Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One Day

As I type this blog by special high powered Brookstone flashlights, I can not overstate the daily challenge of living in an "under-served" community.

The morning began with a meeting of the parents of the Kilimahewa students. About half the parents attended the meeting - a pretty good attendance given their circumstances and need to harvest the corn from their fields at this time. So just to mention one "issues" discussed at the meeting: As you know, we have begun a lunch program of makande for our teenagers. One of the main obstacles to overcome in such a program is procuring firewood. For environmental and other reasons, the government no longer allows the selling of firewood through most outlets. On the other hand, there is no alternative source of heat to cook their food. Therefore, the community has to figure out a way to gather enough wood to cook the beans and maize in the outside oven each day. Today, one of the students' fathers donated a tree for this purpose and the community stayed to plan how they would chop, prepare, transport and store the wood for use when next year's school year begins in January.

As an aside - you'll see my husband, Peter, and I eating a plate of makande - for the students it meant a lot to see mzungas (white foreigners) actually eating their food - and it was pretty good for carb lovers!
Next, we surveyed the piping that has been laid for the water project. Of course, even though the project is serving a community that has no ready water supply, the local water company is none too pleased at our well and so without going into details, even when you overcome physical and financial obstacles, bureaucratic obstacles lie in waiting.

After Kilimahewa we stopped by the village ward's office. Last week we were informed that a classroom and teacher's cottage (in the most basic sense) at the ward's primary school remained unfinished for several years because the local village's funds had run out. The government in Tanzania issues educational orders - for example, that each ward must have two secondary schools - but it is then up to the village to finance the project. Many times, this places a great strain on the poorer communities. We were greeted by the children at the primary school, given a tour of the school, and then hosted to an afternoon snack where one of the leaders read a formal request of funding support to complete the two rooms. Of course, they handed Peter the letter of request :) stating that it was their custom to deal with the man in these kind of issues. Fine by me!!!!

Next, on to several homes of our students. This blog is getting a little long but you will see one picture of a mud room that two girls are building themselves with their father in order that they have their own room in which to sleep. They have to finish the mud walls, stick and tin roof before the small rains in November or all their work will "melt" and they will have to start over.

And finally, our last visit was with one of our students who lives with her family in two rooms behind a gathering place where men drink local brew each night. Here she is pictured with her family. These are the circumstances in which our teenagers try to learn. All in one day.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Education is really the process of finding out about who you are and who you can become. Nowhere is this more true than when applied to young people who have had no opportunities, and then one day they gain access to a new world – in this case a secondary school. Here’s what starts to happen.

Veronica is about 17 years old. Personal circumstances as an orphan and poverty prevented her from continuing her education after primary school until we discovered her and placed her, as a boarder, at the Notre Dame Secondary School. Two years later, she is among the top students in her class, scoring respectably on government tests and preparing to enter Form 4, 12th grade, next January. If she achieves Division 1 or 2 on her Form 4 exams, as she intends to do, she will be able to continue to A levels – or Form 5 and 6 in the Tanzanian system – and from there to a University degree in Law.

Elizabeth (pictured here on the left) is about 16 years old and also will enter Form 4 in January. She was attending our informal Kilimahewa School because her grandmother could no longer pay the fees for government secondary school, and in any event, more learning was going on in our school than in the overcrowded, understaffed government school One of our volunteers – Daniella (a gap student) – noticed Elizabeth’s abilities and suggested that she be sponsored in a boarding school. She is now the top student in her class at Mrike Secondary School. A Division 1 or 2 result on next year’s government test will earn her – just like Veronica – a spot in an A level school where she will begin her path to an engineering degree.

And Grace (pictured here in her dorm room) is a 14-year-old, Form 1 (9th grade) student at Moshi Technical (meaning science and math) School. This is a government secondary school that only accepts top performers on the Standard 7 test at the end of primary school. Grace is very smart and achieved a high score on this test, but did not have resources for the boarding fees at this school. Because of EdPowerment’s support, Grace was able to accept her “placement” and has begun the road toward a career in the health field.

Each of these girls had so much potential to unlock – but no key. There are many Veronicas, Elizabeths and Graces, and that is why our work, and your support, is so meaningful.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Asante Erica

The "kids" at Kilimahewa usually understand more English than many of their high school peers because of the flow of "mzunga" volunteers who quickly immerse themselves in their classroom. Tomorrow, Erica leaves to return to her final semester at Seton Hall Law School, but this week she was busy helping the students understand the stories in The Adventures of Spider, a small book of West African tales that was a big hit with the East African teenagers. Erica brought over nine copies of the book and for several days the students have been working on their vocabulary to figure out the "moral" of each tale. Erica says good-bye with candy specially requested by the boys and girls. We'll hand out photos she took of them during the week - their favorite thing - since unlike all of us, they have no photographs to remember their friends and events. The kids loved being with Erica and we are thankful that she decided to share herself and her talents with all of them. Asante sana - thank you!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Meeting Neema's Family

Neema is one of our strongest Form 2 QT students.

So what does that mean? In Tanzania, all students take a test at the end of primary school - the Standard 7 Test. Students who do not "pass" can not continue in the public school system. This would be the equivalent of all U.S. students - urban, suburban, public and private- taking the same test in 8th grade and anyone who didn't score high enough would be excluded from public high school. The only 2 alternatives for more education here are private secondary school (expensive for Tanzanians) or a Q.T. (Qualifying Test) program that consists of a 10th grade and 12th grade test. If they pass, it's like a GED but one with a score - so high scorers can still get into college.

We visited Neema's home - she is 16 and had failed the Standard 7 test and therefore is at our 'Informal" QT school. We are her only chance for further education. So why did she fail? We met her mother and her great grandmother. Her father died about 5 years ago and her mother lost all her possessions to the father's brothers. Fearing further threats to herself and her 5 daughters, she fled to this area where she cares for her great grandmother in exchange for a place to live. To make money she sells fruit in town with which she feeds her children on weekends, provides clothing and pays nominal school fees at Kilimahewa. During the week Neema and her 4 siblings stay with an uncle and his wife and 2 children. This is an unusual stroke of good fortune. During weekends, the six women live in their mother's mud/dung hut - a structure that accommodates much of the poor in this agricultural region.

She walks several miles back and forth to school and once again, our solar light is her only way to study at night. Here are Neema, her mother, her great-grandmother and Mama Grace, our Country Director.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A School Day at Notre Dame

Today I visited the Notre Dame Secondary School in Njiro where we sponsor 10 young women and one young man. I sat and talked with them about their days, their plans and their lives for about an hour.

To begin with, the lack of electricity is challenging everyone's lives in Tanzania because of random blackouts by the government. In Njiro, there has been no electricity for 3 days - and with no generator, that means the girls head to their bunks at dark - We have purchased solar lights for our sponsored students so that they can at least read in the evenings. But back to their days...

They rise and shine at 4 a.m. - cold water bucket baths. At 5:00 they go to their classrooms where they study until 7:00 (light providing). At 7:00 they drink porridge - don't know what you think is porridge but after much explanation from them, I gather it is a liquid combination of maize flour boiled with water and maybe some sugar. At 7:30 they have assembly, prayers and the official start to the day. Class follows from 8:00 to 10:30 when they stop for tea and "scones" - something tells me this is not the kind they sell at Starbucks or Sarabeth's. Classes resume from 11:00 to 2:20 at which time they have lunch. Back to class or other meetings from 3:00 - 5:00 when they break for a little rest, clean up until prayers at 6 - 6:30 followed by dinner. Lunch and dinner usually rotate among makande, beans and ugali with vegetables. Rice is a special meal about once a week.

The boarding girls return to their rooms after dinner at which time they can continue to study - if they have lights. But morning is coming soon - 4:00 - except for when they sleep in on Sundays until 5:00.

The girls don't consider their lives easy - but they don't complain and they know that this school - and a good performance on their Form 4 (12th grade) national exams - will determine their future. And here's where there is a similarity to the U.S. - the subject that lowers their overall performance on standardized tests each year leading up to the final Form 4 graduation test is..... MATH and SCIENCE. So we are supplementing the payment of math and science teachers to encourage good teachers to stay at Notre Dame and even teach extra classes on Saturdays.

For our students, these realities will pave the way for tomorrow's opportunities.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

One Year Later - Continuing Our Work

One year after our first blogs last summer, much has changed with EdPowerment – while much has stayed the same in Tanzania’s agricultural areas. Our good news is that in the next two weeks, water will start pumping from the Kilimahewa project. Check out the pictures – 2 tanks, one for the school and one for the community to use to promote sanitary conditions in their homes and crop development in their shambas (farms).

Next, take a look at the Kilimahewa students enjoying a lunch of makande (beans and maize) that guarantees some nutrition for them each day – and had just about eliminated absenteeism. Which brings me to our student population – now 59 teenagers, 12 of whom will take the Tanzanian QT 1 (Qualifying Test for the equivalent of 10th grade). If they pass, we will continue to provide Form 3 and Form 4 (11th and 12th grade) instruction, after which they will take the QT 2. If they do well enough, some may even be able to enter higher education certificate, diploma and degree programs.

Just a little while ago, they were young people who had no educational alternative and no hope to build a future.

And how things stay the same...

I included some pictures from a visit on Friday afternoon to the homes of two of our students. On a good day, they walk 3 miles, then board a local dala-dala (bus) for the remaining 4 miles to our small school. When the bus is full or doesn’t show, they walk a total of 14 miles in one day – just for a chance at further education. You’ll see some pictures of their families and the circumstances that are typical of the population we serve.

Of course, because hospitality is most valued here regardless of one’s economics – chai was quickly prepared for us. The "bebe" or grandmother (these respected voices are never shy) urged us to build a hostel (dorm) for the girls so they could learn in a safe environment and not face the daily risks of long walks to and from school in the early morning and evenings.

As we learned about their harvesting of corn and one family’s intention to sell a ram in the coming weeks (in order to pay school fees for an older girl to attend vocational school), we heard this beautiful harmonious singing. Sure enough, just a short walk away, a church appeared, hidden in the trees, with a choir preparing for Sunday service – singing, swaying and offering gratitude. The combination of simple joy and thankfulness also doesn’t change in this materially poor but spiritually rich community.