WorldTeach volunteer Abby Skelton needs your help to get dictionaries to her students in Tanzania. 


In the English Syllabus prescribed by the Tanzanian Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, every form has a unit called “Using a Dictionary.” I happen to believe that this is a very important unit – especially when you are learning a second language. Whether it’s English or English-Swahili, dictionaries are instrumental in comprehension. Herein lies the problem: at a school of 131 students – and growing – we have two and a half standard English dictionaries and it seems like only three students per class of thirty to forty have an English-Swahili dictionary.


Maybe it was just my household, but growing up, there was always a dictionary to use. It was a necessity when doing my homework and I used the French-English dictionary at the back of my textbook like a bible for a while. When I forgot my book at school – forget it. I can’t even tell you the number of times I drove back to school after dinner to pick it up, praying that the locker hallways were open or I could find a janitor.


During an all day budget meeting a few weeks ago, I respectfully requested that some funds for the upcoming budget be allocated for more dictionaries rather than more English textbooks. Currently, I have eight copies of textbooks to use in each of my forms. While another two per form would be nice, I don’t think it would not be have as much impact as a few dictionaries. I was promptly shut down and corrected.


More than a year ago now, I was in a second-hand store in Attleboro, MA, looking for Halloween costume pieces. I walked through the aisles of clothes, uninspired, and drifted over to the book section while my friend was finishing. There was a whole shelf of used English dictionaries. Big and small, loved and untouched. As I stood there, I thought about how often I used a dictionary in high school and how dusty the dictionary in the bottom drawer of my dorm room desk was in comparison. These days, I would open a new tab on my internet browser or pick up my smart phone and Google away. It is quick, much easier, and painless – a keyboard can’t give you paper cuts. But, having tried to Google words on my internet here, either in Swahili or English, I have been unsuccessful. It is slow and way, way more painful than a few paper cuts. If my desire for a dictionary is any indication, I think my students want them too.


As you may know, I am coming home for the holidays to see my family and friends and regroup before I head back to another 5 months of living in the Tanzanian bush. I will be home for 4 weeks, and I couldn’t be more excited! Part of my program here with WorldTeach is an optional Community Project. The idea is that once you have lived in the community, you have a handle on what the community really needs. I think giving dictionaries to my school could have a profound and long term effect. And don’t worry, I’ll put my students to work for it.


This project has three tiers. First tier: do you have a dictionary sitting in your house, unused, that’s dying to make it’s way into my empty suitcase for the flight back to Tanzania? I think you do! If that’s the case: I’ll take ‘em! If you have a dictionary to donate, please email me at Due to the weight restrictions on my luggage, I can carry back TEN dictionaries only.


The books MUST arrive at my house BEFORE January 5th, 2015 as I am returning to Tanzania shortly thereafter. Every dictionary donated will belong to the school library, with a dedication page, thanking you personally for your gift.


Second: While I am home, I’m going to visit salvation armies and second hand book stores and good wills, explaining my task, and buying dictionaries at a (hopefully) discounted price. I will only do this if I have not received ten dictionaries by donation; if I have, I will save the money I would have spent to buy dictionaries, class readers and other needed materials here.


Third tier: if you don’t have a dictionary, or you are not willing to part with your dictionary, you can still help. I mentioned earlier that my students have little access to Swahili-English dictionaries also. Wouldn’t you believe it, the best place to buy those is actually Tanzania! I would like to buy at least 25 copies – giving 20 away to the students with the best attendance in each form from January to June, and keeping 5 in the office and library for students and teachers to use at will. The good news is that each dictionary costs about $6 USD, so I’m setting my fundraising goal at $200 with a minimum donation of $6. The even better news is that any donation you make is tax deductible as WorldTeach is a non-profit organization.


What you get in return: for your donation of a dictionary or your financial contribution, you will get a personalized letter from one of my students in both Swahili and English, as well as a group picture of the students and the school that you so generously helped, which I will mail and/or deliver upon my return to the states in June.


And finally, thank you for taking the time to read and pass this along to everyone on your email contact list. I am reaching out to one community I love to help another community that I love. Everyday I genuinely wish I could show my American friends Tanzania and that I could show my Tanzanian friends America, which frankly is impossible. But I do have the power to show both communities that love and gratitude and teaching and learning happens in both communities. We’re not all so different. We all hate budget meetings, we all care about others, and sometimes we all want a dictionary to use to help us learn.


With any questions at all, or to let me know you’d like to help, please email me at with the subject line Project: Dictionary.


– Abigail Skelton, WorldTeach Tanzania 2014

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