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Students Have Unforgettable Experience at Bigwa School in Tanzania

Students Have Unforgettable Experience at Bigwa School in Tanzania

Megan Welch, Sr. Marie Leahy, and Nicole Carney posing
Photo credit: Sr. Marie Leahy: From left to right: Megan Welch '15, Sr. Marie Leahy and Nicole Carney '15

As part of the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC), of which Chestnut Hill College and the Sisters of St. Joseph are founding members, two students, Megan Welch ’15, and Nicole Carney ’15, along with education professor Marie Leahy, SSJ, took part in a true service-inspired trip with students from Marywood University, in support of the Bigwa Secondary School in Morogoro, Tanzania.

“It was such a huge undertaking,” says Leahy, “but it was well worth every minute of it.”

Before the trip in mid-May, Leahy, with her co-chaperone from Marywood University, another founding member of ASEC, taught a global studies themed course to the students attending the trip. Included in the course were lessons on Swahili, the history of Tanzania, the native culture and tribal traditions, the role of women, politics, the education system and more. Students also were given instruction on coaching English as a Second Language (ESL), as they would be tutoring the students during the trip.

“As an educator, I knew we had to teach the girls attending the trip how to teach, and the course was designed to do just that,” says Leahy. “The only thing I would have done differently was have them learn more phrases in Swahili and learn more myself. Other than that, I thought we were as prepared as we were going to be.”

While at Bigwa, a residential high school for girls and young women religious, Welch and Carney proctored exams, graded papers and tutored the students while Leahy worked with the educators at the school, helping them gather materials that they needed and helping to create instructional materials such as English and math learning games. “The goal of the trip was to make those teachers feel self-sufficient and help give them the tools to lead their own classrooms,” Leahy says.

One of the best moments of the trip for Carney was meeting the 40 or so students for the first time.

“I was so nervous, but as soon as I walked into the classroom, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be,” she says. “The students were all standing up and singing and smiling to greet us. It was the greatest feeling I have ever experienced.”

In addition to the work at Bigwa, the group took part in several other missions while in Morogoro, including spending time at the Amani Center, a school for special needs students that was designed to teach them a trade, and visits to a local orphanage on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The CHC and Marywood students also took the time to engage with the students at Bigwa by playing games outside of the classroom and just spending time with them and getting to know them.

“They had so many questions about the American lifestyle, the music, the clothes we wore, the earrings the girls had on, that’s where the girls really came out of themselves and were in their own element and eager to learn English, even more so than in the classroom,” says Leahy.

Overall, Leahy, Carney and Welch all shared the same view in summing up the trip as “amazing” and all three added that if given the opportunity, they’d return to Tanzania as soon as possible.

"I’d go back tomorrow if I could,” says Welch. “Everyone we met was so happy and so genuine. It was a wonderful experience.”

“My idea is to have Sister Marie do her sabbatical at Bigwa and then Megan and I can come along as aides,” adds Carney. “The trip taught me about love, loving your dear neighbor, loving your group through tough times and loving yourself. These girls were so beautiful on the inside and out, and they wanted to make sure you knew you were too. There is no doubt in my mind I want to return.”

Marilee Gallagher '14