Winchester College volunteer in Zanzibar

Dan Mew

‘Zanzibar 2017’ was a truly rewarding and memorable African adventure.  During the Easter vacation, the ‘Zanzibar 2017’ team, comprising 25 boys and staff from Winchester College, volunteered at Kijito Upele School; a large, overcrowded and under-resourced local government school on the outskirts of Stone Town.

We were introduced to Kijito Upele School on the first full day after our arrival in Zanzibar. Within a minute, crowds of youngsters had gathered around every team member, shaking our hands, bombarding us with questions or simply enjoying the bizarre novelty of a ‘high-five’ with a ‘mzungu’. After an enthusiastic welcome by the Headmaster and staff, our boys were proudly escorted to each class where pupils welcomed us with beautifully harmonious and rhythmic African singing. The youngsters at Kijito Upele, aged 7 to 15 years, exuded extraordinary warmth and humanity on that first morning. Being squeezed alongside 120 others on pot-holed concrete floors within bare, poorly ventilated classrooms did little to deter their joyful greetings.

Our team was divided into three groups; one to teach classes from 9 to 13 years, a second group to initiate sports activities on a rough field and a third group to participate in building work. As the concrete mixer failed to arrive, the latter group – comprising Viren, Wilfred, Harry, Alex, Sebastian, Roderick, Zach, Edward and Chukwuma – eventually set about painting. They successfully achieved the transformation of four classrooms with standardised blue and cream paint, working flat out in the heat and humidity, and winning admiration from Kijito’s Headmaster, staff and government officials.

Volunteering in Zanzibar

The teaching was ambitious and all were impressed by the wholehearted efforts of the students, who devoted their time to taking classes, including evening preparation to cram key Swahili terms and to plan their lesson activities.  In English, the boys taught a range of themes; parts of the body, telling the time, occupations, the environment and, in Maths; prime numbers, fractions and algebra. In the classroom, boys were required to think on their feet, to engage with over 100 pupils, to nurture an inquisitive approach amongst the pupils, and lead a cacophony of chanting, often heard above the deafening sound of tropical rain thundering down on corrugated iron roofs. The pupils loved to recite words in unison, to copy facial expressions, to mimic the boys’ lively actions, to applaud and, of course, to sing; ‘Old Macdonald’, ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ and ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf?’, to name a few. The chanting of phrases like ‘the goat ate mangoes on the tree’ underpinned their rote learning; nevertheless, our boys encouraged a question-answer approach in the classrooms to enhance pupil learning.

At the end of the school day, boys enjoyed well-earned relaxation on mangrove-lined beaches, cooling down in clear, tropical waters or taking shade beneath a large palm. Our boys took every opportunity to invite local youngsters to play beach football and their wholehearted engagement with Zanzibari children was profoundly moving. During our stay Samson organised a highly competitive football match against a team of 15 to 17 year olds from a private Roman Catholic School. Our team gawped at the athletic prowess of the opposition, and sensibly declined their initial offer of a whooping 90-minute game in 37-degree Celsius heat.  An hour was enough to endure, and although we were not triumphant the final score of 2-4 was a respectable result, and well worth the sweat and toil by Harry, Roderick, Alex, Viren, Wilfred, Sebastian, Zach, Chukwuma, Debo, Max and Mr Leigh.

On the ‘Taste of Zanzibar’ weekend the team enjoyed a walking tour on a spice farm (‘shamba’), where they learned how spices, herbs and fruits are cultivated, and sampled tropical fruits such as clove, lemongrass, nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric and vanilla. We then travelled along the west coast to the beautiful Nungwi beach in the north of the island where we saw our first Westerners in Zanzibar enjoying ‘paradise on Earth’. At sunset we reluctantly ventured south, only to discover another beautiful stretch of coastline, and the charm, good cuisine and mosquitoes of the Mangrove Lodge!

Volunteering in Zanzibar

The events of that final morning were profoundly moving and left the ‘Zanzibar 2017’ team with a clear sense of accomplishment and fulfilment about their volunteering experiences at Kijito Upele School. There was a palpable sense that the team had brought immeasurable joy, curiosity and inspiration, and, most significantly, a broadening of aspirations for all involved. For the boys themselves, they had learned the value of endeavour and teamwork through applying their varied talents to support those Zanzibari children who faced daily challenges of poverty, malnourishment, sickness or bereavement. Moreover, the boys had been moved by the pupils’ warmth and humanity, their huge smiles, their sense of fun and their appetite for learning.

The ‘Zanzibar 2017’ team owes a debt of gratitude to the Headmaster, Second Master, the Bursar, Jacquie Adair, Caroline Gilbert, Karlene Cullen and Jo Lowry for their unwavering support and sound professional advice; to David Leigh and Coline Cadoret for their hard work, commitment and care of the team throughout our time in Zanzibar; to the College community for its generous donations of stationary, books and sports equipment; to Carl the British Consul of Zanzibar, for his kind welcome and generous hospitality; and finally to African Adventures, particularly to Lucy, Monika, Alex and Samson for their wonderful friendship, practical support and wholehearted enthusiasm for the boys’ work at Kijito Upele School. We greatly look forward to our return to Africa.

Clare Talks, Winchester College, April 2017