Meet Mussa John Challa: Giving Students a Voice

Mussa John Challa didn’t have many opportunities to voice his opinions or ideas as a student growing up in the traditional Tanzanian education system. Instead, he says, “My teachers were the bosses of the classes and seemed to be all-knowing.” Whenever he’d try to speak up and share an idea, his teachers identified him as something of a problem. What began as a personal frustration has, happily, evolved into a greater calling. As a mentor at Mtakuja Secondary School, he describes his mission: “I believe that every child is special, and the only thing they need is guidance. I wanted to be in this field [of education] to guide learners toward their dreams and help them make full use of their potential.”

As an educator who trained solely with Quest Forward Learning, Mussa feels fortunate. “Quest Forward Learning puts much emphasis on the acquisition of real-life skills and not just subject mastery,” he notes. He hopes that students at his school, where he has taught Form One and Form Two Civics and Thinking By Design for the last two years, develop two crucial traits that are not nurtured in traditional school settings: self-management and self-confidence. “It has reached a point where a school bell is no longer used [at Mtakuja],” he says. “Every student has a watch, and they know where they are supposed to be and at what time.” As for self-confidence, he plays a central role in helping students use their voices. “As a mentor, I encourage learners to have a leading role in the class by giving them chances to discuss, to present, or even argue various matters. My students always feel like sharing their thoughts is their right.”

Under the mentorship of Lead Mentor Francis Lusabe, Mussa became even more dedicated to embracing Quest Forward Learning. “When I first joined Quest Forward Learning as a mentor,” he explains, “things were honestly a bit challenging for me. I did not really understand how I could successfully manage my class.” He reached out to Francis, he says, because “I used to observe his classes, and they were always very engaging. He had a unique way of making the whole class active throughout the lesson. He made me want to be like him one day.” Mussa sought Francis’ help, “given that every student learns at his/her own pace, and I did not know how I could bring the whole class together. I had to observe one of Francis’ classes and see how he does it.”

Currently, Mussa mentors 69 Form One and 50 Form Two students in Civics and Thinking By Design. He cites the importance of relevance in the quests they complete, noting that “they help a learner to be able to relate what she/he is learning to the outside world.” Mussa’s gratification with his blossoming career is clear. “My favorite part about being a mentor is seeing myself actually helping my learners grow, and when I give them tasks to do and see them presenting the tasks confidently. Nothing makes me happier than that.” A memorable classroom experience with his Form Two Civics students reinforced his passion for being a mentor: “We were working on a quest titled Gender. The quest described the cruelty done to women in Tanzania, and the students had to think of corrective measures against these negative cultural practices. I opened the discussion, and was surprised how both boys and girls were highly touched by [this situation]. They joined forces to suggest corrective measures and, going further, wanted to record a short video to educate people on the dangers of these practices. It was a very emotional class that I cannot forget.”

Mussa uses his voice to encourage students to engage in dialogue and community-building, but not only in his classrooms. He is also a motivational speaker, who speaks to secondary and college students about finding their lives’ purpose. “Finding your purpose in life means you live a life that will leave a mark long after you are gone,” he says. His voice can also be heard on the radio, on a show at Fountain FM called “Kijiwe cha Vijana” (Youth Corner). “It airs every Sunday. I get an opportunity to speak to young people about different things that might be useful in their daily lives.”  

Quest Forward Learning has shown both Mussa and his students a way forward. Ultimately, he says, “I love seeing people’s lives change.” His obvious passion for his job, as well as his ability to reach and encourage young people, has put him on a path of change that affects everyone he meets. “As mentors, we must accept and embrace the demands for change that come with this method [of education]. If we can’t be willing to change, we will find ourselves not doing our students justice.”