Learning and teaching teenage girls in Dar

Dar es Salaam Travel Blog

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Teddy from CAMFED

Tuesday morning we woke early for our 3 hour van ride out to the Rufiji district of Dar Es Salaam. Teddy, from CAMFED, was escorting us out to a secondary school where CAMFED funds a group of no income girls (tuition is government paid, but uniforms and books to go to school can be costly).  This group of girls is similar to the one that Spark recently funded through CAMFED in Mozambique, so we are excited that, despite the 3 hour ride, we will be spending the day at the school with this special group of girls.

When we arrive we are greeted in a small, hot office by the school's principal. His English is well practiced and his words clearly well planned. He tells us about the 500 students who attend this co-ed school and focuses particularly on the struggles of the girls who travel from far away to attend the day school and must cram into rented rooms in the area, with no money to pay for their meals while they spend months at school away from their family and villages.

The school principal
He shares with us a proposal he created to find funding to complete a dorm project he started with original funding from the Canadian government. He built a structure to house 80 such females so that they will be safe from the temptation of prostituting themselves for shelter and food in order to go to school. The principal is frustrated to lose students, compelled by law to drop out of school as they become pregnant from this risky behavior. His urgency is clear, these girls need a safe place to stay so they can make it through school and have a better life. It will cost him $55,000 to complete the project - adding electricity, water, bathrooms, a chaperone's house, a lounge area and 80 bunk beds to the building. The supplies purchased and made from the strong local ebony wood, will last more than 50 years.
An outdoor classroom
It strikes me as a worthy investment.

We tour the school and then head into one of the classrooms while the group of 13 girls funded by CAMFED are summonds from class to join us. Most of the girls are muslim and wear what this Catholic girl considers a nun's habit, white and all, but is the school uniform version of a berka. The girls each introduce themselves, some trying English, others sticking to Swahili. Primary school is taught in the native tongue with English as a required class but secondary school immerses students into English by teaching all classes in the language. As I know from my 10 years of French class, an immediate immersion is bewildering. If I was taught high school in French, I might have failed out my first year. I sympathize with their struggle.

Practicing her English skills
After introductions, Teddy walks over and hands me the chalk. I had asked on the busride over if we could help out in any way, perhaps with English or something. I wanted so badly to do more to give back while there, to circumvent the possibility of feeling as sad as I had empty handed the day earlier.

I panicked at the site of the chalk and the 13 sets of big brown eyes looking at me. Fortunately, Shannon jumped to my rescue, suggesting we break off into groups to work with pairs of girls and a translator. Phew! The two girls I worked with were quiet. I tried simple questions like How many siblings do you have? What is your favorite color? But discovered vocabularly like siblings and colors hadn't been learned. Teddy helped translate for a little bit but then wandered off, leaving the three of us to communicate on our own.

Teaching and learning from girls
I used a half eaten bag of M&Ms to show the colors. The girls asked for paper, so they could take notes. I tore a piece out of my journal for each girl. One page had a quote on the bottom, written in English and the girls were eager to sound out the words. I found another page with a quote so that they each had some English to practice when they looked back at their notes. Once we tackled siblings and colors, I decided to grab my book "Eat Pray Love" from the van so we could practice reading aloud. That went well but it was clear they weren't understanding what they were saying, so I decided to practice feelings. This was good fun for everyone, as I made goofy faces of expressions and drew smiley faces of all sorts to convey "happy" "sad" "angry" and other feelings.
Ikwiri Secondary School, CAMFED funded girls and their teachers
The girls laughed at me - alot. I gave them the chocolates and an English newspaper. I noticed they kept the M&M wrapper and another piece of what I thought was trash as we all got up to go back to the principal's office at the end of the afternoon.

We each washed our hands as we entered the office and came in to find a large piece of watermelon and papaya laid out and each place setting, along with soda in bottles, of course. We enjoyed our fruit and were heavily questioned if we didn't eat the whole thing down to the very skin of the fruit (I had to hide some papaya under the watermelon skin so I wouldn't be reprimanded). The principal said a few final, well rehearsed remarks and we boarded the ride with Isa at the helm for our several hour journey back home.

Snacktime at Ikwiri school in Rufiji Dar Es Salaam

Our time at the school was amazing. As we left, I kept thinking of the stats I read in the request for funding that we had seen. Of the 80 girls who would fill those dorm rooms, typically 10% get preagnant each year and another 5% will also drop out. Of the 65 or so who remain only about 15% will pass their exams at the end of year 2. Of the 12 girls qualified to take the year 4 exams, about half will pass. Meaning of those 80 girls, only 6 ever finish secondary school. The sacrafices all of them make just to try and just to get there to that classroom is staggering. I feel honored to have met such dedicated girls and worried about their futures. The only small comfort I rest on is that they have a dedicated and concerned principal working hard to help improve the odds against them.

Captivating eyes
I wonder who in the US might be willing to help fund the completion of that dorm, I make another mental note to try to find someone...

After the school, we went to see three women businesses that CAMFED had helped start. These women, aged 18-25, fit the same no income poverty level from similar regions as the girls we met at the school. They had either never started school or dropped out along the way, so CAMFED funds and trains them to start their own businesses.

As we arrived at the first business, a small open room that faces the street, I saw a teeny little boy crawling over a sewing machine in the neighboring space. As I took out my camera, he waddled over and I found a small granola bar in my bag and his mom let me give it to him.

Salon owner
I could tell she was excited about it, so I sorted through my stuff and found another one for her. The boy's bright eyes were matched by the blinding yellow of his shirt. His swollen belly and mishaped head were clear signs of malnutrition. Clearly his mother's seamstress business was hardly substantiating their needs. We listened to the CAMFED funded woman talk about her hair salon next door as she held her newborn baby, its twin resting nearby. It was evident that these women worked hard but made little money. Again the increasingly familiar feeling of helplessness sat in as I tried to think of ways to offer support or help capable of making a meaningful or lasting impact. I could think of nothing.

We walked across the street and the heat was too much for Stephanie (who reminded us of her Siberia ancestry), so she headed to the van and Isa sat with her trying to cool off.

Ministore owner
The rest of us walked up to a small stand flanked with bars and a woman with handkerchiefed hair stepped forward. She introduced us to her husband who was working behind the bars in the small ministore full of simple grains and small household items like soap or batteries. The space was impressive. She passed around small homemade muffins for each of us and told us her recipe - flour, eggs, sugar and water. The muffins, though simple, were surprisingly tasty but I was discomforted by the stares from the small group of kids and neighborhood folks who had gathered to watch us consumer our free samples. The guilt of taking without giving overwhelmed me and I whispered to someone next to me "Should we offer to pay?" but they correctly responded "I think that might be considered rude, as they meant to extend a gift.
Restuarant owner
" I agreed but couldn't rid myself of the guilty feeling.

A few minutes drive down the road, we stopped at a house that had a thatch roof covered porch out front. Stepping under the roof and sitting down at the picnic table, a translator explained that this businesswoman had launched her own restaurant in front of her home with CAMFED's help training and funding some initial supplies. Now she serves dozens of meals everyday. Her meals are simple - soup or sometimes eggs or chicken, but her prices are reasonable. We asked if she had any questions and she had only one "Do you like my restaurant?" We all agreed that very much we did.

We spent another 15 minutes outside as there was a group of young girls who were posing for the cameras and having a great time looking at themselves.

Flirty girls
When someone brought out a video camera, they danced and played. Clearly natural performers. I hope they can find themselves a larger and worthy stage sometime soon. Their smiles and eyes captivated our hearts and it was hard to load the van for the three hour trek back to the hotel.

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Teddy from CAMFED
Teddy from CAMFED
The school principal
The school principal
An outdoor classroom
An outdoor classroom
Practicing her English skills
Practicing her English skills
Teaching and learning from girls
Teaching and learning from girls
Ikwiri Secondary School, CAMFED fu…
Ikwiri Secondary School, CAMFED f…
Snacktime at Ikwiri school in Rufi…
Snacktime at Ikwiri school in Ruf…
Captivating eyes
Captivating eyes
Salon owner
Salon owner
Ministore owner
Ministore owner
Restuarant owner
Restuarant owner
Flirty girls
Flirty girls