Empowering Women Through English in Zanzibar

When you volunteer in Africa, you’re not only a part of meaningful change, you also get immersed in the local culture of the country you’re visiting, and meet some incredible people. Volunteering in Africa gives you a chance to create friends for life – may they be fellow volunteers or locals you work alongside. Read on to find out about the special bond volunteer Sofia created with one of her students in Jambiani, Zanzibar. 

A cool afternoon in Jambiani, I ride my bike through the village on the way to the Mwendawima nursery to meet the Keanga ladies, a group of women that was formed by Mama Ramla as a tailoring school and that African Impact has helped to teach English to due to the religious ladies’ inability to attend mixed classes with men.

The class in limited in numbers but there is one girl that keeps the women motivated to attend the classes. Her name is Mtumwa and although she is just 22 years old she is acting like the unofficial teacher in the group.

So I ask her politely if I can interview her and the rest of the girls start laughing, “Mtumwa has fans!” they say in Swahili, and she blushes.

I ask her to start the interview by her writing her full name using my laptop, her eyes sparkle “I have never used this before,” she says and goes ahead with finding the letters in the keyboard and writing her full name successfully, Mtumwa Hukum Ameir.

Mtumwa is 22 years old, she is single and she works as a tailor, which explains perfectly her beautiful attires each day she comes to class. She is very shy to speak about herself, she mentions that she has been learning English since 2012. For a studetn of just under two years her English speaking skills are astonishing and her correct use of grammar is immediately noticed.

“Why do you like learning English?” I asked, she looks at me like the answer to that question is obvious: “Because it is the basic language, the international language,”she replied and then continued to explain further: “When I get guests I like being able to communicate with them. I like understanding what tourists around me are saying.”

“Are you a good student?’’ I asked, expecting to hear yes as an answer. “No, I am not a good student because I failed my examination at school, although I studied for it. But with English is different, I love it, I love to read books and my favorite subject is grammar’.” “Grammar?!” I asked, looking confused, “yes grammar, because I want to know how to express my actions in the present, future and past.”

Mtumwa gets the opportunity to somtimes teach the other women if there are no teachers around to facilitate the classes, so I ask her about it.

“Yes, I like it. I use the texts that Pauline [the African Impact coordinator] gives me and we all sit together, we read the texts and then I try to explain the text and ask questions. Now I need a good dictionary from Swahili to English and plenty of English books, because I already read the ones I have home.”

“So, what keeps you motivated to come back here every day and how do you convince the other girls to attend too?” I ask, and she explains “I enjoy it, I want to improve my English, I also enjoy being around the other girls and learning with them. I always invite them to come and join us when they have a free time.”

My last question to Mtumwa is about where she sees herself in five or ten years – what she sees for her future now that she has African Impact’s English classes.

“I want to get married and have kids. But I think still want to learn English and I want to be able to help my kids learn too.”



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