Learning and teaching teenage girls in Dar
Dar es Salaam Travel Blog› entry 3 of 4 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.