I heard Baraka come calling outside of Pam’s window at 6:00 a.m. and rolled over knowing I had another three hours until breakfast. After working on my laptop, which had re-charged the night before when the generator was on, Bev and I walked to Café La Mama’s for breakfast. Though we teased Pam a good deal, we thoroughly enjoyed the delicious stack of chapattis she placed on the table before us when we walked through the door. Her early morning cooking lesson with Mama Francis had been a great success.
Our first stop of the day was a visit to Longido Primary School. Rose, the school principal for 17 years, warmly greeted us and was anxious to show us around. She introduced us to the class of Form Seven students. These were the young people who would be graduating in 2006 and, just as for students their age everywhere, they wondered what the future might hold for them. It was easiest for Rose to use Swahili to tell the students about Project TEMBO and when she was finished we introduced ourselves.
I talked to the students about the importance of having a dream and then asked if anyone had a dream of what they would like to be when they finished primary school. Hands went up one at a time: a doctor, a teacher, a pilot, a pastor. The students were inspired by adults who were making a difference in their small community. I told them Project TEMBO would help them realize their dreams by helping as many girls as possible to go to secondary school. Then, in response to a question by a boy, I explained why we focus on girls: They are greatly outnumbered by boys in secondary school; and they often leave school by Form Four to help at home by caring for younger children, or by walking great distances to find water or firewood. I did not mention another reality among the Maasai: If girls do not go to secondary school they are immediately given to older men in traditional marriages. I assured the boys that LOOCIP (Longido Community Integrated Program, directed by Steven Kiruswa) would do its best to find sponsors for them. Finally, I asked how many students wanted to attend secondary school. Almost every hand in the room shot up as hopeful eyes stared back at me. Our work for the coming year was clearly cut out for us.
Next, we followed Rose into crowded dormitories where nearly all of the 898 students at the school boarded, two to a bed in bunk beds, some with mosquito nets, some not. Small “suitcases” were neatly stacked on the floor in each room. The setting was similar to other schools Marian and I have visited in Tanzania. Outside, changes of clothes washed by each child were laid across acacia bushes to dry in the sun. Rose pointed to a building where the children ate, explaining that the school had been one day away from closing due to lack of water during the recent drought.
Rose accompanied us on the 15 minute walk to Longido Secondary School. She wanted to introduce us to the five new girls from her school that Project TEMBO was sponsoring. Along the way, we met Magdalena, the sixth girl, on her way to Ketembeine with her social worker, to a newly built secondary school about 65 kilometers away. Magdalena was a street girl Rose had ‘parented’ and raised for the last seven years. Now Pam agreed to assume her financial sponsorship for, at least, the next four years.
At Longido Secondary, Bev met Neema, the young girl she wanted sponsor. Neema, an orphan, was pleased to know that Bev would sponsor her for her entire stay at secondary school. I promised the other girls sponsors in Canada would do the same for them. Agreeing to return to pay tuition and school fees in a week, we said goodbye to Rose, clearly grateful for our involvement with her students. I was aware that it was now mid-afternoon and we still had one more school to visit in Kimokouwa, about 15 kilometers away. I suggested that we call Mama Francis to see if she would drive us, rather than wait for who knew how long for the dala dala. Mama agreed to 10,000 shillings and dropped us at the school entrance about 45 minutes later.
Kimokouwa Primary School is materially very poor. The classrooms are overcrowded, dusty, and the once-painted walls indicate there is no money for anything other than work books and pencils. Everyone here is from the surrounding Maasai bomas. The village center is a cement u-shaped building with a room for the village council; a larger one for council meetings that doubles for many other things; and a couple of store rooms. Longido, with its dukas (small shops that sell everything from rice to soap to razor blades) and ‘bars’ and a few places like Café LaMama’s looks bustling by comparison. There is absolutely no outside stimulation anywhere and this is something Meikas (shown in the photo above), the principal from nearby Namanga, wants to change.
I brought along some money for a class trip to a national park Meikas spoke of during last year’s visit. Project TEMBO collected some of this from donors and Marian donated the rest. Meikas identified other priorities now. The drought had left many children hungry. Some could help here. But Meikas also spoke of purchasing a generator and small television so he could show the students videos about HIV/AIDS and other social issues, or programs about Tanzania and even images of their new president. I said he was free to use the money for the school, as he wished.
We visited two classrooms and were impressed by the level of discipline and respect we witnessed in the students, as we had been in the Longido schools. When Meikas came to the school four years ago, only two or three students a year were passing the national exams that qualify them for secondary school. This year there were eighteen and next year his goal is higher.
Kimokouwa Primary is the school Kokoyai Paulo attended when Marian and I first visited her in 1998 when she was ten years old. When she finished Form 7, Kokoyai did not have the marks or ability to continue in school. By the time she was 15 she was pregnant and given in marriage to an older villager. Project TEMBO grew out of this experience. Kimokouwa Primary School will always have a special place in our hearts. By working with Meikas, we hope to help him in his work to educate growing numbers of young students who are realizing that educational sponsorships help make dreams come true.