Jambo, meaning hello in Swahili, has become the new morning greeting for pupils at Scoil Naomh Bríde, who have recently welcomed a very special visitor to their classrooms.
As part of a study visit organised in conjunction with UCD Volunteering Overseas, Angela Maina from Morogoro in Tanzania recently received a warm welcome to the Blackwater school. The visit is a milestone, not only for the English teacher, who had never been on a plane before, but for Wexford and Ireland as a whole. It marks the first time that a teacher from a developing country has visited an Irish school as part of the UCD VO programme and according to Scoil Naomh Bríde teacher Ita Corboy, the school are extremely proud to be involved with the partnership.
‘We are very excited about it,’ said Ita, whom Angela will be staying with in Kilmuckridge for two weeks. ‘It’s a very innovative scheme.’
The primary purpose of Angela’s visit to the school is to learn more about how to assist students with learning difficulties such as Dyslexia. She also hopes to improve her English, as well as expand her skills with technology. Of course, Angela is not the only one benefitting from the visit. The English teacher has been teaching Ita’s eager pupils all about her home country, language and culture.
‘The children are learning Swahili words every day and they love it,’ said Ita. ‘She has been able to introduce them to Tanzania and Africa. They are very excited and every morning they have a gift for Angela.’
Angela spent her first few days in Ita’s class of first and second class pupils. With 33 pupils in total, Ita’s class is considered large by Irish standards but this was no sweat for Angela, who is used to teaching up to 70 at a time in Kigurunyembe school.
Angela’s visit to Blackwater may be the talk of the town at the moment but it is only one aspect of the ongoing connection that the village have with Tanzania. Ita has been working with schools such as Kigurunyembe through UCD VO for quite a while, a partnership that she formed with the help of friend Bernard Pierce.
‘Bernard is on the board of UCD VO and he told me about Tanzania and how they need to learn English. I suggested forming a partnership so we started small,’ explained Ita.
Initially, Ita and her husband Liam helped to collect unused computers for an organisation called Camara, who work with UCD VO. Of the computers collected by Camara, 32 made their way to Angela’s school, where they are now being used as an aid to education.
‘We were overrun with laptops and computers when we put a call out,’ said Ita. ‘UCD VO then sent out some students to show the teachers how to use them.’
Angela has already seen the benefits of having technology in the school, which formerly had no computers or iPads.
‘It really does help them to learn,’ she said.
The next step in the project was to send books out to Kigurunyembe and other schools in Tanzania. Books are scarce in schools such as Angelas and it is common for six students to have to share one book.
‘We have very few books and this is a big problem,’ explained Angela. ‘It makes teaching English very difficult. Every subject, except for Swahili, is taught through English so it is really important for children to learn it. They can’t stay in school if they don’t.’
When Ita made a callout for books, she received yet another overwhelming response from the people of Wexford, with one person in particular proving to be extremely generous.
‘Damian Byrne from Byrne’s Bookstore had unused schoolbooks that he wasn’t going to sell. He gave us access to his warehouse and allowed us to take thousands of brand new books,’ explained Ita. ‘It was phenomenal.’
The generosity shown by Damian made a significant difference to many pupils in Tanzania, who now are able to work from the same books as their peers. For Kigurunyembe, the donation will prove transformative, as it facilitates the formation of the school’s first library.
‘Now they actually have books to put in it,’ said Ita.
Through the UCD VO, Ita hopes to continue to send books over to Tanzania and will be soon making an appeal for donations of class sets of books.
Although Angela’s visit is the first of it’s kind, Ita is hoping that it is the first of many.
‘The purpose of UCD VO and its work is to address development issues in an ethical and sustainable way,’ she said. ‘It is wonderful for the Wexford children to experience someone from a different culture and it also helps the teacher who is visiting. We hope to do more exchanges in the future.’
(First published in the Wexford People: print edition. Also available online at http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/forging-educational-links-with-tanzania-31605137.html)