Besleys return from Tanzania
PRIMARY teachers Ross and Kerri Besley recently returned from a trip of a life time volunteering at a school in Tanzania.
The Korumburra couple spent almost all of 2012 in at the School of St Jude working as teacher mentors.
On their trip they were faced with both the highs and lows of the region; the poverty faced by African people, along with the stunning wildlife and landscapes the continent has to offer.
The idea to volunteer came about after a holiday to Africa in 2010 when they learnt about the charity school.
After researching the school with the notion of possibly working there, Ross submitted a letter of interest and resume.
“Once he mentioned that I was a teacher, they asked for my resume as well and it just snowballed from there,” Kerri said.
“We then had a phone interview in August 2011 after which they said: ‘Come’.”
As teacher mentors in the school, the Besleys were demonstrating different ways of teaching to the staff, running personal development days and finding resources.
“We were focusing on introducing them to new teaching skills,” Kerri said.
“The Tanzanian education system is very focused on exams and that is the only form of assessment.
“Every six to seven weeks the students would sit an exam in every subject.”
Ross added: “The way the teachers usually taught in Tanzania, they used lots of talk and chalk. It was hard for the kids to be creative.
“Government schools in Tanzania have class sizes between 60 and 120 students per grade and at St Judes the class sizes aren’t above 30 so it allows for different teaching styles.”
The School of St Judes is a charity school started by an Australian woman, Gemma Rice, 10 years ago and provides free education to more than 1500 students in Tanzania.
“The school is for the poorest of the poor; one child per family is allowed but the child doesn’t have to pay anything,” Ross explained.
“There is a very stringent selection process to get the kids into the school and the parents are that excited when their kids get selected into the school.
“It’s just amazing to see the emotion because that one kid is going to get a chance to move out of poverty.”
Unlike in the Tanzanian government school system, every child has to learn and speak English at all times at the school and has access to computer technology.
While at the school, the pair was faced with poverty in the surrounding communities and visited students’ homes.
“We would come bearing a gift and these families who have nothing would proudly provide you with afternoon tea,” Ross said.
“Most of their homes would be a small single room and would have a double bed and a couch and the family all stay in the one room.
“Most would also cook outside over hot coals.
“In the community every day you saw something and you shook your head, but after a while you become to accept it because sadly you can’t help everybody.”
While working at the school Ross and Kerri lived on campus in backpackers’ type accommodation with running water and power and 24 hour guards around the campus compound.
Adapting to life in Tanzania was a shock, but always interesting.
“The roads are chaotic; road rules are ‘optional’ yet everyone seems to know what they’re doing,” Ross said.
“Most of the time we travelled via taxi or people movers known as ‘dala dalas’ to the main city of Arusha.”
The Besley’s four children visited throughout the year, as well as Kerri’s sister.
“This was great because it gave them an understanding of what we had been doing,” Kerri said.
With family number one on the ‘miss list’ whilst in Africa, some aspects of western life were also there.
“Not having a reliable health system was worrying; you certainly wouldn’t want anything major to happen,” Kerri said.
“You also had to be very fussy about where you got your meat and dairy products, as well as never drinking unfiltered water.”
Although the couple avoided any major illness while in Africa, Kerri broke her foot and relied on crutches for six weeks.
“I can tell you now that Tanzania is not made for crutches,” she said.
When her foot was in good condition, Kerri would go for early morning walks around the town and found it hard with navigation.
“Because there were no streets or even great structure with the outlay of houses, it was very easy to get lost,” she said.
“I had to certainly learn my landmarks to make sure I could get back.”
Whilst in Africa, the Besleys explored not only Tanzania, but Kenya, Botswana and Zambia, doing eight different trips throughout the year.
“We experienced a whole variety of safaris while we were there as well,” Ross said.
“Amongst many other things we got to see a cheetah chase down a gazelle and the speed was incredible. TV documentaries do not do it justice.
“In Zambia we got to walk with a lion and lioness. You could pat them and walk along holding their tail which was amazing.
“This was the bonus on top of what we were doing over there; the close proximity of all these places.”
Although it was a fantastic experience, the pair is happy to be home.
“When I got back to South Gippsland I was fascinated by the countryside. I know people say it but there really is no place like home,” Kerri said.
“Where we were in Africa there was so much dust and dirt. The country side around here is just breathtaking.
“I must say I have come home. I’m walking on footpaths, and I’m driving on roads and its heaven.”
Ross and Kerri both recommend the experience to others.
“The whole experience is well worth an investigation, whether it be in the teaching side or the administration side,” Ross said.
“I recommend people have a go at it, especially if you like animal documentaries because you can use your days off so well.”
If you are interested in making a donation or sponsoring a child and for more information about the School of St Judes, visit www.schoolofstjude.org.
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