot of money for families here and imagine if you have three or more children (not uncommon here).
At our very first meeting back in the middle of September when we invited all youth who are not in school to come join us, about thirty came out. The number slowly decreased as we met every Sunday afternoon, but that did not deter us from our goal of educating them more about wildlife protection and conservation issues. The twelve that remained have shown strong interest and willingness to learn and to share the information with others. They brought paper and pen to take notes without us even asking and there is always a wide range of questions waiting to be answered. The big moment for me was when I asked them one week whether they would like to do a small presentation on what they have learned so far to primary level students. Not only was the idea responded with great enthusiasm from the youth, but they surprised me by their readiness and wanting to do the presentation in two days time!

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So on October 11, the twelve youth became teachers to a combined standard 5 and 6 class (~70 students in total). They took control of the class by sharing with the students interesting facts about different wild animals, including elephants, giraffes, lions, buffalos, zebras, kudus, warthogs, crocodiles, cheetahs and leopards. What I thought was only going to be a morning presentation turned into a full day event! The head teacher had to ask us to stop at 4pm because the school day was over. It was wonderful for me to observe them that day as I sat in the back of the class. They went above and beyond, and took charge of teaching kids that were just several years younger than them. To reward them and to further their education on wildlife and conservation, there was no better way than to actually take them to the park to witness the animals in real life! I was thrilled that we were able to arrange the trip prior to my departure. So on October 23, we packed the car, the twelve youth plus Rowland and myself, and headed to Ruaha National Park. The youth were ecstatic and happily greeted us at 6 am (they were all on time!) The day in the park was highlighted by close encounters with all their favorite animals and three separate sightings of lions (all within a few meters away!). The youth all took notes diligently and absorbed everything that Rowland shared with them from the park history to the sounds that elephants make. They were thrilled to use the cameras supplied by the project and took countless photos of wildlife and of each other (and quite a few with me too :) Overall, they enjoyed very much the opportunity to go to the park to see the habitat of the different animals and to observe their behavior (e.x. seeing how giraffes walk and elephants flapping their ears to cool themselves). That was the first park trip our project has taken youth on (the park visitation program focuses on adult education). I hope with more funding in the future, we will be able to take more kids to the park!

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Here are some of the things they told me when I asked what their highlights were and what are some of the things that they have learned from the park trip:
-seeing giraffe, the way they walk is attractive and they have nice colour
-seeing hippos and crocodiles for the first time
-elephant is one of the animals that can keep memory for a long time
-seeing lions resting under the tree
-hearing the sound that hippo makes and it is similar to sounds made by cows, and learning that hippos eat grass not meat
-learning how big the park is and that it is the second largest park in Africa
-seeing wild animals live by depending on each other
-without conserving the environment, we will chase the animals away because we destroy their habitat

Asante sana (thank you very much) to everyone who has made my experience here so memorable: Sarah, Julius, Felisto, Rowland, Nesta, Almina, Asha, Evance, Damas, Godfrie, Terezo, Erin, Nick, Jack, Chelsea, Jerry and Jackie!

Now I’m off to conquer the top of Africa, Kilimanjaro………….

Posted by RobertaS 22:08 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Teach us How to Fly!!!


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*This is a blog post I had written back on October 14 for the project I've been volunteering with: The Wildlife Connection.

Habari asubuhi from Pawaga! It's another warm sunny day out here with a bit of cloud cover. I am currently sitting under our recently improved dining/kitchen banda (aka Sarah’s old banda). Our lone surviving chicken just strolled by while Rafiki is comfortably resting under the table by my feet. The camp has had some significant changes in the past month. Juma built us a chicken coup (the fanciest one I have ever seen---there are two levels!), the second banda is nearly complete (Sarah‘s new banda), just missing some bamboo side panels, and the construction on a third banda and a new choo and shower is underway. We always seem to attract different sorts of visitors. Just in the past week, we’ve had visits from: vultures, roosters, honey badger, mice, rat, tortoise, and a young mamba was spotted by the river yesterday. It's definitely a “lively” place here.

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Outside of camp, things have also been quite active in the local primary and secondary schools. Yesterday I proudly observed twelve of the not-in-school youth who I have been meeting once a week gave a full day lesson on wildlife to a combined standard 5 and 6 class---I’m going to write a separate blog entry on this because this group of youth is inspring and incredibly amazing! We have also been making various school visits to speak about our project and wildlife conservation. Education is a key to our goal of bridging the gap between people and wildlife. The focus of my work here has been to bring attention to wildlife protection and conservation to children and youth living near Ruaha National Park. They are the ones who will become the next generation of leaders in their communities and will effectively help with our struggle to reduce poaching.

Last week (October 3-7) was a particularly successful week after gaining a sense of the education system here and how students learn, and establishing many positive connections with the local schools and villages. The week included education in three villages in the Idodi region: Makifu, Tungamalenga, and Idodi and we were able to hit all three of our target groups: primary level students, secondary students, and teenage youth who are not in school. We visited the primary school in Makifu on Thursday and as always, we quickly drew many curious eyes, eager to know why we are here. One thing I noticed that is strikingly different here compared to schools back home in Canada is that students are expected to clean the classrooms and school ground as part of their daily school activities. It still amazes me to see students all dressed in their school uniform already walking to school at 6:30 in the morning! Once the classroom was cleaned, we engaged and entertained the standard 6 class in a lesson on elephants. Another thing that impresses me so much about the students here is that they are so polite! Whenever they are answering a question or have a question or comment, they would always raise their hand and wait for you to call them before standing up to speak. There appears to be zero classroom management issue here---what a gift this is to any teacher! After the lesson, we organized the students into teams for elephant relay races outside. They used long sticks as 'tusks' and we had them raced down the field bended over with their arms together out front acting as the 'trunk' of the elephant. The final challenge had them relay a bean at the end of their 'trunk'. Based on their enthusiasm and the amount of yelling, I believe that they all enjoyed the activity. I certainly did, it was incredibly fun to watch. One thing I learned is that competitiveness is a universal trait in all children! Somehow it shouldn’t have surprised me but it did when I heard: “That’s not fair!”, “We crossed the line first!”, “They weren’t doing it properly!”, “We have to re-do that race!”. It was a great morning and I can’t wait to do this activity again with another class!

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Besides Makifu, a large part of the week was spent in Idodi Secondary School where everyday in the afternoon we met with a group of form 3 students who has shown a special interest in wildlife conservation. We gave them questions to discuss in small groups and tried to get them to understand the importance of conservation. In general, the students recognize the importance of tourism in generating revenue for the country and for certain development projects in the villages, so when asked why it is important to protect wildlife, the common response is so foreign tourists will come and that brings money to the country. There seems to be a lack of recognition for the role different wildlife plays in the ecosystem and the importance of biodiversity even though they have learned about food chain/web in their biology class. To my surprise, students also did not immediately recognize that animals such as elephants are not found in many places in the world and that is why foreigners want to come and visit places like Ruaha National Park. I was very glad to have picked up on these oversights and modified my lessons as the week went. The week ended with a 'wildlife trivia' team competition and the students were divided into small groups to prepare a presentation to share with the other classes in their school what they have learned. The week of course was not all about conservation, students were also eager to show me their talents with their singing, dancing and gymnastic skills. In return, they wanted me to teach them how to fly! What?!?!?! As it turns out, there is an assumption that every Chinese person knows kung-fu and can fly or jump really far and high! I do wish I have such talent, but all I could show them was a simple cartwheel.

Another initiative we were able to get going on was getting a group of youth together who should be in school but not to teach them more about conservation. 24 youth in Tungamalenga came out to our first meeting (one of them had a red Canada Day t-shirt with a big maple leaf on it---he seemed a bit embarrassed when I pointed it out). They range in age from 14 to 20 (it breaks my heart that their education ended at primary school). They were quiet initially but soon the questions started coming and when we showed them pictures of different animals found in Ruaha National Park, their curiosity was elevated and the conversation continued. There is a lot of interest to learn more, one asked if we could meet three times a week. It is absolutely thrilling for me to be able to provide them with new knowledge and I hope we will have many more great meetings in the future.

Here are some of the more intriguing questions that I have been asked:
-What is the length of buffalo dung?
-Why do lions make sound when they are mating?
-Do elephants drink local beer?
-Can elephant meat be eaten?
-Do (female) elephants have periods and go through similar reproductive cycle like us?

Lastly a big salute to Felisto for being such an awesome teaching sidekick!

Tutaonna!

Posted by RobertaS 10:45 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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