And the Winner is… Ismani

18 06 2011

So a few weeks ago, the teachers who were selected to attend the zone level competition returned.  I was shocked, just as they were, to find out the competition only lasted one day.  My good friend Charles told me that Ismani, our school, did extremely well.  He said that we won the zone level soccer competition as well as the volleyball competition.  Additionally, we had a girl who won the 100m event and a boy whom I teach, the one who is so keen to run from the classroom won the 3000m event.  Charles was extremely happy at how well we played but was dissapoined in the way students were selected to continue to the next level for soccer and volleyball.  Apparently, it was decided that only two students from each zone would be selected for the regional team.  The problem is, as you might imagine, some zones may produce better players and thus players who were actually chosen didn’t represent the most talented and best performing athletes.  Charles said that we had several players who played extremely well and all the other teachers from the other zones agreed the students from our school were the best, but were still not chosen because for some reason they think taking exactly two players from each zone is the fairest way to select the best team.  Clearly this method is extremely flawed, a fact that everyone at the competition seemed to agree on but which no one in a position of power decided to fix, but such are the way of things sometimes here in Africa.  Apart from our students totally rocking the competition, Joseph and Charles both said the event was poorly run.  Apparently there was nowhere for the teachers to stay and food was not provided.  There was nothing like a doctor or even a medical kit on-site if a student were to be injured.  Joseph, my highly Americanized friend told me that the headmaster from one of the schools in our district whom had selected me to coach the track team asked why they didn’t bring me, because when the girl collapsed here in Ismani I was the only one who had any idea what to do.  If I am supposed to be the most relevant opinion on medical issues you know there’s a problem.  Since no housing was supplied for the teachers, Joseph and Charles had to stay with a friend who lived outside of town.  However, most of the teachers didn’t know anyone in the area and thus had to stay in the classrooms at the school with little or no bedding; and you need to remember that classrooms here for the most part are NOT like classrooms in America.  Here, most likely there is no glass in the windows and no doors.  They are little more than concrete walls with a tin roof overhead.  There was also the issue of food for the students.  I knew things here in Tanzania aren’t like things in America, but when I heard that they had no plan of feeding these kids I was shocked.  Joseph said he was using his own money to give students allowance for food as some students were crying because of hunger.  Not having food is especially dangerous for the girls because they are much more vulnerable, but not for reasons you might immediately think.  The reason is because of something called a “fataki”.  Now I apologize if this is shocking to some people, but I try to paint the picture as it actually exists and not sugarcoat things because like I’ve said previously, what would be the point?  I’m trying to give a realistic picture of what life is like here and the reality sometimes is that life is difficult.  Now that I’ve given that disclaimer, a fataki is a man, usually older, that seeks out younger girls and to put it bluntly, gives them food in exchange for sex.  You may say ‘Why would the girls do that??’  But if you’ve never truly felt the pangs of hunger these students sometimes feel it is difficult to comprehend.  USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, is very involved in campaigns around the country to raise awareness about the problems of fatakis and seeks to educate people at all level of societies of the dangers and how to avoid them.  USAID, if you’re not familiar with them operates not just here in Tanzania, but in a plethora of countries around the world engaging in development projects.  I have also recently helped to start a FEMA club here at school.  And no, it’s not the same FEMA that responds to natural disasters in America.  FEMA is Females and Males and is a club that has national membership here in Tanzania and does things like publish a magazine, host a talk show, and hold youth leadership conferences to educate young students about issues facing the youth in Tanzania.  Several other volunteers in other areas have helped to start FEMA clubs and have had great success.  It is a virtually cost free way to get students together and give them a forum to discuss life skills issues such as HIV/AIDS, goal setting, relationships, and really anything else that comes up.  So far we’ve had 4 meetings.  We meet every Friday after school since school ends early on Fridays.  We’ve already elected a student leadership board, had a day for skits/songs, and had a debate on the consequences of early pregnancy.  I’m really stoked about continuing on with this and hopefully I’ll be able to create a group and an environment that becomes self-sustaining so that when I leave, the club still exists which is the main trait of a truly successful peace corps project.  But anyway, to avoid this problem, Joseph used his own money and gave the girls much more money than they actually needed to eat because he didn’t want to be the one to put them at risk for making any type of bad decision.  The other complaint was that the competition only lasted one day and that it was difficult to choose the best athletes by only having 1 day of competition.  Originally the competition was supposed to last two or three days but somehow the money ran out.  Now I don’t want to go into details in a public forum about specifics, so I’ll talk generally; the culture of corruption here in Tanzania seems to permeate every single level of government starting even with the traffic police.  While the students had no food and the teachers had no rooms to sleep in, the headmasters stayed a small distance away in town which isn’t exactly the cheapest option.  Now I don’t know specifics but I do know that the competition was cut two days short for lack of funds and that many students were also stranded for hours in town because nobody in charge thought about money for a return trip bus fare.  When I hear things like this, it just breaks your heart to see these kids going up against such large odds in succeeding.  Some students that were chosen actually declined to go on to the next level because the experience at the zone level competition was so bad.  They begged their teachers to return home and to school rather than pursue the chance to compete nationally, which is an indescribable shame.  It’s not just me who feels this way but my fellow teachers here who were also beyond pissed off; they said next year if they were to attend again, there would need to be changes.  So this gives me a glimmer of hope.  But apart from all the negative, Joseph told me that our runners, even if they didn’t move on to the next level, rocked the house.  He said students were talking about how they had a coach from America and that the reason they were running to well is because of the things I taught them.  As a coach and or teacher, you really can’t be paid any higher compliment.  Students from other schools were in awe that I was out running and training alongside my students.  Even other headmasters were asking what our school did to come to the competition so prepared.  When Joseph was telling me all this, I couldn’t help but smile.  I’m not sure that it was really me who was the reason they did so well considering I only “coached” them for two days but I’ll enjoy the compliment since it’s not often here you can actually see the direct results of your efforts so immediately.  Aside from teaching math, I’m here as a volunteer to offer a new perspective, a new way or doing something, and a new way of thinking and I think in this instance I had a positive effect.  And it wasn’t just me that was receiving the compliments.  Apparently students from other schools in our district who were here earlier in the week though our school and the teachers here were as the cool as the other side of your pillow.  They talked about how our coaches actually played with the students and how we talked TO the students rather than DOWN to them.  We are basically known as the ‘cool’ teachers in town which is pretty awesome in my opinion.  For all the problems I see with our school and schools here in Tanzania in general, it seems like the teachers here are at least having a positive impact on the students in this respect.  Or maybe my expectations and perspective has changed so greatly since I’ve been here for this short time.  Either way, it’s great to finally get some real, honest, positive feedback from the people who matter the most in what I’m trying to do here; the students.

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3 responses

30 06 2011
Chelsea

Hello, I just graduated from college in the US and will soon be moving to Iringa, Tanzania for a Peace Corps-esque job, although unfortunately not with the PC. I hope to apply to volunteer with the Peace Corps after this job is finished. I stumbled across your blog when looking for info on the Iringa area and was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about Iringa, Tanzania, and the Peace Corps in general. If so, could I text you my email address (to the phone number you posted)? Or what would be the best way to connect?

Thanks so much for writing this blog! It’s actually been a lot of help as I prepare to move.

7 07 2011
glegacki

Hey! Yea just send a text with your name and your email address to my phone number listed and I’ll get in touch with you. Karibu Iringa!

21 06 2011
Aunt Lynn

So proud of you Holt !!!!! Can’t wait to see you this weekend……….. Love Aunt Lynn xo

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