Wednesday 21 November 2012

Maasai dreams

It is not every day that you open your front door to find a Maasai teacher on your doorstep. About a month ago my friend Janine brought round a guest to meet me: Metui, a visiting teacher from Monduli in northern Tanzania. 
Maasai students at Eluwai Primary school, Tanzania
Metui's students at Eluwai Primary School   Credit: Josi Hollis

It was pouring with rain and Metui, tall and lean against the grey sky, stood wrapped in layers of colourful shuka cloth. He looked overwhelmed by our very British deluge. Juggling our umbrellas, we shook hands and set off to visit a local primary school.

Metui had come to the UK on a grant to learn about British teaching methods. His own school in Tanzania - the Eluwai Primary School - caters to 400 children with a staff of just seven teachers. He and his colleagues drew lots to come on a visit to the UK. Metui won.

So chance brought him to a wet schoolyard in Henley-on-Thames on a Thursday lunchtime. The school secretary showed us around, pointing out elaborate artwork by the children, lunch menus, a bank of computers and a science laboratory. An encounter with some of the children in the library finally broke through Metui's reserve. His eyes alight, he joked with them and answered their stream of questions.

Back home in Eluwai, Metui's pupils have only blackboards and exercise books at their disposal. For lunch, they eat beans and rice. Each day several kids roll a drum across scrubland to fetch water from a lake one and a half hour's walk away. 
A classroom at Eluwai Primary School, Tanzania
A classroom at Eluwai   Credit: Josi Hollis

Their education is a passport to opportunity. "They are all looking for a different life to their parents," says Janine, who is a trustee of Serian UK, a charity that promotes education for sustainable ways of living in Tanzania.

As we left the school in Henley to return to Janine's house, Metui admitted that he felt like crying. The contrast in resources was too great. Immediately Janine assured him that he had other riches  - a culture based on community living and a sharing of wealth. All that must have felt a long way off in this land of running water - along pavements as well as pipes.

Over lunch, while Metui nibbled a banana and resisted offers of edam and brie, we discussed the education system in Tanzania. Students as old as 21 attend Eluwai - it seems it is never too late to learn. Primary school is free, but a place at secondary school costs about £120 a year for a day student.

Janine's charity supports a secondary school, called Noonkodin, which is next door to Eluwai. Very few primary school children, she believes, have the chance to continue with their education. Janine is also concerned that though the government is keen to get the kids into school, the education system is not equipping them for life outside. It seems the children have aspirations - most want to be a doctor, a pilot or a lawyer - but they have no roadmap to achieve their ambitions.  
Eluwai Primary School, Tanzania
Education is seen as a passport to opportunity   Credit: Josi Hollis

Metui, who has three children (his youngest tends his cows), also has expectations. He hopes his daughter will become a lawyer one day. Funnily enough my mother wanted me to be a lawyer. It would have been relatively straightforward for me to follow that path, had I been so inclined. I wonder what the chances are for Metui's daughter?

On visits to Monduli, Janine says she was struck by how much the Maasai valued the opportunity to go to school - something that we take for granted in this country. Perhaps we have been spoilt by all our resources and our wealth.

When Metui discovered I used to work as a journalist for the BBC, he asked me to write positive stories about Africa. I am not sure whether this post is good or bad - it is just a story. I do hope, however, that education can eventually provide a positive outcome for all of us.

Emma Clark Lam is the author of A Sister for Margot

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