Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter

Indwe - - Contents -

What do you do when faced with some­one in need? That beg­gar at the ro­bot, that mother with a baby on her back ask­ing for work? For most of us who live in South Africa, poverty and need are some­thing we en­counter on a daily ba­sis. But how many of us think of do­ing more than just hand­ing over some spare cash or some food when we can?

Not so for Donna Dug­gan. The Aus­tralian came to Tan­za­nia in 2005 to cel­e­brate her 30th birth­day by climb­ing Mt Kilimanjaro. Af­ter the trek, her Maa­sai guide of­fered to show her his vil­lage, and Donna was as­tounded to see chil­dren go­ing to school, us­ing each other’s backs as desks, and “writ­ing” with sticks on their skin – a novel so­lu­tion to hav­ing no pencils or pa­per to use. She also learned that for most Maa­sai chil­dren, their first en­counter of speak­ing Swahili is when they go to school, where they must not only get used to the re­stric­tions of a school – very dif­fer­ent from their early child­hood, of­ten spent out in the bush herd­ing goats – but also learn a new lan­guage. And they have to do so quickly enough to be able to keep up with the les­sons.

Moved by what she had seen, Donna re­turned to Aus­tralia and spent her evenings bak­ing cakes and bis­cuits – and what­ever else would sell in her par­ents’ veg­etable shop in Brisbane – in or­der to raise money for the Maa­sai com­mu­nity she had vis­ited. Even­tu­ally she had enough to start build­ing class­rooms for the school.

Since then, Donna has moved per­ma­nently to Tan­za­nia, and, with her late hus­band Nas – him­self a keen be­liever in em­pow­er­ing the poor com­mu­ni­ties in and around the town of Arusha where he grew up – has now built five nurs­ery and/or pri­mary schools in dif­fer­ent Maa­sai com­mu­ni­ties. Of the 5,000 or so chil­dren who now at­tend these schools, roughly 4,000 of them are also part of a meal pro­gramme whereby each child re­ceives a bowl of por­ridge a day – for many, their only meal for the day.

Through her com­pany, Maa­sai Wan­der­ings, Donna also spon­sors 118 stu­dents to at­tend sec­ondary school – some­thing only a small per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion has the op­por­tu­nity to do – and even has four stu­dents cur­rently en­rolled in univer­sity.

I re­cently trav­elled with Donna to visit one of her schools, Ma­tim Pri­mary School, about 30 min­utes from Arusha. De­spite it be­ing a Sun­day, a group of close to 100 Grade 7 stu­dents were wait­ing for us with ban­ners of wel­come, singing a song which in­cluded the lyrics, “Vis­i­tors are a bless­ing . . .” We were met by the head­mas­ter Mr Lang’o, who showed us around the school and listed its many ac­com­plish­ments since Maa­sai Wan­der­ings be­gan sup­port­ing it.

It may look like a sim­ple, even rudi­men­tary school to us, but in many ways it is a mas­sive suc­cess story. The school has nine class­rooms, with two more on the way, and an un­prece­dented 98 % of the stu­dents have gone on to sec­ondary school. Last year they had more fe­male stu­dents than male, which is vir­tu­ally un­heard of in other Maa­sai com­mu­ni­ties. The school also boasts a li­brary, a small com­puter lab, and a gar­den with large, shady trees – a life­saver in the equa­to­rial heat.

As we en­tered the Grade 7 class­room, we were met with shy smiles that be­came broader when they heard that they were each to be gifted with an ex­er­cise book and a pen­cil. “If they had ac­cess to same op­por­tu­ni­ties our chil­dren have, they would all be ge­niuses,” Donna said. “They are ded­i­cated to their school work and all work so hard – some walk as far as 7 km to at­tend school.”

The chil­dren may still have to share a desk be­tween three of them, and a class­room with 100 other stu­dents, but that al­ready makes them con­sid­er­ably more for­tu­nate than the ma­jor­ity of Tan­za­nia’s Maa­sai chil­dren – most of whom go to school out­side, if at all.

One can’t help but be hum­bled by an ex­pe­ri­ence such as this one, not to men­tion be in­spired by just what a hand­ful of peo­ple – peo­ple with heart and kind­ness and de­ter­mi­na­tion – can achieve.

As the winds of change sweep through our own coun­try, we all have the choice of whether we will stand bel­liger­ently with our backs to the gale, go with the flow, or add out own voices to the windy cho­rus. We may not be able to change the lives of 5,000 peo­ple, but even if we each touch the lives of just one other, just think what a world we could live in.

Safe trav­els,

Nicky Fur­niss Ed­i­tor

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