Bukoba, a town in northwest Tanzania, is a long way from Heather Best’s Renfrew-Collingwood co-op, but for now this African town is home.
Best is a volunteer with Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO), an organization that sends skilled volunteers to train locals in developing countries. A retired teacher, Best helps train Bukoba school teachers and administrators in child-centered teaching methods used in classrooms in Canada.
Best said after 30 years of teaching in Vancouver she felt the call to go and share what she was fortunate enough to have learned.
“I feel very lucky to have been born Canadian and in a family that valued education. It seems natural to support those who were not so lucky. That is where I started [but]… I think the main reason I do it now is because I like the work,” Best told the Courier via email.
In workshops, the school principals and a mentor teacher are taught how to interact with the students with questions and answers as opposed to the traditional Bukoba “chalk and talk” method where the teacher talks and writes on the board for about 30 minutes, gives an assignment then leaves the class. Later, those who were trained hold their own workshops for other teachers. “So the learning will fan out,” said Best. “Our project is designed to make the Tanzanian educators the creators of a better education system.”
According to Best, in Bukoba, teachers typically have between 50 to 110 students in a class, even in kindergarten, and classroom resources are few and far between. “My children and grandchildren have more books in their rooms than the school libraries have here,” said Best.
She and other volunteers find a space with electricity, provide a computer and train the teachers how to use the Internet as a research tool.
Teachers in Bukoba are paid between $180 and $551 a month, depending on experience, so Best said most operate small businesses on the side. Teachers are also not replaced for maternity leave so often a class goes without a teacher for months at a time. Not surprisingly, at any one time less than half the teachers expected are in their classrooms teaching, said Best.
The project’s aim is to have more than 60 per cent of the teachers in the classroom. As an incentive for attendance, the volunteers plan to give out a “teacher package” of classroom supplies. Best said that donations of small colourful stickers, without writing on them, would be most welcome because they are an extremely rare treat — they are even hard to find in the nearest big city, which is over a three hour bus ride away.
Best said while she feels lucky to call Canada home, she cautions against feeling sorry for the people she works with. “Developed countries are not necessarily better in all ways than developing countries. Here they have much time to say hello to everyone, and to socialize. There is lots of laughter,” she said.
To learn more about her volunteer work or to donate stickers, go to Best’s blog at heatheratlarge.wordpress.com.
© Copyright 2013