A trip to Tanzania, East Africa for educational purposes provided Peter Martyn and his wife Debra an experience they won't soon forget.
Peter, a retired school teacher, and Debra, an educational aid, volunteered with Cuso International, an organization that works to reduce poverty and inequality through the efforts of volunteers.
Cuso matched the Tatamagouche couple with English teacher-trainer placements in Kibaya, a small, remote village in Tanzania.
The couple, both 61, worked with teachers during a one-year term from October 2011 to October 2012.
"We were upgrading their teaching skills and their English skills while helping with their teaching methodology," Peter said. "It was important to encourage the teachers to be innovative. If you were to go into a Tanzanian school you would witness students being beaten for a variety of reasons. We tried to give teachers some tools other than corporal punishment. We wanted to help them motivate their students and make their classes more interesting."
Most classrooms were large and teachers and students were given just the bare necessities to work with, said Debra.
"Most classrooms had more than 50 students," she said. "The largest class we saw had 180 10-year-olds and only one teacher. Students were sitting on the floor and squeezed together on long benches.
"(Teachers) only had a chalk board, chalk and a text book," Debra noted. "Some students had a notebook and a pencil while many students had nothing."
The Martyns were assigned to eight elementary schools and three high schools. Their accomplishments included creating libraries, applying for, and receiving, a grant for 20 refurbished computers, building teachers' confidence in speaking English, encouraging teachers to teach outdoors and introducing competitions between schools.
"It was tremendously satisfying," Peter said. "It was the best work I was ever involved with. We felt like we were accomplishing something. It is good for local people here at home to know more about Cuso International. They are always looking for healthy professionals."
Although Tanzania is a politically stable country, a night guard was employed and there were burglar bars on the windows, however, the Martyns never felt unsafe.
"It's making friends with the local people that keeps one safe," Debra said. "People are very respectful of each other and peaceful.
Living in primitive conditions, water was scarce and was collected off the roof when it rained. Most food was purchased at vegetable markets and a mainly vegetarian diet was cooked over an open fire when propane gas wasn't available.
"I found a number of things intriguing," Debra said. "There was a boy who lived in Kibaya who often wore a red Tim Horton's t-shirt. Dancing was a big part of the culture and rubber tire sandals were cheap and popular around the village. The sale of goats and cattle took place twice a month at the markets."
Peter said the Maasai tribesmen lived primarily on meat, milk and blood from cattle and said they were in "very good condition. They were tall and thin."
During their African experience, the Martyns enjoyed a safari and also attended a Maasai wedding.
"We combined with a friend and gave a goat to the groom and the bride for a wedding gift," Peter said. "It's a typical gift and they loved it. It wasn't so good for the goat. I can't guarantee that he stayed around for long."
For a change in scenery, the Martyns bussed 13 hours to Dar es Salaam, the largest and richest city in Tanzania, every six weeks where they stayed in a hotel for two days and enjoyed the pleasure of eating out.
TAGLUNE: Lyle Carter's column appears every Tuesday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 673-2857.