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BEN S STUDENTS SENSED when it was
time for him to return home.
So you're going?
Why are you going?
I don't have any land. (chorus of
I don't have any cows.
I don't have any wives. I must go home and
at least find one of them.
Ben's explanation of his need to return
home, couched in terms his students
would understand, epitomises his approach
to teaching in a secondary school in
the Arusha Region of northern Tanzania.
"Most of the work I was doing outside the
classroom was focused on trying to bring
foreign and local teachers together so that
we were working for the same goal -- and
we always were."
Ben graduated from the University of
Newcastle after completing his HSC at
All Saints College, Maitland. He worked
in a number of diocesan schools but
interspersed local teaching with travel
opportunities. Teaching is, after all, a
very portable skill. Ben spent time in
classrooms in London and Manchester, and
tutored in Switzerland, but there was always
a desire to teach those who cannot afford
to take education for granted.
Many Australians are familiar with St Jude's
School in Tanzania, founded by Australian
Gemma Rice (now Sisia). Ben enquired
about teaching at St Jude's and was told
that there were no vacancies, but he was
recommended to Orkeeswa Secondary
School, not too far away. In April 2010, Ben
headed to Africa travelling light but bearing
a deep desire to use his skills to educate
the poorest of the poor.
One of the early casualties of Ben's time
in Arusha was what we might call work/life
balance. "My life there was always working
-- it took a little while to give yourself up to
it. We come from a culture where there's
work and there's leisure. For a few months,
I desperately tried to hold on to that. Once
you give yourself over to it, you relax, you
stop drawing lines. I had a concern that
I would burn out, but I learned that the
rhythms of life are much slower - it's no use
expecting to get fifty things done in a day!"
Each year the school accepts 35 students
who would not otherwise receive a formal
education. Founder Peter Luis spends a
lot of time raising awareness and funds
because only students who are sponsored
can be enrolled. Meanwhile, local and
volunteer teachers deliver a rigorous
curriculum in English -- for most students,
their third language, after their tribal
language, and Swahili, which they learn in
While Ben did not always find the
curriculum "developmentally appropriate",
he has great respect for the Tanzanians'
appreciation of education: "The students
are the most amazing, motivated,
astounding students -- just beautiful."
He says that the Arusha region is also
"beautiful -- from a distance. You see a
picture postcard view of bomas (homes)
with mud floors, without electricity or
sewerage or running water." Even now, Ben
says he marvels at the convenience of our
lives: "Turn on the tap and there's water."
Ben's brief was to teach mathematics,
physics and chemistry, but he also tried to
extend his students, for example by training
with them to run marathons. "There's an
instinct, on both sides of the fence, not to
trust the foreigners." As he says, significant
events in the life of the school were
opportunities: "Every closing, every opening
is a celebration, and an opportunity to bring
the community into the school; it's very
important for them to see what we're doing."
The Tanzanian equivalent of the sausage
sizzle involves slaughtering goats. Custom
dictates that the men are served first, and
men and women never eat together.
While he is aware of the many differences
between Australia and Tanzania, Ben gained
a heightened awareness of the similarities.
"Education is the same anywhere in the
world. Looking after children has the same
essence, no matter what place you're in.
Students need to feel safe, they need to
feel cared for, they need to be challenged
in their learning experience - and you just
need to be connected to them."
It's that connection, which Ben clearly
achieved, that makes the leaving harder.
"The older students advise the younger ones,
don't love them too much - they go." Ben
describes this situation as "a gift and a
trap -- there is the wonderful experience of
meeting new people from foreign places,
but we can't stay for very long."
Home again - for now - and teaching at
St Paul's High School Booragul, Ben is
considering how he can best maintain his
connection with the students of Orkeeswa
School, and at the same time acquire some
land, some cows, or even a wife!
Please visit www.ieftz.org
Ben Frize of Stockton has just returned from fifteen months teaching in a secondary school in Tanzania,
where the Masai, traditionally nomadic herdsmen, are the dominant tribe.
While this experience was significantly different from teaching in the Hunter Valley or England, it was, in some ways, the same.
ndary school in Tanzania
By TRACEY EDSTEIN
Ben Frize with students of
Orkeeswa Secondary School.
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