I wake up at 5.30am and tuck into my breakfast of tea and cassava before starting my 45-minute walk to Ng’iresi Secondary School in Arusha, northern Tanzania.
In my 8am lesson today, I’m teaching about UN Global Goal number 5: “gender equality”. Of all the 17 new targets for sustainable development, I want to teach my class about a problem that exists in our own community. I hope to help change the negative attitudes towards women and girls in our society; I have 60 minutes to enlighten 40 boys and 39 girls, aged between 16 and 19.
My students arrive – a sea of green jumpers and pristine white collars. They sit before me expectantly as I distribute printouts illustrating the lives of Masai women who do chores from morning till midnight.
When I volunteered with VSO last year as a teacher on the Equip-T project in Mbeya, southwest Tanzania, I learned that I could be an agent of change through my profession. I believe that teaching is an opportunity to change hearts and minds.
Gender inequality is very real among the Masai people. Culture dictates that women should work more than their husbands – building houses, travelling long distances, collecting water, milking cows, cooking, washing clothes and producing decorative bead artwork is the norm. Consequently, most boys see themselves as superior to girls.
Many boys are not willing to study with girls, which has a negative impact on the girls’ performance. And sadly, the problem isn’t confined to the classroom. Many women and girls are excluded from decision-making, denied an education, the right to own property or even to choose their husband.
I get my students to pair up and brainstorm what gender inequality looks like and how it hinders Tanzania’s development. When they hear the story of one of the Masai women, a girl starts crying. She explains how her neighbour took poison to escape forced marriage at the age of 15.
We agree that we must fight gender inequality and I am impressed by the students’ insightful suggestions, such as setting up boarding schools for girls and educating families. Educating elders is a sensitive issue because of their traditional beliefs, so the students come up with indirect methods, such as storytelling.
I really enjoy the fact that all the students participate and are fully engaged with the lessons. It is very rewarding when every student promises to be an agent of change. I leave school and go home feeling convinced that communities and people can change when they receive an appropriate education.
Back at home I make my favourite meal: ugali (a dough made from cornmeal), rice and plantain. I rest a little and start preparing my lessons for the following day.
For further information on volunteering opportunities with VSO, visit vso.org.uk/bethevolunteer/education
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