Goodbye and Thank You
01.09.2011 - 29.10.2011
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!)
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!
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!
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………….