Working in Kilimatinde

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Part Three: The Kindergarten

While I was working in the library at St John's College, Christchurch's new
Kindergarten rapidly sprang into life.

First the Church found us a
building, the old Kindergarten room which had once been a dormitory for the Bible College. It was a single room with concrete walls and floors, and a blackboard painted on one wall. There was a large area of outside, possibly the floor of a former building, on which there was a small brick room where cooking could be done, while the rest of the area became the children's playground. There was also a teacher... Mama Chilewa, wife of one of the hospital workers. She had worked in the previous kindergarten which had been funded by a German doctor, but which died when he left Kilimatinde due to a lack of money and support. There were also to be two assistants,
Ester and Eva who were students at the Bible College. The main advantage of using students according to the Pastor, Canon Kandaniswa, was that it would be a good experience for them. It also meant that the Church wouldn't have to pay them!

The Kindergarten then started, slightly disorganised but, if any more time had been taken the momentum needed to set it up might well have been lost. So there was announcement made at Church on the Sunday that the kindergarten would start next day, running from 8-11 am and costing 200 Tanzanian Shillings a month (about 20p). On the Monday morning, therefore, I arrived at the kindergarten building to meet the teachers, the cook and the first children.

My original plan was to divide the children into 3 groups
according to age... we were expecting children from 2-7 years old and then put each group with one teacher to do their activities...basically the three Rs, plus some drawing and singing. However this soon became obviously impracticable as the kindergarten expanded rapidly and with so many children in one small room it was easier for all 3 teachers to supervise one large group all doing the same thing.

Most teaching Africa consists of learning by rote, rather than by class discussions and activities, and the Kindergarten followed this system. When the children arrived they would start of by singing some songs. Singing and music is an integral part of Tanzanian life, and the children certainly loved their songs... particularly any with actions. Then they would do learn the alphabet, words, numbers and how to count from the blackboard, and, whilst I was there, they learnt a little bit of English... including singing 'heads,
shoulders, knees and toes'
. Every day they focussed on something different, and by the time I left Kilimatinde they were learning the names of different vegetables, counting in English and adding using the toy abacus the kindergarten owned.

The class

Then they had playtime; the kindergarten had a box full of very old, dilapidated toys that had been donated over the years. Broken building bricks, moth-eaten teddy bears and flat rubber balls constituted the majority of the contents of the box. There was also a rather flat Space Hopper, the children had no idea of why this large pink ball had ears and started off by playing catch with it. Needless to say they found it highly hilarious when I tried to show them how to bounce on it, but it did begin to catch on. After playtime the children were given ugi, a sweet, thin porridge which was a good supplement to their diet which generally consisted of ugali (maize flour cooked with water) and kidney beans. Then they would do some more singing before kindergarten finished.

The Kindergarten started with 30 children and when I left there were about 80 children registered, although we never had more than 50 or 60 children each day. Keeping that many children in some kind of order for 3 hours was a challenge, but for the most part they were very good, although occasionally Mama Chilewa's board pointer was waved in the direction of a child who was hitting her neighbour with her flip flop. However most of the children could not afford to pay the fees each month, the main occupation in central Tanzania is subsistence farming and many families will rarely have money in their hands (produce is often offered to the church collections), and in the time I was there never more than a third of the children paid
their fees each week.

This naturally led to some problems when I came to work out some kind of a budget so that we could establish how much money we would need to ask to be donated to the kindergarten from the church and the College, and from overseas charities. If every child had paid their fees each month, the money would hardly have covered the cost of the daily ugi, and the teachers and cooks wages still had to be covered. In reality, most of the ingredients for the ugi were donated by St Johns College, and the money that came from the children went towards the wages.

The School

Unfortunately, shortly before I left, the Catholic Church's kindergarten decided to up the competition. It was a flourishing kindergarten, but seemed to feel threatened that the Anglican church had also set up a kindergarten. The rivalry between the different denominations is intense in Tanzania, and the churches seem to loose sight of their common aims in an attempt to secure as many souls as possible to their faith. So the Catholic Church lowered the fees of their Kindergarten to 100 shillings a month, and offered a free uniform to any children who crossed over from Christchurch. They also began to supply biscuits to their children as well as the daily ugi.

Fortunately, the numbers at kindergarten did not seem to decrease in spite of the attractions of a uniform. Unlike in the UK, uniform is desired in Tanzania as it gives the children an extra set of clothes to wear, and means they have smart clothes they can wear to school and church. The children in kindergarten who were the children of the pastors, teachers and shop keepers... the more affluent families... would wear their better clothes to kindergarten, but the majority of children would wear the same clothes every day, generally clothes that had been donated from overseas. One of the boys had a very old pair of Star Wars trainers.

Since I left I am told that the number of children at the kindergarten has risen in spite of the competition with the Catholic church. One of the Trustees of the Kilimatinde Trust has just returned from Tanzania, and reports that the kindergarten is flourishing... possibly more than the College at the moment. This means that the children still have something to do everyday, rather than having to find their own amusement in the dust of Kilimatinde, and that they are getting extra food, and some education before
going to primary school at the age of 7 (if they can afford it).

Hopefully this Kindergarten will survive!

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