Category Archives: Western Heads East

WHE Intern in Mwanza, Tanzania

The Library at TIHEST

I guess it is about time to explain what the hell I am doing in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Back in February of this year, a man named Bob Gough contact Librarians Without Boarders UWO about assisting some undergrads with a medical textbook drive for a private sector health training institution in Tanzania. I volunteered to assist with the project because in October 2013, Bob came to speak to my “Global Development and Information” class about Western Heads East. From that talk, I got it into my head that I would want to go if I could figure out a way to make it work. So when the textbook drive came along I volunteered to go with the books to Mwanza to help catalogue them and set up the library and my application was accepted.

The Library

The Library

So now that I am in Mwanza, even though the books are only arriving in August, I have been working at the library for a few weeks now. There are two other librarians, Frida and Margret. They both have formal library training in Dar and actually were in the same graduating class. However, we have all been a bit lost here at TIHEST since we are all so new. Margret started a week before me and Frida and I started the same day. Nevertheless, I think we have all adjusted pretty quickly.

Frida in the stacks (all 3 shelves worth)

Frida in the stacks (all 3 shelves worth)

The library itself is a single room and is relatively large. We have a lot of students come in to study and even though this school has ~500 students, the library has about 15 regulars. Most of the students aren’t confident enough in their English to talk to me but most are very friendly.

The library currently has one very old computer (circa 2004) and terrible chairs in it (they are meant for a classroom). The computer works but the power does go out a lot so that does create some problems. I have completed cataloguing the 104 books the library currently holds using Readerware software. Readerware is cheap and adequate for a this collection.

The computer and evidence of my cataloguing skills.

The computer and evidence of my cataloguing skills.

Students are allowed to take books out for 3 days, however most do not. Most of the books in the library are photocopies of old textbooks bound with duct tape and staples. It will be a great day when all the ~700 books and ~300 journals from UWO arrive.

One of the textbooks I brought In my luggage, kindly donated by my cousin Lisa!

One of the textbooks I brought in my luggage, kindly donated by my cousin Lisa!

I have organized everything there is to in this library by now, so most of my days are spent talking to the librarians, and exchanging stories. I am really bad at having nothing to do so I think I am going to start bringing my Kindle to work and catch up on all the pleasure reading I have missed during my MLIS.

I am pleased to see students using the resources TIHEST currently has because I know that there will be great interest in the library once all the new books arrive. I also think the library may be getting a few more patrons than before because of my presence and the students trying to figure out what this Canadian is doing at the school.

The library does get hot during the day, especially when the power goes out and the fans stop. I don’t think most westerns would be able to study in this heat because I think my mind is having a lot of problems adjusting. However, I hope this is only temporary. I am glad that TIHEST is willing to invest in the library and the school is showing a lot of interesting in improving. So ordering cataloguing supplies and requesting new furniture has been relatively successful.

The library operating hours are long, Monday to Friday 8:00 am to 10:00 pm, Saturday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. I would say I work 5 days a week, sometimes Saturdays, from around 9:00 am to maybe 4:30 pm, which is a lot shorter than Frida and Margret, but like they keep saying, I am not getting paid for this so any time I spend the school should be happy. And I am happy to spend my days there.

Sometimes I feel like I am living a librarians dream being able to step into a library and build everything from scratch. It is really exciting but stressful because I don’t know if I am doing anything right. The other librarians look to me for advice since I almost have a MLIS and am a westerner but I know I don’t know any better than them. We are all new librarians, with a new library, at a new school, trying to figure it out together and I don’t want my voice to be any louder than theirs. However, they do ask me to do all the hard stuff because they think administration will listen to me more, which I am fine with. (I don’t need to worry about losing my job, if we have to be a bit demanding).

I look forward to seeing this library grow and learning from the other librarians. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I can’t thank Western Heads East enough for allowing me to come to Mwanza.

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The Serengeti with Mtoni Secondary School

From June 3rd to 5th I had the honour and privilege of going to the Serengeti National Park and Butiama with Mtoni Secondary School. 



It was an extraordinary adventure for all 30 students, 5 staff, and 2 drivers. It was the first time any of us (with the exception of one staff member), had ever been to the Serengeti. It was magical.

The trip was kindly funded by Clark Road Secondary School in London, Ontario in partnership with their school twinning project and UWO. As a WHE intern I came to regulate the funds and help with booking arrangements. I would say I got extremely lucky to see the Serengeti with Mtoni.

Evidence of previous twinning projects. <3 Canada

Evidence of previous twinning projects. ❤ Canada

It really felt like we saw everything! Lions,elephants, giraffes, hippos, monkeys, etc. It was wonderful. One thing that did suck was the only camera I have is my iPhone and it did not do the part justice at all! I hope to return in the future with a real camera and capture all the beauty. Nevertheless, it was awe-inspiring.

MonkeyWildebeestGiraffeLionHippos

All of the kids found me to be very funny just cause I was a mzungu (“westerner”). Even most Tanzanians that noticed one mzungu on a bus filled with locals seemed very surprised. I really did not mind that my presence provided entrainment for the locals.

The trip was a bumpy ride on the dirt roads in a medium-sized coach. It was a vehicle that was not meant to be travelling on safari. On your way to the hostel, in the dark, in the middle of the Serengeti, the bus got stuck in the mud. Everyone got out of the bus and helped push it to freedom. Lucky, no one got attack by a lion.

Our bus got a little bit dirty...

Our bus got a little bit dirty…

When we left the Serengeti to Butiama, the birthplace and homestead of the first President of Tanzania, and the father of the nation Julius Kambarage Nyerere, also called Mwalimu (Swahili for: “teacher”), a journey meant to last 4 hours took over 9!

On the road to Butiama

On the road to Butiama

The road was bumpy, it was rainy, and by the time we got to the place we were staying for the night it was past midnight. But a local secondary school kindly put us up for the night. I was luck enough to stay with the schools pastors wife, who even warmed the water for my shower in the morning. It was so nice.

The students and teachers found Butiama very interesting. It is a place of great historical significance for Tanzania because this president brought the country out of colonial rule and embodied good, uncorrupted leadership to a new country.

Mtoni in the museum

Mtoni in the museum

Julius Nyerere was a peacemaker in Africa and instilled a belief in Tanzania that agriculture was the answer to there economic problems. With this mandate Tanzania is a country were everyone can eat (possibly not the healthiest of foods but hunger is not really a major issue). The Tanzania is a country because of this man.

The view from the homestead

The view from the homestead

I know the students learnt a lot and enjoyed this once in a lifetime experience. The Tanzanian landscape is impossibly green and the journey around the north was just as good as the destination. I am so thankful for having the opportunity to get to know the kids, learn some Swahili from them, and be able to see Tanzania from a local perspective. It will forever be three days I will not forget.

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Arrival in Mwanza

WHE Week 1

My first week in Mwanza has been interesting, exciting, tiring and somewhat of an adjustment. It began with an extremely long flight from Toronto to Amsterdam to Nairobi to Mount Kilimanjaro and finally to Mwanza. This journey was not without hiccups.

Michelle and I spent a lovely 15-hour layover in Amsterdam taking a tour of the canals, the finally open Rikjsmusem and eating delicious fries. I am pleased to say I did not get us lost once! However, after saying bye to Michelle in Nairobi and flying to Mount Kilimanjaro the struggles began.

Very nice library at the Rikjs not Ritz...

Very nice library at the Rikjs, its almost like the Ritz… (Amsterdam)

When the plane was trying to take off to Mwanza the tire under the engine caught fire, the cabin filled with smoke and us passages processed to evacuate. Generally I am a pretty frequent flyer holy poop that situation did frighten me. After 4 hours a new plane came and I arrived in Mwanza.

However, my luggage did not. Nevertheless, Meghan was waiting for me at the airport to take me to the supermarket, bank, and to the apartment, my new home. Living with Meghan has made the adjustment to Mwanza a thousand times easier. She is patiently teaching me Swahili, which she is pro at, and introducing me to her friends.

The 1st picture I took in Mwanza. Lake Victoria.

The 1st picture I took in Mwanza. Lake Victoria.

To be honest, I am not sure where the first week has gone. The days pass a lot quicker here. But last week we did get a lot accomplished including: getting our oven fixed, going to a charity craft market, eating many delicious meals at local restaurants, got my phone working, internet connected, shopped at the market and supermarket, and enjoyed some good times with friends. And later in the week my luggage finally arrived and I was so thankful. The Mwanza is a great place to let the days go by.

This is what happens when your luggage gets lost.

This is what happens when your luggage gets lost.

The adjustment to the city and culture has been what I expected. I am not shocked by what I have seen, other than the rocks. There are rocks everywhere. I understand why it is called Rock City! (Sorry Detroit). I really do wish I knew more Swahili, I feel like I am missing out on a lot without it. One of the greatest adjustments has been to Tanzanian time (aka everyone, and everything is late or takes longer than it should or was promised it would). I am going to have to learn to be a more patience person.

Sorry about this entry being pretty lame but I just don’t have much to say so far. I hope my reflections get more interesting with time.

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