Students Abby Rzepnicki and Dana Boches Volunteer at School in Tanzania
by Joe Savrock (September 2009)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – It didn’t matter to Abby Rzepnicki and Dana Boches that opportunities for studying abroad were limited. To them, the important thing was a chance to do some goodwill work.
“Since there were not many study-abroad opportunities for us, we still wanted to do something abroad,” says Boches. “Next to studying, volunteering was our best option.”
With that unselfish attitude, the two College of Education undergraduates spent part of the past summer in schools in Tanzania. Rzepnicki, a senior Elementary Education major, and Boches, a senior in Special Education, lived and worked in Moshi-town for five weeks, teaching English to children in a primary school.
They enlisted with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS), an international volunteering organization. Each year, over 4,000 people volunteer abroad with CCS in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe to provide teaching, care giving, health care, and community development.
Rzepnicki and Boches, roommates since their freshman year of college, considered a number of countries for their school volunteerism. Ultimately they felt that Tanzania was a logical choice. “It offered placement areas that benefited both elementary education and special education,” says Rzepnicki. “We threw around a few ideas—Brazil and Costa Rica at first. But then we thought, ‘When else are we ever going to get the chance to go to Africa?’”
The students arrived July 4 in Moshi-town, located in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. “The region is generally less fortunate in the sense of living arrangements and the opportunities to gather food,” notes Rzepnicki. “It was drastically different from the way of life we live. But it is a tourist area, so you are constantly seeing foreigners coming and going. It is a hot spot for backpackers and other volunteer organizations.”
“The overall way of life in Moshi is very laid back,” adds Boches. “Everyone is so friendly and caring. When walking down the street you say hello or ‘jambo’ to everyone you pass.”
Rzepnicki and Boches arrived in Moshi-town at the time of the children’s winter break, and school was not in session. So for their first week, they spent full days working at Tuleeni Orphans Home, an orphanage in the nearby village of Rau. “At the orphanage, we did informal lessons and just played with the children,” says Boches.
Once school restarted, Rzepnicki and Boches began their teaching assignments at Mrupanga Primary School. “Most of the children we worked with at the orphanage attended this school, so we got to keep working on those relationships,” says Boches.
Rzepnicki and Boches spent mornings at the primary school and afternoons at the orphanage. At the school, Rzepnicki taught class 6 (the equivalent of sixth grade) and Boches class 1 (first grade).
“I was the main teacher for English class,” says Boches. “In primary school, children learn everything in Swahili except for English class—so that was the only subject I could actually teach.”
The schools in Tanzania operate with limited resources. Electricity, running water, and school supplies were scarce. “I had 40 students in my classroom and only five English books to use,” says Rzepnicki.
“The schools do not have a formal setting,” continues Rzepnicki. “Students are brought together in the morning, but due to a shortage of teachers most students end up running around outside. There is little classroom control. Also, the teachers practice ‘tea time,’ where they all gather for a social break and leave their classrooms unattended.”
“After the experience we had in Tanzania, we are so grateful for what we have here in our education system,” says Boches. “There are extreme differences in Tanzanian and American schools. The lack of structure and resources were the biggest overall challenges for me.
“But I think what I learned from this experience was very important,” adds Boches. “You learn to work with what you have, and when you have only 15 pencils for a class of 45, you learn to be very creative.”
With their volunteer work, Rzepnicki and Boches were able to make a positive impact on the lives of young Tanzanian students. But the two volunteers discovered that their trip had an equally important impact on their own lives.
“The outside perspectives have helped me shape my own perspectives,” says Rzepnicki. “I loved every second of it.”
Boches adds that, “The things I learned about my career and myself while in Africa are things I could never learn on campus in a lecture hall.”
Rzepnicki and Boches plan to represent CCS at the upcoming HUB Career and Internship Fair on October 7. “If anyone is interested in seeing pictures and hearing our story, please stop by,” says Rzepnicki.