Special Education Teacher Travels to Tanzania to Give Back
Retired special education teacher Mary Rowlette said she learned in the rural village of Ipalamwa that we all have something to give. Her personal goal, she said was to help children, observe, support others and use her skills to make a difference. In her interview with Global Volunteers Social Media Manager Sam Pinakoulaki, Mary describes her classroom technique:
“I contributed to a number of projects, but my main assignment was helping young students aged 8 to 12 learn some English skills.” In an over-crowded classroom several thousands miles from the one she taught in years ago, she brought her decades of experience to bear. Some days, the lessons were held outside on the soccer field to encourage students by integrating play into the English tutoring.
“We’d switch between topics of discussion to hold the students’ attention,” Mary explained. Singing and games are a favorite activity during summer service in Tanzania (actually winter break), and work well as tools for teaching practical conversation skills. Mary said it was challenging to come up with new conversational subjects each day, “but the children were delighted by ou’ efforts. “Everyone can do this successfully,” Mary said. “It’s a matter of putting yourself in the mind of a young child and seeing their needs through their eyes. Their lives are quite simple at that age, so just going with the flow is the most effective strategy, in my opinion. They just love the attention.”
Teaching youth wasn’t all she did. She shared teaching techniques with the primary school teachers, and discussed alternative classroom discipline options. “I also made home visits to offer psycho-social support to young mothers and their children and did some light painting in the community school,” Mary said. She felt her days were filled with new experiences, with always an opportunity to gain deep insights into the Tanzanian culture. “The whole experience demonstrated to me that, no matter who we are, no matter where we’re from, we all need to work together and accept each other. We ALL love, laugh, cry share joy and suffer hardships BUT we continue to live and move forward with our lives.”
Did this kind of immersion within the community give you the chance to form new relationships?
Oh yes, definitely. My fellow teammates were fabulous. We shared many an hour laughing, crying, sharing stories. It was a terrific way to learn from each other. As for the children, well, they were amazing. Throughout this volunteer experience, the children and I learned, laughed and sang many, many songs. They even tried to teach me Swahili. That’s something I’ll never forget!”
How did the children respond to you as their volunteer teacher?
“Children are so open-minded, and we can be such a big influence in their lives. I know from my years as a special education teacher that you never know how you’re shaping a child’s future. It’s a privilege to help them as a volunteer teacher this way.” She said she recognized that several children in the classroom had obvious learning disabilities. But, the school had no special resources, and the teachers weren’t properly trained to provide targeted support to students with special needs. She said she encouraged students to try their best, and offered advice to the headmaster on simple interventions that could make a small difference and relive the teachers’ stress. Often, students who become disruptive because of a behavioral or learning disability are sent home to parents who have no educational training and must spend their days in fields cultivating or harvesting crops. “It’s loss upon loss when resources are so scarce,” Mary said. But, nevertheless, volunteer teachers can definitely demonstrate patience and compassion to students of all abilities.
She continued: “As I travel both as a tourist and a volunteer, I make a point of being kind to others. I Listen to what they have to say. I Observe and absorb all information presented to me. When I share my experiences with others, I do so in the hope that they too may participate on a Global Volunteers service program somewhere in the world.”
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