The Toa Nafasi Project would like to thank its latest visitors to our organization, Trudy Comba and her grandson Conrad Metcalfe.

Trudy and Conrad came to Toa by way of another friend/Moshi connection who was looking for a last-minute short-term volunteer placement and, not ever wanting to turn anyone away, we happily acquiesced.  The quick-change situation turned out to be serendipitous as Trudy, 84 years strong, is a retired special education instructor from the U.S. and was more than happy to share a few of her “truths” with our gang.

Taking a peek around our setup at Msaranga, Trudy noted that our giant alphabet letters, while a great visual aid for the students, could be moved to sit lower on the walls so as to be eye-level with our young learners.  She also suggested drawing the vowels in red and the consonants in blue so as to clearly differentiate the two.

Here is Trudy’s take on a daily activity in every classroom in every school around the country: greetings and recitation of the date.  She recommends a manipulative calendar whereby each day a different student can find the number (date) and word (day of the week) rather than passively listening to the teacher’s narration.

She also suggested that another child could come to the front of the class and say a few words about the haps in his/her life since the group last met: what was eaten for dinner and breakfast, what chores were undertaken, what games were played, who was encountered and why, etc.

When Trudy started talking about dyslexia and how many kids confuse letters and number that look alike, a lot of Toa tutors’ heads started nodding up and down since we see these mistakes a lot.  Trudy suggested that one way to work with such kids is to capture their attentions and make sure they are really concentrating.  With kids whose minds wander, it’s important to try and harness that brainpower that goes into learning a new concept and repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.  If the child’s attention starts to wane, change it up.  Go outside and look at nature.  Do twenty jumping jacks.  Have the child contemplate some other subject for a while before turning back to the task at hand.

We wrapped up Trudy’s Truths with a discussion about positive reinforcement as a way of encouraging flagging students to keep up with their progress.  Without being made to feel safe and loved, children cannot learn.  In an environment of fear and castigation, even the most hearty child will start to wither.  I think the Toa tutors have understood this by now, having worked with me long enough to know that ukali (harshness) will not be tolerated in the Toa classrooms, but it was nice to have Trudy underscore this point.  In the early grades of formal education, being taught is just as much about being cared for, and a cared-for child will probably do a lot better in school than a child who is constantly criticized and living in fear.

Many thanks, Trudy and Conrad, for stopping by The Toa Nafasi Project and welcome again to Tanzania!