I was fortunate to join a few Emirati friends on a trip to Zanzibar last month. Zabna and a few of her family members had planned a trip there to initiate interactions with the ‘less fortunate’ among the local community. I tagged along, intent on sharing my knowledge on ‘how to live well’ – with both the Emiratis and the teachers and pupils at a local school.
I spent some time en route in Abu Dhabi running workshops on a couple of my favourite topics – not surprisingly breathing a key feature – ‘how to do it’ and also ‘what to breathe’. In other words, as I like to explain, we do have some control over the quality of air that we breathe, for example through the use of essential oils and certain plants that we can surround ourselves with. And I’m on a bit of a mission to spread the word on this after all, as I may also have been heard to say – we all have to breathe in each others air and I really prefer not to breathe in sh**!
So fourteen of us took off together for Zanzibar. I was surprised to see on arrival that the visa documentation and airport signs were generally headed up “The Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar”. The island, though part of Tanzania, I learned, was ‘semi-autonomous’. I didn’t research into what sort of ‘revolution’ had been required to make this the reality.
Off we took anyway to our accommodation and a relaxing evening discussing the days ahead. We visited a rural village the next day where many of the local women and their young children were awaiting our arrival. Our group of teenagers were excited to be able to hand out the food supplies that they were donating. We all agreed that our offering could have been more thoughtful, but still, it was a start and gratefully received.
Over the following few days we visited the ‘Creative Education Foundation’ (CEF), where we met Judi Palmer, a founding member, and other teachers and volunteers. The school’s mission, we heard from Judi, is to “provide a quality education to some of Zanzibar’s orphans and children from low income backgrounds”. They are working on raising more funds to be able to help a greater number of young students.
It was apparent during our interactions that the ‘Steiner Waldorf’ curriculum was delivering the quality of education they were striving for, building the capacities of local teachers in the process. The Zanzibari students were fluent of course in their local Swahili, also in English; they were fairly competent in Arabic also. ‘Our’ teenagers thoroughly enjoyed honing their own teaching skills, creatively imparting more Arabic into the mix.
The visit though turned out to be so much more than a group of relatively ‘wealthy individuals’ donating their time and money to those in need. Rather, each and every one of us were enriched in a variety of ways. In particular, there was a lot to ponder around what it means to be ‘wealthy’. These ‘poor’ Zanzibari kids were evidently fit and healthy, break times spent in gymnastics, skipping, football… their meals were freshly prepared and nutritious – indeed we had to question ourselves, “who were the wealthy”?
We all look forward to a return visit in the, hopefully, not too distant future.