Newsletter - Janie's visit

I made a quick trip to Jambiani in July, accompanied by Olivia and Emily on their second visit, and we were soon joined by two new ZAP volunteer teachers, Somaya and Emma.

It was an enormous help having Olivia and Emily because they already ‘knew the ropes’ and were warmly welcomed back into the village community by teachers, pupils and friends – especially the Blue Lagoon ‘team’ of Bomba, Basira and Juma – and of course the inimitable Mr Pandu, who had geared himself up for a very concentrated two weeks on ZAP’s behalf. I always think that Mr P must heave a sigh of relief on my departure!

Olivia and Emily acted as my companions and invaluable Personal Assistants - organising my appointments diary (always a daunting task, with so many unscheduled visitors to Blue Lagoon!) and lending much needed support in the many activities which we crammed into our short visit. I felt that the girls’ relationship with the villagers and understanding of the wider community took on a new dimension on this second visit; we all hope that they will return many times as ZAP representatives in the future. (see their Report under Volunteers).

We needed to prepare the way for the extended 8 week field trip for our two first official teaching volunteers – Somaya and Emma – who flew out to join us after a few days. Since they were to teach as part of the school curriculum, a certain amount of red tape had to be negotiated between ZAP, the Minister of Education and Mr Maabad (Headmaster of secondary school). Fortunately their CVs were excellent, and the fact that ZAP is a registered NGO in Zanzibar (Non-government Organisation) helped everything go smoothly.

Already staying in the village (in accommodation sponsored by ZAP) were two English professors from a USA University, John Socas and Jen Holmes. Their innovative Drama and Literacy Workshop at the skuli was already in full swing when we arrived. Jen and John worked with about 30 pupils from Form III and their aim was to improve spoken English by means of drama. Their methods were a real eye-opener, both for us and for the local teachers; not only did the pupils make excellent progress, but they gained so much confidence from the experience. The Americans’ encouragement of gender integration was, I think, a contributing factor and it is interesting that past resistance to this seems to be weakening everywhere in Jambiani. At the end of their mini ‘term’ the pupils put on a performance for their parents, teachers and other members of the community – every word of the play, entitled ‘The Circumstances of Life’ was written by the students; they all took part, and the audience was very appreciative. We hope Jen and John will be back next year – they were a real breath of fresh air, and we are grateful to them for contacting ZAP.

Livs, Ems and I visited the Modern Tailoring Academy in Stone Town, run by a splendid man, Rashid, who put on an exhibition of students’ work for us. ZAP has purchased two further sewing machines which do complicated things, such as button holes, and we funded a course of lessons for the Sewing Ladies Class teachers to ensure that they understood how to benefit from them in order to be able to pass on the information to the swelling numbers of enthusiastic students back in the village. Of all ZAP projects, the sewing classes seem to be the most popular with members of the village committee, who continually stress how important it is to give the ladies what they call a ‘life chance’. The trouble is, however, that the garments they make are so very African, both in design and material, that they have a limited market for the tourists, and therefore not suitable for wider marketing – in hotels, boutiques etc. I have sent Rashid some pages from a UK pattern book showing simple summer casual clothes – the sort that people on holiday in a hot climate would want to buy because they could still wear them in western countries. One can buy such clothes in the UK and they are mostly made in Kenya or South Africa. I don’t see why our ladies couldn’t produce similar garments, but the main stumbling block is really the non-availability of nice, thick strong plain fabrics (cotton or linen). I have done my homework on this, and so far have not found anything whatsoever in Zanzibar – the truth is, it will have to be imported. If anyone reading this has a bright idea, do PLEASE get in contact!

We also visited the college where we have sent two plumbing students – the grandly named JKU Military College. Mr Pandu had to get a ‘security’ pass for us three English ladies to visit this efficient establishment and we had a wonderful time looking around – it is quite a place, where a variety of trades are taught (joinery, motor maintenance, electrical, tailoring etc.) and we were deeply impressed. Do look at the pictures of us with our army guides on the website! (see PROJECTS) Our plumbers are smashing boys – but they were noticeably thin, and clearly under-nourished. Their training has to incorporate military discipline which must take its toll physically and they had already sent an SOS to Mr Pandu asking if ZAP could help them with extra rations. I authorised extra funding for them, and for the other students at Karume Technical College, and Mr Pandu has set up a sort of ZAP soup kitchen in a strategic part of town where ZAP students can all get a free square meal a day. As usual, the challenge is to make sure that our support reaches its target – if we simply gave them the cash, no doubt their family would put in a bid for it, and they might still end up hungry. This is an example of where ZAP, represented so ably by Mr Pandu, is in a unique position to reach the source of the problem.

At any rate, the plumbers are doing extremely well, as are the electricians, refrigeration engineers and motor mechanics at Karume. All our students are near the top of their classes, and have excellent reports. Time will tell of course – but we are optimistic that these young lads will be able to set up small businesses in Jambiani, with all the extra life-enhancing opportunities that these will bring to their families and to the wider community.

Back in the village, 23 students from Durham University arrived, fresh from a Kilimanjaro ascent and a couple of days recovery on a Zanzibar beach - keen and eager to lend a hand with the Water Project. They wanted to stay in the village proper, and to eat with local families – but first Mr Vuai and Mr Suha had organised a full-blown formal reception, complete with honoured guest Mr Haji Makungu Mgongo, District Commissioner of Zanzibar southern region, plus other sundry dignitaries. Among the many solemn and impassioned speeches, Mama Janie had been given the task of welcoming this important person and in mad moment I had decided to ask Mr P to translate my speech into Swahili. Mr Mgongo seemed duly impressed, and it was all excellent PR stuff.

It quickly became apparent that the task of digging a trench for the water pipe (about 2km in length) through volcanic rock and thick bush, using only rudimentary tools, and in the heat of the day was daunting to say the least. But the students threw themselves into the project with enthusiasm. The village was enormously grateful for their hard work and we hope that DUCK (Durham University Charity) may want a long-term link with ZAP in the future.

Mr Pandu and I made a tour of the Nursery Schools where ZAP has set up porridge supplies on 3 days a week. It took us a little time to get round all three, and this enabled me to observe at first hand the astonishing effect which a nutritious meal has upon young children. At the first two schools we arrived in time to see the actual dishing out, scenes uncomfortably reminiscent of Oliver Twist with around 90 kids queuing up in silent orderly lines with their plastic beakers, while the cooks stirred the gruel (delicious actually, I tasted some!) of coconuts, bananas, sugar and flour – with milk as an occasional treat. You could already see the children perking up as they gobbled it down, but it was during our final visit to the third school, where – the ladies explained – they had not thought it right to wait for us, and had already distributed the porridge, that the real benefit was evident. We were greeted by a crowd of noisy happy children, positively bouncing up and down and almost overwhelming us with enthusiasm. They all wanted to talk to us at once and were so animated that the teachers clapped their hands and made them sit on the floor, where we had an impromptu sing-song that I shall never forget.

Mr Pandu and the porridge-producing ladies asked me whether ZAP would carry on supplying it in the future. It was, as they say a ‘no-brainer’.

By now, Somaya and Emma had joined us at Blue Lagoon. We took them down to the skuli, where they quickly settled in, and worked out a timetable with Maabad which entailed them taking the whole of Form II for English for an eight week period. They had lugged out a huge amount of educational materials from the UK – coloured pens and card, glue, stickers, games and other colourful and exciting items. The lucky Form II pupils had never had it so good – but it was the girls’ boundless energy, enthusiasm and natural flair for teaching which made their visit such a great success. They soon won over Mr Amer, the regular English teacher, who was naturally a little dubious at first, but who ended up inviting them to his house on a regular basis and fully supported their teaching methods. It will be interesting when we go to Jambiani again in November to see if these have been absorbed into the curriculum.

After exhausting hot mornings in the school, I thought the girls would come back to Blue Lagoon for a well-earned rest, but not a bit of it – they threw themselves into a campaign setting up reading groups for all ages of children in the Library in the afternoons. Starting with a few of the little kids on the first day, they were quickly overwhelmed with the demand and the scenes at the Library were like something out of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Encouraged by the support of the new Librarians, Nabawia and Vivian, together with Nabawia’s daughter, they played reading and drawing games inside, and organised noisy playground games, like ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf?’ on the dusty ground outside. Still later in the day, they would organise beach games or teach English to groups of young adults.

As if all this were not enough, Somaya and Emma also visited the three Nursery Schools on a regular basis where they made friends with the teachers, and helped out with the children, as well as supplying them with educational aids. It is easy to see why the village took them to their hearts and why they told us on their return that their experience had been unforgettable. They have set the bar very high, we feel, for ZAP volunteers in the future, and we are extremely grateful to them for all the time, effort and hard work they have put in for us, and for Jambiani. Further details of their visit, and news of the exams they set, certificates awarded, prize-giving ceremony and end-of-term party (with Mr Amer bopping away with the rest!) can be found in Volunteers’ Reports on the website.

The hectic two week visit by Livs, Ems and me soon came to an end, rather fortunately as far as I was concerned as I had begun to have health problems. As ever it was exhausting – and immensely rewarding in equal measure. Waving good-bye to all our friends this time, I felt some small sense of achievement as I contemplated the way in which ZAP projects seem to be making a real and sustainable difference to many lives in the village. It has been an uphill task setting up the basic building blocks, but we really are getting there, thanks to all our supporters in the UK, and to the network of helpers which we have established in Zanzibar.

If you have a moment, do please have a look at the new pictures on the website which illustrate this successful summer field trip, and we hope you will also enjoy the new promotional film of ZAP’s work which will shortly be on general release! Watch this space!

Janie Preece

November 2007 


ZANZIBAR ACTION PROJECT is a Registered Charity in the UK No. 1108030