We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
Unofficial ambassador Mari Shilling is teaching English at the Forodhani Secondary school in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The remaining time she has left will be spent with her students practicing English and getting to know one another through cross-cultural activities and games. Mari has also included a photo gallery with her students.
“No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away.”
So it hit me today… I do not have enough time. Before I came, 6 weeks sounded like a lifetime, but I feel like I have blinked my eyes and it has all passed me by… and I am afraid that if I blink again it will all be over.
It feels like just yesterday when I began my first day of teaching with a nervous sweat and a voice whispering in my ear that I was not qualified enough to teach, that I was in over my head, and that I would hurt the students’ education more than help it. Five weeks later I am proud to say that the voice was wrong. I have had a greater impact on my students than I believed possible, and they have changed me even more.
During my time in Zanzibar I am working as an English teacher at Forodhani secondary school, a school with 700 students and one teacher per subject. It is literally impossible for the teachers to teach every class. As a result, many students are left without teachers and are expected to teach themselves.
Luckily, thanks to AUA, Lis and I were able to come to Forodhani and give those students a teacher. Maybe we weren’t the best teachers at first, but at least we were something. After a few awkward lesson plans, we got into the swing of things; writing good lesson plans, thinking of fun activities for our students, and grading, grading, grading.
Also, after school Lis and I started an English club. During club we bring together 40 of the students to practice English, play games, listen to English music, and make learning fun. During the first week of club we passed out notebooks to every one of the students and asked them to use them to practice their English. Since then, students have written poems, stories, jokes, raps, tongue twisters and more. Each time a student shows me their notebook, asks me an English question, or tells me how much they like English club an unstoppable smile takes over my face and warms my heart.
The thing that made teaching my classes and planning for English club the easiest is the student’s hunger for knowledge. More than anything they want to learn; they know the true value of education. I walk into the class and a silence immediately sweeps over the room. They fervently listen to my lesson, write down notes, and make sure to do their homework. They hang on to every word like piece of gold trying to soak up as much as possible in our short 6 weeks.
The problem is that I am afraid I am letting them down. I feel like I am coming in, opening their minds, increasing their hunger for knowledge…and then leaving. While these five weeks have been amazing and my students have learned a lot I just don’t think a week more is enough. I wish I could stay longer.
While it breaks my heart that I am leaving and I wish that I had more time, I can’t ignore all of the positive that has come from my time at Forodhani. I will never forget my student’s faces, the warm notes they write me, the gifts they give me, the beauty in their hunger for knowledge or their high aspirations. I will never forget the other teachers and how welcoming and helpful they were to me. I will never forget how happy teaching makes me or how happy my students are to learn.
I don’t think Forodhani will ever forget me, and I know I will never forget them! While I will always wish I had more time, I value these six weeks more than a thousand pieces of gold and would not give them up for the world. There will always be that moment when you blink and life passes you by, but the truth is during that one blink my life and the lives of my students have forever changed.