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Peace Corps volunteer wouldn’t trade experience for anything
By Jan Lee Buxengard
Kelly's house within the Nangwa Secondary School Compound where she taught. Submitted photo
Serving two years as a volunteer teacher in Tanzania with the United States Peace Corps has been an invaluable experience for Kelly Stenhoff. "I feel I've gained from the benefits and lessons learned," the Spring Grove woman states, adding, "I wouldn't trade this experience with anything."
Stenhoff, the oldest daughter of Roger and Karen Stenhoff, attended school in Spring Grove until 10th grade, when she transferred to Mound Westonka, where she completed her high school education. At the University of Minnesota, she continued her education with a major in chemical engineering, graduating in 2000 with a bachelor of science degree.
"I got back from Europe the winter of 2000 after traveling for two months, and I started to look for a job," she explained. "I was not tied down or committed to anything, so I felt it was a perfect time in my life to do something adventurous."
Stenhoff obtained an application to work with the Peace Corps, an independent overseas volunteer program of the United States government.
Established in 1961, the U.S. Peace Corps gives qualifying men and women the opportunity to learn skills and work effectively with people in developing countries to help them improve their living conditions.
It is a long process, beginning with a detailed application form, listing educational and work background, skills, special interests, and hobbies. Stenhoff sent in the completed form in January 2001, was interviewed in February, followed by a medical checkup and clearing, before receiving an invitation in June to go to Tanzania to be a math teacher. It was her area of college study that qualified her to go to be a teacher in a secondary school.
The early October departure of the group of 60 Peace Corps volunteers going to the east African Republic was delayed as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"We flew into Nairobi, Kenya, on October 21st," Stenhoff recalls. The group stayed at the university there for one night and the next day rode on a bus to Arusha, which is the third largest city in Tanzania.
"The Peace Corps put us up in a hotel a couple days and then each of us stayed at a host family at Arusha for the next seven weeks."
During the daytime, Stenhoff attended Peace Corps technical training that included intense instruction to learn the Swahili language and the area's culture. Swahili, which serves as the national language, is a blend of Arab and African language and is more commonly used in everyday speech. "The language was very hard to learn. There are no words like ours," she noted.
The volunteers also had technical training in teaching and how to teach in Tanzanian classes, which is different from America.
The Tanzanian government has established the subjects to be taught at every stage of the student's education. "I had to learn what was required of me when I was a teacher," Stenhoff stated.
Learning to speak British English was another part of the training. Using an elementary level vocabulary, it is important to speak slowly to enunciate each word, and often be prepared to repeat what was said to be understood, she explained.
Another area of training was to become knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS. About 12 percent of the population has the disease, and for many, the best way to learn about it is to educate through school and the education system.
While living with her host family, Stenhoff learned and experienced the Tanzanian culture and family life so she could be able to communicate and adapt to their lifestyle.
Stenhoff would get up in the morning and the mother would serve her breakfast. In the evening, after returning from Peace Corps training, Stenhoff would join the women in the kitchen to help cook.
"The women taught me how to wash clothes by hand by scrubbing with your hands (no washboard), and to use a cloth to clean the floor (no mop). We had to take bucket baths — ladle water out of a bucket over ourselves. I learned skills to survive day to day, how to cook Tanzanian food, and had to adapt to their way of doing things."
She adds, "My home stay family were born-again Christians, who prayed 20 minutes at mealtime in Swahili."
After completing their training, the Peace Corps volunteers who would serve in the Province of Hanang were sworn in at a ceremony Dec. 15 at Dar es Salaam, the capital city of Tanzania.
Stenhoff's Peace Corps volunteer assignment was to teach math at the Nangwa Secondary School. This girls’ boarding school was located in the Province of Hanang in the central part of the country, a six-hour bus ride from Arusha and three hours from Singida, another big city. From her assigned school to Arusha is like the distance from the Stenhoff family farm in Wilmington Township, Spring Grove, to Minneapolis.
The Nangwa school compound consisted of six classrooms in three buildings, a dining/reception hall, and an empty building called "library." The school came into existence in 1976 when the Mary Knoll Sisters built a private school where women were taught sewing and food preparation — like our home economics classes in America. In 1992, the school was turned over to the Tanzanian government and became a public school where 10 different subjects are taught.
Enrollment at the school was 264 students in grades seven through 10. Seventy-five percent of the students were girls. Fifty percent were girls who came from far away and boarded at the school, while the remaining 50 percent were boys and girls who lived nearby and walked from home each school day.
Grades seven and eight were each split into two sections, while grades 9 and 10 were one section each. There are fewer students in the upper two grades because not all can afford to go to school. Cost to attend is $20 per term. Some wait until they have money to afford their secondary education, which makes those who have waited older than others in their class.
The teaching staff included 16 teachers, all of whom were Tanzanian except for Stenhoff, who was the only white teacher.
Stenhoff received a living allowance from the Peace Corps for basic necessities including shelter, food and clothing. "This is more than what Tanzanian teachers would get," she reported.
The house Stenhoff lived in was located on Mt. Hanang, a free-standing mountain — a dormant volcano — at an elevation of about 6,000 ft, and within the 100-acre school compound. The top of Mt. Hanang is about 11,000 feet.
Looking across to the south of the school is the Great Rift Valley, where civilization began. This valley runs north and south through eastern Africa. "You can see a long way."
Stenhoff's home-away-from-home was constructed of red baked clay bricks and concrete with a tin roof. It had no furnishings in it, and there was no carpeting on the concrete floors The school year runs from mid-January to June, and then after a break, from mid-July to December.
"I was assigned to be a math teacher, but ended up teaching math, chemistry, and computer, and also HIV/AIDS education," Stenhoff explained.
The computer lab had five computers that had been donated by the Canadian NGO (Non-Government Organization). "There wasn't much computer time with five computers and 264 students to share them," she pointed out. "They only get to learn the very basics of the computer," but adds, "Computers are so amazing for them. Their eyes light up."
Summers, from January to May, are the temperate and rainy season, while June to December is winter, the cold period when the temperature reaches about 30 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Buildings at the school were constructed of brick, with a coating of spackling over the brick. The roof was tin, and when it was raining, we had to yell loudly to be heard over the pounding rain, Stenhoff stated.
The window panes were broken out, so when it was windy, papers would blow around in the classroom. There was no heat in the buildings, so when it was cold, students would rub their hands together to stay warm.
Students are required to wear a school uniform, which consisted of skirt for girls, pants for boys, and all wore white shirts, sweater, and black shoes.
When they are born, children learn the tribal language, the language of their parents. In elementary school, Swahili is learned, and in seventh grade, they start to learn the English language — British English.
to be continued....
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