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A school in the Tanzanian village of Azimio Mswiswi. (Jane Switzer/Jane Switzer)
A school in the Tanzanian village of Azimio Mswiswi. (Jane Switzer/Jane Switzer)

Education

From Canada to Africa - a school rises in a dusty Tanzanian village Add to ...

The nation’s collective anxiety over the population boom has trickled down to the parents of Azimio Mswiswi.

Maiko Mwansinad, a farmer and father of three, made his son retake Standard 7 (the last year of primary school in Tanzania) after he failed the exams that would let him continue to secondary school. Mr. Mwansinad believes education gives children structure and life direction.

“It’s important as a parent that I raise my children properly and they go to school, but not with a battle⎯that they go to school because they want to and because I’ve encouraged them to,” he says.

Lifelong Azimio Mswiswi resident William Mwangloo, 79, learned to write his own name in his 40’s at an adult learning centre established by President Nyerere, but is otherwise illiterate. Still wiry and spry, Mr. Mwangloo is a feisty presence at village meetings.

“I keep begging them to put education first,” he says of his own two children, who have kids in primary school. “Now that I’m still around in my 70s and I can’t do anything anymore, I see that I could be doing something productive now if only I had been educated. I could be helping myself.”

Like most of his friends, Mr. Mwangloo spent his childhood herding cows. “I didn’t get to study, not even once,” he says. “I never walked into a classroom.”

He isn’t the only one. Official numbers peg Tanzania’s primary school enrollment rate at close to 100 per cent, but that reflects only initial registration, not actual attendance. Education is compulsory until age 15, but the rural reality of Tanzania’s interior means many children have to walk up to 10 km to get to school. The added stress of costly uniforms and supplies means some children simply drop out⎯and no one follows up.

Teachers Ms. Sichali and Ms. Kayange often play the role of student wranglers in Azimio Mswiswi, knocking on parents’ doors if their children stop showing up at school. It’s often the girls who play truant, a symptom of some parents’ reluctance to invest in girls.

“A lot of parents get worried because girl children will get married and leave home,” Ms. Kayange says. “Or they’ll pass their exams, find out that they’re pregnant and drop out.”

Ms. Kayange, 23, became orphaned in secondary school and had to drop out when her relatives wouldn’t pay for her to continue. She says when girls enter the school system at a young age, they’re more likely to stay for the long-term.

Education is also fundamental to slowing Tanzania’s birthrate. According to a Tanzania government report, women with no schooling have an average of 6.9 babies. Women with a primary school education have 5.6 babies on average and those with secondary and higher education have 3.2.

“Early education definitely gives the girls courage,” Ms. Kayange says. “We can teach them from early on to pursue education and make better decisions with their lives.”

Just hours after the TFN event wrapped in Toronto, Ms. McCracken-Nangereke received word from Canada that The Olive Branch for Children’s pitch was successful. In less than an hour, TFN raised $11,800, enough to build a tin-roofed brick structure with two classrooms, an office and a small storage room.

Azimio Mswiswi was getting a new school.

Construction began in April, when the end of the rain season gives way to the dusty summer heat. Each family in the village was responsible for casting 180 bricks for the school’s walls. Local tradesmen trekked up and down the village’s mountain to gather rocks for the foundation, a steep climb fraught with jaunty tree roots. By the end of April, a new brick and mortar shell stood across the village square, just steps from the old, makeshift classroom.

The new school was completed in May, and was officially opened a month later by the district commissioner. Proper glass windows, a rarity in Tanzanian construction, protect school materials from the damaging dust and rain. The two white-walled classrooms are equipped with large chalkboards and child-sized furniture for 45 pupils.

A plaque nailed to the wall commemorates the contribution that made the school possible. The inscription is in Swahili, but two English names stand out clearly: The Olive Branch for Children, and The Funding Network - Toronto, a group of philanthropic strangers from a city nearly 12,500 km away.

The school will graduate its first set of kindergarteners this spring. Most of the children are only five years old but Mr. Mwangloo readily lists his ambitions for them:

“I’d be really happy to see the children of this community become teachers so they can come back and teach the future generations,” he says. “And doctors. We want our children to become doctors so they can teach the kids and adults of this community.”

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