Julia Bridgforth Design


Tili-po tili-po

Well, Virginia must have been missing me as much as I was missing it, because it shipped a truckload of Charlottesville personnel to hang out with me for the week! They're here with the organization Carpenter's Kids. It is run through the Diocese of Central Tanganyika, which is where I'm doing my internship. With no pressing land disputes, I was swooped up into the CK community for the week.


Carpenter's Kids is an organization which bridges a parish in America to a parish in Tanzania in order to help children who have been orphaned because of the widespread treachery of HIV/AIDS. It helps children continue their education and provides them with clothing and food. Obviously, an awesome mission to help kids who have no resources.

So on Tuesday morning, I woke up with minimal information. I knew the basics of Carpenter's Kids mission and I knew that I was supposed to meet up with the Virginians at the New Dodoma Hotel at 8 am. So I headed off with my daypack and absolutely no clue what the day would entail, which is basically the story of my entire Tanzanian adventure. (I write this as I sit on a bus on its way to Iringa for a safari with two girls I just met last week.)

Now, during the past ten years of my social consciousness I have purposefully tried to avoid the cliche tale of a white girl with privilege who sets off to teach in Africa, and returns with stories about how the children ended up helping her more than she helped them... blah blah blah, we get it girl. Well suckers!! I am in fact a mzungo that learned a lot in a week while teaching kids in Africa. So, you're going to read just that if you continue this blog. Fair warning, so stop reading now if it irks you!

Thus far, throughout my African journey, I have been talking to a lot of adults about tough problems. It's been hard sometimes, seeing mothers that are purposefully starving themselves so their children can get enough food, and inspiring as well, seeing farmers so committed to learning Conservative Agriculture and changing their food stability. As much as I have learned, I was so relieved to find out that I could take a break from adults and get to run around with kids for a week. I was designated the Level 7 reading and writing teacher. Now I have to admit, teaching has never been a calling of mine and although my Swahili has taken a somewhat communicative form, I am still far, far away from fluency. So I was confused: a week of disrupting classes with our white-ness did not sound like a productive system for learning. And as I look back, I have no clue if it was helpful to them or not, but here's the switch in the story that I'm sure no one saw coming....!! It was such an amazing experience for me.

There was one class that influenced me in particular.

We read the book "Planting the Trees" by Wangari Mathhai, a badass woman who returned to her native land of Kenya from studying in America to find the lands stripped of their lush green tree cover and replaced with industrial farms. Instead of grumbling, she took initiative and started a movement to plant trees throughout the nation, first teaching mothers and children in villages, then students, then prisoners and then soldiers to plant seeds and tend to the growing saplings. Over 30 million trees have been planted in Kenya because of her. While I was reading the class room of over 60 students was silent and still, hanging on to every word. When I closed the book, hands shot up all around the classroom ready with questions and comments. It was incredible to learn Wangari's story with such inquisitive students. As an Environmental Arts and Humanities major with an increasing interest in children's literature, it was a perfect encapsulation of inspiring children to think critically about their relationship with the changing environment through art and stories.

To take breaks during long lessons, the students would all stand up and begin to clap in rhythm. One student would call out a line and then the whole room would break into song. It is extremely well orchestrated with no real order. I don't know how they are all so good at singing but I'll tell you, whenever one of my middle school classes had to sing happy birthday to a fellow student it sounded like shit. My favorite song that they sang went:

Tili-po tili-po tili-po-po-po, we catch the ball, we put it here, ashekisha

It makes literally no sense in either Swahili or English, but the energy level would immediately improve ten fold ever time they sang it. Also, there are accompanying dance moves and they had a lot of fun laughing at my attempts to do them.

Julia Bridgforth