This is Africa

AS I STEPPED off the plane onto African soil, I couldn’t quite believe I had arrived. After three months of planning and emailing, I had finally arrived in Tanzania. Heading towards the doors of the airport, we officially entered Dar Es Salaam and were greeted with the full force of African culture.

This is Africa 2This summer I went to Africa on an internship with a company called LRTT (Limited Resource Teacher Training) to film a documentary on the cultural differences of education, and how showing African teachers new teaching methods is a sustainable way to make a difference. I spent four weeks in Tanzania learning about the culture and even managed to fit in a trip to the beautiful island of Zanzibar, and a two-day game drive of Ruaha National Safari Park.

Journeying to Zanzibar the beaches were white and the sea was so clear that the sea bed was visible even six feet out. You could call it paradise – well you should as it was somewhere I could have stayed for the rest of my life.

As we sunbathed we were greeted by locals who sold anything we might need from clothing to oil paintings, and even a casual coconut drink if you fancied it. With plenty of ‘Jambo’s’ to make your day it was a shame that we only stayed for two nights. Zanzibar could be summed up by the four hour happy bar that certainly made everyone grateful, or perhaps the £3 professional massages to relax the girls. The party boat was full to the brim with an amazing atmosphere as we watched the African sun dip into the horizon.

The living arrangements were unique to say the least, as we slept in wood and bamboo huts and I experienced my first ever mosquito net. It made me feel like a princess draped neatly over my bed, but it wasn’t long before feelings of claustrophobia kicked in. With the smell of jungle spray lingering in the air, the mozzies didn’t stand a chance against us highly prepared UK travellers.

This is Africa 1After two wonderful days in paradise it was time to leave, and we woke up at five in the morning to head back to the mainland. With water, a boiled egg and some dry toast we were ready for the twenty hour journey in front of us. As the hours went by we edged closer and closer to the small town of Njombe – where we would be spending the next three weeks. Our anticipation was peaking, but was quickly replaced by fatigue and hunger. We were about sixteen hours into our roadtrip when we experienced the most surreal moment of the holiday. On one especially rocky road the driver spontaneously switched on a TV blaring out Celine Dion for a good hour, only to be topped off by a Charlotte Church and Celine Dion Christmas mash-up. Though no one on the bus was impressed by the sudden change of tone, I was a tiny bit proud – being Welsh – that they even knew who Charlotte Church was.

Njombe was beautiful. A small town with everything that you need in it where you were greeted daily by groups of Africans and warmly welcomed into the country and the town. You could thrift shop for amazing African fabrics, scarves, blankets and crazy clothing left behind by hundreds of travellers over the years, while enjoying the sun and friendly atmosphere.

This is Africa 4

On the working days we would go into the local schools and observe the teachers. The schools were of course unlike any British school and spending so much time there meant it was simply something we had to get used to. The children were wonderful; they smiled all day and never ignored me. They would hold my hand as I walked to the next class and jump in front of my camera whenever they could. I explained that I was a filmmaker and soon they never missed an opportunity to be filmed.

These children are incredibly kind, well-spoken and grateful – an unexpected quality to find in a child with so little. They often did not live in comfortable homes or have access to nutritious food and clean water, yet they were the happiest children you would ever come across.
Eager to learn, these children went to school with hopes and dreams much like those we achieve daily in our society. This is when I realised why education is so important in a third-world country. It’s not just about what they learn and how long they learn for, but more how they are taught. This is why LRTT is so important – not only do they show Tanzanian teachers new teaching methods, but they also teach them how to make a child want to learn and love education.

I sat in a class for an observation and noticed that a child wasn’t writing anything down. I promptly went over to help him and realised it wasn’t a lack of enthusiasm, but that he was visually impaired. Something that is so insignificant to us and fixed without a second thought, can be hugely life altering for a child in Africa.

This is Africa 5On the third day the British teachers were allowed to run a few lessons for the children. I observed a poetry class and one poem about dreams led the teachers to ask the children what their dreams are, with many aspiring to be doctors, nurses and teachers. It was inspiring to see these kids smile and tell us their hopes for the future, but it also gave me hope that although poverty exists, it is not something that stops a child from wishing for something better.

One little boy put his hand up in the middle of the class and said he wanted to be a pilot, later on the teacher told me he was HIV positive. It is hard to explain how I felt realising that he would never be a pilot; a feeling that stops you in your tracks, a feeling that no child should ever have to experience so young. It was thought provoking, but most importantly unforgettable.

Citizens of Western society are extremely lucky as we take for granted our aspirations, jobs, home and health, which are always within reach. In Africa? Not so much. The value of education is very high – it often comes at an expense and so families can only send one of their children to school. If you don’t pass your exams your family may pull you out of school as they won’t see it as a good investment.

The resources that these schools have are also very limited; pens and books are a luxury for many school kids. When buying textbooks for a class, a family might have to travel seventeen hours to the nearest city, and the necessary books are not always available even then. One hundred children could be sharing just five textbooks.

One of the most remarkable things I noticed was the boundless respect African people showed – not just to elders, but to everyone. When you went to a bar or café the waitresses would bow to you as they served you. I believe that such respect has come from discipline, but the discipline that is used in African schools is old fashioned as a teacher won’t hesitate to cane a child for a small offence.

This is Africa 3No-one told me that this was how Tanzanian teachers discipline children, so I wasn’t expecting it. Even though British schools once used this punishment, I still don’t think it was right. We often encouraged the teachers to use non-violent punishment and disciplinary action for badly behaved children; there is after all a reason it was banned in the UK.

Africa was incredible and the experience was eye-opening. I had great fun in Zanzibar and on the safari but I also learnt the value of my own education and the meaning behind it. Every day I attend university but still complain about lectures and the amount of work – every student does – but I now know that education is not simply about learning new things and earning qualifications; it’s about the experience as well as the privilege of being able and allowed to learn.

I would push anyone to travel as it’s not just packing your bags and getting on a plane. It’s about experiencing different cultures, hearing different stories and most of all making memories with different types of people – memories that you can share.

All photos taken by Rhian Hughes