Tanzania – Service Learning – by Paul Schulzetenberg. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
Editor’s Note: Many thanks to photographer Adam Bridge for the permission to use his photos for photos # 1 and 4.
[Photo #1 caption: Me with Emanueli, the head baker. He was telling me how much flour I needed to weigh out.]
During the “service learning” part of the trip, several other students, a professor, the photographer, and I were sent to the Chipole monastary. We remained in Chipole for two weeks participating in service learning as well as getting to know the people we came into contact with. For this report, I would like to discuss the concept a service learning a bit and some thoughts about my own experience with service learning and my current perspective.
I was thinking about this a lot while I was there and questioning what exactly I was doing and what the point of this trip was. What does service learning mean? We had discussed this prior to going to Tanzania; however, what was really bothering me was that I did not know what service I would be providing, or if it would be useful to them. For one, I was not providing any sort of unique or specialized service that they lacked. For instance, I was not a nurse, so I could not help much in the dispensary. In fact, I was completely uneducated with regards to most of the tasks that they did, and they were actually teaching me, which I had no problem with by the way. That is a part of service learning: learning through participating in their way of life. What I was really pondering was if I was actually doing them more of a disservice by being there because they had to “train me in” per say, but maybe that is the point. I kept questioning myself and wondering if I was providing services in order to simply broaden my view of the world (a potentially selfish endeavor), or if I was actually positively contributing to their life. I did not want to have a job in which my contribution was unhelpful and was not up to par with their standards. The point was not to “feel good” about what I did, but to feel as though I am contributing positively in some aspect of their life.
[Photo #2 caption: Cakes getting ready to be baked. We had to make the batter, grease the pans, and pour the batter into them. I spent a lot of time at this table doing a wide variety of tasks.]
It is important to mention I fully recognized I was not there to impose my will on to them nor was I there to “teach” them; I was there to learn through service. I always tried to keep in mind that just because I do things differently than they do does not make my way correct or better than theirs. It is easy to get into that mindset sometimes, and the more I kept that in mind, the more I learned. I was there to experience how they do things and what their methods are. The issue that I was running against, however, was if the service I was providing to them was actually beneficial or if it was a hindrance to them. I had no intention of trying to “teach them my ways;” I just wished I had more to offer other than my willingness to work and a functioning body to perform tasks.
For instance, a majority of my time was spent in the monastery bakery learning how to bake various sorts of breads, cakes, and cookies. It was a great experience, and I have some awesome memories as a result. However, the baker, Emanueli and the other workers (mostly postulates), had to take time out of their workday to teach me how to make the various types of dough and batter, and to teach me proper techniques in cutting and kneading the bread. As mentioned previously, I was always worried that I would mess something up or do something wrong. I did not want them to have redo the process because I did it wrong. Not to mention all the time spent trying to communicate as a result of the language barrier. I was completely clueless when it came to making baked goods and what the proper techniques were. Emanueli was extremely patient and one of the friendliest people that I met while I was there. I am very grateful for getting to know him and who he is as a person. I was learning their methods, and I had a lot of fun doing it. However, my contribution was simply a helping hand, and I sincerely hope that I was helpful.
[Photo #3 caption: This is one of the machines used for mixing. All their machines were huge and for making large amount of batter and dough. I believe most of the machinery was either made in Germany or Switzerland.]
Now, there is another side to this that I had pondered while I was there albeit a bit incompletely fleshed out. Perhaps it is not necessarily the “product” that my service provides, but the human interaction and cross-cultural connections that result from it. In other words, it is not that I am literally providing a physical service that contributes to their well-being in obvious ways. Perhaps, it has more to do with the gesture and my willingness to learn about their way of life. I do not want to say that I was “breaking down” cultural stereotypes through individual interaction. I simply mean that I think by showing that I was interested in how they do things as well as my willingness to participate and learn, it allowed for a level of communication that may be of some significance for both individuals involved. The baker was able to learn about my way of life and my beliefs to some degree, and I was able to learn a great deal about his. I showed interest in his craft, and thought of him as a teacher. Regardless, working in the bakery was a great experience. I spent a lot of time trying to communicate with Emanueli as he knew very little English and I knew very little Swahili. This was a lot of fun. Apart from the language barrier, we were able to learn about each other through hand motions and fragmented sentences.
[Photo #4 caption: Professor Schuettler and I at work in bakery. We were cutting small strips of dough that we then fried in sunflower oil. The machine that flattened the dough was a lot of fun to use once we got the hang of it.]
Overall, I would personally say that service learning was more of a “selfish” endeavor for me. I got to learn about a different way of life and see how they view the world, but I do not feel like I benefitted anyone. Is this a bad thing? Well, that is what I was struggling with over the course of the trip. I am sure as I think about it more, I may come up with new reasons and ideas, but that has been my general conclusion. I recognize the complexity of the situation, and that is why I think I struggle with what I interpret service learning to be. I recognize the disparities in wealth, the lack of sufficient medical care, the need for more schools, and various other social difficulties that are experienced by the people of Tanzania. With this in mind, I wonder what exactly my impact could be amidst such a broad and complex system of issues. I did not go there to fix anything; I went there to learn, and maybe I should accept my experience at face value. It was learning experience, which provided me with a true experience through my own eyes.
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu
See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports
The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five semesters we have published 200 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. We are sponsored by St. Scholastica’s Department of History and Politics and by the scholarly Middle Ground Journal: World History and Global Studies (http://theMiddleGroundJournal.org).
For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.
Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.
(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu