Graduate Student Service-Learning Blog

A graduate student at the University of St. Thomas, Cathryn Quinn is taking a course called EDLD 869 Leadership in International Contexts in Tanzania. Quinn is a veteran teacher hoping to critically expand her own education so she can inspire her students to prepare themselves for a profession or vocation and to be actively responsible global citizens. Blogging her journey in Tanzania, she plans to share her learning adventure and hopefully inspire readers.

Cathryn's posts will be kept up to date below, otherwise visit her blog at

Post 13 - Stop, pack, and roll

I'm putting a little spin on the hugely successful fire safety message "stop, drop, and roll". My message is simply to be prepared- in my case- for a trip to another continent. My plan consists of 3 steps to guarantee a well planned trip.

Stop- this is where all the planning takes place. I believe in lists. I need a list of what to take, what to leave, and what not to forget to do before departure. A couple of the essentials of what to take would be my passport, itinerary, all medicinal/healthcare items, clothes and shoes for the occasion/weather, electronics, cords and plug ins that work, plus any personal travel favorites. What to leave would include a copy of my passport and itinerary for my emergency contact, expensive jewelry, plus any unnecessary credit cards for the trip. What not to forget would be anything essential for the study experience, credit card and cash for the country, and gifts for the schools (Providence Academy donated 300 pens). I also contacted financial institutions about my travel plans since they can deny credit if not sure it's me making foreign transactions. Lastly, don't forget big hugs and kisses for family before departure.
Pack- this step must be done in stages. I throw everything I want to bring in one area. Do this at least a week ahead of time. I watch as this becomes a mound of "essentials". Then, the day before the trip, I cut everything down by at least half of what I originally thought to bring. 
Roll- a piece of reliable luggage! I don't need luggage that is a constant battle or becomes a struggle-fest when making my way from place to place. 
Following stop, pack, and roll sets me up for a wonderful experience in Tanzania. My itinerary includes learning about this country and its people with respects to education, healthcare, economy, and government. With my bags packed I am prepared to share my adventure - so please stay tuned!

Post 12 - Have you looked in the mirror today?

Walking into my childhood home, one would be met with a full length mirror. I am not sure why it was there, because it wasn't anything special or any artistic-looking mirror. There was no way to get through the doorway without passing this mirror. Maybe the mirror was there to greet you even if no one was home-you'd see a reflection of yourself and not be alone. Or maybe the mirror was there to say good-bye as you shut the door to leave the house. Regardless of its purpose, this mirror was there fixed in a space no one could avoid.

As I think of this mirror, it brings to mind a couple of quotes that I'd like to share.

"The world is a looking-glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion, and so let all young persons take their choice." William Makepeace Thackeray, English Novelist

In today's society I think a lot of mirror-time is to be had by all. Think of the "selfie" movement. It is a way of looking into a mirror and projecting that image out at an audience. Every teenager can safely say they have engaged in at least one "selfie" showing what they looked like or where they were for a moment in time. I even can say I have shot a couple of "selfie" pictures recently. Again, I wanted to capture the moment and share with others. The purpose is mainly to have a reflection saved forever in time. Below is my "selfie" from Zanzibar on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

Beyond the "selfie" preserving something for oneself, I think it is to project outward. I'm not sure what I was trying to project, but I can say the blue of this water gave a definite feeling of calm to my mind and comfort to my spirit. Which brings me back to that mirror in my doorway, always there, always reflecting. Again as I think of this mirror, I remember one of my favorite quotes regarding education:

"The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows." - Sydney J. Harris, American Journalist

My study abroad experience will not end with a return to the United States. Instead, my experience will turn my mirror into a new window allowing me to look through it and see my role as an educator invigorated for my students. I don't have any profound plans for the near future to share, but I do have a renewed sense of purpose. Something has stirred in me and hopefully what surfaces will be a wonderful discovery some day. One thing I know to be true, what I do as a teacher can and does make a difference. It is not always rewarded by society, but I can say it is always rewarding to me.

Post 11 - A Coke and a Smile

The last days of my study abroad experience in Tanzania involved more on economics but also social impact of a multinational corporation, Coca Cola, or in this country Coca Cola Kwanza International. "Kwanza" means first in Swahili.


The tour of the factory was a bit abbreviated due to a number of factors. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to see the production line of such an iconic brand as Coke. There isn't really any competition for Coke in Tanzania because besides Coke, Sprite, and Fanta they have local favorites of Stoney (like a ginger beer) and Krest (a sour lemon drink). All throughout the plant I witnessed employees engaged in the assembly line, clean up, and supervisory roles. The security for this facility was very tight knit plus all of the safety procedures were followed to the letter of the law. 

Coca Cola is proud of its role as being active in the communities of Tanzania and throughout Africa. One such project was a maternity wing in a local hospital. Other projects included building housing and helping children organizations. All over the facility there were messages to boost morale with sayings and slogans plus statistics of the meeting goals and projections. 

The question comes into play as to how much does this huge corporation pay in taxes that benefit the people of Tanzania. Throughout this study in this country we have been told that companies get tax breaks and sometimes tax free opportunities. Allowing countries a free pass ultimately hurts the growth of the country on becoming a prosperous and thriving economy that can compete globally.

After the tour we were off to prepare to leave the country and make one last stop to visit with some high school students from a public school in Dar es Salaam. The students were boys and girls from Form 1 to Form 6 or around ages 14 to 19. As a group we met with these students and teachers at a restaurant and shared dinner and conversation. One young man I met, Leonard, was a very talented artist that aspires to be a journalist because he wants to report the news of what truly goes on in his country and the world. He explained that he sees things happening then reads about the same event and is so upset by what is written not being true to what is happening. I admire his idealism but told him we have the same problem in the United States. 

Another student was a young girl, Maria, that wants to be a soldier. If she can't be a soldier then she would try to become a doctor. She works very hard right now to be top of her class plus be physically strong. She is ranked 5th overall for her class. Each day she studies any where from 2-3 hours a day plus runs 5 miles each morning. Her average day starts with her run at 5:30 am. Then she eats a breakfast and boards a ferry to Dar. She has to take two buses to reach her school by 11:00. She doesn't usually eat lunch at school because she can't afford the lunch payment. School lasts until 3:30 and then she takes this trip back home. Sometimes if there is bad traffic she doesn't get home until 9:00 pm. The day we met she anticipated getting home around 11:00 pm. Her typical day has a meal in the morning and the second meal around 9:00-10:00 pm. She didn't seem upset by the busy schedule because she knew this is what she must do to reach her goals.
I spoke with other students as well. One thing that rang true for all of them was their spirit. They were not quitters, were all very strong and intelligent, and they understood the power they possessed because of their education. As a teacher my greatest frustration is with efforts and lack of motivation by students. I think some of my students would change their ways or try a bit more if they knew not trying their best meant no opportunity. A luxury we have in the US is opportunity and many times I feel it is not truly appreciated by our children. 
The students I spoke with all said it was their dream to come to America one day because it is a "paradise". I smile when I think of these children. The conversations we had and the eloquence with how they spoke made me have mixed emotions of deep sadness and profound happiness. I wish only the best for these optimistic children that they can realize their dreams. 
Please enjoy the drawing below--by the very talented artist, Leonard.


Post 10 - Quick Change and the Let's Make a Deal

This is the day I have really wanted to participate in so I could see first-hand how high level government works in the Global South all while feeling the economic pulse of an age-old art.

Our studies today were a mixed bag. In the morning we visited Dar es Salaam University and had a lecture under a tree on economics. This tree has a story for university students: when the tree loses its leaves it is graduation time.This public university is enormous and a stark contrast to the primary and secondary schools with respects to facilities, resources, and overall attitude. Our guide was a graduate student that had also spent time studying at University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She was very intelligent and a true African beauty. She explained her own education coming from a very poor school in Arusha. At schools with no resources, she expressed you must be the smartest in the class all of the time. If not, you will not be given the opportunity to go to university. Higher Education is not available to the average student in Africa, only the highest achieving. 
From the university we headed to the Makonde Art Market. The Makonde people are artisans and take pride in handing this tradition down through generations. They are internationally famous for their intricate carvings, based on life, love, good and evil which form their beliefs about the origins of man. They are mostly known for carving done in the wood of the ebony tree. Mpingo is the Swahili name for the ebony tree. Today the art is done in other woods plus stone. I witnessed artisans working behind their shops using sanding techniques and intricate carving tools to create beautiful pieces of art. The fun comes in when you go from shop to shop with bargaining a good price for the item. Our guide gave us some guidelines of how the pricing in the market works. The merchants start with a price and we are supposed to counter at least 50% of the asking price. After some back and forth, you should be able to get a good price- just know your ceiling. Sometimes you walk away only later to be met by that merchant that has finally agreed to your price. The deals sometimes were in my favor as others I know didn't get the best price. 
From the art market we had to drive through rush hour traffic to get back to our hotel for a quick change of clothes to attend a meeting with the current Chief Secretary Ombeni Y Sefue, number two ranking official in Tanzania. He has the title of Honorable Ambassador Sefue. He has held a number of government roles plus a seat in the United Nations. The visit was going to be at the State House- like their White House. The fun comes in when we get stuck in traffic and our bus driver makes an illegal move. The police pulled our bus over and our guide, Steven, had to do some very creative negotiations and explained our need to make this meeting. Thankfully we were let go to make our way to the hotel. Once there we were given 5 minutes to get out of our market clothes and into formal business attire. It was quite a circus. Once at the State House we had the bus checked through security and then we had to hand in all phones, purses, cameras, and wallets, etc. The assistant to the Honorable Ambassador took us to a room where we would wait for only a few minutes. Upon entrance it was evident that we were all very nervous. We had prepared questions pertaining to governance, economics, education, and healthcare. I was the first student to speak and ask a question which was in regards to healthcare. If you know me, then you know I am a confessed introvert and REALLY do not like being in the spotlight. Thankfully I made it through my question and didn't fumble. All throughout the meeting a photographer was snapping pictures of us which was nerve racking, but understandable. A quick overview of our visit is available at under media, then gallery. The Honorable Ambassador was very charming and clear in answering our questions. One quote that I will share truly shined a light on what could be a mantra for Tanzania's future. Sefue said, "Learn to look at the emerging world with new eyes." 

Post 9 - What do you get when you mix red chili pepper, lemongrass, cinnamon,passion fruit, and ginger?

The answer is a true appreciation for the wonders of Zanzibar.
My day started with an early morning ferry ride over to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam. I was seated in the section with the daily commuters that seemed like this was business as usual. Zanzibar is under the governance of Tanzania but has its own President. It seems to be a strained relationship but has been working since around1964. Even though it's one country, one must clear customs upon arrival to the main island of Unguja.
The first stop was to visit the "mountain" top where the endangered red colobus monkey resides. This area is more of a hill than a mountain but our guide joked that it is their Kilimanjaro. The habitat for the monkey is protected. This little creature is a hoot to watch and could care less if you are around or not. At times, many monkeys would look like they were showing off as they hopped on their hind legs and jumped from tree to tree.  
From this area we went to a spice farm. Zanzibar is most proud of its export of cloves, but could take credit for many other spices making their way across the world. The naturalist that explained all of the spices made us be active participants in smelling the plant and playing a game of "guess the spice". Some were easy to nail but many were so different when at the source rather than when in the dry state which we purchase in stores. I ate smoking-hot peppers, cinnamon, about 5 different fruits, ginger, and raw peppercorns to name a few. I also rubbed lemongrass on me-probably needed a new scent about that time of the day from sweating so much! Zanzibar is doing a lot off research on these government owned farms to help make sure these spices can remain true to their intended quality.
The next stop was to old Zanzibar and the slave market. We were given a tour of the area and the facts that included that Zanzibar was the number one port for slaves to be sold and taken to India and Asia. Slaves from here were not transported to America. Below is the quarters that looked about the size of a walk-in closet in some American homes. This space would house up to 75 women and children until they were brought to market.
To take in the real Zanzibar experience one must go to Stone Town. This is the historic district that includes the markets that wind down alleyways. Being that Zanzibar is 99% Muslim, we had to be mindful of our dress and that many shops could be closed due to Ramadan. During Ramadan Muslims cannot eat or drink between sunrise and sunset, plus they cannot witness this unless their occupation requires it-like our guide. It was interesting to see this first hand and interact. Merchants were fun to talk to and quite easy to deal with as long as you were firm in what you were willing to pay. At one point our group split up and we formed little buddy groups to explore Stone Town on our own. My buddy and I had a wonderful time getting sidetracked through these twisting streets/alleyways. At one point we ended up in an area where we were the only Mzungus (foreigners) but made a recovery when we spotted the Indian Ocean ahead of us. We were never afraid, but were worried we wouldn't get off the streets before prayer sounded. That is considered disrespectful and we wanted to be good students and be mindful of their customs.
Zanzibar is a place that has a bright future as I witnessed the humming of the businesses, tourists, and residents truly working together. As Tanzania looks to revisit their constitution, a main sticking point is if they will remain one with Zanzibar or if the future holds two separate governments.

Post 8 - Swahili Time isn't like Tulsa Time

Today was the most important day for this course. We had a meeting with a member of the Tanzanian Parliament, Honorable Bernard Membe, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. He is a graduate of Dar es Salaam University and Johns Hopkins University. He is considered to be one of the top candidates for president in 2015. 

As a group, we had to break into committees to come up with questions for Honorable Membe that related to governance, education, economics, and healthcare. The questions were narrowed down to the best options that could yield us useful information for our studies. After our academic preparations  we had to discuss appropriate attire and etiquette being mindful of cultural and religious differences. This mainly meant suit and ties for the gentlemen and no knees showing for the women. I was set with my standard "teacher clothes"- so no worries. 
The picture below is me and fellow teacher, Josh Belanger, from Benilde-St. Margaret's. Shout out to PA- look at my label pin!
We were told that sometimes things run on what is called Swahili Time. Back in the day, Swahili Time meant the clock started at 1:00 - an hour after sunrise or around 7:00 am. The numbers on a Swahili clock would be 6 hours plus/minus what we would think or just opposite hours on a clock- 12:00 is 6:00, 2:00 is 8:00, and so on.... Today when speaking in Swahili Time, it generally means plus or minus anything from 15 minutes early to 2 hours or more late. If you have an appointment at 10:00 am, block your time off from 9:00 am to 12 noon and you should be good to go. Being astute students thirsting for first hand experience in our learning modules, we were able to witness Swahili Time at the highest level. I won't go into to details other than to say I was up ready to go at 8:00 am and walked into our meeting with the Honorable Minister around 4:00 pm. 
Pictured above are members of my study group, Absera and Athena, waiting patiently for our time to meet with the Honorable Minister.
The minister was very gracious and a wonderful host for us. He answered our questions very candidly. Many in the group said they would vote for him if they were given the chance. Upon reflection I can say  I was impressed that he explained challenges but also offered up possible solutions for the questions we asked. He had to be careful with his answers and I believe he genuinely gave answers that stood for his beliefs. It was an exciting experience and enlightening intellectual exchange with a very high-level official of the Tanzanian government. 

Post 7 - Lay down your heart

The last couple of days have been a whirlwind. I left Arusha and ventured on to Dar es Salaam. This city on the Indian Ocean will be my base for the next few days. 

Our learning module today was focusing on the deep history of port towns in East Africa. One of the earliest ports for the slave trade was in the town of Bagamoyo. In Swahili, Bagamoyo means "lay down your heart" but there is also a translation that reads "give up all hope". Slaves were transported from all over Africa to this tiny port town. It was the last stop before going to the trade center of Zanzibar. 
This town basically exists among the old ruins. Missionaries also made their mark in this area. The Fathers of the Holy Ghost, a Catholic missionary group, built a church here- thought to be the oldest church in East Africa. The missionaries main focus was converting the people they encountered to Christianity, help free slaves from bondage, and also to bring awareness of the atrocities of slavery back to Europe. There is documentation that they were actively against slavery and would sometimes persecute the slave traders by placing them in chains. This church and its grounds are still used today. 
The other religious influence in the area was Muslim. This is evident in art work, buildings, and ancient tombs. The Arab traders brought their faith to the area and even today this port town has a majority of practicing Muslims. While I was walking the grounds of the Catholic church the Muslim call to prayer was echoing in the distance. 
This post is a little brief due to the fact that I only have access to internet through my phone. Hopefully I can get this problem fixed to offer up more information and reflection on my journey. I will leave you with a "selfie"-  I met this beautiful little girl coming out of mass. Her brother photo-bombed us! Kids are kids all over the world. 

Post 6 - Up one, down two, Jo Jo

 The last few days have had many ups and downs. Growing up, my great grandmother lived with us for a short while. She was blind, frail, and used a cane, Jo Jo, to get around. She had a little saying, "Up one, down two, Jo Jo". My mother explained to me that this was her way of getting up, tapping her cane twice to get her bearings, and then directing Jo Jo to move on in the right direction. I think there could be a need for a little "Up one, down two, Jo Jo" for Tanzania. Let me try to shed a little light on this idea.

Up one...
Over the last few days I had many experiences that pulled me in different directions emotionally, spiritually, and physically. One experience was a visit to a privately funded school for children with disabilities. This school, Pambazuka, is unique in its model because it services children with physical and cognitive disabilities. I held back my tears more than once just walking through and talking to these beautiful children. In Tanzania, it is shameful for the family to have a child with special needs because they have no purpose in the traditional sense of their lifestyle. Many times these children will never leave the confines of their home- not for anything- they are basically hidden from everyone. This school was started by a woman from Minnesota, Rebecca Busch and her husband, Alex. She saw a need for a type of school like this to give these children a chance at a childhood. Many of the children have made great strides from not being able to walk to actually taking steps on their own with minimal guidance. Others have been able to speak for the first time when it was thought they had no voice...and the list goes on. The government has not yet latched onto her idea as a model for education of children with disabilities, but at least on a small scale the conversation can get started.
Down two...
The next learning module was on economics and governance with a focus on the rich natural resource of Tanzania's wildlife parks. We visited the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. This is run by an arm of the government and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It includes the southern border of the Serengeti and now is the area of grazing for the misplaced Masai originally from the Serengeti region. Part of this area is also the "cradle of humanity" aka the Olduvai Gorge. I found this to be like a Grand Canyon experience, "Hey look at that"...and then you are done because only registered archeologists actually get to go down in the gorge. What was the eye-opening experience was the passes to the park and then witnessing a discussion on payment for passage. As a group we had paid up front for park passage. A government official kept us waiting for almost an hour to give us documents that were secured a long time ago. Then once at the park, we had to wait for our documents to be "cleared" with another 45 minute wait. Finally upon leaving the park, we were again stopped to seek another payment because our Masai tour guide had passed a truck - that was what we were told was the issue- but who knows? After a heated discussion with our guides and the government officials, it was settled after another 45 minutes with no monetary exchange. All in all the experience was fruitful with sightings of lions, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, warthogs, hyenas, jackals, elephants, and hippos plus the first hand witness of the government strong arm in action. 
Jo Jo...
The last visits had healthcare and private education addressed. We visited an orphanage that was part of a faith-based hospital. The lead Doctor of the facility gave us a run down on the health care system in Tanzania. He wanted us to understand the differences and similarities between our model and theirs. One stride I found fascinating was that no child under the age of 5 nor a pregnant woman can be denied health services. This is to make sure everyone gets a good start. Beyond that they struggle with some of the same problems we are troubled with in the US. 
After the orphanage we visited a entirely privately funded school that opened its doors in 2002 with 3 students. Today St. Jude's  School has 1800 students from primary to the first graduating secondary class at the end of the year. It was started by an Australian woman with a vision and determination. In order to qualify for the 100% scholarship school a child most come from poor family and have high aptitude on their primary entrance exams. They thoroughly research the family to see if they meet criteria. Through donations a child is fully educated, boarded, and cared for as long as they maintain 70% on exams. The school has a mission that having high expectations in school will breed successful adults to participate in society to hopefully move Tanzania forward. They have school buses that pick the children up, a rarity in this area, since most children live an average of 2-5 km away from the school. The older primary students board Monday through Friday and go home on the weekend. The secondary students stay for the entire term and go home on breaks. The children were very bright and one young man told me Mathematics was his favorite subject because he does very well in the class. �� He took me to his scouting class and we had a wonderful time marching, playing games that were directed at children following directions, and then just getting silly with a banana dance! This school was a bright shining star that started with a vision of one woman to be a successful model for education in Tanzania.

Post 5 - $150 per month...Goldilocks Quinn

Education was the topic of today's learning module. We had a professor from the University of Arusha come a speak with us about the past, present, and future of schools in Tanzania. In addition, we went to a Masai school at the base of Mount Meru. As a group we had studied extensively the history of education, so what today provided was more of a perspective. A quick overview of education in Tanzania...

It's mandatory for all to attend primary school (through our 6th-7th grade). After that students may attend secondary school. Tanzania has a relatively high literacy rate for an East African country at 70%. When it comes to educational funding, Tanzania ranks last...and herein lies the problem. Only 1.4% of the total budget is allocated for educational expenditures compared to Kenya that provides 7.3% of their budget. The greatest problem is teacher's salaries. The average primary school teacher makes $150/month. Secondary School teachers make $200/month. Even by a developing country standard, this is very low.
Visiting the school truly put a stamp on the problem of teacher pay. We had Q & A sessions with both secondary and primary teachers plus their administrators. It was hard to hear them speak about their career like it was this dead-end road. They were almost ashamed of their position because of the poverty they experience just to stay in this job. 
The students were the bright light of the visit They were so happy to see us. They wanted to talk to us and were very curious. Being Masai people, they didn't want their pictures taken and were scared if someone took out a camera. We had to be very careful when seeking a photograph. They were completely intrigued with my "gold" hair. I was a petting zoo attraction. The primary students would come up, pet my hair, and then giggle like this was the greatest thing! I just let the locks flow and ended up a tangled, happy mess. 
On a side note, while we went through Arusha city on our way back to the center we noticed a lot of trafiic. Little did we know that a bomb had gone off earlier. We were all safe--better we didn't know at that particular time what had gone on.

Post 4 - The Princess, Coffee Beans, and a Star in Heaven

After 17 hours of flying, we finally made it to Tanzania. We landed in Arusha Kilamanjaro Airport on Sunday evening. After an easy customs clearing, we all boarded a bus to our learning center, MS TCDC. We had a quick meal and had a short orientation on the cabins. We were told the necessity of the mosquito netting. This really threw one of my colleagues over the edge since she hates bugs. We convinced her that she could pretend she was a princess and this was her special canopy for her beauty rest. I'm not sure that story worked, but it gave us a good laugh! 

When I awoke at 4:00 am- jet lag- I went through in my head the schedule for the day. The plan was to have our first learning module after a short introduction to the center and its purpose. The center, MS TCDC, was founded by a Danish organization in the 1970s. MS "Mellenfolkeligt Samvirke" means roughly international association of people, Training Center of Development Cooperation. Students from all over the world come here to learn about culture, language, and all facets of a number of African countries. After finding out the purpose of the training, our first module was to focus on economics with a visit to a coffee farm and then into Arusha city for some in depth mingling of the locals.
This coffee farm visit was a wonderful experience for us. Steven Ndossi, a trainer from the center, was actually the second generation owner of the farm. He told us the history of coffee as a crop and the changes over the years with particular detail to his family business. We learned about coffee associations, government control, and also about land grabbing happening by investors. We ventured out into the coffee crops and he showed us how to spot the beans ready to be picked- one red bean at a time! It took us a rather long time to get one bushel and found out that our efforts would earn a worker about 50 cents. We all appreciated the labor it took for this process. We then shelled the beans, washed them, and finally roasted. Steven is going to bag the coffee- both raw and roasted- to take home.
Lastly we ventured into the city. It was humming and truly a vibrant city of about 800,000 when including neighboring communities. Vendors were relentless, but a firm "hapana", no in Swahili, they would leave you alone. In town we met up with a fellow UST graduate student who is also a member of the Peace Corps in Tanzania. What a wonderful story she shared of her experience. I truly admire her total dedication and bravery for her work. After a walk around and a quick pull off a ginger ale drink, we all returned to the bus and headed back to the center.
So day one is over. The princess got her sleep free of any bug bites, this lady got her coffee, and one more star shines in heaven due to a little girl from the peace corps.

Post 3 - Stop, Pack, and Roll

I'm putting a little spin on the hugely successful fire safety message "stop, drop, and roll". My message is simply to be prepared- in my case- for a trip to another continent. My plan consists of 3 steps to guarantee a well planned trip.

Stop- this is where all the planning takes place. I believe in lists. I need a list of what to take, what to leave, and what not to forget to do before departure. A couple of the essentials of what to take would be my passport, itinerary, all medicinal/healthcare items, clothes and shoes for the occasion/weather, electronics, cords and plug ins that work, plus any personal travel favorites. What to leave would include a copy of my passport and itinerary for my emergency contact, expensive jewelry, plus any unnecessary credit cards for the trip. What not to forget would be anything essential for the study experience, credit card and cash for the country, and gifts for the schools (Providence Academy donated 300 pens). I also contacted financial institutions about my travel plans since they can deny credit if not sure it's me making foreign transactions. Lastly, don't forget big hugs and kisses for family before departure.

Pack- this step must be done in stages. I throw everything I want to bring in one area. Do this at least a week ahead of time. I watch as this becomes a mound of "essentials". Then, the day before the trip, I cut everything down by at least half of what I originally thought to bring.

Roll- a piece of reliable luggage! I don't need luggage that is a constant battle or becomes a struggle-fest when making my way from place to place. 

Following stop, pack, and roll sets me up for a wonderful experience in Tanzania. My intinerary includes learning about this country and its people with respects to education, healthcare, economy, and government. With my bags packed I am prepared to share my adventure - so please stay tuned!

Post 2 - A Great American Tale

In the land of Paul Bunyan, we in Minnesota are accustomed to a tall tale. I have been fortunate to hear a speaker that has such a tale, absent the element of fiction.

In preparation for our study in Tanzania, our class has been awarded the benefits of having speakers come in and provide us with useful nuggets. We had a nurse specializing in the health necessities for travel to a developing country like Tanzania share requirements and give us precautions. Another speaker, Rebecca Busch, a woman from a Minnesota non-profit organization shared her experience of starting up and maintaining a school for children with disabilities in Tanzania called Pambazuka. Additionally we were able to get the unwritten handbook of the course; insight from a former student of the program. This proved to be very helpful answering all those "unknown" questions. Lastly, we had the Honorary Consul of Tanzania, Kjell Bergh, come and share what I like to call a great American tale.

Kjell Bergh came to Minnesota from Norway. He had humble beginnings working at Borton Volvo in the metropolitan area of Minneapolis. He gained favor with the owner and eventually worked his way to become CEO of the company. As this tale goes, his entrepreneurial spirit was guided to venture around the globe. He felt upon a visit to Tanzania that a part of his heart belonged to this country. Over the years he helped with business, travel, non-profits, and had many occasions to interact with government officials including past and current presidents of Tanzania. He truly cast a positive light on this country during his short talk with the class. I was completely mesmerized by his past and future visions of the country and am so thankful for the opportunity to go there and learn.

As I approach my final class prior to departure to Tanzania, I anticipate adding my own page to the great American tale, even if it's a small footnote.

Post 1 - Read the fine print...assembly required

Growing up my father always wanted help reading the fine print before he started any project. I believe asking for my assistance was actually two-fold in its purpose. First, to have me read what he couldn't physically see even with his glasses on and second, to have another person concur and mull over the procedures to take before diving into the project. My experience with the course I am taking at the University of St. Thomas, EDLD 869 Leadership in International Contexts Tanzania is in the "read the fine print...assembly required" stage.

Led by Dr. Jean-Pierre Bongila, we assemble as a group of students to lay the foundation of what the experience in Tanzania may entail. We have required text readings, listen to experts in their field, participate in discussions, and have group research all to become informed scholars representing the university once we embark on our journey. While in Tanzania we anticipate visiting schools, meeting government officials, witnessing everyday life, plus taking in the historical and cultural tapestry that makes up this country.

I will be writing in the hopes of sharing my learning adventure but also to inspire others to "read the fine print" and assemble to experience something new.

Student Service-Learning Blog

Angela Koch, a current undergraduate student at the University of St. Thomas and a student assistant in the Office of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, has been working with People Serving People, a temporary homeless shelter for families in downtown Minneapolis.  Angela has been writiing a blog about her service at People Serving People, and we are more than happy to shine a light on her experiences and the issues families at the shelter face on a daily basis.

Angela's blog can be found at or her posts will be updated below.

Day 12

My experiences at PSP have really shaped my views on education and childcare. I think this was possibly my last week in the Infant/Toddler section, and I will possibly be moving to another area of PSP this coming week. My summer schedule is coming up fast and I will not be able to go in on Mondays any more. However, maybe I could stop in on the weekends or try volunteering somewhere else on the weekends? I will have to think about it some more. Quite possibly, perhaps my time is done at PSP? Although, they do need the help!
Any-who, last Monday was entertaining. I love helping with the kids. They brightened my dark weekend and even during the gloomy weather I found solace. When I arrived, there were babies everywhere again. It is getting more challenging for them because many of the other volunteer's time at PSP is also coming to an end. The college semester is pretty much over and the students do not need any more volunteer hours. Therefore, the volunteer numbers are low. However, since I am just doing this for fun, I have the option to help them.
One thing I tried with two of the infant girls was place them within reach of each other on a play mat. I put toys in front of them and observed how they interacted with the toys and each other. I have noted that I have never seen the babies interact with each other before. The little girls would exchange glances and grab their friend's arm or touch their hair. I thought it was cool that they got to finally be "aware of" their friend. Possibly this early interaction with other babies will instill a positive social implication to their personalities.
After helping the babies find toys to play with and getting the others to sleep, the toddler side was also lacking in volunteers so I went over there because the kids were waking up from their naps. I walk in through the child-secure gate and see one of the toddlers sitting at the snack table and eating his raisins (which obviously must have been today's snack option). He also appeared to be the only one left eating because his daycare-mates were off doing other things. However, I did notice that a small group of kids had surrounded the table. They were watching in careful anticipation for the boy to glance away so they could snatch his raisins. He kept a watchful eye on them and finished his handful of raisins. He turned to the head instructor and did the hand symbol for "More" all while saying, "More, please?" The instructor grabbed another handful and placed it in front of him and the little boy looked away for a second. As soon as the raisins touched the table, all of the kids that had surrounded the diameter of the table lunged forward and grabbed all his snack. The poor boy was wiped clean of raisins within a matter of seconds. All of the instructors, including myself, found this to be very amusing. However, we made sure to give him more raisins along with a high-security body guard to be his bouncer.
The kids are so brutally honest and many of the things they do are so amusing. I do not know what I would do without this kind of joy in my life. I do not know what kind of teacher I want to be, but I do feel that working with children is where I feel most at home.


Day 11

Last Monday, I started out by working with the infants. There were more awake and active infants than there were hands to hold them. I started out by playing with one of the little girls that has been at the shelter for awhile. She was the first baby I got to hold here at PSP and she has grown so much! It's crazy to watch how fast they grow even over only a couple months. Volunteers were limited that day so it was challenging at points when an instructor had to leave and help out the other side. The babies were all over the place: various blankets and pillows on the floor, being held by random instructors, and lounging in various cradle-holders. Almost all of them were awake and looking for games to play and things to do because only a few had succumbed to sleep. The toddler side needed help, however, so I propped a few of the kids up on pillows and blankets with a toy they could play with and went over to the other side to help the toddlers. They were getting ready to head outside, so we gathered up the kids and started maneuvering them out the door to the playground in the front of the building.
One of the girls was not having a great day and only wanted to be held. She had me carry her pretty much the whole time we were outside. I tried offering her the alternative of playing on the jungle gym, but she was not having it. After a while, her mom finally came and picked her up, and she was fairly relieved when she saw her. I also noted that there were quite a few kids who wanted to be held and not interested in playing with their friends. I think it is usually around this time of day when the kids start to get really family-sick and miss their mom and dads.
My favorite part of the day was when one of the little boys I was holding started to get super happy and excited for seemingly no reason. He started waving at someone and I looked over to see what all the commotion was about. His young mom and dad were heading up towards the shelter on their way back from somewhere and he was just really excited to see them. We walked up to the gate and since we recognized his dad, we handed the little boy over to his sweet family.
A lot of close-minded people would criticize a young family for being unprepared and too young, maybe even pulling out the argument of the dad's-gonna-leave situation. I do not think anyone can truly be prepared for a new baby. Whether they are young parents or old parents, you never can be too ready for a baby, money or none. I'm not a parent myself, but I have been around a lot of people who are new parents and they never seem quite ready for the baby no matter what their financial situation may be. However, with some help and guidance from others, they can pull through. It's just important you find people you can trust. In this young family's situation, yeah they may not be in an ideal set-up, but I think all that matters to them right now is the love they have for each other. I feel they can pull out of their situation if they work together. Thoughts anyone?

Day 10

This past week at People Serving People, I had the opportunity to work with the toddlers. I wanted to post about something else I learned after observing the toddlers. On Monday I realized that they learn mostly from each other. These interactions at such a young age with others who are similar in age are great ways for the kids to learn about themselves and the world. The interactions they get to experience in daycare settings I discovered are highly beneficial for them. There are good interactions and negative interactions, but I found that both kinds are helpful for them. 

The kids are so funny to watch during snack time. The rules are that they have to sit with their chair pulled up to the table ("tummy to the table") and that they have to have their feet on the floor. Also, they cannot get up from their spot until they have indicated they are done eating their snack. Creating a comparison, I think the animals that copy each other are called lemmings. These little babies remind me of lemmings because when one of them does something, another one of them has to copy and they go with the group. There may actually be misconceptions about lemmings, but for the sake of comparison, I'll leave the lemming reference. On a related note, I was watching them during snack time to make sure good behavior was being practiced and one of the boys started to push his chair away from the table, nearly 4 feet away from the snack table. I simply told him, "tummy to the table" and he scooted his boot back up to the table. Unfortunately, this was a catalyst for the anti-tummy-to-the-table-rebellion and all turmoil broke loose at the snack table in the toddler room. Almost all of the kids started sliding their chairs away from the table while they were all giggling and making noises at each other. It was humorous to watch, but I knew that order had to be restored. Other instances of repeated and copied behavior include standing on the table, pounding on the table, making loud noises, and other interesting forms of snack time entertainment. It's always fun to see what these kids are going to pull out their hats at a given moment. These lemming behaviors don't always happen during snack time, but I have seen them while they are playing or waking up from naps. One person doing something silly is never enough, according to the little goofballs, they always have to repeat each other. I usually find that one of my mottos in life is "do what you feel" and if they want to all start making animal noises, let their little hearts go and make those animal noises.

While I was there on Monday, we got a call from the security desk about a dad that said he was there to pick up his little toddler. There was some confusion over paperwork because when the mom dropped off her baby earlier that day, she never said that the dad would be picking them up early. The process took about 15 minutes because phone calls had to be made, paperwork had to be opened, and ID's had to be checked in order to hand the kid over to the dad. Nothing truly dramatic came from the situation, but it was nice to know that these instructors are generally concerned enough over the kids that they aren't just going to believe someone when they say they are the dad/mom of a child here at the daycare. They take the time to look into it and make sure the child is safe.

Day 9

Last Monday I was at PSP for a couple hours again and I got to experience bringing the kids outside to the playground! I came in and was immediately put with the infants because there were 6 of them and they were all awake. There were in between 10 and 12 toddlers, except they did not need help yet because most of them were still sleeping from nap time. There was a brand new baby on the infant side that day and she was only six weeks old. She had a full head of straight, dark hair and big brown, curious eyes. I held her for a short while, then she started to fuss so one of the other instructors gave me her bottle. I sat there and fed her for about 15 minutes. She would suck from the bottle, but then her eyes would start to drift off. Slowly but surely, the little angel finally fell asleep.
I passed her off to another instructor for a while because one of the other little boys was lying on the blanket by himself not really doing anything. I held onto him for a while and listened as the toddlers were heading out the door to go to the playground in front of the building. Looking out the window, we could see the toddlers and the two instructors play on the jungle gym. The instructors looked a little overwhelmed, so I set up the baby I was holding in a place where he could reach his toys without too much effort and made my way outside to help them.
The kids were in full force that day. They were running, climbing, and jumping all over the place outside. Kids were taking turns sliding down the slides and crawling through the tubes. There were only a few instances where the kids would hit one another or bite so that they could move their friends out of the way. Some of the kids wanted to be picked up so that they could be held for a short while, but most of them were playing.
I noticed a couple things this time that I felt are worth mentioning. First of all, in regards to holding the children, it is crazy how much trust they have in us. They know we are adults, but they really know nothing else about us. What is amazing is how if the kids want to be held, they will walk up to just about any of us and hold up their arms (obviously indicating to pick them up). They really do not care who it is, but some of them just want to be picked up and held. I think in this daycare setting they feel safe, though.
The parents usually pick up the kids around 4/4:30pm. We were all assuming that the parents get done with work or whatever they are doing and then come and pick up the kids. However, one thing myself and one of the other instructors talked about was how some parents are just hanging around outside while their child is still in daycare waiting to get picked up. The parents that do this are just hanging around, doing nothing. I mean, wouldn't you want to be spending time with your kid as soon as you are able after a long time away from them while you were at work? I do not know what it is like to be a mom, but I think that I would want to pick them up from daycare as soon as I could. I can't really judge the parents because maybe they just need a break, but I feel like standing outside is not a very productive use of your time. These are just some thoughts I have had about parents and the PSP community in relation to the infants/toddlers.

Day 8

So I have to catch up on my last two days at People Serving People. This one will be fairly quick because there was not too much other than the usual happenings last week. I think one of the things that stood out for me last week was the fact that I had not noticed the physical aggression that ensues amongst the toddlers. Either because it always happened when I was not looking or because it just did not start until recently. Probably the first situation, though, because even though it was the first time I had seen any of these toddlers use physical aggression against each other, I witnessed it happening on numerous occasions throughout my two hours there that day.
The reason the kids become agitated with each other usually has something to do with toys and sharing. The way I saw them hurting each other was through biting and hitting, mostly. One of the little girls would bite herself when one of the kids was making her mad, too. The biting is scary to watch because the kids do not really care what happens to their friend as long as they get their toy back. I am sure that they do not want to hurt their friends, but they also do not really understand the value of other human lives and how it is appropriate to interact with others yet.
One of the other things I noticed was the verbal aggression that the kids used with each other. This is also important behavior that the teacher should correct because this is what can get out of hand as the child gets older. One of the little boys was pushing a shopping cart around the play area and got stuck because one of the other kids was in the way. He stopped and yelled, "Get out of my way!" The teacher stopped him and said, "That is not how we talk to our friends! You have to play nice." The little boy quickly understood and said in the sweetest voice ever, "Excuse me." If quickly corrected, they can learn that what they had originally said was not nice and that they need to address their friends nicely.

Day 7

Hey all, I am back! I was on spring break for a while and was not able to get to the shelter the last few Mondays. However, I was able to go this week and I have interesting things to write about… I hope! Mostly concerning a few things I noticed while I was there on Monday.
There were only two infants in the daycare center, so I got sent over to the toddler section again because they had 11 that came in that day. I do not really mind working over there because it is nice to experience both ages. However, it is not always easy. The obvious difference I will note between them is toddlers are just like babies, except for they walk, talk, understand, walk, climb, and walk. Did I mention walk?  So maybe there are more than a few differences, but what is especially nice about babies is that they are easier to keep track of. For example, if you set one in a rocking swing and walk away for a few minutes, chances are the kid is going to still be there when you come back. On the other hand, if you put a toddler on a chair and walk away for a few minutes, chances are that by the time you come back, they have already hopped the border and are sipping a juice box on a sandy beach in Mexico! Moral of the story is to keep a close eye on them at all times.
It was about halfway through my time there and one of the teachers starts to look around rapidly. I quickly noted that the playroom's door was ajar. She asks for a head count and the other instructors and myself start counting. She yells out before I finish that there are only 8. In the moment, it was all very fast. All we know is that two of them already got picked up, so that means one is missing… but who? There are only a few kids who know how to open the "child-safe" door. It has never been a problem before because they are usually pretty good about the rules of not leaving the play area. We all start looking at each of the toddlers faces, trying to figure out who is not present among them. One of the instructors figures it out and races out of the room. She comes back a few agonizing minutes later with one of the little girls being led closely beside her. She got put in time-out and appeared very shaken as she sat there looking at all of us. It was actually really sad to see her like that, but since the door is not the most reliable, the kids need to know that it is not okay to leave the play area without an adult.
Throughout my time there, I have also noticed a few things that break my heart. Some of the toys that these kids are playing with were probably the same toys I was playing with 20 years ago. Not all of them are in bad shape, but there are many that are very beat-up and are very past their "expiration date". The kitchen set is a mix-match of fake bread, an ice cream scoop without the cone, and random dinner plates and cups. The blankets they use during nap-time are ripped and falling apart. I want to change this while I am here. Somehow I want to at least get them new blankets or be able to replace the old toys that they use. Another thing I need to start collecting is baby/toddler clothes. There are a lot of clothes that these kids are using that do not fit them or need to replaced due to being very old. Maybe I can start this through my work at OSLCE? Or maybe I can start something on my own. These are just my thoughts from my past  experience volunteering there, Monday. Time will tell!

Day 6

Upon entering the daycare, I realized the infant side did not need my help because there were about four volunteers already over there. I proceeded to walk over to the toddler side. Most of the kids were either napping or quietly listening to a book being read to them. The little cots in which they take their naps were randomly placed throughout the room. I started out by reading to the ones who were awake. They jumped onto my lap almost automatically and even though they were not always paying attention to the story, they were definitely enjoying having someone pay attention to them. I felt that maybe it was the physical contact that was the important part of listening to an instructor or volunteer read to them. Whether they are sitting on your lap and looking on with you or they put their hand on your leg or arm during the story, I think they are trying to let us know that they are there. One by one the kids were slowly waking up. They would venture over and listen to the stories or they would start bringing out their toys. One of the little girls woke up from her nap and started crying. She looked up at me and reached out her hands. I picked her up and held her as she cried into my shoulder. It was so very sweet and all you can do is just hope that she feels better and can stop crying. Sometimes while volunteering, I take a moment and look around at all of the babies and toddlers with whom I am working. I look at their adorable and chubby-cheeked faces, their tiny hands, and take note of their waddle when they try to walk. These babies are just like any other babies in the world. They are learning to talk, walk, read, play, share and even just be a little person in society. However, they were born into a different life-style than most other children. These kids are born into this world with hardly anything going for them. The positive thing they have going on in their lives are great caretakers, whether it be parents or their daycare instructors, and a roof over their head as long as they are here at PSP. On the other hand, these kids are born into a challenging lifestyle. They may not get the best education or have nice things growing up. They may also never get the same opportunities other kids their age are going to get later on in life. It is so heartbreaking, but all I can do is be there for them. They need that emotional and physical connection with their daycare instructors or they could be the ones who slip through the cracks when they get older.  Having a background in education is really helping me get through the mental barriers and challenges I have when watching these kids. An understanding of how education works gives me the knowledge and preparedness of how to handle communication with the children or doing activities. I have learned that hands-on experiences are the ones they are really going to learn from the most. Stimulating questions that really get their minds going (if they can talk or are learning how to speak). Even teaching them how to play fair and respect their friends is good background knowledge to have when working with them.  My absolute favorite part of the day was when one of the instructors took down a bucket with a bunch of costumes in it. The kids were grabbing out their favorite animals and asking us to help them put it on. The toddler side turned into a zoo! The kids were running around in lion, giraffe, and dinosaur costumes. This aspect of using their imagination and being something else other than themselves for a little bit was very fun to watch.  The final thought from this past Monday's experience was bringing back a question I had asked in one of my recent blog postings. It was on Day 4 near the end of the post. I had asked the question: "One point I feel that needs to be brought up from this past Monday after watching the babies, toddlers, and instructors interact is about comfort levels and boundaries. What is the comfort level that we can have with these kids?" I asked for the opinions of a few different people who were also education majors and I got a varied amount of responses. Some said that if that was their kid, they wouldn't want their baby's daycare provider acting basically like the mom. For example, giving kisses, lots of hugs, or saying "I love you". Others said that maybe the reason that would be okay is because since this is a homeless shelter, (and the family situations may be a little less than ideal) these kids might not get a whole lot of love and attention when back with their families due to a number of possible circumstances. I just found these thoughts interesting and helpful.


Day 5

When I first started here at PSP, I had to do an orientation as you can see when/if you read Day 1. While they were training us on the Early Childhood Development portion, the SBS and SIDS training video did not work. So this past Monday I finally got to watch those informational videos. The training for these situations took a while, but I found it worth the interruption in my time hanging with the babies. If you are a parent or caretaker of an infant, you have to be so careful about shaking them. SBS, or Shaken Baby Syndrome, occurs when a baby is violently shaken back and forth. I know what you are thinking: "I would never 'violently shake' a baby." Unfortunately, it happens more than you think. If you are a parent, you may understand where I am coming from when I say this, but babies can sometimes cry a lot. Sometimes you have tried everything, but nothing seems to comfort the poor child. The video then talked about how some caretakers or parents will become so aggravated that they will shake the baby back and forth to try and silence them. It sounds horrible, but it is reality. The damage done to the neck and brain is usually irreparable. However, the video was helpful because it told us ways to prevent these things from happening. If the crying is too much, make sure the child's basic needs are met and place them in a safe place (like a crib) and feel free to walk away for a little while. The lady in the video said, "It's okay for the child to cry."

Another common fatality among infants is SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. This happens usually when the child is sleeping and the doctors do not really know the cause of it. It's more common among babies that are under 2 years of age. The challenge for this is because it is unpredictable and unpreventable. Learning about these two common situations that happen with infants I found to be very helpful. Not only as a volunteer, but as a future parent. 

While I was doing my usual routine and working with the babies, I noticed that there were two new kids in the group. I don't think we've had the same group of kids twice yet. The littlest one is always there, and one of the little boys keeps coming back, but there are always new kids coming and going. What made me most sad was when I learned the little twin boys were not at the shelter anymore. Families coming and going primarily happens due to the fact that the families that stay at PSP are moving on to something else. Maybe they could not get their application renewed with the county or maybe they are moving on to bigger and better things because they finally got their feet on the ground again. I asked one of the instructors if she also finds it sad when one of the babies leaves the shelter, and instead of hearing a more hopeful statement, she says, "Well not really, because through my experiences here, I have noticed that they usually come back anyways." As a volunteer, I do not get the pleasure of knowing the families more, but I noticed that the full-time instructors really know what's going on around this place. I found what she said fascinating and at the same time heartbreaking. It's too bad that these families get stuck in the same cycle over and over again.

Day 4

This weeks's PSP experience was a little different than the usual Monday afternoon infant child care. The first problem that I encountered was that I ended up being a half hour late for my two hour session because the city bus was running really behind schedule. I guess next time I will have to leave earlier. When I finally arrived, the instructors already had a volunteer on the infant side so I went over to help out in the toddler section. Their ages ranged around 2 and 3. One thing that is good to know about toddlers is that they are more cognitively developed than infants so one who is in charge of care taking them needs to be more engaging with them. They will lose interest faster and know how to use their emotions to get the different things they want or need.

As I stepped through the enclosed gate to go inside of the toddler area, two of the little girls stopped what they were doing and walked over to me to stare up at me. I am not going to lie, it was a little awkward and uncomfortable to be out of the comfort zone I call the "infant side". After all the kids became adjusted to the idea of me watching over them, they warmed up to me and one of the little girls asked me to read her a story. I sat down in one of the rocking chairs and pulled her up on my lap. She listened attentively to the book about spiders and while we were doing that, the other instructors were setting up the main table for the upcoming shaving cream activity. More like the impending doom shaving cream activity if you ask me. After we finished reading, I went over and helped the other instructors put on the little red smocks that was supposed to prevent the shaving cream from getting on their clothes. It didn't help. Once all of the kids were suited up, we seated them each in a chair around the table. The kids had a blob of shaving cream in front of them which was in the shape of the first letter of each of their names. They stared at the tempting pile of fluff for about two minutes deciding whether their instructors were actually encouraging them to make a mess or if it was a test. The head instructor made a blob for herself and smacked her hand into it and started to smoosh it around. The kids caught on to the idea and eventually the whole table was white with a clean-smelling shaving cream. Of course all good things must come to an end, so when one of the little girl's face and arms were covered in the white shaving cream, we realized it was time to start cleaning them up. All we could see left of her face was two circles around her eyes and she had even eaten some of it because we realized it was just sitting there in her mouth. The head instructor made her spit it out and the process for cleaning her up was a struggle. 

Then as if my prayers were answered, I got called over to help out on the infant side again because the other volunteer who had been there earlier had to leave. Even though I would not have minded helping out, I was totally okay with dipping out on the cleaning-up portion of the shaving cream activity. I was directed to play with one of the girls who I had never met before. Surprisingly, I realized that almost all of the kids in the room were new except for the one boy I had held the week before. I did not get the chance to ask why there was a new group of kids, but I figured that possibly these ones were just absent from the two weeks before. There has to be about a little over 10 kids involved in the infant child care program, then. However, there could be more. 

The second half of my volunteering time was just about as interesting as the first. As I was playing with the little girl, I started to smell a very foul odor. I looked at the girl and thought maybe I had not noticed it at first, but maybe she has a smell to her. I do not have "mommy instincts" necessarily hardwired into my programming yet, so I was not really sure of the source. After a while, the stench became too much to bear and so I took a glance down at her pants, which of course showed evidence of a "blow out". If you have never heard of a blow out, this is where the "nasty-nasty" (for use of a "better" word) kind of explodes from the diaper. I am so sorry if this is TMI, but I honestly was a little traumatized myself and felt the need to share because I am working with babies. I'm honestly surprised this is the first time it's happened. I immediately sent her off with one of the instructors and they told me to hold one of the other babies. The next one I held was already sleeping so I just continued to rock her until she woke up. After about a half hour, she opened her eyes very slowly and looked up at me. I smiled at her and she smiled right back. This is probably my most favorite part in working with infants. I proceeded to talk to her and make her smile with the random stuff I was saying because I was trying to engage her more through her expressions. This is what I feel we actually should be doing with them instead of just trying to get them to stop crying and then let them be until they start up the crocodile tears once again.

One point I feel that needs to be brought up from this past Monday after watching the babies, toddlers, and instructors interact is about comfort levels and boundaries. What is the comfort level that we can have with these kids? I understand that there is love for the children from the instructors after working with the same kids for so long, but I am just curious as to what do the parents want for their children, and how can we as instructors show love without it being too much.

Day 3

Monday's volunteer experience was just as great as the first. I have really been enjoying my time here and I am so happy that I have been able to impact the lives of these little ones. During this last one, my main job was to hold one of the little boys. All of the kids (except for the littlest one) were very sick and they all had runny noses and coughs. The one I was holding was sick, too and I got to hold him while he was drinking his bottle. While this was going on, there was a mom in the room nursing with the youngest baby. I was told that the littlest one has trouble drinking out of a bottle, so her mom needs to come in to nurse her in the afternoons. There was also one other woman in the room who I did not recognize and she seemed to be a nurse or a clinician of some sort. The nurse was asking the mom questions while she was nursing and although I couldn't hear what she was asking her, it was most likely about helping the new mom care for her baby.

The one I was holding fell asleep in a funny position on my lap and it was adorable. He was laying on my lap, but he was tummy up with his head on the top of my knees and had his legs near my stomach. He fell asleep while looking at the decorative ceiling lights. He woke up really startled at one point and looked around, but then fell immediately back to sleep. One of the twins was sitting in the corner of the play area in between a cabinet and the corner of the wall. He looked comfortable, but he was watching us and playing with the toy he brought with him. There weren't as many babies there this time as there were last time because I think that since it was President's day, the parents did not think that the daycare was open. 

Snack time is my favorite time to watch the babies because they all sit in the special table in their seats lined up next to each other. The instructor will put food in front of them and they will eat theirs and even snatch some from their friend next to them. The instructor will read them books and also give them each a toy to play with, but most of them just end up throwing it on the floor anyways. I feel like the goal of this place is to have content babies, not necessarily to educate them, but more to make sure none of them are crying. I have never truly experienced raising a baby so I have no idea about the different ways they can be educated at this age. It's just an observation I made from last Monday. Should we be doing more than just trying to keep them from crying and staying distracted until they get picked up?

Day 2

Last Monday was my first official day at PSP with the infants. After checking in with the security guard, I was directed to the infant and toddler room. As I entered the room, I was quickly introduced to the full-time staff that works in the room while I looked around at my surroundings. There were two babies about one year old sleeping in the cribs, and there were about three other babies about the same age playing with toys in the play area. There were two very little babies around the age of maybe five months old laying on pillows and crawling around, exploring. Two of the little boys were twins and easily distinguishable through their haircuts. The toddler side was blocked off by shelving units and blankets so that the two sides were separated clearly. The introductions were quick, but after I washed my hands in a nearby bathroom, I asked them where they wanted me to be placed. They told me that I could help out with the infants today. 

Upon entering the sectioned off play area, I was instructed to hold one of the babies that had been crying for a while to calm her down. She was the youngest of all the infants and she had big brown eyes with thick black curly hair. After picking her up, she immediately stopped crying. I sat in the rocking chair with her for over an hour and a half, periodically standing up to walk her around the room and show her things. As I was sitting in the chair, I looked around at the other children in the room. There were five African American children, one Caucasian boy, and one Hispanic girl. One of the instructors was putting the kids down for a nap one by one. Nap-time would be too difficult to get them all down at the same time because most of them need to be held and rocked in order to fall asleep. As she was doing that, the other full-time instructor was changing random diapers and taking notes on the babies. The notes she is taking concerns when they ate, napped, and got a diaper change or even notes for things that might seem odd, but mostly just anything that seems worth it to inform the parents when they pick them up. 

The rockers we were using were brand new and recently donated. One thing I observed is that a lot of the clothing they are wearing is noticeably older and probably given to these children through hand-me-downs. It was comforting to hold this baby and know that I could keep her from crying, though. I was only there for two hours, but about halfway through, the instructor who was always taking notes picked up all of the kids and put them in this half-circle table where they can all sit in special seats in the table facing the instructor. The little ones were given a snack and then entertained until the parents came while they sat at the table. All of them seem to get along really well and the only one that was showing any aggressive behaviors was one of the little boys. He would pull on the instructor’s hair while he sat on her lap. Around 4:00pm, the parents started to come and pick up their children. It was nice to see the parent’s smiling faces when their baby recognized them and ran over to them in their waddling gaits. 

Day 1

My name is Angela and I am a student at the University of St. Thomas. I am in my junior year and currently study elementary education and have a double major in science and math for elementary education with a specialty in physics. My plans for the future include hopefully incorporating non-profit organizations/shelters with some sort of teaching. I work three jobs, but among them I work for the University of St. Thomas in the office of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement. Our main job is to connect students with service-learning opportunities and community partners. Through working here I have been exposed to many different organizations throughout the twin cities that work together to make the world a better place. It really inspired me and created a desire within myself to help, too. 

Last December, our office held a toy and warm clothing drive for a family-friendly homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis called People Serving People. As we were dropping off the donations, I looked around the reception area and looked at the different faces in the main foyer. I saw elderly adults, young adults, small children running around, infants, a security guard, and people working at the front desk. We handed over the donations, and I do not know if I just have a soft spot in my heart for all toddlers, but one little girl running by looked up at me. I smiled at her. At that moment, something that I might call a passion started to form inside of me. I knew I needed to start volunteering here. I filled out my application a couple weeks later and I had my first orientation session just this past Monday. 

Upon checking in with security, three other volunteers and myself waited in the front entryway until the volunteer coordinator came to give us a tour. He was a friendly man who was excited to have us there. Some of the places we got to see were the cafeteria, classrooms for toddlers and infants, PreK, and older, a sample room, career center, library, and family lounge. The volunteer coordinator said that they receive many donations every day and they work with multiple community partners who help them be provided with the stuff they need everyday. There are many opportunities for volunteering options here. Everything from library attendant to meal server to early childhood helper is what is available for volunteers. 

After the tour, we watched an orientation video about a little girl who tells us what it’s like to be a child living in a homeless shelter. One thing that stuck out to me is how she doesn’t consider herself homeless. She isn’t sitting out on the streets with her family begging for money, she is living in a welcoming place where her family has a roof over their head and a place to sleep every night. We filled out a lot of paperwork and then we received our ECDP training so we could work with the little ones. I chose to work with the toddlers and infants. My coworker just reminded me that I will probably be getting sick often if I am working with the children. It was a short orientation, but I feel that next week is when they will be showing me how to do my job in more detail.