Primary joins forces with Tanzanian school to further understanding

Pupils at Luhira school
Pupils at Luhira school
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On the edge of a dusty playground shaded by yellow flowering acacia trees and beside a clutch of huts built from mud flutters a Saltire.

Beneath it, many of them barefoot but wearing crisp white shirts and dazzling red sweaters, are hundreds of smiling children. As the sun beats down, warming the red earth under their feet, they unite in delightful song, their youthful voices soaring into a rhythmic chant that pounds like the beating of a heart.

Enjoying playtime outdoors

Enjoying playtime outdoors

The words they sing are plain. So simple, pure and sincere they nearly make Miss Holmes and Mrs Scott from Trinity Primary School rummage into pockets for their tissues.

“We love you,” the children sing. “Our friendship will never die. We love you.”

Stephanie Holmes, a primary five teacher at the Newhaven Road school, and Jacqueline Scott, its head, have made the tiring and, at times, arduous 5000-mile journey from Leith to the Ruvuma region of Tanzania clutching suitcases packed with the kinds of oddities that may have had customs officers scratching their heads.

They have brought with them red balloons, footballs and brightly coloured paper planes. There are hair clips and plastic jewellery for the girls, pencils and small plastic bottles containing a strange liquid into which a curious stick with a circle on the end is dipped.

Sitting down for sewing lessons

Sitting down for sewing lessons

“Bubbles,” smiles Miss Holmes. “They’d never seen them before. We had to show them how to make the bubbles by blowing.

“And Kinder Eggs,” she adds. “You know the little chocolate eggs with a toy inside? But the children at Luhira school had no idea that if they opened the egg they’d find something inside to play with.”

When it came to the balloons, the thrill of getting one was almost matched by the effort and determination of the recipient to eventually untie its knot and expel the air, so the balloon might be used over and over again.

A balloon, all the way from Luhira’s partner school in Edinburgh, is now a little Tanzanian boy or girl’s most precious thing in all the world.

Miss Holmes and Mrs Scott watched the children with a mixture of emotions. They had come to strengthen the growing bond between their school and this one in Tanzania, to witness the work the children and their teachers do inside the scattered collection of basic buildings that make up their classrooms, and to build up a real picture of life in east Africa to bring home to Trinity.

It was also an unforgettable chance to see the Luhira children’s efforts in a joint project that unites the schools across those 5000 miles: work that can see a P5 child in Leith writing about a Tanzanian woman hoeing her crop of maize under the warm African sun while, so far away in Luhira, another class five pupil is drawing her image in a picture.

But now, in the wake of that emotionally charged welcome song, the two teachers were watching, humbled and thrilled, by the flood of pure delight unleashed by the simple gifts they had brought.

“Of course it struck me that our kids have so much and these children have so little,” says Miss Holmes, now back at Trinity Primary after the week-long “life-changing” visit to Luhira Primary, which is just south of the Equator.

“Going there made me think of what is really important in life – friends, family – and that the things we all think are really big actually don’t matter that much,” she says.

“For the children here, it’s made them reflect a little bit and think that actually, yes, they have quite a lot and are really very lucky.”

Links between the Leith school and the 1200-pupil primary school in Luhira, a small town overshadowed by the region’s capital, Songea, were forged four years ago when Edinburgh-based charity Children of Songea Trust – which works to deliver education, health and lifetime opportunities for Tanzanian’s poor – sent a representative to the area. At Luhira, he found teachers eager to foster a connection with a school in Scotland.

Back in Leith, Trinity Primary School took up the offer. What started as exchanges of Christmas and Easter cards grew over the past four years until, eventually, Trinity secured a British Council grant to help launch a joint learning project, Food for Thought.

In Leith, the project has inspired debate about Fairtrade and nutrition, differences in farming methods and our carbon footprint. At the same time, in Luhira, Food for Thought entered the curriculum as a science-based subject as children learned about taste and took their life skills lessons outdoors to plant maize, tomatoes and potatoes to sell or to cook within the school kitchens.

“It all started very informally,” explains Miss Holmes, who has the impressive title of Trinity Global Schools Coordinator.

“We sent across books and Christmas cards and drawings to show what life is like here, and they sent us Christmas and Easter cards.”

On the table in front of her are page after page of pupils’ brightly coloured drawings, some all the way from Luhira. There are short stories and poems, photographs of the two Luhira teachers who arrived at Trinity Primary in December – one looking slightly uncomfortable with red fluffy reindeer antlers perched on his head. Both, recalls Miss Holmes, were taken aback to find teachers chatting casually with pupils and youngsters encouraged to share ideas and thoughts in lively classroom debates, a contrast to the far more formal style of teaching in their Tanzanian school.

“We also found the school in Luhira was a different world to what we’re used to,” adds Miss Holmes.

“There were up to 70 children in a classroom, there was no electricity, it was blackboards and chalk, children were squashed on benches but we were struck by how enthusiastic all the children were to learn.

“They still use sticks in Luhira to get the children’s attention and the school buildings were almost medieval, made of clay with thatched roof.

“But what was obvious is that the children are just the same as our children here. They love to play outdoors, they want to learn and they enjoy hearing about a completely different culture.”

At Trinity, six members of the school’s International Committee are flicking through the folders of work showing how their links with Luhira have inspired their lessons. On the table is a large Tanzanian flag, signed by many of the Luhira children, some with exotic names that the youngsters struggle to pronounce, others more familiar.

While the project has broadened the children’s classwork, it has also made a lasting impression on their young minds. Such as Anna Silberberg, ten, a P6 pupil, who says the Luhira link has made her think hard about what she takes for granted every day.

“They have so little but they do seem happy,” she says. “I think it would be a very hard place to live. Now I know more about the food we eat and where it comes from.

“To us, a cup of tea is just a cup of tea, but now I think about the farmers who grew the tea and the people who picked it.

“Now I think about the carbon footprint and how far the tea came to get here.”

CITY’S EFFORTS MAKE THE GRADE

TRINITY Primary’s links with Luhira have resulted in the school being nominated for a Global Citizenship Award in the Scottish Education Awards, along with three other Edinburgh schools.

Stenhouse Primary has been nominated under the Gaelic Language and Culture in Learning Award category.

The school has been delivering Gaelic language to all P5 to P7 pupils. Links between the school and Historic Scotland have also been established, and the children trained with the Gaelic learning officer for Historic Scotland to become junior tour guides for Edinburgh Castle.

Woodlands Secondary has been recognised in the Enterprise and Employability section in recognition of the school’s innovative approach to helping its students gain transferable skills for future life and work.

Ashleigh Kennedy, a history teacher from Gracemount High School, has been shortlisted for the Probationary Teacher of the Year Award. She is described by colleagues as an exceptional young lady who is an inspiration to staff, pupils and parents.

The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony taking place in Glasgow in June.