A short visit to Arusha School25 March 2009

The team spent Wednesday morning visiting the staff and students of the Arusha School, a primary school in the Arusha city center. We paired off into groups of two to lead projects with the students. Hiroya and I partnered up to teach the kids origami, while other folks did science experiments, played marbles, and danced like vegetables. The kids were a joy to work with, all very curious about who the strangers on campus were. By far the most exciting thing for them was not the activities, or the stuff we brought to share, but rather to commandeer our digital cameras and run around campus taking pictures of each other and the stranger gaggle of foreigners, then clustering around to see the result on the LCD screens.

kids with camera

The campus was a collection of classroom buildings, joined by dusty dirt pathways, and the kids wandered in and out of them between class. At times it was hard to determine if class was really in session, as teachers were sometimes absent from rooms, and children aimlessly wandered the grounds, eager to take a photo or to talk about their favorite singer, Chris Brown. An ancient turtle slowly meandered across a patch of grass, older than the buildings surrounding it.

The classrooms at the school were austere and rather worn-down, without any sort of technology like televisions or computers, or even books and basic supplies like paper and pencils. The desks were battered and uncomfortable, simple welded steel and wood devices. The chalkboard chipped and stained with years of accumulated dust and grime. The walls coated in peeling paint and crude graffiti that sixth graders world-wide are compelled to leave behind. The windows had no screens, and had strong iron bars over them, casting a penitentiary mood over the interior.

Hiroya and I were left largely to ourselves to teach some thirty students, all sixth graders, how to fold origami paper cranes. There was no instructor for the class, and we more or less improvised our entire talk. After much too brief introductions, in which I introduced myself as a guy from the same city as Barack Obama, we launched into the origami. I had only learned the pattern an hour before, so I was only slightly less confused as the students. What began as patient listening on part of the students quickly devolved into barely organized chaos, as they clamored after Hiroya and I, shouting "Teacher, teacher! Is this right?" then thrusting some mangled attempt at folding paper into our faces.

We persevered, however, and managed to reign in the chaos. I found a few students who were quick learners, then dispatched them to instruct their classmates. The few hopeless cases I took pity on and just folded the paper for them. No matter how many times I would demonstrate a fold, they simply just stared blankly at me and motion for me to do it for them. After 40 minutes with this one group (we had only planned for only 15 minutes, and to do three classes), they all finally had cranes, some more majestic than others, a few barely recognizable, one torn to shreds, and patiently shared one or two pencils to draw on eyes, the finishing touch on their masterpieces.

Want to talk about this a bit more? Send a tweet to @cgansen or email me at cgansen@gmail.com.