Spearheaded by professor Anne Rotich, the Swahili program has trained over 200 students since its inception in 2007. In addition to rigorous language instruction courses, Professor Rotich also encourages students to learn experientially through cultural activites, volunteering experience, and practical translation exercises. Throughtou, UVA Swahili students build relationships with the local Swahili community and enhance their Swahili language and cultural skills.
In 2021, for example, Swahili 1010 and 2010 classes met with Charlottesville Swahili refugees and immigrants from East Africa into engage with them about their journeys, cultures and also practice their Swahili. Students participated in these conversations in-person at the UVA Language Commons Lab and online. Students were also able to participate virtually with some fluent Swahili speakers who also could not participate in-person. Later in the semester, students visited the Madison House kitchen where they learned how to make East African Samosas and traditional chai tea using imported Kenyan tea! Ending the semester strong, Swahili students and community members were invited to watch a Swahili film and discussed the socio-cultural and political themes in the movie as they related to themes they had learned in class about East Africa.
Besides attending community events, Swahili students have the opportunity to strengthen their speaking and conceptual language skills every week at Swahili Tables in Minor Hall. These are informal conversation sessions with a dedicated Swahili TA. Applying their skills to practical uses, Swahili students have used their language training to translate documents for the local Charlottesville community. Working with several international and East African groups in Charlottesville, the students help to translate documents such as the DMV test questions, COVID-19 Safety/Informative documents, and other documents at the request of local organizations. Students also volunteer their time to create resource guides for Swahili speakers and their families who are new to the Charlottesville area. Finally, Swahili students also help plan to the annual “Africa Day” event which is a community-engagement day where local high schools bring students (either in person or virtually) to learn more about Africa!
Students working on grammar at Swahili Tables
Students making samosas at Madison House
Story by Alexis Haskiell and Professor Anne Rotich