If you have been following my blog you know that I am a Project Wezesha volunteer. Project Wezesha is program of Girls Education International. If you are new to the blog, karibu! (Welcome!)
Project Wezesha is a non-profit organization based in Kigoma. It’s aim is to increase access to education in western Tanzania for secondary, high school, and university students. Project Wezesha works in the villages surrounding Kigoma to increases access to education in two ways; scholarships and study camps.
Project Wezesha awards scholarships to rural students who otherwise would be unable to pay for their school fees, uniforms, and books. With the financial backing they receive, students are able to remain in school and continue in their studies.
To support their academic advancement, Project Wezesha provides a study camp for secondary school students during school holidays. These month-long study camps, offered twice a year, are intended to promote academic growth in all content areas. Government approved curriculum is reinforced and students are granted the opportunity to apply their learning. In addition, the study camps provide structure and stability in the participants’ lives, as well as food and shelter. This alleviates financial stress on the participants’ families while creating an environment where students can focus on their studies.
Being a part of the study camp this December has been an incredible experience so far.
Preparation for the camp started over a month ago. Lucas, Madaga, and I met to update the budget from the last camp and discuss how the camp would operate this time. We also scheduled a parent meeting and a teacher meeting.
(The parents of Project Wezesha and Girls Education International participants attend a Saturday morning meeting about the study camp. 80% of the parents were present! All parents expressed their gratitude for the camp.)
I continue to be amazed by the sincerity of the parents’ gratitude. This group represents some of the poorest villagers in one of the poorest regions of Tanzania. Nonetheless, one of the parents brought Lucas and me pineapples from his farm. What an overwhelming gift to receive when pineapples are his livelihood! (I gladly took the pineapple but I respectfully declined the goat that was offered by a different parent.)
10 teachers from various schools join forces to create the study camp teaching staff. Students take history, chemistry, biology, geography, physics, mathematics, English structure, English literature, and Swahili. The teachers use the government curriculum in various ways: to reinforce content, to complete units that were left unfinished by the students’ classroom teachers, or to start new topics that accelerate student learning.
(Teachers meet at the Project Wezesha office to prepare for the study camp.)
In addition to ensuring all teaching positions are filled, Lucas also orders, purchases, and transports supplies for the camp.
(Project Wezesha co-founder Lucas Lameck oversees the entire study camp.)
After nine years of teaching at Journeys School and preparing for extended journeys by working with the kitchen staff, shopping at Albertson’s and Hungry Jacks, I know a little about buying food for large groups of students. However, I was of no use in this setting. Regardless, I tagged along with Lucas to see the process.
(Preparing for the camp requires purchasing all of the food from the local market. Here a man carries one half of our order of flour.)
The purpose of the camp is to help students. Yet, after the massive trip to the market I started to think about all of the additional positive impacts. This camp invests in the locally economy. Everything is made, grown, and purchased locally. Thus small scale farmers and business owners benefit from the camp. On top of that is the fact that the camp creates jobs. It employs ten teachers, three cooks, one matron, and one night watchman. It makes me happy to think about all of the good that comes from the camp.
Now let’s get back to the students. There are two sections: Form III and Form IV. Each level follows a full schedule that keeps them busy from morning till night.
(In the fine print you can see students have supervised preparations from 7:30-9:00pm every evening. During this time they study silently in their classrooms. I am amazed by their focus!)
Classes start at 7:30 and end at 3:30. Monday through Thursday. There are three academic periods Friday morning followed by time for religious practices. The population in this area is split almost 50/50 Christian/Muslim. Religion is deeply valued by all sectors of society. As a result, all schools, including government schools, schedule time for students to study and practice their religions.
(Form IV students take notes during class. Most of the teachers lecture and write notes on the board which students then copy to memorize later.)
Saturday is the test day. The Tanzanian education values examinations above all. Therefore, providing students with practice tests in each class helps them to prepare for the school year. Tests range from one hour to two and a half hours long.
(Despite the fact that study camp tests do not go on school transcripts, the students take them very seriously.)
Students are highly motivated. They have huge dreams. They want to be teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, pilots, police officers, and soldiers.
(This is Felesciano. He is 16 years old. He told me he wants to be a soldier because he wants to help maintain peace. Tanzania is a very peaceful country but there is frequently conflict in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.)
The majority of instruction is lecture form, requiring students to take notes and memorize them. I hope to work with teachers to offer ideas of how to increase student engagement and learning.
(Students improve their native language in Swahili class where they study grammar and structure as well as literature.)
After a full day of classes, students eat lunch. Meals usually consist of a grain and beans.
(Three cooks cook three meals a day for 35 students and a handful of teachers. They cook outside using homemade charcoal and they have to fetch all of the water from a nearby pump.)
One of the cooks is a former Project Wezesha student. She has 16 sisters. That is not a typo. 16. Her father has three wives and combined there are 16 sisters, 0 brothers. The family is very poor. Thus her job as a cook not only ensures that she eats everyday but it also gives her income which helps her and her family.
The majority of people in rural Tanzania do not eat three meals a day. When these students are at home, they fall into that category. When they are at study camp, they eat three meals a day. They are so grateful.
(Here a student is eating ugali, the most common Tanzanian dish.)
Students live at the school during the study camp. They convert classrooms into dorm rooms. I imagine that it is a unique experience for Tanzanian teenagers to 1) be away from home and 2) be with a group of peers. They seem to love it.
(The girls enjoy a friendly game of cards during free time.)
(The girls dorm room: all students are required to have a mosquito net.)
I was nervous I would never learn the students’ names. They are all so different to me. I was nervous it would be hard for me to foster relationships with the students due to the language barrier. I was wrong.
(The students names are beautiful! It took me a couple tries to pronounce them correctly, but it got it with their help.)
Thanks for following me on my journey with these students. Asante Sana.
(Form III students)
(Form IV students)
Oh.. and in case you are wondering… we are taking the students to Lake Tanganika to go swimming on Christmas Day. Both the Christian and Muslim students rejoiced when we shared this plan with them!