Traveling throughout Africa is often on the bucket lists of college graduates who would also enjoy the opportunity to teach in third world countries. For Carly Spoor, a dream to do both became a reality mere months after graduation.
On August 13, 2012, Spoor boarded a plane to Tanzania on a ten-month WorldTeach journey to teach at the Kafule Secondary School in the Ileje district of Mbeya. She began her African adventure by learning Swahili and how to cook rice and beans on a “jiko,” or charcoal cooker.
“I had it in my head that rice and beans would be my fall back meal,” she said. “It takes five hours to cook that meal so I have a new plan: avocados.”
Now in her second term at the Kafule school after a month traveling and hiking around Tanzania, the DHS ’08 and City Grove College ’12 graduate realizes her once-naïve dream to travel through Africa has transformed into a humbling experience.
After three weeks of training in Iringa in August, Spoor and three other volunteers travelled more than 13 hours to the village of Kafule, where they would live and teach for the remainder of their ten-month stay. The village of Kafule is located in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania and her home is on the top of a mountain in the midst of a tropical jungle surrounded by cornfields.
The Kafule School was started as a missionary school many years ago and is now run by the government. There are about 100 students in each form, or grade.
There is no electricity in Kafule, except for solar power at the school and the closest place to access electricity is in the town of Isoko, which is a 45-minute walk down a steep hill. Greetings and daily conversations are spoken in the vernacular language of Kindali and most of daily life is focused on the Moravian church.
When she was 14 years old, Spoor decided she wanted to live and work in Africa after college. She had been on a mission trip to Mexico and was surprised to learn how different Mexican life was from her daily life in Duxbury. During her senior year at Grove City College, she researched volunteer organizations that focused on medical aid, sustainable energy and clean water and teaching. When she discovered WorldTeach and the programs they offered, she knew she’d found one where she could apply her dual degree in mathematics and biblical and religious studies.
As the only math teacher in the school, Spoor is responsible for about 500 students in four grades. Due to the lack of teachers, some classes combine students from different grades. She said figuring out how to teach anywhere from 40 to 120 students of varying learning abilities is challenging.
“Teaching here is definitely going to be challenging,” she said. “I am looking forward to learning to speak slowly, figuring out how to gauge comprehension and raising my voice to drown out the noise on the other side of the paper-thin walls. “
Spoor recently had a month break from school during Christmas, during which she traveled throughout Tanzania. After a WorldTeach conference in Zanzibar, she spent a couple of extra weeks enjoying the warm weather. Spoor and her father then traveled to Moshi and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. The hike took five days and was “extremely challenging.”
“Kilimanjaro was incredible; I had never hiked anything like it before,” she said. “The peak was spectacular, especially since we arrived just at sunset.”
Other than a couple of trips to nearby Mbeya, which is about eight hours away by truck, Spoor said she doesn’t leave the village too often. On one adventurous Saturday, Spoor and a neighbor hiked five hours to Malawi.
Spoor said the community is overwhelmingly welcoming and she has noticed how much more emphasis is placed on spending time with community members and learning from others.
“Culturally what has stood out to me the most in each of the African countries I have been to is that relationships, time spent with family and friends, are far more important than efficiency,” she said. “It was initially frustrating that no one here is motivated by production, but I have quickly come to appreciate the value placed on relationships.”
Throughout her trip, Spoor has kept up with her blog and letting readers in on her challenges and success during the trip. In almost every post, she mentions the importance of Kafule’s culture in her experience.
“If I had to describe Tanzanian culture in one word, it would be hospitable,” she said. “I am so thankful for the way they have included me in life here and allowed me to feel like a member of the village and not just a long term guest.”
So far, Spoor said her trip to Africa has been one of the most significant experiences of her life. She said she has learned patience during four-hour staff meetings and eight-hour church services and flexibility as she waits out the downpours that interrupt her walks to and from the market. One of her favorite parts of the trip so far has been learning about the value of community and sharing all aspects of life.
Most recently, a neighbor’s roof blew off during a storm and a town meeting was called immediately to solve the problem.
“Nobody ever has to face a problem or challenge alone here,” she said. “I have learned there is nothing a person cannot get used to and I am certainly learning to embrace life here.”
Interested readers can follow Carly’s trip at carlyinafrica.blogspot.com.