I will start this post with a full disclaimer–the language barrier is real. The gap between Swahili and English are very distant, let’s say it’s about the distance between the United States and Africa. As a former teacher, I always struggled with coming up with words that had W’s and Z’s in them, and when I occasionally looked over a crossword puzzle, filling the empty blanks with that defiant W right in the middle was daunting. It was a sure way of getting me to doodle my name on the sheet instead. However, Swahili has many of them in their vocabulary, and when spoken, each syllable graciously slides off their tongue. Unfortunately, I don’t understand when one word begins and when the next one starts. And that has been our primary challenge in implementing the self-determination program for the girls.
If you missed out during our presentation, I’ll kindly remind you that the aim of our social project was to develop a curriculum that addressed the bullying issue by building community, empowering girls, and strengthening the skills identified by evidence-based practices when working with children with visual impairments (Expanded Core Curriculum citation here). We would meet with the girls everyday for 1.5 hours after school and incorporate self-determination skills that students with visual impairments tend to miss because, let’s face it, our fully-abled bodies are the ones that make up most of the world that we navigate. Because of my fully-abled-body privilege, I can expect that education is taught in a manner that allows me to succeed because my learning is incidental and less explicit instruction is needed. Our vision fills in the gaps that are not verbally communicated. Little consideration is made to the endless possibilities of how we may experience our world differently. And while I can’t say for certain because I’m neither blind nor fluent in Swahili, the girls seem to come alive when activities involve music and clapping, not colorful visual cues.
In spite of the language barrier, we have bridged two worlds through music–and so of course, we taught them the “Macarena.” Many of you might remember from middle school dances that the Macarena was that one song that brought everyone together to the dance floor and got them to sing a bit of Spanish. Turns out that this Latin song indeed has its roots in Africa, not sure exactly what it is about its rhythm but the kids are into it! Also, I was told that the word Macarena means something like clapping or doing the patty cake, and if you have ever seen anyone do the Macarena that’s what the dance looks like, an elaborate patty cake. So, from Austin to Tanga, we accomplished our first goal of building community or at least being a part of theirs for this period of time!
From there, we worked with them on developing a sense of ownership for their community by having them give us a tour and point out what they saw as issues. We then discussed problem solving so that they can be part of the process of finding solutions for these problems as well as any others they encounter! So. The social portion of our project is going along well!
Regarding the dorm, a different kind of work but just as important, things are going well! With much sawing and hammering (no power tools for these kinds of things!), we were able to finish half the trusses! Even though it was some really strenuous activity, and despite the language barrier, we actually had a lot of fun working with each other and with the contractors! It was really neat how we were able to not only find other ways to communicate with them for the work, but also make each other laugh and enjoy each others’ company. We hope to put up the roof in the next couple days and then we’re almost there!!
As usual, we’ve had some very rewarding days and are excited for the next few!