So little means so much

Four weeks of intensive learning can last a long time.

Such is the case with Anthropology 215:  Tanzania: Education and Development, a course that Professor of Anthropology Donna Kerner has lead each summer for the past four years.

Students who enroll in the course say that the experience of living in and learning about Tanzania—and teaching classes in English there—are greatly influential.

In recent years, the collaboration that Professor Kerner has struck up with the nearby Norton Middle School continues her students’ education long after the course has ended.

The Attleboro Sun Chronicle published a story about the  Wheaton students’ visit to share what they have learned with local middle schoolers.

Professer Kerner, who has been conducting research in Tanzania for more than 30 years, says her students’ volunteer work in local schools here in the U.S. works on several levels.

From the Wheaton students’ perspective, this assembly presentation and the one-on-one volunteer work in the sixth grade geography classrooms during the school’s “Africa Unit” gives them a particular opportunity to reflect on and understand what they learned during their month in Tanzania. They also learn the applied value of the knowledge they gained through experiential learning because they can use it to help teach middle schoolers in the U.S. about many aspects of life in rural Tanzania that could not be learned solely by reading books.The more opportunities that Wheaton students have to articulate what they have done, the better they are able to integrate the knowledge they gained in Tanzania.

Of course, the local middle school students learn something, too.

This partnership enables the faculty and students at the Norton Middle School to use some of the knowledge base of the college as a resource for their curriculum. At the culmination of the unit, the sixth grade class holds a fundraiser to provide money to purchase books and supplies for us to take back to the Tanzanian schools and letters for the next round of Wheaton students to use in their lessons in their EFL classes.  In designing and holding the fundraiser these students also learn the value of concrete steps they can take to help to make the world a better place for those less fortunate than themselves.

The partnership also yields real benefits for the Tanzanian communities that host Wheaton students.

They were overwhelmed by the donations of cash and sports equipment that we provided last year and touched by the letters from their new pen pals in Norton. The fact that American students cared enough to write letters, hold fundraisers and send college students as volunteer teachers gives them reason to hope because they have so little in the way of qualified teachers, classrooms, or supplies. In one school the headmaster said they would use the cash donation to purchase supplies for the school shop they had just built so with the proceeds from sales they could purchase school equipment. In another school the headmaster called for the captain of the girls soccer team so that she could receive the gift of the soccer balls because the girls’ team had no balls and was playing with rolled up plastic bags.

The lesson, says Kerner: “So little can mean so much to so many.”