By CARISSA MALLORY, Viper Contributor
Last summer, my friend Sara and I traveled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to explore opportunities to help increase graduation rates. I learned about the Tanzanian education crisis a few years ago when my aunt Theo, a native of Tanzania informed me that schools in Africa are very different from the ones here in the United States. I was surprised and shocked to learn about the high dropout rate for students in Tanzania. Their approach to education seemed dysfunctional, flawed and tragic.
In Tanzania, the government has a goal to help its citizens learn English, the international language of business. The goal is a great one. The way the education leaders have chosen to address the goal is not so great. During primary school, (ages 6-13), all subjects are taught in Swahili. As the language spoken in most homes, that part makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that in secondary school, all instruction shifts entirely to English. Suddenly, the kids have to learn not just English as a second language, they have to learn all subjects in English — history, math, and science — everything! And this is where the education system in Tanzania needs help.
In Tanzania, student to teacher ratios in English classes are as high as 100:1. Schoolchildren don’t have the resources or instructional time to become fluent English speakers in such a short time. Because of this, the dropout rate is exceedingly high. Although 95 percent of Tanzanian students attend primary school, the attendance rate drops to 35 percent in secondary school. Of that 35 percent who are able to cross the bridge to the next level, only 5 percent successfully graduate. When you compare the Tanzanian secondary school graduation rate to that of Leander ISD completion rate of almost 96.4 percent, it compels you to want to do something to help.
My dad used to work for the State Department, so he suggested we start there. Sara and I met with the Education Advisor at the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and with other education leaders and decided to help. But it was when we arrived at the Gerezani Primary School that the door of opportunity truly opened. It was a creaky old door with broken panels and was badly in need of paint. The schoolroom was filled with piles of broken desks and what seem like decades of dust.
The Headmistress, Maria, smiled with hope-filled eyes as she opened the door. “The teachers and I have a dream that someday this room might become a library.”
We had brought two suitcases of books and two iPads to donate to their library. But when the headmistress, opened that door, it became apparent, that there was no library to donate them to. Our two suitcases of books would be the first books these students ever had at their school. It was unimaginable to us that a school could exist without a library.
It was one of those moments that changes everything. A dream is a powerful thing, whether you are a kid from Texas or a teacher in Africa. When two dreams meet, magic happens. I don’t remember which one of us first said, “We’ll build a Library.”
I suppose we all knew in our hearts that this was why we had traveled these thousands of miles. That day, our shared goal was born: to fill this room with books for the kids, to help enable the children to learn English, succeed in secondary school, and have better opportunities for jobs and careers so that they, too, can dream of changing the world.
We cancelled our leisure plans for the rest of our trip so we could begin making this dream a reality. We could return another day to go on safari to see the animals. The beaches, rumored to be some of the most beautiful in the world, would have to wait. We had a library to build! So for the next week, that’s what we did.
With no Home Depot in Tanzania and roads even more crowded than the intersection at RM 620 and RM 2222 in the mornings, even small things like getting paint and lumber were a big challenge. But a week later, we had accomplished our goal! The room was cleaned and painted, we hired a local carpenter to build bookshelves, found a cozy rug for the children to curl up with a good book, and the school hired an electrician so we could include a technology station. A local university student helped us install a wireless router that ran over the cellular telephone network so the two-iPad minis we donated could provide access to the online Gutenberg library, with over 10, 000 online books and a world of educational opportunities.
Reading Around the World’s Spring Break challenge
Reading Around the World will have the privilege of returning to Tanzania this summer to expand the library, and we are asking our community to help us continue to improve the library and to hopefully launch our second one in the Arusha area near Mt. Kilimanjaro. We encourage Austin area students to partner with us and use Spring Break to create your own campaign to help us bring literacy to Africa.
During Spring Break, Cups N Cones, at 2900 N. Quinlan Park Rd. will have a donation bin for new or gently used books. Maybe your neighbors have books to donate too. Maybe you can come up with a fundraising campaign to help us pay for the shipping container we will need to send the books we’re collecting to Tanzania. There are so many ways to help. Use your creativity! DO something to bring positive change to the world this Spring break.
As Leander ISD prepares to launch the International Baccalaureate program at Vandegrift High, the students are already busy making international connections. If you have a heart to help us, please visit our website at www.rawli.org to sign up as a Student Ambassador. We will send you ideas on how to run your own book drive. If you have a country other than Tanzania you want to work with, we’d love to partner with your dreams also. Let us know. Dare to dream!