Local college grad teaching Tanzanian teens
Nick “Chico” Hernandez
Schooling, healthcare, food variety, what do all these things have in common? Most Americans have easy access to these things but across the pond, the story changes. Enter the United Republic of Tanzania in East Africa and the scenery changes metaphorically and literally. Besides being one of the poorest countries in the world, Tanzania is also home to Mount Kilimanjaro.
Tanzania is also home to Jason Sausser, 26, a Michigan native from East China, a graduate from Western Michigan University (Bachelor’s Secondary Education) and Peace Corps (PC) volunteer who teaches English in a secondary school in Rukwa.
Sausser said in an email interview his reason for joining the Peace Corps, “As a Christian, I believe we’re not supposed to stay in our comfort zone and we can’t ignore the needs of the world. So, those things led me to pursue teaching overseas and that led me to the PC. The PC also a way to get paid to see a different part of the world and get a new perspective on the world.”
Sausser also said, “I teach English to the equivalent of freshmen and sophomores. Most of them come in their first year knowing almost no English. And by the end of their second year they are expected to write essays in all their subjects for the national exam. I’m usually at school for 3-4 hours depending on the day.”
For many students, however, English is their third language. Even though Kiswahili is the national language, there are approximately 120 languages spoken in Tanzania. Especially in rural areas, a tribal language is often the first language learned by children.
When it comes down the education in Tanzania, the situation could be better. The annual tuition of a government secondary school is 20,000 Tanzanian shillings. This doesn’t include testing fees, lunch fees, and many others. In American currency this equals to about $10, but comparing America to one of the poorest countries in the world isn’t a fair fight.
Like any human, Sausser has missed his family, friends, and Taco Bell. He explained that, because of advances in technology, the communication bridge has been gaped mostly thanks to WhatsApp and Skype, “but really the best way to cope with missing family and friends is to seek out and develop friends where you are. My fellow volunteers are more than just friends. They’ve become my family and support system. And then developing friendships in my village has been key to making my home feel like a home,” Sausser said.
This does not mean the idea of living in West Africa for 27 months, learning a new language, eating new foods, or dealing a polar opposite climate didn’t put a mountain’s worth of weight on Sausser.
“For me, the hardest part was adjusting to a new culture. I had to relearn how to interact with people. Even after a year and a half of living here, I still have a hard time feeling like I’m able to express all of my personality. And it can be hard feeling like no one truly knows you, because of cultural and language differences.”
Sausser also added, “There is another Peace Corps volunteer who has made the joke, ‘Sometimes it feels like the only thing I’ve accomplished is turning sticks of chalk into chalk dust,’ and that can be a real feeling for a lot of us education volunteers. And the truth is that most volunteers never get to see the real impact that they make.”
Even after his backpack was stolen off a bus, Sausser never gave up no matter how much he might have wanted to. “I lost my computer, camera, bible, and other things that were quite important to me. The week or so after that I would wake up and say, ‘I’m not going to quit today… Maybe tomorrow… But not today,’” Sausser said.
As per PC requirements, Sausser has to do a project during his time in Tanzania. He has decided to build a library, as the school does not have one. Sausser has set up a GoFundMe (https://www.gofundme.com/hh6fh43s) for paint, bookshelves, tables and chairs, and more books. As of March 1st, people have donated $1,970 and the goal is $2,500.
“I recommend the Peace Corps as an avenue to pursue volunteering, because the Peace Corps strategy for development is solid. The Peace Corps doesn’t want to build monuments, they want to build people’s capacity,” Sausser said. The Peace Corps isn’t limited to any one individual. While most positions require Bachelor’s degrees, everyone can find something to help out with.
Sausser added, “I think everyone has something to offer as a volunteer, whether international or domestic. Find something you love and use it to make the world a little better. What the world needs, including our own country, is more people helping their neighbors. Whether that’s your neighbor across the Atlantic or across the street.”