Summer 2018 Blog


Updates from Mpala's Undergraduate Interns from
Princeton and Oxford Universities


A Reflection on the Classroom

June 11
By Sarah Varghese

Sarah Varghese and Akash Kushwaha are interns supported by the Office of Religious Life at Princeton. While at Mpala, they are working on education initiatives with Mpala Academy Primary School and Daraja Academy High School.

Above, Sarah, Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames, Associate Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel at Princeton University, and Akash at Mpala.

Kamares, kamares, kamares (x2)
Ana Sarah wasikuhizi
Wanapenda kujiringa …

I didn’t quite know what any of the words meant but I knew what was expected of me. I stepped forward into the centre of the circle we were in and did the little dance that the kids who were called out before me had done. 

Akash and I spend our Mondays and Fridays at Mpala Academy - a primary school for children living in Mpala, children of Mpala’s employees. As my limited knowledge of Swahili struggles to keep up with the excited pace of all that the children are saying and doing, I’ve grown to understand and appreciate communication beyond just words. So when a little hand nudges me as my name is mentioned within a string of words I don’t recognise, as was the case above - I know its my time to dance. 

Our day at the school starts at 8:20 am with their first class. We shuffle between Math, English and occasionally PE classes, assisting the teachers in whatever they need. As teaching assistants, we read out loud to the class, work on problems with the students, teach vocabulary, and play games with the younger classes (many of which involve dancing). 

AboveSarah and Akash join other summer interns at Mpala to play with students from Mpala Primary School.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we’re at Daraja - a secondary boarding school for girls. At Daraja, we work on different projects with the girls, ranging from researching diseases in the area to dramatising a book from their syllabus to organising dance and movement workshops. We spend time shadowing the girls, being in classes with them, eating with them, and hanging out with them at different points during the day. 

Working with older kids means that conversations are able to reach markedly different levels of complexity and intimacy. On the walk back from a field trip for example, our conversation shifted within minutes from Bollywood actors and songs to archaic misogynistic practices in our respective countries and cultures - dowry, female genital mutilation, sati and forced marriages. The unstructured time between activities where we can just hang out and be with each other is honestly what I enjoy and cherish the most.

While I’m able to describe what we do at the schools each day, it’s difficult for me to articulate what exactly I’m doing here and what my purpose is for these six weeks. In a way, my purpose is to spend time answering those very questions. As I do so, I’m exploring different ways of learning and knowing - be that as a computer scientist amongst ecologists, a visitor amongst people who have lived, worked and grown with Mpala, as a teaching assistant in an unfamiliar education system or as a friend to those who have welcomed me into their communities. I’m learning that knowledge can be found in many different forms, even if it comes without citations.

After all, its the Daraja girls that helped me recall, translate and spell out the song I danced to with the kids at Mpala.

… Ana kamares kamares (x2)
Ana dunda dunda na dunda dunda
Na dis

I circle my hips twice with each “dunda”, kick in with the “dis” and join the circle again.