News: Hope Through Education

That’s the motto of Edmund Rice Sinon High School – a school of 940 students – just out of Arusha, Tanzania, where we worked for the 2005 school year and where I continued in 2006 while Davina has, of her own choice, moved across the road to the local primary school where she is experiencing more, and attempting in her teaching to deal with, the very serious effects of poverty upon her students.

Our work at Edmund Rice has been in the school’s Special Program Class, an intensive learning experience wherein the new Form 1 students are challenged to think and to improve their ability to cope with secondary education. In the nine weeks of special study that each group has we attempted to create a learning environment wherein students experienced a different learning style through engaging activities such as drama, debates, group discussion, games, films, art and some mathematics, with emphasis on thinking for themselves, problem solving and developing English skills.

The E.R.S.H.S. students’ ages range from thirteen to early twenties. The students come from different Tanzanian tribes and varied socio- economic backgrounds. The majority of them are eager to learn, in spite of the poverty that is part of daily life for many of them. Quite a number are sponsored by generous overseas donors who pay their school fees; without such aid they would not be able to continue their education after primary school.

We are amazed at the indomitable spirit of our students and the people in the local area, and their resilience in adversity. One of our students, coming to our small 2-bedroom home on the school property, remarked, “What a big house! Don’t you get lonely here?” When questioned about that remark, she said that she’s from a family of twelve children, whose entire home consists of just two rooms! The former parish priest of Sinon parish last year commented that in his Sunday homilies he always tried to give his parishioners hope and joy to carry them through each grim week – hence he would joke and get them laughing and enjoying his 20-minute homily, at the same time getting his message through to them.

All around Sinon we have seen some of the effects of 2005’s drought when the April rains were just reasonable but not as much as was really needed, and the November rains did not come at all. That meant that for the early months of 2006, not only did the land suffer, but so too did people and their livestock. People were lopping tree branches for cattle fodder and still the cows were getting thinner than ever, and not far away stock was simply dying from lack of food and water. People from the Sinon area came constantly to the school to fill their buckets with water (the school is blessed with a good underground supply which it shares with the village).

How beautiful it is now (mid-2006) to see maize over two metres high because we had wonderful rains in April. More importantly, people have hope! Where I used to work in Papua New Guinea, in an area of rich volcanic soil and tropical rains, it was said that the only reason that anyone would go hungry is if they are too lazy to cultivate a garden; there, if you push a stick into the ground to stake up a plant, or to make a fence, the stick grows too!

Here in Tanzania, it’s a different matter for there simply is not any water to grow anything if the rains don’t come, and the ordinary people here have no control over the rains.

For us, our time in Tanzania, now fast drawing to a close, is proving to be an enriching and valuable experience as we meet and interact with African students, colleagues and parishioners and the public in general. As well as that, we each feel greatly enriched by being together. Thanks to Palms for the opportunity to work at the same place. When we first met in January, 2005, at the orientation course in Mittagong, we “clicked”, in spite of our age difference (many people here think that Davina is my daughter!), and we’ve become good friends as well as colleagues and flat mates.

Davina has also benefited greatly in another way. Being young and adventurous, she has used school holiday times to travel to Uganda where she went white-water rafting on the River Nile; to Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar where she was intrigued by the historic Stone Town; and to Zambia where she was overawed by the magnificent Victoria Falls.

Both of us have enjoyed meeting and working with many short-term volunteers who have visited the school to share their skills and to gain experience for themselves. They’ve so far come from Ireland, America, S. Korea, New Zealand, Canada and Australia. Some were here for 2 weeks; others 3 months; a couple for 6 or 12 months. They have broadened our outlook on life.

We’ll be sad to leave, but Africa and its people will always remain in our hearts. Who know, one day we might return to this continent – we would both love to do so.

from Helena.

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The end of extreme poverty is at hand, within our generation, but only if we grasp the historic opportunity in front of us. - Jeffrey Sachs