Clemson College of Education faculty member takes on larger role in Tanzania-based teacher development program
In 2017, Phillip Wilder, assistant professor of literacy in Clemson’s College of Education, will serve as United States consultant for Mwangaza, an organization focused on community health and educator development in Tanzania. Wilder will travel to Arusha, Tanzania and work closely with the staff at Mwangaza during his role as consultant, but it won’t be his first collaboration with Tanzanian teachers. Far from it.
Wilder’s history with this grassroots organization striving to improve teaching in secondary schools goes back nearly two decades. In 1997, as a high school teacher in Joliet, Illinois, he was exposed to Mwangaza’s teacher exchange program by his coworker and mentor, Jim Talarico, a former Illinois teacher of the year who was participating in the teacher exchange with a Tanzanian headmaster.
Wilder quickly applied and was paired up with a Tanzanian teacher, Emmanuel Saningo Kivuyo, who learned English and studied literacy instruction in Phillip’s classroom from January to May 1998. Later that summer, Phillip and Emmanuel conducted workshops in Arusha for Tanzanian secondary school mathematics teachers faced with overcoming a lack of resources and prohibitive language barriers.
“It was a cultural eye opener,” Wilder said. “I realized how oblivious I was to my own privilege. I remember how it felt to see Emmanuel’s wife spend six to eight hours preparing one meal for us with scant accessible and clean water, and how I felt when I returned home to see our abundance.”
Since that experience, Wilder has maintained a relationship with Mwangaza, a grassroots organization which utilizes partnerships between all 20 dioceses of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania and companion synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to respond to the most pressing health, educational and literacy challenges throughout the country. According to Wilder, these partnerships exist to meet the most immediate needs while empowering participants to train, support and empower others in their own communities.
Since 2010, Wilder has served on the board of the U.S.-based Friends of Mwangaza Inc., an organization dedicated to spreading the word and raising funds for Mwangaza. As U.S. consultant, he will step into the massive shoes of Mwangaza’s founder, Dr. Shoonie Hartwig, who started Mwangaza more than 20 years ago. Wilder will take on a more active role in guiding Mwangaza’s three programs: its teacher education program, community health program and Binti Mama, an intergenerational program designed for young mothers that focuses on women’s health, nutrition and gender advocacy.
“Binti Mama and Community Health empower women through information and knowledge,” Wilder said. “Mwangaza provides a space where women can talk and no topic is taboo.”
Wilder will work closely with a talented cadre of Mwangaza staff members including John Kavishe, Salome Lally and Richard Mwambo, as well as a Tanzania consultant to Mwangaza, Daudi Msseemmaa, who will seamlessly marry his own knowledge of Tanzanian communities with Wilder’s knowledge of educational best practices. This team will need every tool at its disposal, as the challenges in Tanzanian schools and communities are many and varied.
In addition to limited resources, seventh grade students in Tanzania are given a national exam testing a multitude of subjects with each test administered in English, the mandated language of instruction in schools yet the third language for most children. While the top seven percent of students are allowed to further their education in public schools, Mwangaza’s work in private schools supports the education of the other 93 percent left behind by Tanzanian government schools.
“Assessment in Tanzania is built on a linguistic mountain with a high pitch,” Wilder said. “This is why it is so vital to help teachers not only with the way they create an educational experience for students, but how they support their literacy and English language development.”
Wilder and other volunteers from Friends of Mwangaza, Inc. are just that—volunteers. Wilder covers the cost of his travel, but he likes to point out his work in Tanzania is anything but altruistic. He consistently learns new ways to help schools meet challenges, and it affords him a greater sense of empathy for English language learners in the U.S. According to Wilder, it might be easy for U.S. citizens to think these problems are exclusive to other nations or continents, but Wilder said he uses the same instructional approaches in many upstate schools on a regular basis.
This outreach is part of the reason he gets the same sense of contentment from serving as faculty in Clemson’s College of Education. During the spring 2016 semester, Wilder provided professional development for 35 teachers at Berea High School, where a large portion of the student population is comprised of English language learners. Wilder said the biggest obstacle is often helping educators and leaders to view these students through a “capable and not deficit lens” since all adolescents—regardless of linguistic borders—have rich language practices grounded in homes and communities but not always valued in schools.
“I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was correct when he said greatness in life requires humble servitude,” Wilder said. “My perspective changed over the years when I started to ask not what I could teach Tanzanian teachers and students, but what I could learn from them. We are both servants, Tanzanians and Americans, serving each other and those with the greatest needs; that’s what makes Mwangaza great.”