Just about everything we experienced in Tanzania opened my eyes a lot wider and often made my mouth drop open in awe at the beauty and vastness and warmth that we experienced. Each and every day came with lessons and new perspectives, often some anxiety at the newness of it all, but most of all growth and change and doing and seeing things I never imagined. Every lodge, every meal, every game drive made me fall a little more in love with Tanzania, but it was meeting school children that completed this trip.
Over the course of our travels, we visited several schools. Some were random drop-ins, where the children had never met Westerners. Thanks to Grand Circle Travel, we were prepared with soccer balls, which, in Tanzania where kids play with balls of trash taped together, are like gold.
The schools themselves were mostly very simple, though the secondary school we visited had some new buildings and a computer lab with tablets. For the most part, however, the schools were marked by broken windows and cracked floors; they are in need of repair, they are in need of assistance.
But that’s not what they are all about.
The children in these schools are often hungry, many are missing one or both parents due to death, and some of the children walk for over an hour each way just to get to class. Their challenges are massive; they are unimaginable, and yet these children are absolutely overflowing with joy and appreciation.
The school where we spent the most time was the Ayalabe School, which is supported by Grand Circle Foundation. A little about the school:
Ayalabe has 15 classrooms and 17 teachers that serve 379 students, ages 5-16. Due to overcrowding and a lack of funding, every 2-3 students share a single desk and the student-to-book ratio is as high as 1 to 7.
The school constantly owes on its line of credit to local stores where they buy school supplies. Prior to our trip, we were informed of what the school needed, and we all stocked up on crayons, pencils, notepads, bubbles, stickers, and more to bring to the kids. Generous donors also sent items with us; in all we had 10 duffel bags full to bring to the school.
Other items included hula hoops and jump ropes, which were a huge hit with the kids.
The little girl on the left kept holding my hand; it was the sweetest thing. Her sweet smile and quiet demeanor set her apart for me. Her little glittery sneakers, worn and with holes, were clearly a point of pride, and she beamed when I complimented them. I find it hard to even write this or to think about her, possibly going to school with a growling belly or not having opportunities to go beyond primary school due to poverty. What’s worse, much worse, is that things like domestic slavery and sex trafficking are all too common. Children left to walk long distances alone or play on the side of the road while parents farm are easy targets for sick and greedy minds. Learning about it after actually being there was all too much to bear. The teachers and donors and program managers for these schools are doing amazing work for these kids. They see such difficult things day in and day out. I don’t know how they keep it up, but they do, and with love. There is a harsh reality learned at an early age, and it is not okay.
On a lighter note, our visit included bringing enough books that each child could have a book of his or her own, and we did some reading aloud in English while our guides translated into Swahili. The schools do teach English, and it was sweet to have the children try to communicate with us in our language while also teaching us words in theirs.
The Ayalabe School and the other schools we visited, including a secondary school sponsored by Grand Circle Foundation, are doing great things. In the secondary school, the foundation is providing scholarships to students, mostly girls, so that they can stay in school. They’re bringing bicycles to help with the hours-long travel to school. They’re giving girls simple items like sneakers and toiletries, all things their families can’t provide for them, but most of all they are giving these amazing kids more confidence and curiosity. In the secondary school, one of the young girls, who has never left Karatu, never been on a plane, told us she wants to become a pilot. I have chills thinking of her dreams and ambitions, and as I ready to go to sleep tonight, I pray that with the help of the community and her own drive, she will be soaring someday.
If you would like to learn more about the schools in Tanzania and how you can help, please visit the Grand Circle Foundation website.