My Tanzanian Village School (part One)

The following is a description of my first day at my village school along with photographs gathered throughout my time here thus far.


On Monday morning, January 27, 2014, I woke up in my concrete-wall room at around 7:00. I lifted up the fine mesh mosquito net tucked into my mattress and got up intending to start off my first day teaching at my Tanzania village school with a jog. A bit groggy, I left my room in my exercise gear and was met at the door of the teacher’s compound by Pankas Mgongolwa, the headmaster of the school.

The middle-aged, medium-built man dressed in a loose-fitting, light-grey suit and glasses smiled and offered a “Good Morning, Mr. Brandon!” under the cloudy sky.

“Hello, Mr. Headmaster. “ (My pronunciation of his last name still needed work, and I didn’t want to butcher it.)

“I’m just headed out for a jog this morning.”

Headmaster Mgongolwa

He replied enthusiastically, “I wanted to introduce you at the student assembly. Come, and you can exercise after.”

I went back into my room and changed into a more formal slacks and thin, blue sweater. I then walked out of our housing and to the right just thirty paces to see students standing tall in their green uniforms, surrounding three sides of the flag pole in groups two lines deep.


Each morning at Magulilwa Area Secondary School students gather for assembly beginning at 7:30. Mondays are special as, along with the daily morning announcements, the flag-raising ceremony takes place and a chosen student gives an oral report on an academic topic.


It all kicked off this first morning with one of the older boys standing before the students and then crying out orders like a drill sergeant.

He’s directing his troops marching in unison toward the flagpole.

After a full few minutes, and a series of shuffles, high steps, and salutes, the boys made their orderly way to the flag where one took the lead to begin the raising.

Devoted and purposeful. Lacking individuality and expression. Worldwide and historically, young people are better at assuming this disposition.

Then again, young people are also prone to the giggles.

You always want to laugh when you’re not supposed to.

As the flag rose, a lone, young woman broke the silence by taking the lead in singing the Tanzanian national anthem.

Americans get flack for generalizing this part of the world as “Africa” rather than as an individual country. Interestingly, the Tanzanian anthem also refers to “Africa” repeatedly in its lyrics.

Soon the others joined in song. (See below for footage of this ceremony.)

Afterward, the youthful drill sergeant let his troops back into the mix with the others, and then a student came forward to give a speech.

The young man spoke about indirect and direct taxation.

I stood in a break between two sections of students. And when the boy was done speaking, Headmaster Mgongolwa walked to the front and addressed his students with a booming , “Good morning!”

Their reply was in kind, but not in boom, so the headmaster repeated his greeting so to give his students another chance. They responded with increased volume and enthusiasm, the headmaster was pleased, and the assembly continued.

It did so with the Headmaster going into how “this is a special day.” He explained why I was there and where I was from; he emphasized the chance for the students to learn from me as a teacher and foreigner. He also emphasized the Tanzanian tradition of hospitality toward guests and how they were lucky to have me there as such opportunities allow for wisdom and growth. Finally, he asked me to come up and share more about myself and this class I’d be teaching.

I walked up before the 200 sets of eyes.

Speaking clearly, as I knew some of them weren’t as comfortable with English as others, I thanked the students for having me–that I’d learn as much from them as they would from me. I reintroduced myself, told about my flights getting me here, and shared that it was about -15 degrees where I was from. (I’ve found a good way to break the ice is by talking about Minnesota winters.)

I then shared that I had arrived all this way with twelve laptops and five microscopes. Headmaster interrupted by leading an applause.

I finished by saying that I wanted to help make this school—a jewel with great students, faculty, and facilities—shine. Following Assembly, headmaster took me for a walk around the grounds…


Perhaps this is the post you’ve all been waiting for. Last week’s article described my arrival to the school. This time (and next), I show you what it’s like here. I will reveal a lot in these next couple weeks, but yet it’s just an overview. So please do ask questions in the comments section below that I’m sure will arise regarding the classroom, lunchroom, athletics, chores, religious activities, and more. I will answer them as best as I can.

Now we resume with a picture:

Magulilwa Area Secondary School

Away from the largest metropolis on the east coast, away from the most-popular tourist destinations in the north, this quiet little campus in the hills of central Tanzania has been successful in attracting students from all over the country. It is now a proud academic feature belonging to this part of Tanzania.

Magulilwa Area Secondary School is a boarding institution which houses some 200 students encompassing Forms 1 to 4. (Forms in Tanzania are comparable to grades in the U.S. Form 1 is approximately grade 7; Form 4 is approximately grade 10.)

And students here are approximately how they are anywhere.

Form One Boys
Form Two Girls

[I don’t want be insensitive about a potentially offensive issue, but up until the present, I’ve made probably six gender errors in speech–particularly with the younger students. Not only do all the girls have only a centimeter of hair, but their young faces are androgynous. The good news is that I believe I was more embarrassed by it than the student when I said, “Nice work!” to one and then looked up and addressed the class with, “he’s [she’s] doing a great job.” Or, in an overcompensating effort of thinking I had a girl’s face identified, I said to another student, “Go sit by that girl [boy] over there.” In this case, I looked down at that “girl over there” to see that “she” was wearing pants. Anymore, if I don’t already know, I look at their legs for slacks/skirt.]

The students really do come from afar—from the nearby city, Iringa; from other cities such as Morogoro; even from the capital, Dar es Salaam. They come and populate the brick buildings standing atop this 30 acre campus on this wavy landscape.

Campus entrance, a classroom building to the left behind the sign.
Teacher’s housing compound viewed from the road. The flag on the far left is the administration building.

Walking into campus, we have the teacher’s housing on the right:

Inside one of the two teacher’s housing compound wings

Heading further into campus is the dining hall:

Dining hall with some village cows in the fore-grass

On the opposite end of campus is student housing:

The boys’ dorm. Corn was planted in this area of campus at the start of the rainy season. (December)
The girls’ dorm (and another village cow). The village of Magulilwa borders the school grounds. And the grounds are large enough that staff don’t mind a little livestock overflow about.

Lastly, is the building that brought me here: the computer lab.

The computer lab’s progress the day after I arrived. (It’s almost finished as of this writing.) Then we get to move all the computers I brought with inside!


It’s not just the students who populate the buildings.

Most teachers are young.


After my tour of the campus with the Headmaster, I went back to my room to write. I didn’t have to teach until that afternoon. We’ll get into the classroom next time–as well as the dining, student chores (threshing grass), athletics, and evening religious worship.

For now, we finish this post with a Tanzania first: a video. Here’s a brief compilation of the flag-raising ceremony:


’til next Sunday,


8 Responses

  1. Owen Ekman

    Very impressive and joyous! I am certain that you are as happy with your new camera as I am. These pictures are lush, simply gorgeous; the red dirt I’ve read so much about is stunning, the vegetation and shades of color on the children; nuances that really let you now become the photographer that is in you. Your storytelling is polished now, after all your writing. So proud of you…keep up the good work!

    1. Gosh, Owen. Thanks so much. I’ll keep telling stories. There are many to speak of out here. About the visuals, yes, I’ve been as struck by the landscapes as you. So much so, that I’ve told photographer friends that I wish they were here to picture it. And Owen, wait til you see the wildlife article I’m preparing for a letter date!

  2. Very interesting. I am skeptical about computers in schools, especially here in the US, because computers are so pervasive anyway. I am really opposed to iPads in schools. I think this will be the death of handwriting (it was dying in the 80s when I was in school), and I don’t think they are necessary or even particularly helpful. However, if there are no computers around at all, or not many at all, then it seems these students having at least some access to computers at school makes some sense.

    From the Apple IIs in school onward I don’t think I learned a single thing from schools about computers through all of my education.

    I think having you around to teach is probably more valuable than the computers.

    1. Thanks, Nathan. When I taught in Minneapolis, I saw how students at certain schools abused the iPods and used them for pictures and games. So I hear ya. And I appreciate you identifying separately computers and learning–that one does mot necessitate the other and that some things are better learned in person. Still, getting students familiar with typing, email, and online research and tools is essential these days if they want a professional career outside of their villages. That, and the knowledge, convenience, and connectivity that the web provides can enhance lives by leaps and bounds if one chooses to use them.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  3. Doug S

    Thanks for the photographs and observations ! I am envious of the education that you will actually be receiving and look forward to more news

What say you?