How many high school students do you know who have travelled to Tanzania to work on a wildlife sanctuary and volunteer in the local community?
This coming summer, the Thurgood Marshall Academy community will know at least 10 sophomores and juniors who have taken the journey of a lifetime: two weeks of living and working on the Ndarakwai Ranch in Tanzania as part of The Ndarakwai Experience, a new service learning opportunity for DC high school students. The Thurgood Marshall Academy students selected to travel to Tanzania this summer will be the first cohort of students to participate in the Ndarakwai Experience.
The Ndarakwai Experience, founded by the father-daughter team of DC natives Stan and Anna Soloway, provides inner city youth with the opportunity to develop a sense of global responsibility and to grow in their understanding of their relationship with the world through international learning and service. The program, says Stan, “evolved from our family’s love of the city and commitment to both education and community service.”
The Ndarakwai Experience was born two years ago, when the Soloway family spent time at Ndarakwai Ranch on a family vacation. “While we were there, we began musing about the extraordinary learning and service opportunities the ranch could provide young people,” says Stan.
Anna and Stan also believe firmly in the power of international education. “There is enormous evidence that international learning has a lifelong impact on one’s sense of self in the broader world, one’s self confidence, and maturity,” explains Anna. “If you combine the well documented impact of international learning, with what we also know about community service and its impact on lifelong civic engagement, we believe the end result is truly life-changing.”
The ranch, a private conservancy, has been a leader in local and regional efforts to fight wildlife poaching in Tanzania. In addition to serving as a wildlife sanctuary, the Ndarakwai Ranch also has strong roots in serving the local community: its staff provides lunch for students at the local primary and secondary schools, and repairs and constructs school facilities. The family returned from the trip and launched the Ndarakwai Experience in 2014 to turn their dream into reality.
The Soloway family decided to pilot the Ndarakwai Experience at Thurgood Marshall Academy due to its “great reputation for its values and educational quality. For a program of this type to deliver to students its real value and impact, it is important that we have an educational partner with those qualities,” Anna explains.
Beyond the school’s strong academics, Thurgood Marshall Academy stood out for its culture of learning and role in community. This is critical to the mission of the Ndarakwai Experience: “This is not just an international trip,” says Anna. The Ndarakwai Experience is particularly unique for its service learning component focusing on a developing country and its local communities. “It is designed to be a powerful learning experience on many levels. The kind of students to which Thurgood Marshall Academy appeals are the very kind of students who will gain the most from the experience,” Anna explains.
To prepare for the program, Anna and Stan are “developing a series of orientation and learning sessions that will take place 10-12 weeks prior to the trip that will include discussions on local culture, history, arts, and more.” They also plan to coordinate with a language instructor to teach students basic Swahili. Preparation for the trip also extends to families; the Soloways plan to meet with students’ parents and guardians to talk through a wide range of practical and personal issues or challenges that could arise while traveling.
During the program, the students will engage in a variety of activities, which include wildlife conservation activities, building and repairing school buildings,volunteering to support local students, and attending lectures on Maasai tribal life, music, art, and history. Overall, Stan explains that through The Ndarakwai Experience, “our hope is that the students will be able to experience something so completely different that it will help them define how this relates to their place and role not just in their communities but in the larger global society.”