Clinton School student Christine McCall (Chicago, Ill.) is currently in Mwanza, Tanzania, for her International Public Service Project with Wesley College, where she will research best practices for servant leadership programs and develop a curriculum for Wesley’s Servant Leadership Center. Below is a reflection, written by McCall of her first two weeks. Follow her blog for written updates, photos, and videos from her time in Tanzania.
I am two weeks in and I still feel like I am living in a dream. I am amazed by Tanzania’s beauty and the overall hospitality. My first two weeks in Tanzania have been a whirlwind getting settled in; however, at the same time I feel like I have been here much longer than two weeks because the pace of life is much slower and simpler. Though I am experiencing a new continent, country, culture, and language, I feel a peacefulness here that I was not necessarily expecting. I am trying to figure out where that feeling is coming from and I cannot pinpoint that just yet. What I do know is that Wesley College is a special place. The teachers, faculty, and staff have been nothing short of welcoming and making me feel right at home from the very first day I arrived.
I am impressed with my host organization thus far and the way they have assisted in helping me get settled in these first two weeks. I arrived late on Saturday night, June 2 and Eric Soard and his wife Liz picked me up at the airport and invited me back to their house for a late dinner. The very next morning at 8 a.m., we were on our way to a church service at Wesley College. There is nothing like jumping right in. The service was primarily conducted in Swahili and some of it was translated for me. What struck me in this instance was that I did not really have to understand the language because I could feel what the words meant from the emotion in the room. I have never experienced anything like that before and it was a moment that I will remember for a long time.
Eric Soard is the Director of Wesley College and in the first few days we had an initial meeting to discuss whether his vision for the servant leadership training manual has changed since I agreed to the project. I was given an office to do my work and introduced to all the appropriate people at the school. Eric has additional plans to set me up with some community members for input about servant leadership. His vision for the servant leadership program is expansive and will be ongoing after this summer and adapted to fit the needs as time goes on and the college grows. Eric is very easy to talk to and open to ideas and discussion. I look forward to learning more about Wesley College, the students, teachers, staff, and Tanzania overall so that I am able to produce the best product possible for the students and future of the college.
One thing that I have been looking forward to every day is sitting in on and observing Mr. Baraka Kengwa’s Intensive English class. This class has anywhere from five to 10 students every day. Mr. Kengwa has welcomed me into his classroom and the students have been receptive to me and invited me to participate in some of their lessons. They have had some really great questions for me about America and my beliefs, some of which include: Are you a feminist and how do you define feminism? What do Americans know about the triangular slave trade? Do you believe in witchcraft? It is encouraging to see the students so enthusiastic, curious, and comfortable in asking these questions. There was one day Mr. Kengwa was absent and he asked me if I would mind visiting his class and just practicing English with his students. I was excited to step in and the students came up with discussion topics of what they want to be when they graduate from Wesley College and why they think more people in Tanzania should learn and speak English. We had a candid conversation and I can already tell that these students are motivated by the way they participate in class and by the questions they ask of the teacher.
I also recently sat in on Rev. Bonface Wanyama’s theology class. The topic of this class was the crusades and the students had some thought-provoking questions for the teacher. Among those questions was: What lessons can we learn from the crusades and apply in our lives today? Because my project is focused on developing a servant leadership training manual, I have found it necessary to observe the teachers and students in the classroom and how they interact. I am taking particular note of the teaching styles as well as the students that seem to be comfortable in leadership roles. I have really enjoyed sitting in on the classes because it is giving me a sense of where the students are at and where they want to go. Though I have not gotten too deep into my actual project yet, I believe that developing relationships and rapport with the students and teachers is of great importance and will only make the final deliverable that much stronger because they will be willing to help in the process.
As far as preparations go, I wish that I had known that the majority of people in Mwanza, Tanzania speak Swahili. Had I realized the extent to which Swahili is spoken in Mwanza, I would have made time to study Swahili in advance of arriving in country. I am grateful that the students and teachers I am working with at Wesley College are encouraging me to learn and speak Swahili and even taking time out of their schedules to help me with basic vocabulary. A number of the teachers and students have told me that I am a fast learner and are surprised by my ability to hear the word and then spell and speak it so easily. While they have been very complimentary, I suppose I am being hard on myself and do not necessarily feel that I am moving at a quick enough pace with language.
I was nervous walking to work by myself the first time, especially as it was only my third day in country and I did not know any Swahili. First things first is that I would like to report I did not get lost and remembered where to turn by landmarks I memorized the day before on my practice run with my host. One thing I noticed on that first walk by myself was that I was the only Caucasian person walking on the streets. Most of the locals went about their business, but there were some drivers that called out to give me a ride and then children that said “hello”. Because I am unfamiliar with the language, I did not know what to say to the drivers so I just smiled and politely shook my head that I did not need a ride. With the children I smiled, waved, and said hello back. In the days after that first walk, I have learned some greetings so I can now respond to those who speak to me on the streets.
I am looking forward to starting my interviews with the students and teachers as well as disseminating the student and teacher questionnaires in the next two weeks. I cannot believe that I am already into my third week. I know that as I get more comfortable here, the time is going to go by more quickly. I have been doing a lot of activities with Eric and his family in the first two weeks and I am looking forward to exploring Mwanza with some of the students and teachers in the coming weeks. I am doing my best to simply enjoy the moment and learn something from every interaction – whether that be with a student, teacher, local, at a restaurant, or walking to school in the mornings.