Students experience Tanzania through cultural exchange
Ben Mandl, Opinions Multimedia Managing Editor
October 24, 2017

At BHS, there are many different cross cultural trips. The Spanish classes go to Spain and Mexico, Latin to Italy, French to France and the Chinese students on the Chinese Exchange program, just to name a few.

Global Leadership is a full-year elective offered at the high school beginning in 10th grade. Students in the class have the opportunity to go on many trips including to Berlin for the Women’s Health Summit, Copenhagen for the Women Deliver Conference, Montreal for the World Health Summit, London for the Global Health Film Festival and many others. This past summer, a group of students went on a cultural exchange trip to Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Teachers Ben Kahrl, Joanne Burke-Hunter, Stephanie Hunt and Rochelle Joan Mains accompanied juniors Rebecca Downes, Bella Ghafour, Henry Bulkeley, Brian Bechler, Ben Caplan and Hector Cabrera, and seniors Maansi Patel and Hugh McKenzie.

A lot of work goes into planning a trip like this, and according to history teacher and leader of the trip Ben Kahrl, many plans changed due to unforeseen circumstances arising.

“We were going to go to Nicaragua and they had Zika, so we couldn’t go. I had an application to Ethiopia, and riots broke out against the government, so we pulled that application,” he said. “So, trying to find a place that is interesting, different and safe does have some challenges.”

Kahrl said he selected Zanzibar, Tanzania as the destination for the trip because it is a safe and interesting country to visit, and having been there before, he had contacts there.

According to senior Hugh McKenzie, the purpose of the trip was cultural exchange and learning about global health, and also understanding what living in a predominantly Muslim society is like.

“We played soccer with some of the women’s soccer teams because in a Muslim country, it is difficult to have that right. We visited NGO [Non-governmental organization] projects in Tanzania and met with rural locals who are a lot poorer than the people in the main town,” McKenzie said.

Junior Bella Ghafour said that while in Tanzania, they went to a lot of schools and interacted with the students who went there, shadowing classes and participating in different activities with them.

“We went to a bunch of different schools,” she said. “Some were pretty, higher class, and you could see better schools, better desks, better everything, and then there were some that you could see were a lot less fortunate in their resources.”

Kahrl talked about their visit to one of the schools specifically, which was a Muslim school.

“It’s really equivalent to our Catholic schools,” Kahrl said. “I think that when people think Islamic, they think ‘oh my god, madrasa,’ and that means brainwashing, though we would not say the same thing if a kid were sent to a Catholic school here.”

McKenzie spoke about their experiences going to the SOS School and interacting with the students there.

“The SOS School is a school for orphans. It’s probably the best school in Zanzibar and it’s very selective. What we did was we met with the high school students, and we really bonded with them. We understood their lifestyle a little better, and they understood our lifestyle. There was a lot of cultural exchange. Definitely exchange, not just understanding their culture but understanding each other’s.”

For McKenzie, meeting with the SOS high schoolers was the most meaningful part of the trip.

“They live a different lifestyle than us, and they definitely have a different perspective of the world, and things like marriage and sex, which are a lot different in that country,” he said. “The way they see things is very construed towards a Muslim view in an urban setting, and seeing them was so meaningful because it made me reflect on our society and how we see things.”

For Ghafour, the most meaningful part of the trip was visiting the Big Tree school.

“It was one room,” she said. “I guess you couldn’t even call it a room, just a really beat up house that was for 25 kindergarteners and one teacher for the whole school and you could tell that they didn’t have many resources. When we came, we were playing with them, doing the parachute, and the teacher was just so, so happy, and you could see how just small things made them incredibly happy, and it just makes you think about your own life.”

For Kahrl, one of the most powerful moments was when they visited a different Muslim school that he described as being more like religious after school program.

“We heard about the five pillars and then a young man, maybe 12, 14 years old stood up and sang the call to prayer, which I find tremendously powerful even though I’m not Muslim and I don’t understand a word of it,” he said. “I think it is incredibly beautiful, and he sang it through with this incredibly gorgeous voice…At the end, all of the students sang a song, and again I didn’t understand any of it, but it had parts weaving through and it was one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in my life, and to have Americans see the part of Islam that we don’t see in the news, but is people visiting with people, and both groups really loving it.”

Kahrl hopes to keep this as an ongoing exchange, currently planning trips in February and July.

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