I clambered into the 4 by 4 and apologised for my bacon sandwich dripping all over the seat. Edward the Dog ran alongside us as we drove down towards the gates, the askari on duty waving me off as if I was leaving for the holiday as nearly everyone else had.
But I wasn’t being driven down Airport Road to catch a flight out of Mwanza, instead we turned left off onto a dirt track that would take us out into the villages and some local rural school. Sheila Murray, a teacher at our school, has set up a charity that promotes links between rural schools in Tanzania and schools in the UK. We were going to see how some of the donations from the UK had been spent.
We travelled for what seemed like an age down roads that had partly been washed away by the recent rains. Sheila told me how sometimes they were completely impassable and she would need to take a piki piki (motorbike taxi) in order to visit the schools she works with. A few times we had to switch the car into four wheel drive in order to traverse a large sink hole. Children walking passed us waved frantically and called out the familiar ‘How are you?’ as we drove on. We picked up a couple of the secondary students on the way to the first school we were to visit. Our purpose there was to drop off some Christmas decorations, check how they were getting on with the maths books that the charity had funded and see which chemicals the science department needed help with. Few of the children were in school as they had completed their exams, but some had arrived to meet us and have their picture taken. After talking with the deputy head about sponsoring a child* starting in the new year in January and having a quick look around the school we headed back off along to a local primary.
*As I understand it (and I may well be wrong, please feel free to correct me) primary education is free in Tanzania and then the children have to pass an entrance exam to go onto secondary. The fees are relatively low, but the additional costs can put it out of the range of many families. Often children will need to bring a ream of paper to school on the first day in order to be registered. This covers their photocopying, exam papers etc. They need to pay for their uniform, for a desk to sit at. It’s a lot of money for the average Tanzanian family, but I was surprised when Sheila told me that a child could be in school for a year for around £40.
As we drove up we met one of the teachers walking to the school with some of the children, Sheila challenged them to beat us to school. They all began running as we ambled over the rough road behind them. I think it was essentially a draw as we pulled up to the school to see some children sitting on the ground playing Bao (I know it as Mancala), a version of Jacks and others playing with skipping ropes. Along the side of one of the buildings was a large map of the world with Africa in the front and centre.
As soon as we parked the Headmaster greeted me and invited me into his office. He was signing reports for the year 4s and I tried to translate some of the subjects. The section for IT was left blank as these schools have no electricity or running water, yet it is still on the syllabus for them to teach. I talked to the Head for a little while and then he showed us round the school. We were there because Sheila was trying to help them fix the desks. She has secured funding for the school for some desks and we were due to meet with a fundi (someone who makes or fixes things is a fundi) to see how much he would charge to fix the existing desks and then how many new ones could be made, but unfortunately he wasn’t there. Since our visit I’ve been told that using that money they can fix 25 and have 25 brand new ones made – an improvement on the initial plan that the Head had of getting 30 new desks made for the same money.
The skipping ropes that the children were playing with were bought with donations from the UK, so I took some pictures of them being put to good use, but as soon as the children noticed I was taking pictures I began to be swamped – they get very excited by seeing their pictures on the screen.
We were shown one of the teacher’s houses on site that was being built and found some of the boys helping out mixing the concrete to finish off the window rendering. It’s very basic, but looks like it would be comfortable and has a bigger bedroom than mine.
Soon it was time to move on to the final school, more Christmas decorations were handed out and Sheila had brought some magnifying glasses which we showed to the children. Again I was able to see how money from the UK had been put to good use. Sheila’s son and his friends had raised money and come to help update the classroom. Their money had replaced the floor; put a cupboard in and given the place a lick of paint. It doesn’t sound as flashy as interactive whiteboards, computers in every classroom or digital cameras for each year group but it does make a huge difference when you see what the rooms were before (sorry, I got carried away with the kids and forgot to take the before and after pics, just use your imagination).
I took more pictures of the children and had my ‘Comic Relief’ moment (being surrounded by a group of kids clammering for a photo) and we got back in the car to drive home.
I’d really like to go again and actually help out with some teaching, but who knows when that might happen, since I have my own class. But I can help by donating to the great work that Sheila is doing over here… If you would like to find out more or would like to donate then please follow the links below: