The first day I taught at the Amahoro Secondary School I was excited and nervous. I was excited for my craft as a teacher to take root in Africa and I was nervous because there were so many things I did not know. I prepared my lesson plan applying the best practices I’ve learned throughout my career. I was ready.
(Here I am teaching Form 1 English at the Amahoro Secondary School.)
My first class started and I quickly realized things weren’t right. Students were out of their seats and not everyone had their materials. This statement could probably be applied to any secondary school setting, but the reasons behind it made me pause. Students were out of their seats because they didn’t have seats, not because they were horsing around. They were extremely respectful and attentive. Instead of chairs, some students sat on bricks and others sat on buckets. Three students used a makeshift bench they constructed out of a rotten piece of wood and two large rocks. As for the students who did not have their school supplies, I inquired to find out more. I was told by one student that the reason he did not have a pen to take notes was not because he forgot it or lost it, but because he couldn’t afford a pen. Being resourceful, his solution was to take turns using his friend’s pen to complete the notes. I was shocked.
I immediately went to the staff room and took the teachers’ chairs back to the classroom so that the students would be able to sit. I gave my personal pens out to the students who didn’t have their own. I was proud of myself. I stopped and noticed. I saw a problem and I solved it. This was a success! I was earning students’ respect, I was building rapport.
These positive feelings soon came to a screeching halt. I searched all of the other classrooms and offices to find more chairs but saw that there were not enough chairs anywhere. I realized that I did not have enough pens for everyone who did not have one. The problem was bigger than me. I did not have the solution. I could not solve the problem by myself.
(Headmaster Sayoni M. Kumenya is hopeful the many needs of the school can be met.)
Days turned into weeks and I spent more time talking with the headmaster, Mr. Sayoni Kumenya. I learned that the Department of Education told him that Amahoro would welcome an additional 240 students in January, bringing the total enrollment to 500 students. He expressed me his concerns about the increase in enrollment. The school does not have textbooks for students. The government only supplies two textbooks to each teacher, but that’s it. The majority of the classrooms are not fully constructed. The science lab does not have equipment, instead it is an empty room. There are classrooms that do not have furniture. There are not enough toilets.
The last point stopped me in my tracks.
I got curious about this problem. I started talking to students about it to learn about how it impacts them. I continued my conversation with the headmaster to learn more about the problem. I started investigating what are the challenges and solutions in other rural settings. What do other sub-Saharan villages do? What is a sanitary, affordable, and culturally appropriate solution?
The World Health Organization’s website states that desired ratio to maintain a healthy environment is one toilet and one urinal per 50 boys, and one toilet per 25 girls. In order to meet the World Health Organization’s standard for 500 students the Amahoro Secondary School needs to have a total of five toilets and five urinals for boys, and ten toilets for girls. The school currently has two pit latrines for boys and two for girls. There are no urinals at this time. Thus, to meet the need of the growing school, it needs an additional 11 pit latrines and five urinals. The additional toilets and urinals will address many essential needs, including health and well being, student learning, and a clean environment.
(The Amahoro Secondary School currently only has four toilets for 260 students. Already, students wait in line to use the facilities.)
First, the use of pit latrines minimizes the spread of disease which will help to foster a healthy student body. Healthy students attend school, sick students do not. Cholera, thyroid, dysentery, E. coli, Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis E are examples of diseases that can easily spread due to insufficient access to toilets. Perhaps these diseases are not a concern in developed countries, however, they are everyday realities here in Tanzania.
(The student body is increasing to more than 500 students in January. As a result, the school needs more toilets to meet the World Health Organization’s sanitation standards.)
Second, having a sufficient number of toilets per students will decrease wait time. Instead of waiting in line to go to the bathroom, students will be able to use the facilities quickly and return to class promptly. Furthermore, girls who are menstruating will be able to attend classes with the peace of mind that there is a private and clean space for them to manage their periods appropriately.
(This house and its small agricultural plot are directly beside the school. It is an example of the many villagers who will benefit from having a clean and sanitary environment as a result of having sufficient toilets.)
In addition to the student impact, the environmental impact is significant. The local community relies on small scale agriculture for economic gains. Similarly, villagers are dependent on the water source that flows below the school. Maintaining the cleanliness of this water source is vital for the community’s health and liveliness. The ripple effect of investing in the school’s toilets is immeasurable.
The more I have learned about this problem and its solution, the more I have been committed to helping the Amahoro Secondary School and its many needs. I believe that the most pressing need at the school is additional latrines, however, a close second is student desks.
I come from an environment where I am used to using an exercise ball instead of a chair, where it’s no longer only the top executives who use standing desks but the average worker who reaps the benefit of this concept. I come from a country where students can use therabands to keep their legs moving while seated in class. I come from a school where students get recess and physical education during the day and where teachers use Total Physical Response as a teaching tool that promotes movement and learning. Thus, it seems counterintuitive that I am supportive of furnishing the remaining classrooms at Amahoro with tables and chairs for students. However, the context is important to consider.
(Here I am talking with students at morning assembly.)
Amahoro students start their day outside with morning assembly, during which student government representative lead the school through announcements and the singing of the national anthem and communicate announcements. Classes start at 8:00am and continue until 11:20 at which time there is a twenty minute break. After break, classes resume and continue until school is over at 3:00pm. Students do not eat during the school day, nor do they drink water. In fact, the majority of students do not eat or drink prior to coming to school. During the school day, students remain in the same room and the teachers rotate to them. A regular class consists of a teacher lecturing in front of the class while writing notes on a chalkboard. Students remain in their seats while they transcribe the notes into their exercise books. The curriculum does not include physical education. In essence, students sit for 7 hours a day.
(This is one of two classrooms that does have enough tables and chairs for students. The school has a total of 16 classrooms.)
There are not enough tables and chairs for all students. I learned that students selected their place in the classroom the first day of school and that all students keep the same space for the entire school year. I am not sure of the nuances of the social hierarchy among students, but I know it exists and I imagine it was a factor when spaces were selected. Once the tables and chairs were accounted for, a handful of the fortunate students were able to bring makeshift chairs or benches from home. The students from poorer families could not afford such luxuries. As a result, it is the poorest of the students who sit on buckets or bricks. This breaks my heart.
(Students sit wherever they can to study before an exam.)
I struggle to get comfortable on airplanes. I squirm in movie theaters. I quietly move around during theater productions. Sitting on a brick for 7 hours a day? No, thank you.
As far as I know the World Health Organization does not have standards for student desks. I don’t think that there is a governing body on the topic. Nor am I an expert. Instead, I will use my prior experience from the past ten years of teaching combined with my observations at the Amahoro Secondary School to make my case as to why students will benefit from having desks.
(These three boys sit on a ledge in an empty classroom. This room needs a few things before it can be used including tables and chairs.)
There is a practical side of this need. Students are required to take notes in all of their classes. Having a table on which to writes facilitates this process and improves the quality of their product. Ultimately, this helps student performance because their notes are legible. Consequently, students can easily review their notes when preparing for examinations.
(With final exams just around the corner, these students review their notes.)
Students who are physically comfortable can focus on content, instead of being distracted by their discomfort. Thus if the physical condition of the student is improved, their minds will be opened for more learning.
(This classroom is missing just one thing: desks. The floor is finished, the windows installed, the chalkboard is prepared. It needs tables and chairs so that students can learn in a professional environment.)
If a student is treated like a professional, they will act like a professional. Providing tables and chairs for students will show them that being a student is important. This idea might seem far stretched, but in a community where many children do not have shoes, and students go without meals because there isn’t enough food at home, receiving a desk could easily inspire a student to continue their educational career. It shows the student that they are important and that education is valuable.
In order to meet the demands of the increase in enrollment, Amahoro needs an additional 320 sets of tables and chairs. This will finish furnishing one of the existing classrooms and fully furnish six additional classroom.
My desire is to help the immediate needs of the school. The first priority is the addition of 11 pit toilets, 5 urinals, and 1 septic tank. The total cost for the toilet project is $10, 450 USD. The second is furnishing the classrooms with 320 sets of tables and chairs to be used as student desks. The total cost of the furniture project is $11,320 USD. The total cost to complete both of these projects is $21,770 USD.
(Students converse with Project Wezesha’s manager Lucas Lameck as they walk home from Amahoro Secondary School.)
Both projects have been endorsed by Department of Education Kigoma District staff, the parliament member who represents the Kigoma region, the headmaster of the Amahoro Secondary School, and Project Wezesha staff. Most importantly, both projects have gained student support. They not only see the need first hand, they also live it every day. Please show your support by contributing to these project.
Project Wezesha is a non-profit organization based in Kigoma, Tanzania that strives 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; awarding scholarships and providing month-long academic study camps twice a year.
Amahoro Secondary School is a Tanzanian government school in Mgaraganza Village. The school provides the national curriculum for Form I, Form II, Form III, and Form IV students in the following content areas: biology, civics, English, geography, history, mathematics, physics, and Swahili.