I'm Heading Back to Africa
Africa has been on my mind as of late. The behemoths of a continent is tugging me back toward it in multiple unexpected ways. The motherland, home of the fertile crescent where our ancestors were born and quite literally walked for miles, for days and for generations to inhabit the earth. I was there for the first time in 2006 where I spent the summer teaching English and next week I’ll return for the first time in 13 years albeit to a different corner for a different purpose.
My friend is currently on safari in Kenya. I know this because her social media is flooded with photos of lions and videos of elephants, Masai tribespeople in blue and red plaid and giraffe’s licking tourists. I didn’t post photos to social media when, at age 19, I spent 6 weeks in Arusha, Tanzania, but I recognize the landscape and feel a tug, like maybe I should go back. At the time it was the longest I’d been away from home and the most foreign land I’d traveled to. Somewhere between visiting Zanzibar and going on Safari (twice) I also developed a taste for teaching, which in no small part set me on a path as an educator.
A college friend spent a few weeks working on a project in Uganda, like Kenya and Uganda, another Swahili-speaking country. He was working on a promotional video for Mission Clean Water, a non-profit that drills wells to help local villages access clean drinking water. My friend and I met at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio in high school at a writing workshop. I distinctly remember purple hoodies for sale in the book store printed with white block letters: “Kenyon is not near Uganda.” At the time I couldn’t have dreamed that we’d be friends for life or that he would actually one day actually travel to Uganda.
He wants to fund an English program for the village. I understand the impulse. As someone who has worked in underserved schools, I too, know first hand of the heartache that comes with knowing that kids aren’t being reached and thinking someone should DO something and realizing that that someone could be you. The devil is always in the details and the unintended consequences that come along with trying to do good. He’s asked me to consult on a curriculum, to help brainstorm how the program could work and be funded and sustained.
It’s a project that with the right people in the right places could easily be up and running for a few thousand dollars and just a bit of on going support. Education is the best way to break the cycle of poverty but I know that you can’t force someone to learn. Unmotivated students (especially fro disenfranchised communities) often struggle to see the greater purpose in education.
Lack of motivation doesn’t plagues students in rural African villages and urban American schools alike. My friend is a French teacher in a high school that serves low-income minority students who don’t always see the point in learning French. She found a grant, enlisted in my help to write it and it was funded. The grant will help both of us (and her husband) to travel to Senegal and Morocco to learn about Francophone culture outside of Europe. Africa has more French speakers than any other continent with 120 million people in 24 countries communicating in French.
I’m nostalgic and excited and can’t believe that in less than a week I’ll be on a plane to spend the summer in a foreign land. I can’t wait for my senses to be bombarded with new sights and the smells of new foods. I’m excited to share my experiences and stories and photos. And I’m really excited for the students who will experience the trip as part of their French curriculum, and may even be motivated to travel to Africa one day too.