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Peace Corps in Tanzania has school and students, but no books


Published: October 24, 2008

DAVE AND Wendy Banks, Carmel residents who put their lives on hold to serve as Peace Corps volunteers in East Africa, have a message for their friends, family and supporters back home: Send books.
“They are teaching high school over there and have absolutely no materials,” explained longtime friend Judy Kirk, who lives at Del Mesa Carmel.

The Bankses — she a retired public school teacher, he a retired pharmacist — left the Peninsula in June to work in Tanzania. When the four dozen Peace Corps volunteers bound for Africa assembled in Washington, D.C., to make the trip, the Bankses found they were the only couple, and two of only four older folks amidst many college students and other young workers. “We said we could be mom and dad to anyone who needs some TLC,” they wrote in a June 10 blog entry.

After arriving in Africa, and undergoing training and learning the ins and outs of their host country, including its cultural mores and language, the Bankses and the other volunteers were officially sworn in as Peace Corps workers during a ceremony Aug. 20.

A week later, they arrived in their new home village of Malindi. The village is about 1.5 hours “via dala dala and foot,” from Lushoto, where they can go online when the power is on, do their banking and pick up supplies. (A dala dala is an African minibus or shared taxi.)

“This is a cooler, mountain area which stays green year-round and has an abundant supply of fresh fruits and veggies. We are nestled in one of many valleys where everyone farms,” they wrote, describing their home as comfortable and new, with an outdoor area for cooking and showering. “We do not have electricity but can read and play cards by lantern light at night. The southern sky is beautiful at night, as it is so dark.”

And the people are warm and welcoming: “All the walking up and down valleys is delightful, and the villagers are extremely friendly: Greet, re-greet and then greet some more.”

During the next several weeks, they got situated, and one blog entry recounted observations of the potato harvest as women dug up the plants, bagged the little spuds, sewed the sacks shut and carried them on their heads to the side of the road to wait for a market-bound lorry. They attended a workshop, participated in health clinics and worked on a health education program to be implemented in a primary school.

On Sept. 27, the Bankses described embarking on their first adventures as teachers in the local school, where he is handling biology and she is covering English.

“Picture a classroom with only wooden desks, blackboard and chalk ... that’s it. Oh, and 80 eager-to-learn students jammed into benches, four per bench,” they wrote. The students are 14 to 18 years old and learn in English. More than 325 attend the school, with another 180 kids set to join them in January.

But they have no books at all, and the Bankses urged their blog readers and others to collect and send classroom reference books in all subjects, as well as fiction and nonfiction, magazines like Scientific American and National Geographic, sports books, dictionaries, “anything.” They also suggested sending some simpler books that would be easier for people learning English, and they said rudimentary ones would be given to the primary school.

Books and magazines should be packed in a padded envelope or small box marked “SCHOOL SUPPLIES” and mailed to Mtumbi Secondary School, P.O. Box 131, Lushoto, Tanga, Tanzania, East Africa.

Once received, the materials will become part of a school library. “We will get the bookshelves made and a simple card system for check out,” the Bankses wrote Oct. 10. “Then the pages can turn ... and turn ... and turn.”