“Amka Afrika” is Swahili for “Wake up, Africa!” It’s both an exhortation and the name of a Tanzanian school that members of First Presbyterian Church in Davenport have supported by traveling there — and even helped furnish.
Members gathered after church Sunday, Feb. 3, during a Souper Bowl of Caring event to hear from Ann McConachie, a retired teacher from Downer’s Grove, Ill. McConachie is preparing to return to the school, in Babati, Tanzania, later this month.
McConachie first visited the school in March 2011, planning to stay for a day or two. “I ended up staying for a week,” she said, displaying photographs and a video of Tanzanian students singing about how important education is to them. “I told them I would help in any way I could in the U.S.”
Help can take unexpected forms. During her initial visit, McConachie donated the school’s first card game — a deck of Uno cards. The students divided the deck in two piles — one for boys, the other for girls, and played the game with glee.
She’s since helped to arrange for much larger donations, including dozens of used desks that FPC members procured from a school in Rock Island, Ill., as well as equipment, from balls and jump ropes to mini microscopes. “It’s amazing,” McConachie said. “I just talk to people about Amka and they give me things.”
“It’s a little difficult to describe the difference” that the arrival of furniture and educational necessities such as maps and, yes, additional Uno decks, made on the 40 or so students, she said. “It was dramatic and overnight.”
Students and teachers grow corn and beans on site. On the Fourth of July last year, McConachie decided to celebrate American-style. “I made hot dogs and baked beans and we served watermelon,” she said. “The students couldn’t quite believe that hot dogs aren’t made of dogs, so they didn’t go over very well.”
She said the school’s organizer, a man named Simon who had been McConachie’s guide on safari, has “a very firm belief that the best way to improve the life of children in Tanzania is to educate them.” He and others built the school with their own hands, but what the school needed most was help for its teaching staff.
Teachers were used to taking their students through oral recitation, she said. Students copied their lessons in notebooks, and then reproduced the lessons during their exams. Now students are taking the more difficult step of thinking for themselves. “(The teachers) told us they were trained to teach this way,” she said, “so teaching the teachers is what this has turned into.”
She said she eagerly looks forward to returning this month.“Tanzania is a desperately poor country,” she said. “I think they are counting on me and other people who come over.”
Learn more at www.amkaafrika.com.