Every morning at 5.30am, I wake my adopted son, Sele, and get him ready for school. I want him to have the kind of education I never had.
I couldn’t speak English when I was a child, but English is the language of education here in Zanzibar. I lost my faith in education and stopped going to school. One day a man I didn’t know, but will never forget, came up to me and told me that he wanted to teach me English. At first, I didn’t want to, but he insisted until I agreed. With a good teacher, I became fluent in English. Everyone told me that I had a real talent for it, so I went back to school and I passed all my exams.
We live at the school I set up 10 years ago – the Prospective Learning and Charitable Institution (PLCI). The school is in my mother’s former house; some of the students who have nowhere else to go live with us. The PLCI is also an NGO that empowers young adults to develop employment skills, and to become community leaders. Recently, three students won Rotary scholarships to study in the US and they’ve returned determined to help others. I’m enormously proud of them.
For us, sustainability is key. PLCI has a bicycle repair shop and – in a recent addition – a chicken farm where we teach skills to make students employable.
Our English classes for adult improvers begin at 9am. Zanzibar’s education system doesn’t work very well as although our native language is Swahili, most subjects are taught in English. Unfortunately, most teachers’ English skills are no more than intermediate and their pronunciation is terrible. Students copy words from the blackboard that neither they nor their teachers understand. There are no class discussions or exercises to develop thinking skills. At PLCI, we take a different approach. I’ve picked up teaching techniques from international visitors and share ideas with our teachers, who are PLCI graduates.
In the afternoon, I drive to a remote village by the sea to teach an after-school class with an English volunteer. I love going there and getting away from the cars and dust of the city. It has a famous fish market and I often buy fried fish before the lesson begins.
So far, no one from the primary school has ever passed the exam that gives them access to a good secondary education. We’re trying to change that. We’ve been working here for 6 months, but already there’s a big improvement. The children don’t have text books and the teachers often share books. But recently, the Rotary club bought 40 tablet computers so now everyone can read the same book at the same time.
The school gets crazy in the evenings, as the building we use isn’t big enough for our two classes, so we tend to hold lessons in outside spaces, too – on the neighbours’ porches or by their vegetable gardens. People walk by and we often have to stop classes to wait for the noise of motorbikes in the alleyways to die down.
I end the day with my PLCI family. In spite of much poverty and unemployment around us, at PLCI we support one another to go for our dreams. We have fun times together too. We watch English films, play football and have computer classes. I read Sele a bedtime story but I still have to sort out problems and answer emails; at midnight, it’s time for bed.
For more information about the school and its work, visit plci.org or zanzibarsp.ninja