JBFC School Partners: Deerfield

April 4, 2016 12:05 pm Published by

When I was in school (and I was in a pretty cool, groundbreaking program for its time), experiential learning usually meant planting a garden at our school or conducting water tests in the nearby marsh. I learned a lot, and in a lot of different ways, and was lucky to have parents who saw the value in education that involved more than simply taking notes and revising them for hours on end.

On our 70-acre campus in Kitongo, Mwanza, Tanzania, we just saw experiential learning taken to a new level both for our own students and staff (and me!) and for our recently departed visitors. In Tanzania, this type of learning is basically non-existent, meaning our students at Joseph and Mary are doing something that very few in this country have the opportunity to be a part of.

This month we had the pleasure of hosting students and staff from Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts for the third straight year. 

For nearly two weeks, these students from places as far and diverse as Texas, Jamaica, Kenya and New England, and their teachers lived on our campus, worked with our staff and children, learned about development, and became a part of our ever-growing community. We hope that a combination of cultural exchange activities, hands-on permaculture and sustainability learning, and a joint-community service project with our Form Four (11th grade) secondary students will provide these young adults with a new lens that will help them view the world differently.

In the same way that our model embraces a holistic approach to development, we value a holistic and well-rounded approach to engaging our visitors and introducing them to our work. Coming to Tanzania, we hope that all of our visitors have the opportunity to learn as much as possible about our country, our community, and their culture.

During their stay in Kitongo, our Deerfield guests had the chance to eat with a local family, watch Sukuma drummers perform traditional dances and music, tour our village and and visit two neighboring schools. They got a chance to meet students from Isamilo International School in Mwanza, as well as have a luncheon discussion with our Dean of Students, Samo.

After an introduction to permaculture, our Deerfield guests were able to help us plant more than 100 papaya trees, which will eventually increase food production on our farm, improve nutrition for our staff, students, and family, and help reduce food costs on our campus.

They were able to clear an overgrown part of our hill that will soon be replanted with mulberry, moringa, and papaya trees, as well as livestock forage turning a rock-farm into a food forest. And, lastly, working with our farm staff and our kitchen staff these volunteers were able to see farm-to-table in action by harvesting, preparing, and serving food grown on campus.

For me, however, the best part about having this group on campus was the joint-community service project that they worked on with our Form Four students, Mr. Samo, our permaculture manager, Edward, and our physics teacher, Mr. Max. Building off of a project created by Deerfield students and our Form Four students in 2015, this year’s team worked together to design a permaculture system for our neighboring government public school.

Working in groups of five to six, Deerfield and Form Four students helped finish a design system first started by Mark Shepard and EJ and Sophie Oppenheimer during a permaculture seminar in February.

Each group chose which trees and plants to introduce to their section of the system, and, on their last day, planted more than 30 trees at the government school.

Both our students and Deerfield volunteers were exposed to real-life problem solving, real-life permaculture, and real-life sustainable development, as well as real-life cross-cultural relationships. As the project continues, the work that these students (and the students from 2015) have done will help provide more food, more funding, and more opportunity to our neighbors while providing a more hands on learning environment for our students and visitors.

While we already miss our Deerfield friends, we appreciate the time we were able to spend with them in Tanzania and hope to see them again in 2017.

Blogger Seth Diemond is JBFC’s Chief Operating Officer in Tanzania.

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This post was written by Mainsprings