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Argus Leader: Alumna to Teach in Tanzania

Teachers to be Students in Tanzania

Argus Leader

Ian and Amy Caselli have decided to become students again. Oh, technically, they will be the teachers.

But as they prepare to spend a year in classrooms in Tanzania, Africa, the Sioux Falls couple know they have much to learn about leading a simple life.

"I think they're getting the raw end of the deal," 23-year-old Amy says of her prospective students. "All we have to do is teach them one subject. They have to teach us to speak Swahili, live in the village, cook and do the laundry."

The Casellis leave Aug. 28 for Tanzania. They will take part in Village Schools International, which opened its first three schools in 2005. The organization sends missionary teachers to small villages in Africa.

The nondenominational program today has 16 schools in Tanzanian villages, which serve almost 3,600 students. VSI is working with people in 127 villages to try to build an additional 68 classrooms this year and to open three more new schools.

The Casellis' decision to teach in Tanzania came after months of consideration.

The couple met at Roosevelt High School and dated during college before marrying in June 2008. Amy attended Augustana College; Ian at the University of Sioux Falls.

The past school year they worked in Sioux Falls schools - Ian as a behavior facilitator at Axtell Park Middle School, and Amy as an education assistant at the community campus.

Ian is the third generation of Casellis to work in education with the local school district. Amy's grandmother and an uncle also were teachers.

Amy's interest in teaching was fostered by her instructors at All-City Elementary, she says. In college, she realized she was called to special education.

Ian didn't major in education, but at USF he learned about education's importance elsewhere in the world. He read "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson, who has built 78 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1993.

The Casellis considered remaining with the Sioux Falls School District, applying for some of the scarce job openings for the 2009-2010 school year.

But both have an interest in serving others. They also wanted to challenge themselves somewhere other than Sioux Falls.

"It was important to me to be doing something that involved my faith and going out in faith and doing something in faith," Ian says.

"I wanted it to be uncomfortable. Outside my own box, outside of Sioux Falls, S.D. Away from everything that makes me comfortable. Doing something that makes me a bit uncomfortable, like entering a different culture."

Enter VSI and Tanzania.

The Casellis will spend the first two weeks assigned to different host families, immersing themselves in Swahili. They don't know yet where they will be assigned, only that it is in Tanzania's Iringa region in the southwest.

They'll also find out when they arrive what subject they'll teach. They'll go through a process to determine their strengths.

Their students will be high school level, although they could be as old or older than the Casellis. Many of them have had to leave school and work to support their families, or raise the monthly tuition of $10.

The Casellis must raise $30,000 to take part in VSI's program. Part of the money will be used to hire students to help them with things such as laundry.

The thought of students, who already work hard, do their chores at first made the Casellis uncomfortable. But the money they pay helps students raise that precious $10.

"A lot of our students will be orphans because of AIDS," 24-year-old Ian says. "It's important for students to be able to work for their education, to not just have it given to them. That makes it that much more valuable."

The Casellis are nearing their fundraising goal. They hope a raffle for a quilt Amy designed and named "Students of the World Bring the Pieces Together" will put them over the top with money left over for additional VSI projects.

Marilyn Bell Schneider and the Casellis attend Asbury United Methodist Church.

Schneider, a quilter, heard of the couple's goal and offered to make and donate a quilt to use however they wanted.

As they began raising money, similar generosity emerged often from others, the Casellis say.

Nervousness has surfaced as they prepare to leave. Some of it is caused by immersing themselves in a different culture, some by the thought of a 40- or 50-student classroom.

But the students' attitude, the Casellis have been told, is one of gratefulness for the opportunity they have been given.

"We can take whatever we learned on classroom management and throw it out the window," Ian says.

"Classroom control isn't part of teaching there because the students know how valuable education is and what an effect it is going to have on their lives."

The five weeks before leaving for Tanzania will be a time filled with goodbyes.

But not entirely.

"We're the ones physically going to Africa," Ian says.

"But we're taking a lot of people with us," Amy adds, "supporting us as part of a team that's working together to accomplish that."

More information: To follow the Casellis in Tanzania, visit www.togetherintanzania.org.