Thursday 24 October 2013

Different tribes

Somewhere in Tanzania there is a boy working long, tedious hours as a night watchman. Scraping together his meagre wages, he has managed to save up for a school uniform. This boy is clever, but he comes from a poor Maasai family. Whereas primary school is free in Tanzania, a place at secondary school costs about £120 a year for a day student. Our night watchman has a dream: he wants to continue his education at secondary school.
Students at Eluwai Primary School, Tanzania
The children at Eluwai primary school in Monduli
Credit: Josi Hollis

I was told this story the other day while I was having coffee with a couple of teachers from Tanzania, called Fred and Hermann. They were staying with my neighbour, Janine FitzGerald, who is a trustee of Serian UK, a charity that promotes education for sustainable ways of living in Tanzania. Via funding from the British Council, Fred and Hermann have been visiting the UK to learn about British teaching methods at  schools in Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool.

Fred is one of five teachers based at Eluwai primary school in Monduli in northern Tanzania. There are almost 500 children in the school, meaning that he takes classes of about 100 children. It strikes me that we should be learning more about Tanzanian teaching methods. Education and crowd control in the same classroom is a feat few could pull off. 

By sheer chance Fred managed to introduce the night watchman boy to Janine when she was visiting Monduli last month. In turn, Janine found the boy a sponsor so that he could enroll at Noonkodin, a secondary school supported by Serian UK, once he has passed the entrance exam.

So there was a happy ending of sorts, but I am guessing a lot more stories don't end so well. Not that this should be an ending - hopefully it is the start of something great for our night watchman. This boy's experience is so different from that of most other children in the UK, and yet he shares with us a common and cherished belief: we can only develop ourselves through education.

'We feel the same way'

I asked Fred how he found the experience of teaching a class of British students in Liverpool. My fear was a lack of discipline in the classroom, compared to Eluwai, but Fred assured me his pupils were well-behaved. "You know," he said, "we are not so different from you." It was gentle reprimand, warning me not to make assumptions about the contrasts between our two countries. "I am a black man, but we feel the same way," he added later on.

This time last year, Janine introduced me to Metui, a Maasai teacher from the same primary school in Monduli. Fred, in his baseball cap and hoodie, belongs to another tribe, the Chaga, while Hermann hails from the Iraqw tribe. These teachers, all from different ethnic groups, have been assigned to work together in Monduli to educate Maasai children. It seems that Tanzania's educational planners are conducting their own experiment in homogenisation.

On a flight of fancy, we tried to imagine a world in the next millennium, where there were no tribes or nations left, just an integrated global community. Perhaps it will never happen - after all we instinctively cling to our clans and regional identities for safety and a sense of belonging. A more pragmatic goal would be mutual understanding. Fred, Hermann and Metui have taught me that much. It was a good lesson, well learned.

Most of Serian UK’s money comes from individual sponsorship and donations. They have over 80 regular sponsors, each paying between £10 and £40 per month to cover the tuition fees, board and lodging of students at the school. For more information, click here.

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