Ursuline News

A Tanzanian Adventure

Natalie Volanto ’23 had plans to take a college class over the summer, but when a family friend introduced her to a volunteer teaching program called Golden Aya Corp, a new adventure unfolded.

Founded in June 2019, Golden Aya is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to connecting Africa and its diaspora and improving the collective condition through innovative programs and projects supported by volunteerism.

Through Golden Aya, Natalie was placed in Arusha, Tanzania to assist teachers in implementing an innovative STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) program.

“I was a little anxious at first,” she said. “I had never taught a class by myself with all eyes on me. But I decided to reach out because I wanted to give other kids the same exposure to STEM that I have had.”

Natalie has previous experience teaching coding at Code Ninjas, where she helped guide kids through lessons on JavaScript games.

“Working at Code Ninjas taught me that early exposure to coding, or even computer classes and basic keyboard instruction, isn’t guaranteed from school to school,” she said. “So, I saw Golden Aya as the perfect opportunity for me to take everything I learned in my Computer Science classes at Ursuline and give back.”

Thus, she agreed to teach introductory courses in Python, and her Tanzanian journey began!

Natalie lived at the volunteer house close to the school and was pleasantly surprised by the busy and active city life she experienced in Tanzania.

She started her day walking to the school about noon to meet up with the other schoolteachers to plan their lessons for the day. They prepared practice problems, test questions, and generally helped each other out, if needed.

“I would unlock my tablets and keyboards each day from our materials closet and sync them up for practice typing,” she said. “Then, I’d help the other teachers with their classes- setting up microscopes and making practice models for the Engineering class.”

At 3:00 p.m. they’d go to eat, and then went back to start classes which ended at 6:00 p.m.

The entire experience taught her the value of being flexible when facing challenges.

She made it through a widespread power outage during a lesson, improvised when she realized that materials like extra notebooks and pens were not easily accessible, overcame language barriers and cultural differences, created last minute lesson plans, and much more.

“I felt myself growing into a more adaptable person,” she said. “When I was more flexible, I was able to relax the part of myself which had less patience. I found ways to work with, not around, the circumstances I was in.”

When her students finally got comfortable in her class, they could get a little boisterous at times.

“I was just so happy to get to that level of connection with my students,” she said.

Other highlights? When she found a girl who also played Fruit Ninjas on her phone and the relief on a student’s face when their code finally showed on their tablet.

She felt fulfilled building these connections and was sad when her time came to leave because she had grown close to her fellow teachers, staff, and students.

“Overall, I’m so glad I decided to teach abroad,” she said. “From the welcoming culture to the collaboration with teachers and students, I truly felt I made some favorite moments and connections there. If anything, I hope I helped expose students to a new field they might want to develop more someday.”