The University of Tokyo

Volunteering to Support Education at a Tanzanian Junior High School

Motoka Fukui

Second-year Master's degree student, Graduate School of Engineering

Motoka Fukui

“My meals in Tanzania pretty much always had the same food combinations and tasted the same, which was a little hard for me to get used to,” explains Motoka.

For a period of around one month, Motoka took part in an international volunteer program for UTokyo students in March 2014. Her destination was Tanzania, a country in East Africa whose residents speak Swahili.

“I had been interested in volunteering from the very beginning, and I helped out as a teacher's aide in (tsunami-stricken) Rikuzentakata, Iwate and Soma, Fukushima last year. I saw a poster on the Hongo Campus advertising an information session about a volunteer program, and I thought that if I was going to volunteer, I should do it at a country that I wouldn't normally go to for a vacation. The Swahili language also seemed interesting to me.”

Motoka has always made her decisions based on their “interestingness” to her. Joining the Archery Club of the UTokyo Athletics Association was due to this emphasis on “interestingness,” as was going from a Humanities I specialization to the Faculty of Engineering during her undergraduate years. Her desire to verify her suspicions about how Africa was portrayed on television (“Aren't they just showing the poor aspects of Africa?”) may very well be another instance of “interestingness” guiding her way.

Motoka's profile

Miss Motoka teaching origami in her classroom. “The children thought my name sounded like ‘motorcar',” she says.

The volunteer program placed Motoka at a junior high school in a city called Mtwara, where she was shocked by the rod for corporal punishment that she saw in her classroom. Motoka was to be responsible for an integrated study class teaching practical skills, but she hadn't received any instructions or guidance about what the content of the class should be. She had to plan everything from scratch. After spending a while worrying about what to do, she decided that she would make a class where students walk around the city and pick up trash while looking at a handmade map.

“I realized that maps weren't common there, and that trash was scattered around all over the place. My goal with this class was to increase the students' awareness of both environmental issues and the geography of their city. I also thought that I could even bring in a math element to the class by having students calculate the distance we moved by measuring the number of and distance between our steps.”

Motoka recognized many kinds of contrasts between Tanzania and Japan though her experience volunteering: for instance, differences in their concepts of ownership, their attachment of purpose towards work, and pace of their lives. The difference that stood out to her the most, however, was the fact that people in Tanzania frequently greet each other. She recalls how “interesting” the locals' greetings were to her:

“Greetings in Swahili come in pairs, with a salutation and a response. For example, you respond to ‘Habari aasubihi' with ‘Nzuri sana,' and answer ‘Mambo' with ‘Poa'. It was hard for me to get used to that, but after a while I was able to greet people correctly.”

Having tolerated fly-covered meals in Africa, Motoka plans to work at an international consulting firm once she graduates. Revisiting Tanzania on business and responding to locals' greetings in Swahili would be, without a doubt, “interesting.”

Q&A Extras

What does the “KARIBU” on that souvenir in your picture mean??

“It means ‘Welcome'.”

How did your stomach handle the food there?

“I took Biofermin (a Japanese stomach medicine), so I was OK.”

What surprised you the most about Tanzania?

“That people changed which cell phone carrier they were using depending on the weather.”

What do you want to tell our readers?

“Please cheer on the Women's Archery Club!”

What does “tough” mean to you?

“Being able to transform your thoughts into actions.”

Motoka Fukui

Motoka before UTokyo

Taken during her first year of high school on her Astronomy Club's trip to see a meteor shower.