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Habari za Shinyanga (Hello from Shinyanga)

Liam Egan, who has a wealth of experience in secondary school teaching and adult education, welcomes us into his volunteer life in Tanzania...

Here I am in Shinyanga, or  “Shy town”, and I have just finished three months of a two year contract. I am a School Leadership Advisor/Facilitator in Tanzania with EQUIP (Education Quality Improvement Programme), a DFID (Department for International Development) funded programme managed by Cambridge Education, a member of the Mott MacDonald Group, KPMG and International Rescue Committee (IRC). 

The programme is targeted at improving quality of education, especially for girls, in seven regions of Tanzania, namely Dodoma, Tabora, Shinyanga, Simiyu, Kigoma, Mara and Lindi, with the eventual goal of replication to the whole of Tanzania. These seven regions represent 1/4 of the primary education system, with 3,680 schools, approximately 49,000 teachers. 

Focused on teacher performance, school leadership, planning and management, and increasing community participation, EQUIP-Tanzania aims for quality in the heart of our classroomsEQUIP hopes that I can use my half century of education, teaching and management experience to assist in the upskilling of the head teachers in the 555 primary schools in Shinyanga district. No easy task, considering that Shinyanga is two thirds the size of Ireland, without the infrastructure we so take for granted in Europe.

There has been lots of travel and late nights in towns without regular supplies of water, power, accommodation and communication. Having spent time in Kenya (6 years), Nigeria (3 years) and South Africa,  I have to say that Tanzania is certainly different from the Africa I remember from the 70s and 80s, and vastly different from South Africa during and post-Apartheid. But it is a delightful difference, and fascinating for someone who comes from a cosy retirement in Ireland.

For example, before I moved into my house, I was a resident in the Vigimark Hotel, and what an introduction it was to life in Shinyanga, Tanzania. The hotel was pleasant, the staff wonderful and the grounds very pleasant indeed, but some of the things that went on were an assault to the senses of this Mzungu (Swahili for a white person). Breakfast was a voyage of discovery full of, to a Mzungu, strange treats. No bacon and eggs, I’m afraid. Only three things were always there: tea/coffee, toast and chicken soup. Yes, chicken soup! 

And the voyage of discovery was finding out what was on today. Eggs sometimes, hardboiled. Frankfurters sometimes, chickens livers and gizzards sometimes. Mandazi, a kind of a deep fried doughnut, sometimes, with either watermelon, guava juice, passion fruit juice, pineapple juice or sometimes a mixture. Other times, dropscones, samosas and one morning we even had rusks.

Eating in the evenings, I discovered that there was beef stew most days, fried fish Tilapia some days and fried/roast chicken nearly every day. The Chef did the best fresh tomato soup I have ever tasted. How do I know it was fresh? Like most of the food, you order at six and get it at seven. None of your fast food junk here in Mzee! 

Being a volunteer again is strange, so different from when I was 25! Over these three months, I have met so many other BAVs (Born Again Volunteers) and they all say the same: “It’s not like I remember it in the 70s, 80s or even 90s”. It seems harder for us to adjust in some respects, because back then everything was new and exciting, and coming to terms with a new way of life is always easier when you are young, indeed it is part of growing up.

As you get older you get a bit set in your ways and change becomes a bit more daunting but that is what makes it an adventure!

Kwaherini na Ubaki Salama (Goodbye and stay well)  

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