Getting an Education in Tanzania
Originally Published: November 5, 2014
People ask us about the projects we have been visiting and how we find them. Usually a few weeks before we’re scheduled to move on, my mom and I will research where we’re heading and send out a bunch of emails to hostels and local organizations to let them know the approximate dates we’ll be in town to see if they’d be interested in meeting. This time we found a volunteer hostel named Ujamaa Hostel in Arusha, Tanzania, who provided volunteers staying with them the opportunity to help out with projects in the community that they are partners with. Before arriving to Tanzania, we emailed the hostel to see how they’d feel about me filming their projects. Coincidentally, it turned out that their manager, Kareem Roberts, was from Toronto as well, and to make a small world even smaller, he knew my mentor Spencer West, (motivational speaker for Free the Children) too! After checking with Ujamaa’s founder Gasper Martin, and learning of his dedication to social justice and community work, we were convinced that this was the right project to explore further.
On our first day in Arusha we decided to visit one of the projects that Kareem oversees – Gloryland Prep School for kids aged 3-10. We arrived just in time for the end of morning classes. Kareem showed us to all of the classrooms, about 5 or 6 in total. The rooms themselves were nothing more than cinder blocks with mud floors, barn-style roofs with tarps over them, simple desks with row seating and very sparce in school supplies.
The scarcity of funds was very visible. Yet, what struck me was how the kids were so sweet and respectful. When we walked into the classrooms we were greeted by all the children who stood up and sung in unison “good morning teachers”. Even though we were visitors, I noticed most of the children were still eager to learn and kept their eyes peeled to the chalkboard. After their morning cup of porridge, brought to their classroom in a big bucket, they all quickly ran outside for recess. They lifted my spirits with their joyfulness and excitement. And as soon as the bell rang, they raced back to class before you could even notice! I couldn’t wait to come back and film.
The next day I arrived earlier and had a bit more time to spend at Gloryland filming and taking pictures of the children -which they were very eager to have me do so long as I showed them how the pictures turned out. I sat in on a few classes for the morning. The kids learned most of their subjects in english, whereas in the public schools they learn mostly in Swahili. I was so happy to see how involved in learning these children were. It was so different to what I see at home where some kids (even myself sometimes) drag themselves to school, get distracted or don’t focus. Here, I noticed that if a student needed to go to the washroom, they’d run there and back as quickly as they could, while at home the kids will often use the washroom as an excuse to get out of class for a bit.
While at Ujamaa in Arusha, I got to know Gasper & Kareem really well and the unselfish work they do there. Kareem, recently created the company K-Robs Social Enterprises to fundraise for the projects. He talked about the importance of an education and the challenges related to getting an education in Tanzania. It was a real eye opener alright. For instance, the exams to get in to secondary school in Tanzania are in english, so for many of the kids in public schools it is difficult to get accepted to secondary school because they’ve been learning for the most part in Swahili and don’t pass the tests. There are other issues which interfere with getting a good education here that complicate matters as well – like teenage pregnancy, or the need to help out the family by working.
K-Robs Social Enterprises wants to start up a new project in a Maasai Village: an all girl’s secondary school. The company is partnering with a local Tanzanian NGO called Maarifa. To build the school, they had to negotiate with the Maasai chiefs. One day they took my mom and I along to film their negotiations for land to build the school. The village was about 30 km outside of Arusha in the mountains not far from the Kenyan border. The landscape around while beautiful was very harsh. Immediately I noticed not many kids in school, young kids by the river washing clothes, or herding cows and goats but not in school. The village visit was fascinating to me and I felt very honoured to be there as a witness to these proceedings. Before leaving we were taken to meet the Maasai mamas and I felt a strong connection to them.
We also visited the only secondary school in the vicinity of the Massai lands to see what it looked like and while a bit better than Gloryland, it also lacked in resources and were in much need of repairs and supplies too. Again – working with the bare necessities and that’s it!! Not to mention, some of the students have to walk 12 km one way to school every morning and then repeat this every afternoon back. Leaving as early as 5 a.m. for school. Makes my journey to school seem easy. When talking to the Maasai chiefs, they said that having another school would be very beneficial and they weren’t afraid that the kids would leave the village behind to get a better education. They believed that the children of the village would be able to benefit the village in greater ways. However, there are still many obstacles facing the village when it comes to providing their children with an education besides funding. Many children would have to come from a great distance, the natural terrain (snakes, rivers & hot weather) often prevents the safe crossing for these children and then there’s the Maasai culture itself with some girls who are married very at a very young age and then no longer are allowed to go to school.
Learning about education and the lengths people go to for the opportunity to have a better life has really made me appreciate education in a way I not realized before. When I return to school in February, I’ll be thinking of the children I had the pleasure of meeting in Tanzania and keeping the memory of their passion for education alive.