School in Tanzania: Standing “Up” and Standing “Out”

27 of February 2021

During my days visiting my family in Argentina, I have had the opportunity to speak about our life in Tanzania. One of the expected questions is: what are we doing in Tanzania? My response, even if do well to mention all the most important things, it remains quite incomplete if I do not mention those things which we had not intended when we set out for Tanzania. We do much more than the most important things. For this reason I wanted to write about the school and what we accomplish as a team, working in a “familial spirit.”

We have a primary school and pantry. I have not often written of these projects and for this reason I want to tell you about our school, the activities of the pantry or dispensary we’ll have to leave for another occasion.

I remember that when we had just arrived to Tanzania, in January 2013, we had begun with a pre-school and kindergarten. I have only 2 days in the country and understood not a lick of what was said, everything was in Swahili. Since then the school has been growing year to year, adding a grade, and adding classrooms. God willing, this December 2021, we will have the first 7th grade class.

The work of the school is a grand one. We began from zero. And when I say zero, I mean absolutely nothing, since I remember, even before reaching Tanzania, having seen photos of the blessing of the property where they would construct the school. It was a ploughed field…. And nothing more. The whole building was raised by the sisters seeking donations and constructing the very cement blocks. Today they are still finishing the last classrooms, and there are already spaces prepared for two years of pre-school and 7 grades of primary school.

There are also bathrooms, offices for professors, a first aid room, and a Principal’s office. Everything, absolutely everything, was constructed by the sisters.  Now there are 170 children attending the school. The body of professors is made up of Tanzanian teachers, 12 in total. There are 3 people employed in cleaning and cooking. A team of 15 altogether.

The work of the school is a grand one, not only because of the material effort put forth, but also because of what is means to give this opportunity to our children. The public schools are overrun with students: in each classroom there are usually no less than 100 children.  Sometimes that number becomes 120, and with only one teacher. To give a couple examples, in the public state school closest to our neighborhood, there are 1,600 children. In another school in Kangeme, there are double those…3,400 kids. Many times the children have classes outside, beneath a tree, seated on the ground. Other times they have to put up with the sun or it just becomes impossible to have class when it rains. It is the custom in this culture that the teacher instructs with a pointing stick and generally punishes the kids with the same instrument. For this reason the teacher is more feared than loved. Also I image that it is complicated for a teacher to get to know all their students, and know what the challenges of each one are.  Surely they don’t even know if all their students are present in class. In the classrooms the students sit wherever they can, sometimes 3 to a bench, elbow to elbow, and many on the floor.

Because of all this, I repeat, the school is a grand work! Especially a school that is practically free. The sisters worry a lot about seeking donations to pay the salaries of the teachers and employers.  They do this because the majority of the families where we are have very humble means.  What is more is that many of them due to their own lack of education see no difference between sending them to one school or another. This is to say that if they have to pay something, they usually bring their children to a state school instead. Therefore the sisters help the parents and families a lot in their own homes. The least tuition that they pay is often honored through work, materials to continue building the school (rocks, sand, etc.); others pay with corn, beans or some animal.  Plus, the sisters admit without tuition the third sibling and forward from each family…it is incredible. It is fitting to clarify that the state does not provide any subsidies, neither any portion of the salaries.  Every month the sisters have to obtain every penny of the teacher’s salaries.

Last year, in December 2020, a year very particular in throughout the world, was the year that our school received government approval, official recognition, so that degrees can be given to the students so that they may continue on to secondary schools.

We cannot forget to mention that the teaching approach is firm in charity and patience, applying the preventative pedagogical and formative system of John Bosco. In some classrooms there are 20 students, more or less, and each one well seated on their bench. It is prohibited for the teacher to use any physical punishment.

The recesses are very exciting and often the children are playing ball games and other inventions. The sisters help the students to get their uniforms, shoes and school supplies. Many of them cannot purchase everything and the sisters do not want them to be discouraged by this and so leave the school.

Big thanks to the sisters for this great work!

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