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December 19, 2012

From Japan to Living in Chiungutwa - Masasi
(Reflections of a Japanese volunteer)

December 19, 2012 was a great, memorable day! It was day when Ms. Yuriko Nakamura presented her report to JICA Tanzania Office on completion of her two-year assignment period in the country.

Yuriko Nakamura came to Tanzania in January 2011 and was dispatched to Chiungutwa Secondary School where she taught science and mathematics. The school is found in Masasi District, Mtwara Region, Southern Tanzania and is located 26 kilometers from the nearest town, Masasi through rough road. To a foreigner and to a lady like her, such a location posed, needless to say, a great challenge.

But to Yuriko, determined as she was to live in a rural area,that was no challenge at all. She shrugged aside any such fears and determinedly said: "Although I hail from affluent Japan, I will go to Chiungutwa and experience the real African life and in so doing, share my knowledge and experiences with the Tanzanian people and particularly, the students".

Armed with such determination, Ms. Yuriko Nakamura finally arrived in Chiungutwa in January 2011 to a warm welcome from teachers and students alike. At the beginning life was not that easy for her. Although she was allocated a good accommodation, there was no running water and no electricity. However as a counter measure to the electricity problem she had brought with her a solar lantern which proved to be quite useful.

Moreover since her knowledge of Kiswahili was rather poor at the beginning, it was difficult for her to adjust herself to an environment where every other person she met in the neighbourhood was communicating in Kiswahili. Despite this, she slowly caught up with the situation and soon adjusted herself and commenced her teaching duties.

But in class serious challenges were waiting for her too. In the first year, she was allocated up to 33 periods per week (instead of the required less than 30) and in the second year the number of periods rose to 35. Moreover while in the first year of her service she taught physics and mathematics in Forms 1-3, in the second she had to teach mathematics for the whole school (about 300 pupils), reflecting how serious the issue of teacher shortage in the country has become.

Yet in spite of these challenges, Ms. Nakamura says she learnt a number of lessons. The first lesson was the importance of asking for help from other teachers. She says that before her assignment she had the impression that she was the one to assist other people because such people did not have anything substantial to offer. But in the course of her stay in Chiungutwa she came to realize that she had as much to learn from her counterparts as much as she could give them. The process of learning was thus a two-way traffic; it was a process of giving and getting; a process of sharing.

Regarding innovations that she introduced to enhance the student's performance, she says that she introduced evening classes and weekly tests designed to make students be acquainted with examinations. Despite these efforts she admits however that the performance of her students in the National Form Four examinations was not good due to a number of factors. The first factor is poverty. With the prevailing poverty some parents could not afford the cost of their children's education although some of the costs are subsidized by the government. The second factor is environmental: some parents do not yet know the importance of education. The third factor is cultural (unyago): children are subjected to traditional rituals which eventually lead them to marry early in effect forfeiting their right to education. She cited another factor as inadequate number of teachers especially science and mathematics teachers. Worse still, even the few teachers that are available, they are not adequately motivated.

But Ms. Nakamura suggests solutions to some of those challenges. Regarding insufficient knowledge on the importance of education, she suggests that parents need to be enlightened further on its importance as no development can be made without education. On the issue of incentives to teachers she suggests that monetary incentives could be given to teachers whose classes excelled in certain subjects. Regarding the challenge of teacher shortage she admits that this is a big challenge but suggests that the JOCV program, though small, can contribute in alleviating the problem, which is now nationwide.

Although she leaves for Japan in January 2013 she is proud of having been able to live in Chiungutwa despite the challenges she faced both in and outside the classroom.

Concluding her report she said: "Life at Chiungutwa has left a permanent mark in me. I loved the place,the local food and the people, but above all, I have realized like never before that we are all the same people and belong to the same planet and share a common destiny. We need each other for our development regardless of the country we hail from".

Ms. Yuriko Nakamura's concluding note could not be further from the truth !

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