Monday, September 12, 2011


First batch of books

         While planning my time in Tanzania, returning to the village where I had first fallen in love with this country was near the top of my “to do” list. While my expectation that Kyela wouldn’t be the same as I had remembered it ended up being true, it was only because it was an even more rewarding experience. This time, I knew some Swahili, knew more about the country, was familiar with its customs and most importantly, I had a connection to the people I was going back to see. I was only able to spend a few days back in Kyela,  but it was worth every bit of the 16 hour bus ride of motion sickness!

The second batch of books
     Most of my time was spent at the Mwaya Secondary School. This is the school that Cocoa Honors visited last summer and that has since received almost $10,000 worth of text books. This gift was made possible thorough the support of many people in Springfield who care about this small school in a little frequented corner of Tanzania. I was surprised that the textbooks had already had a significant effect on the school. Besides providing a much needed resource for the students’ learning and exam preparation, we found out from the headmaster that the simple presence of the books has inspired and motivated the students to excel in their studies. To the Mwaya students, these textbooks (books that made my peers and I groan mentally upon being issued each year) showed that someone cared about them. They are tangible proof that people outside their small school believe in them enough to invest money to ensure that the students have the basic materials necessary for learning. 


     Kellen and I met with a group of female students to talk about a range of subjects related to the Empowered Girls goals.  Interestingly, the topic that was returned to again was me. As at the previous secondary schools where we have spoken, the girls had an endless number of questions for me:  Do many girls in the U.S. go to university? How old are most girls when they marry? Do US parents want daughters to continue with their education or do they think marriage is better? Do girls in America face similar issues of pregnancy and being deceived by boys? - and many more.  They even ask the mundane of "do American teens have problems with acne?" It is fascinating, though often disheartening, to see the contrast between the teen experiences in their world and mine.
Part of their library!
         The Cocoa Honors group who visited the school last summer has been far from forgotten. The mzungu mrefu sana (really tall kid) was the Cocoa Honors student that the largest number of people seemed to remember, something I found fitting considering Taylor Curtis is still very involved with Tanzania and hopes to return in the near future. They also remembered ‘that man who took lots of pictures’, so thanks for outshining me dad!  According to the Headmaster, who extends a big thank you to everyone involved with Cocoa Honors and the Textbooks for Tanzania campaign, our presence has shown many of the students that the world beyond the one they know is accessible, but it requires hard work and determination. 

        While many aspects of my visit are memorable, there is one that stands out. While Kellen was giving a lecture on how to prepare for exams and I was acting as photographer (like father, like daughter?) one student stood up and asked the best way to manage his time. This student is an orphan who has no relatives able to pay his school fees. Instead of simply accepting this and not completing secondary school, he spends most of his time outside of school working in order to pay his school fees.

       That kind of determination is a reminder of how much I have taken for granted in my life. It also reminds me that some things are the same across cultures and continents and that not infrequently, teens at home must also hold jobs to help support themselves and their families. Once again it raises the question in my mind of where to help, how to help: how to step outside of my “wants” and into a world of need.

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