Sunday, December 8, 2013

Computer course for the CLC (Comunity Learning Centre)

By Kate Driver
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Almost 24 hours after leaving Hong Kong I flopped down onto my bed in my hotel room in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Having very little sleep the night before the flight had been a bad idea. I’d hoped I would crash out on the plane, but I just couldn't get comfortable so I had a very restless night, followed by a long-ish stopover in Dubai and then more discomfort on the second leg when my seat wouldn't recline. I was feeling quite spaced out by the time I finally arrived in Dar!

But it was great to be back! I’

I had forgotten how warm and gregarious the Tanzanian people are... and this stood out even more after my experiences in China! The visa on arrival “process” was so slow and disorganised that it was almost comical, but the staff were so jovial that I couldn't possibly have got annoyed with them. Everyone makes you feel so genuinely welcome here, and that is a really nice feeling.

Of course I’d come back to Tanzania to do some voluntary work at Mambo Viewpoint, so after an early dinner and an early night I was up at 4:45am to take the bus up into the Usambara Mountains. It was a six-hour journey to Lushoto and from there Herman kindly sent a driver to bring me the final two hours to Mambo.

Along the way I gazed out of the window as the scenery became increasingly spectacular. The local people – working in the fields or walking along the dusty roads – stopped what they were doing to give a wave or a nod or even the occasional thumbs up. And of course the children were as sweet and funny as ever – calling out and waving and then squealing and jumping up and down with excitement when I waved back! I really do think this is one of the most beautiful places I have visited… both physically and on the inside too!

If I felt happy to be back in Tanzania, I was delighted to be back at Mambo Viewpoint. As the car turned up the final steep slope and the familiar buildings came into sight I felt a rush of contentment. It was great to see Herman, Marion and Ndege again… and this time we greeted each other as friends.
Puting up solar panels at the CLC

My main focus during my 3-week stay will be helping to set up the Community Learning Centre. This will be a place where the locals can go to use computers and the internet, do printing and scanning, read newspapers etc. Since most of the people here have never seen a computer before, they will need to have lessons before this will work and that’s where I come in. One of the local guys, Henrish, will be the new computer teacher and I will be working with him to get a basic computer course up and running.
The project is actually sponsored by UNICEF and the Worldbank and they will be donating two laptops, but since they’re a bit slow-moving Herman has already purchased four notebooks so that we can get started sooner. So my first job was installing Windows 7, MS office and various other programs on each of these.
In my second week I really got down to some hard work on the computer lessons project, and it proved to be a lot more challenging than I’d originally anticipated! There were a few specific issues.
First off, most of the people taking the class will have never seen a computer before in their lives, so the training needs to cover things like how to turn on the computer, how to use a mouse, how to type, etc. It’s really difficult to identify of all those little things which I just do on auto-pilot, and then to think of how to explain them to a complete beginner. I also discovered that the computer teacher, Henrish, doesn't know all that much about computers. Well, it’s all relative of course. He knows more than most other people here, but he’d still be classed as a complete beginner in any other situation. What he does know, he’s taught himself, which means he sometimes has a really round-about way of doing something very straight-forward. Also while he knows how to do a few relatively advanced things, he's missing some of the real fundamentals. It’s difficult to figure out what he does and doesn't know, due to the third and potentially biggest issue: communication. His English is good, but not great. It took me a while to figure that out as he is constantly smiling and nodding and agreeing with me and it was only after we had several incidences of crossed wires, that I realised he must have misunderstood half of what I'd said. Oh and he’s not a natural teacher... and neither am I!
Scuilpture from artist Isaak
I'm also getting to know the staff a bit better and know their different personalities and joke around with them a bit more. It’s a really nice atmosphere. There’s Asnath and Hatibo who work in the kitchen – very young and a little shy, but with big smiles! There’s Mr Hoza who is trying to teach me Swahili. There’s Peter who works in the restaurant and at first seems very serious but having noticed a twinkle in his eye I have decided he's actually just good at deadpan. He knows about my love of avocados and mangoes and always gives me a secret smile when they appear on the dining table! There’s Saidi the chef who cooks the most amazing dinners including cheesy mash this week, which was a real treat! And of course my old friend Ndege who is just one of the loveliest people I've ever met…. still working hard on his website which is looking really impressive now. He can tell when it’s going to rain due to the pressure behind his eyes. He knows everything about the local area and birds and wildlife. His name even means “Bird” in Swahili.   
I feel very lucky to be staying in such a beautiful and special place. Whenever I'm wandering around the property I look around me and smile. The air is fresh and clean and smells of eucalyptus and bark. At night, the sky is a blanket of stars. I love being up at this height, where some of the clouds are below us and we see so many weather patterns each day. A blue sky and scorching sun can disappear behind a white mist of cloud within half an hour. Storms are sudden and occasionally violent, but usually over quickly. We often have rainbows and this week we had two beautiful ones, where the whole arc was visible. The first was even a double rainbow! It really does feel like we’re at the top of the world here!  

At the start of the 3rd week we reached a bit of a turning point in the computer course. We sort of hit rock bottom first, when we had our 3rd practise run-through with a pretend student, and Henrish was still getting the simplest things wrong. My frustration must have shown on my face and in my voice as after the lesson he came and sat next to me and with a very sombre look on his face, said “Madam, I'm sorry. I know I've disappointed you. I am going to do better and make you very happy”. I felt like such a bad person! So of course I had to tell him not to worry, and that I had confidence in him and knew he could do it. Then the next day when we came to run through it again he had improved ten-fold! I think he must have practised all night. This time I gave him lots of smiles and nods of encouragement as he gave the lesson and his face lit up. I clearly have neither the aptitude nor the patience to be a teacher, but I can see how rewarding it must be at times.  

Too quickly, it was time to leave. Lots of the staff gathered to say goodbye and I was choking back the tears! I hate saying goodbye at the best of times but this was particularly hard as I just love the place and the people so much and feel like there is really something special happening here. Just like last time it felt like I left a little bit of my heart behind! 

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