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January 18, 2009

Res teacher reports from Tanzania

By Hilary Anderson


Joe Miller, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, is awed by what Resurrection Sister Stephanie Blaszynski has accomplished in so short a time in Tanzania.

Miller, now a physics teacher at Resurrection High School, visited Sister Stephanie late last summer and taught some classes there. As a result of his Peace Corps work, he was familiar with what to expect.

“She has a school up and running, which is probably one of the best in the area,” said Miller who taught physics and math while in Kenya. “No one can truly comprehend the obstacles she’s overcome unless they have lived there.”

Miller describes the area surrounding Sister Stephanie’s school as very remote. Houses are scattered around the countryside. There are no near villages or towns.

“It is hard to compare to places in the United States, even those situated in areas we call rural,” Miller said. “Mud houses dot the countryside. Some have grass roofs. The more fortunate families have tin roofs with unique gutters that make it easier to catch rainwater in a cistern. It isn’t uncommon to see boys herding goats.”

He says Sister Stephanie’s school building is as good as it gets.

“It even has windows, which is not true of all buildings there,” he said.

Miller adds one of the biggest challenges is whether there will be enough water, due to factors like lack of rain or an operating pump.

“When their pump broke down, students and teachers alike had to quickly modify their already austere lifestyle,” he said. “There was little water to drink and just a couple cups of it in a tub were available for a sponge bath. In the U.S., people would just go to their local store for bottled water. The availability of water is almost always a constant worry. It isn’t uncommon to hear people asking, ‘How many weeks until the next rainy season?’”

Another obstacle Sister Stephanie faces is obtaining teachers to staff the school, he said.

“Teaching doesn’t have the prestige there that it does in the U.S.,” he said. “Those who score high on exams often continue work toward being engineers or doctors. Those who want to teach are truly dedicated. It isn’t uncommon to have classes start in some schools with no teachers. Sometimes the teachers will show up a couple weeks late.

But Miller is most amazed with Sister Stephanie’s students.

“They are an incredible group of kids who see the benefit of education,” he said. “They see that it leads to a better life while students here in the U.S. often just take it for granted.”

They even have classes on Saturday.

Miller is most amazed that the girls are learning as well as they are in English, their second language.

“I brought some old science items with me. The students were fascinated. There is no science lab like we have [in the U.S.]. They learn by watching us draw on the blackboard. Imagine explaining chemistry lab on the blackboard or learning how a light bulb works without ever having seen one.”

Perhaps what impresses Miller even more is how the students can have fun with simple things.

“It’s the little things that so impress you,” he said.

“They make paper cards or chains to celebrate birthdays. They sing and dance. They eat the same food almost every day, ugali, which is like a cornmeal and rice mush. There is no radio or TV or iPods. They enjoy themselves regardless.”

Miller says Sister Stephanie deserves much credit for her efforts.

“She must feel an incredible amount of satisfaction and happiness when she looks at her students and the school,” he said. “We look at Sister Stephanie and her accomplishments in Tanzania with immense pride and awe.”