Nyamwaya Hopes to Dispel Misconceptions About Africa Through His Teaching

Drawing from his own childhood memories of Kenya, Elly Nyamwaya, Instructor in English, strives to share the various cultures of his continent with his students at Andover.

Now in his fifth year at Andover, Nyamwaya seeks to include texts about Africa in his curriculum, such as “The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood” by Helene Cooper, a memoir about the Liberian coup of 1980.

“Stories [in the media] that get filtered from Africa are typically grim stories of famine, political turmoil, diseases etc. and these help build certain stereotypes about the continent,” wrote Nyamwaya in an e-mail to The Phillipian.

“There is a lot of misinformation about Africa because many people know about it solely through media. Media, in many cases, distorts the true picture of Africa and through a book like this, students get a chance to get another sight of Africa,” he said in an interview.

Nyamwaya taught at several schools in Kenya and Tanzania before coming to teach at Andover. He moved to Andover from Kenya with his wife and three children in 2007, after a colleague in Kenya suggested he consider applying for a job at Andover.

“I came to Andover in particular and the United States in general because of a combination of several factors… including a desire to take advantage of greater professional and educational opportunities [and] naked adventurism,” wrote Nyamwaya in an e-mail to The Phillipian.

“What I have found particularly fascinating about Andover is the nature of students. Students are well motivated, well prepared for class, and most of them are very respectful, so it is truly exciting to just engage with them on a daily basis. This is not just a cliché—when you see this, you feel energized as a teacher,” said Nyamwaya in an interview.

“In Tanzania, the admission of students was more open-ended [compared to that of Andover]. I had very highly motivated students, but I also had students who would rather be at the beach at [eight] in the morning and strongly expressed that idea in class,” said Nyamwaya in an e-mail to The Phillipian.

Nyamwaya strives to be a “classroom practitioner,” someone who teaches students to become not only more knowledgeable in terms of literature, but also to be prepared for life beyond Andover.

“This compels me to always think about methods that would make my teaching interesting and engaging and student-centered. And in many instances, I have to accept not taking the center stage, allow the students to find their voice and explore by themselves, with me as the moderator,” said Nyamwaya.

“Look at it this way: we are living in the 21st century when a student can access at the click of a button an unbelievable corpus of information. The era when the teacher would stand in front of class and for 30 minutes spew forth what he knows about a topic ended a while back,” he continued.

Though English was not Nyamwaya’s favorite subject when he was a student, he did enjoy reading and expressing himself through writing.

“I love teaching English because it’s a subject that is very close to life. Literature is a very empowering subject because of the connection you can make between the fictional world and the real world,” said Nyamwaya.

Nyamwaya encourages his students to read books for pleasure, despite distractions from technology and media-based entertainment.

“Modern technology has played [a role] in diverging people, especially young adults, from the art of reading. There is something valuable you get from interacting with written text,” he said.

“It has something to do with the smell, the touch and the sheer physicality of it. Whether we like it or not, this kind of reading is fast becoming an art form, just like non-digital photography,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Phillipian.

Nyamwaya also advises African Student Union (ASU), a club that connects students who are interested in Africa and African culture.

Last year, Nyamwaya worked with members of ASU and the English department to sponsor Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s, a prominent Nigerian writer, visit to campus.

Aside from teaching his two sections of English 200, teaching an English 300 class and advising ASU, Nyamwaya is also an assistant coach for JV2 Boys Soccer and Basketball and a house counselor in Taylor Hall.

“I have seen [kids in the dorm] grow during their time at Andover. I see the students change to become more responsible, more mature physically as well as psychologically, more respectful and more accountable for their actions,” said Nyamwaya.

“I had a student in my dorm who graduated last year. During his Lower year, he was a brilliant but confused and disorganized juvenile. But during his Senior year, he transformed into a mature and responsible young adult,” wrote Nyamwaya in an e-mail to The Phillipian.

“I don’t know what Andover does to them, but by the time kids get to their Upper and Senior year, they are almost ready for the adult world. I guess it has something to do with being put in a situation where you constantly have to juggle many activities,” he added.