by Tory Shelley
Like the vast majority of the Barabaig community, the Ruaha Lion Guardians have had no formal schooling, with the exception of one (Ema). These young men in their mid to late 20’s cannot read or write in Swahili (Tanzania’s chosen language), Barabaig (their mother tongue and traditional language) or English (the language of business in East Africa and much of the world). As part of their jobs, the Lion Guardians have learned to understand and legibly fill out their data collection forms in Swahili. This may seem like a small feat in our world of relatively accessible and ubiquitous education, but when they were first hired, only Ema could so much as write his own name.
The Lion Guardians expressed a keen interest in continuing to improve their literacy skills in Swahili and we have responded by running weekly literacy training sessions for them. The newest member of our team, George Sedoyeka, a rare Barabaig who has completed his education through Form 4 (the equivalent of high school) is our literacy teacher. George aspires to attend University and continue his studies of wildlife and biology. Lucky for us, George previously worked as a primary school teacher and is a skilled educator with enormous patience. He creates the literacy curriculum and he runs the lessons.
The training sessions have been incredibly successful and full of hard work as well as laughter. We started with the alphabet and have slowly moved onto learning to recognize, spell, write, and read words related to their work like “simba” (lion) and “n’gombe” (cow).
Watching an adult learn to read in front of your eyes is incredible. There are moments when it all comes together – when it “clicks” – and the look on their face is a priceless shine; glowing as they recognize a word for the first time. As all good learning experiences are, these sessions are an open space where the Guardians are encouraged to ask questions and are free to express doubt. To people who have never been in a classroom setting before, the experience of concentrating and learning can been particularly tough and requires immense patience and effort. The Guardians are not only learning an entirely new skill set, but they are creating new mental pathways and applying themselves in ways they never have before.
The Guardians leave these sessions full of pride and feeling competent and accomplished. In a community where formal schooling is an uncommon experience, the training the Guardians receive as part of their work is quite remarkable. Literacy training is another benefit of the Lion Guardians program and while we are only working with the Guardians at the moment, the plan is to expand the literacy training to those interested in the general community. Continue to follow our adventures in Ruaha and support the hard work of the Lion Guardians by making a donation!