The title of this blog entry comes from the quote that goes: “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” I am referring to the collaboration in which The Toa Nafasi Project engages with the government schools where we work.
First off, even to be allowed within the school premises is a huge act of trust and cooperation on the part of the local government authorities, in particular our friends at the District Education Office who are led by DEO Ngonyani. They have welcomed us into their school district with open arms and made our forays into the individual schools that much easier.
Next, and perhaps more important, is the relationship we have cultivated with each school and that delicate balance we have reached with the staffs there and our own staff. In such a public-private partnership, it is easy for misconceptions to take root and miscommunications to remain unresolved, so it’s really important to us that not only the top-down folks like the government officials understand why we are there and what we are doing, but also the bottom-up people like the school administrations and teachers.
When we first introduced the project, it was important to tell the schools that we were not coming in because they were doing their work wrong or badly. No fingers pointed, no blame placed. But over time, it became clear that we had to also let them know we weren’t there to do the lion’s share of the work either: taking over their duties so they could drink chai or chat on the phone!
I think it was a hard balance to strike as Toa is such a unique concept in Tanzania and the schools’ staffs really had to adjust their mindsets to understand what we were up to. Not coming in to boss them around is one thing but also not coming in to be bossed around had to be explicitly explained!!
Thank goodness we took the time this year, however, as you can see from a sampling of reports and photos below. With full transparency about the project and its goals, we were able – via Tutor Leader Hyasinta’s careful conversations with school admins and educators – to not only salvage potentially damaged relationships, but to improve and strengthen them for the long run.
“Jamhuri is among the schools that we have been in for some time though not long. We have managed to create a solid relationship with the headmistress so all the other teachers just fall in line. We asked the teachers what they know about the project and, as with every other school, they said they know that the project is there to help the kids that are struggling and that our tutors are there to help them help the kids. But they said that they think the tutors do not help them enough as they do not follow their directions but rather only do what they know. From that, we figured that they do not fully understand the work of our tutors and the arrangement of their activities; they thought that the tutors are there to do what they ask them to do! But we managed to level that by addressing our workflow and the timeframes and why we have our schedule as it is. The government teachers admitted that they did not know that and they were glad we had that conversation as it would have resulted in some issues later on if we had not talked. They agreed to help our tutors in completing their work.”
“At Mnazi, we started by asking the government teachers what they understand about the project and the duties of our tutors. They said that the project is there to help kids that are struggling with learning, and that Toa does this by teaching them in the tent. We told them yes, what they have said is right, but our tutors are mostly here to relieve you from dealing with a lot of kids and trying to achieve the desired results in a limited time. The project is in this school to make sure that you are being helped to reach all the kids that you can hardly reach on your own. Many of these students that the Toa tutors are helping are not very easy to deal with, so our tutors have to concentrate on them. We gave them some brochures to understand the project more, and they loved that we reached out to talk to them. I am convinced that they now grasp the concept of Toa.”
“As a very new school to Toa, it was easy to talk with the staff of Jitegemee as to them it seemed like a routine check-in. They also seemed to understand very little about the project – only what has been already done with no idea what’s coming next – so it was good to chat. They also thought maybe in the future they will have to share lessons with our tutors. We explained the project to them and in-depth the duties and responsibilities of our tutors and what’s happening next. They liked the idea and admitted that they really love the project and the tutors have been very helpful as they have a lot of kids who are struggling.”
“We asked the staff at Kiboriloni what they understand about the project and the duties of our tutors and they gave the same answer that the other staffs did: that the project is there to help pupils that are struggling with learning, and the tutors are there to help them (the government teachers) to perform their duties. They also said that in the past things were very smooth as the Toa tutors would do everything that they wanted them to do like help them teach the kids while they are not around and run some errands and sometimes even invigilate Standard Seven exams for them. But they complained that currently things have changed, meaning the tutors are concentrating on Toa activities and would only partially engage when asked to do other tasks. They believed that that’s what Toa is there for, so they thought that our tutors were misbehaving. According to that we figured, that was where the recent lack of cooperation was coming from, so we explained to them the duties and responsibilities together with some boundaries of our work. They seemed in shock and admitted that they did not know that but that they understand and they are very glad that we had a talk because otherwise things might have gotten worse. They then agreed to cooperate more and also help the tutors by smoothening things for them as they declared that our tutors are doing a tough job.”
“Msaranga, our first ever school to be in, was nice to visit because we met two new teachers so we used the opportunity to tell them about the project while highlighting the duties of our tutors and their boundaries. Hyasinta explained to them the work from when the tutors report to school to the time when they leave and the work that they have to complete on daily basis respectively to Toa’s calendar. The government teachers asked why the children are being removed from the classes for just a short time and not to stay in Toa classes until they have learned everything as they can be very difficult to deal with. We told them that yes, these kids are not easy to teach and that’s why we have to keep changing their learning environment so as to trigger or awaken their senses. At the same time, we support and believe in inclusive education so they have to get back to class and keep up with the others. They did not have many other questions as they really loved the idea and thought that it is relieving to them.”
Photos from other schools: