English Bridge 2019: Volunteer View

A note from the Executive Director, Brian Singer:

In Tanzanian primary schools, the language of instruction is Swahili.  However, in secondary school the language of instruction abruptly changes to English, which is a second or third language to many students. Since most young Tanzanian students are rarely ready for this change in language, Project Zawadi created the English Bridge program.

English Bridge is an intensive seven-week English language instruction program which aims to better prepare students for instruction in English when they begin secondary school in early January.  This year approximately 250 students in five different schools participated in the Nyamuswa area.

The English Bridge curriculum is taught by one Tanzanian teacher in each classroom.  In some classrooms, native English speakers visiting from the USA and Canada, volunteered to spend time helping with English instruction and English conversation skills.

Judy Fitzpatrick teaching “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”

Judy Fitzpatrick is a retired teacher from the USA who recently returned from her two-week volunteer experience and had the following observations:

English Bridge Teachers make learning fun and meaningful!

We were so lucky to have five amazing Tanzanian instructors working with youth and teaching in the English Bridge program.  Each instructor is a certified teacher in Tanzania and has excellent English-language skills.  Instructors work together to plan each lesson based on the provided curriculum.  After the lesson, they then get together to reflect on what worked and how to improve lessons.

Instructors incorporate English lessons in ways that engage the students like demonstrating sports, drawing a family tree, or teaching parts of the body and following up with the song, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”.  The English Bridge program is so lucky these great instructors who have chosen to spend their time with English Bridge students.  They are not only great teachers, but also excellent role models for the students preparing for secondary school.

Life as a volunteer with English Bridge:

I knew that I loved the people of Tanzania after a recent safari vacation.  I was so excited to return to be a part of Project Zawadi and the English Bridge program.

I expected to teach, but I had no idea how much I would learn! The team on the ground was incredible. Adrian Maganga, Director of Teacher Training, and Edgar John Mwansasu, Teacher Training Coordinator, were incredibly knowledgeable about the program and helped answer all my questions about Tanzanian culture.

Each day, I accompanied the teachers to the village schools to work with the students and offer suggestions to improve lessons.  As a former teacher, it was a thrill to work with the teachers and the students. And it was a challenge since I didn’t speak Swahili!  Seeing the students’ progress in their English-language skills over the short time I was there was incredible!

Judy traveling to class in a bajaji

A day in the life of a volunteer with English Bridge:

I knew that my experience working with the English Bridge program would be fulfilling, but it was even more. Adrian and Edgar were incredibly helpful as I negotiated travel and the culture of the area. They are passionate about their country and educating the next generation, which was so inspiring to me.

I and other volunteers stayed at a guesthouse on the campus of a local boarding school.  At 7:30 am we met with the local teachers who were the lead instructors in each classroom.  Then off we went to the school. Travel to the five different village schools was either on foot, walking up a short hill, by motorcycle, or by “bajaji” (a three-wheeled taxi). On the way there I was greeted by waves and smiles by so many we passed.

Once in the classroom, the agenda and new vocabulary for the day was posted on the blackboard (yes, blackboard and chalk!). Each day’s lesson was on a different topic and covered such things as family members, colors, numbers, parts of the body, and weather. English vocabulary was introduced with Swahili explanations and with lots of gestures and pictures. The students participated orally, wrote sentences, and sang related songs! The time in the classroom was joyful and it was inspiring to see how hard the students worked to learn English.

During breaks, the students were provided with a snack and then were free to visit or play soccer or other games.  I often walked around during break in the neighboring village, visiting with the smaller children. Since we don’t share a spoken language, our ‘visiting’ was mostly done through smiles and gestures.  Groups of beautiful children would often curiously surround the mzungu (white person), and I discovered that teaching the “Hokey Pokey” was a sure way to generate many laughs and smiles.

At 1:30 pm, we headed home for a delicious lunch prepared by our delightful local cooks. After eating, teachers and volunteers met for reflection on the class– what worked and how to improve. Then we prepared for class the next day.

In the late afternoon, I had time for walks in the beautiful area where we were staying. I would walk around campus and visit with the students at the boarding school or walk to the nearby village shops. Then, I’d head back for dinner and an evening of reading and journaling.

There is so much to process from my time there, but I am filled with joy and gratitude to know and work with the people of Tanzania. My heart is full, and I am already planning my return!

Active teaching and learning

Unexpected delights of volunteering with English Bridge:


  • Walking in the area and getting a tour by Mahai, a local villager who showed us his farm and invited us into his home.
  • Children and villagers calling “Jambo” (“hello!”) to me as I walked or rode on a motorcycle
  • Adrian and Edgar, local Project Zawadi staff, who were so kind and patient and helpful
  • Sharing common interest in and advocacy of environmental issues with Adrian and  Edgar
  • The incredible local fruit and vegetables – fresh or in smoothies
  • The challenge and thrill of being surrounded by elementary school children.  When this happens, sing “Hokey Pokey”!
  • The kindness of strangers and the Project Zawadi staff
  • As a retired teacher, I learned so much from the English Bridge teachers
  • The attentive, efficient, and excellent staff and cooks at the guest house

– Judy Fitzpatrick, English Bridge Volunteer, November 2019

Project Zawadi would like to recognize all of the English Bridge volunteers who traveled to Tanzania to share their expertise and volunteer their time and talents in the classroom.  A huge thank you goes out to:

  • Louise Sherman (curriculum development)
  • Nicole Halabi (curriculum development)
  • Keith Nickson
  • Judy Fitzpatrick
  • Richard Calvert*
  • Marianne Leary*
  • Kathy Maxwell*
  • Shawn Maxwell*
  • Russ Petricka*
  • Bruce Pomerantz*
  • Donna Wolffe*

Details on additional opportunities to volunteer with English Bridge in November/December 2020 will be announced soon!

* indicates participation in the Project Zawadi Donor Trip and one week of volunteering in the English Bridge classrooms.

English Bridge Volunteers in action!

Video features Volunteers Richard Calvert & Marianne Leary from Kansas and and Kathy & Shawn Maxwell from Tennessee

Adrian Maganga with Keith Nickson and Louise Sherman from Canada

Edgar Mwansasu with Nicole Halabi from Minnesota and Keith Nickson from Canada

Bruce Pomerantz, English Bridge Volunteer from Minnesota

Donna Wolffe, English Bridge Volunteer from California

Russ Petricka, English Bridge Volunteer from Minnesota