Simon Oliver - Volunteer English teacher - reports on experiences in Jambiani

“Expect the unexpected”. Of all the lessons we learned during our 6-months volunteering in Africa, this was probably the most useful. From the time we first read about ZAP in the April '08 edition of the OR Bulletin, to the power cut on the morning of our last day in Zanzibar, nothing ever went quite the way we had planned.

 Nan – my wife – and I had visited Zanzibar on holiday in January, 2008, and had loved the whole experience: exotic history, beautiful scenery and friendly and welcoming people. When we read the plea from the Zanzibar Action Project for experienced teachers to spend some time in the fishing village of Jambiani, it didn't take long for us to make the decision. E-mails and phone calls ensued, and by September, we were packing up to leave, having let our house for six months, and looking forward to a winter that would be very different from those we are used to at home in Vancouver. 
ZAP is a small charity founded by Pat Preece (K, '52-'57) and his wife, Janie, with the aim of supplying sustainable, long-term medical, educational and vocational aid to the village of Jambiani, on the southeast coast of the island of Zanzibar. The money raised by the board goes to supporting the excellent medical clinic in the village, and to initiatives at the local primary/secondary school and the library/internet cafe, as well as helping with the training of medical students, 'fundis' (tradesmen), the ladies' sewing co-operative and countless other small projects. The village is not a hotbed of activity for any of the larger charitable organizations, and there is no doubt that ZAP's tireless and wholehearted involvement in the community has greatly helped to better the living conditions of many of the village people. Nan and I left home just hoping that Pat and Janie's faith in us – sight unseen – would be justified.
The six months we spent in Jambiani proved to be all that we could have hoped for, and more. Our first contact in Zanzibar was with Salum, who met us on arrival at Kisauni international airport and would go on to be our first line of contact for countless questions and requests – what to do about the generator, how to buy tickets for the Sauti za Busara music festival and when the next shipment of squid could be delivered to our kitchen! His unfailingly good-natured approach to life was mirrored by so many of our contacts in the village – from Mr. Pandu, ZAP Director in Africa, to Khadija of the Sewing Ladies, Mr. Topu at the school, Bomba the house manager and Dullah at the Garden Restaurant. We were immediately made to feel so welcome, and settling in to village routines was easily accomplished.
Our main aim had been to immerse ourselves immediately in the daily activities of the school, but Ramadan and national exams meant that classes were infrequent in the autumn, so Nan quickly found an alternate area of need, and started work with the Sewing Co-Op. My lesson plans from home had to be discarded after the first day, when I found the level of English comprehension to be far lower than I had expected, but I had only been assigned two classes – albeit with up to 60 students in each – and the challenge of producing useful lessons, without the aid of a text book occupied much of my time.
Christmas came quickly, and we took advantage of the school closure to travel to Madagascar. When term started again in January, familiarity with the system made us much better prepared, and ZAP's contribution of full class sets of text books meant that lessons became more ordered, with aims and goals more clearly defined. Nan moved from the Sewing Co-op to the classroom, where her background as an Art teacher proved perfect for lessons to 8 and 9-yr. olds, combining the visual with the verbal, and she was amazed by the high standard of their drawing, and by how quickly their pictures helped them to assimilate words. Alongside one of the local teachers, I worked with two classes of Form 1 students – first year of secondary school – and was pleased with the way they managed to adapt to my requirements and take pride in their achievements. 
Our departure date, at the end of March, came all too soon, although the pre-rainy season heat and humidity had begun to take their toll, and thoughts of a good steak and a night without mosquito nets were beginning to take over! We were looking forward to slipping back into our regular, western routines, but the final unexpected surprise has been how difficult it is to re-adjust to living in Vancouver. We miss the beauty of the village, the warmth of our relationships with so many people, the simple nature of daily Zanzibari life, and the pleasure of feeling that in a small way, we were trying to do something useful. ZAP could not have been more supportive and we are so grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with them. 

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