Trip leader Toby Emerson shares a reflection from his time in Tanzania.
Jonas sets a blistering pace as we set out on our first run off the JBFC campus; I’d been running back and forth on a 0.7-mile loop within the campus. There is no way Jackson and I are having any sort of conversation with Jonas as we take a right hand turn off the campus – I am gasping for air and my heart rate is near max. Thankfully, Jonas settles into an easier pace that allows Jackson and I to ask plenty of questions; we seem to be constantly asking questions during our 10-day stay on the JBFC campus.
There are exchanges about educational philosophies, there are discussions about the 46 girls who live on the Kitongo campus, and there are plenty of meals where we share food, laughs and ideas about what service looks like. Jonas has the title of Assistant Campus Director, but he began our friendship by asking me the following questions, “Baba Mae, how many years have you been teaching?”, and then immediately following up with, “what do you like about teaching?” It was clear that this educator wanted an exchange of ideas; he was whole-heartedly committed to making our students think and reflect on their experience, and he was looking for more than one word answers to his questions from this teacher.
The three of us find our stride about a mile into the run; I recognize the path to the family we visited for the Village Night Dinner. Four of our students, four girls from the JBFC home and Jonas had made the visit to a local home for dinner. Jonas had patiently tried to teach us Swahili earlier in the afternoon, so we were prepared with phrases such as, “this food is good”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. It was heartening to see our kids engage with our host as well as the JBFC students. Chicken, rice, beans and yes, donuts were served and I must confess that I may have eaten 4 of them.
We reach the spot where the powerlines end from the main road – 2.2 miles away from the JBFC campus. In teaching AP Environmental Science back at Deerfield Academy, the ideas of sustainability, looking for alternative energy sources and discussing some challenges affecting developing nations is all part of the curriculum I follow. I must say, the JBFC family is practicing sustainability. The campus is completely powered by solar energy, lots of cooking is done with wood, almost all of the food is raised and grown on campus. To wit, we will pick Kale and slaughter chickens on day 9 of our visit for a meal that we will share with the 4th form students (our Community Service partners) on the last day of our visit to Tanzania. I’m not sure you can be any closer to the food we consume.
Our return feels like it is downhill, and as we head back towards Lake Victoria it makes sense. It might also be the fact that our morning run corresponds with the “morning commute”. Cyclists, a few motorcycles and hundreds of kids in uniform headed to the local government school. Dressed in green skirts or pants these kids have a 2 mile walk to the school. Running with my good friend’s, son, Jackson, draws attention. He is 6’5” and blond, and within minutes we have 30 kids following us along the road. I mention that we must look like Forrest Gump, and I’m not entirely sure Jonas gets the reference. He does however care about kids – every kid. We stop to allow cyclists to pass as well as older students making the 7 km walk to the main road where they take a bus another 5km to school. I struggle to make reasonable comparisons between the government school and JBFC; let alone comparisons to what we have at Deerfield Academy.
As we turn back onto the campus road, we discuss the shared work our students will do with Jonas’ 4th Form students. We are designing, labeling with instructions, and assembling seed and seedling packages for local farmers in an attempt to get more local farmers to use permaculture as a viable farming technique. Our packets are just another attempt to pull all areas of the community into the goals of sustainability.
We finish the run at the gate of the JBFC girls’ home. I am struck by the challenges facing this school, but more than anything else, I am struck by the constant joy and optimism that emanates from this community. There are talented educators and mammas and managers all looking to make certain every child has an opportunity to receive one of life’s most important gifts – an education.
To see more pictures from the Tanzania trip, click here.