The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
“What do you teach?” the trainer asked. After a moment or two of awkward silence, teachers began responding. “I teach science,” offered one. “I teach geography” and “I teach math,” offered some others.
Letting the responses hang in the air for a short time, the trainer eventually responded by saying, “No. You teach students.”
Earlier this month, 104 teachers from the six secondary schools of the Iringa Diocese gathered at Huruma Center to receive training in Competence Based Approaches to education, which is the set of standards and practices at the center of Tanzania’s new national curriculum. Designed by the team of DIRA headmasters and created in collaboration with facilitators from Government Ministries and the University of Iringa, the aim of the training was to bring teachers from multiple schools together to build camaraderie and a common educational framework across the Diocese schools. In addition to providing an overview of the new educational theory/practice, the training includes pragmatic topics such as how to phrase powerful questions and essay prompts, approaches to providing constructive feedback to students and strategies for organizing lesson plans and tracking student development.
Thanks to “Teacher Training” gifts made by individuals and congregations like you and yours over the past several years, and by the grace of God, we were able to fully fund this $13,500 investment in DIRA’s teachers and schools – thereby helping the Diocese live into its mission of “Transforming communities spiritually, mentally and physically with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
While this was a substantial step to take together, there is more work to be done. With the switch in national curriculum comes a whole new series of required textbooks and teaching aids. As is the case in schools and school districts in the United States where budgets are already tight, acquiring an appropriate number of books is the biggest hurdle facing school administrators in the coming years. While the headmasters lean into that challenge, we trust that these freshly trained teachers will do what teachers do best: meet students where they are and help them reach their educational goals using determination, creativity and whatever resources they have at hand.
The rains have returned and have been merciful so far…at least for those who travel the backroads of the Iringa Region. This week Astine and Ryan Bose are joining their DIRA Counterparts, Pastor Lwila and Frank Mkocha, on a tour of the six secondary schools of the Iringa Diocese.
On paper, at least, the objective of the school visits is to meet sponsored students, verify that they are attending the schools we think are, and snap some group pictures to send back to sponsors in Minnesota. In practice, however, they tend to function as homecomings and opportunities to celebrate with students and staff alike. Atop the mountains of Lutangilo, Astine and Ryan found themselves swept up in a series of vigorous dances. At Bomalang’ombe their names were worked into the official welcome song of the school while the student choir at Image serenaded them in four-part harmony.
In each of these encounters, Astine and Ryan recognize that their presence symbolizes the presence of so many others. While they are honored and appreciated as individual guests, they are representatives of you, the partnership at large, and the complex network of relationships that form it.
At school after school, the words they receive are words of thanksgiving. “All of the headmasters have told us how grateful they are for the support SPAS congregations provide to students,” Ryan said. Astine added, “BKB scholarships are a huge part of keeping DIRA schools open and enhancing the Diocese’s holistic mission to transform students’ minds, bodies and spirits.”
At school after school, they see signs of improvement and hear stories of success, like new equipment going into the science labs we helped construct at Lutangilo and the pride in school leaders’ voices as national exam results improve year after year. Along the way they are connecting names with faces and places and, in so doing, knit this global community together ever more closely.
This is life in Iringa in January. It is busy. It is full. And it is good… all thanks be to God!