Back to School Tanzanian Style

To view photos of children attending school click here or go to

February already! We very much wanted to say another round of asante sana’s to everyone from home who contributed to the Kilema support fund and gave us a reservoir of funds to apply to various needs here in Tanzania!! To have money available for small needs as well as more substantial has been a blessing. There are many ways and good ways to invest in people here in Tanazania and at times it is difficult to decide where and how to support people best and to assist with the myriad needs confronting so many.

Perhaps it was our good fortune to be here over January’s ‘Back to School’ to witness the rush to secure uniforms, shoes, school supplies, school food fees and tuition. Needs for schooling at every level exist and create the most significant financial challenge for orphan and vulnerable families. I was reminded of how intense Back to School is in Victoria and felt that even an ocean apart mothers, and here mostly grandmothers, are concerned about the same things. From all the people I have spoken with in surrounding villages I have discovered that there is a unifying concern for the education of their children and grandchildren. I have never met anyone who did not wish their children or grandchildren to be educated or advance their knowledge. In fact I find Bibi’s almost visionary in the way they try to look ahead for future opportunities on behalf of their children while slogging on with the day to day.

In nearby Rosho village there is a young grandmother, A., who looks after four of her orphan grandchildren and grand nieces. She lives in a small one room hut made of sticks and walled with cardboard. All five slept in a small single bed when I first met A. and despite the severity of the surroundings everything was neatly in place. Looking at her shamba I thought, “this is an organized woman!” During our home assessments we look at all aspects of a family’s circumstances; health, food supply, housing, sleeping arrangements, animals, income sources and priority needs. The obvious need, to our team, was her housing conditions or the insufficient number of beds for sleeping but when we asked A wha.t she thought was her priority needs she said, “schooling fees for C.”, her oldest granddaughter. She has been living in her present circumstances for long enough to know that she could continue with the same but what she couldn’t do was find income for school fees. What would make the best difference in her life and be a good investment, was seeing her granddaughter go to secondary school.

Primary education in Tanzania is said to be “free” and while there is no tuition at this level in the public schools there are numerous extra fees that collectively mount to make even primary education a difficult financial responsibility to meet. Each primary needs uniforms, shoes, school notebooks, pens and pencil and food fees, which include 20kg of corn, 4kg.beans and 2,500tsh for cook fees to the school cook who produces the school lunch program out of this food.

Allowing children to move on in school is an act of hope for families who have little chance to secure the money necessary to pay secondary school fees as well. Caregivers scramble for money to meet tuition that range from 105,000tsh for Form 1(grade 8) at a government school to 300,000 in a diocese school for example, Olaleni School. At Mandaka Vocational school an adolescent will pay 116,000tsh for first year training in car mechanics. For children without a home, boarding school becomes the only existing social safety net, a place where the child will sleep safely, have regular meals, socialize with children from a variety of backgrounds and continue with their learning trajectory. The cost of boarding school, which most secondary schools are equipped to do, can range up to 400,000tsh.

The question of requiring poor families to shell out for uniforms can be debated when one could say it’s the education that is important. Uniforms do represent a substantial cost and therefore barrier to many.
Shirts 2,500tsh
Sweater 6,000tsh
But uniforms here seem to be a great equalizer. All children look smart, a important value in Tanzanian culture, even if you don’t have resources. Perhaps more importantly they all look equal. One is less able to distinguish who is poor, orphaned or struggling from the sea of greens or blues. A child who has had their life shattered by loss can join and be part of a group that is advancing in life. The economic spin off of school uniforms is also remarkable with a multitude of shoemakers producing high quality leather shoes that can withstand even the rainy season. Tailors and seamstresses produce thousands of uniform items over the year preparing for the high demand in January’s Back to School. Uniforms are almost a form of currency, so much an established part of the economy are they.

We know that all these costs are what hold back poor people from educating their children, educating their children so that the whole family can advance.
Just finished reading, “Giving”, Bill Clinton’s guide and resource book on the subject in which he refers to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, one of which is to ensure all children at least a primary school education. He reports, “each year of schooling adds 10 percent a year to the income of a person in a poor country”.

The majority of funds in the Kilema Support Fund were allocated in January and February to help children get back to school or to get in.

J. was one of the children that was helped to secondary school by the Kilema Support Fund. We first met this boy’s family when a group of Rotarians and me were out installing solar lights. A grandfather from the next house came around and we were told his story. Two of his children and their spouses died of AIDS in the last few years and between these two families left five children collectively. These children sleep up the hill from their grandparents in a house that once belonged to one set of deceased parents and they come down to the grandparents to eat. The total number of dependents for Bibi and Babu to support was 6, including an infant born of a granddaughter now gone to Arusha.
Chris and I agreed to sponsor J. in secondary school.

So thank you to everyone for allowing us to help people out on your behalf. It has been rewarding

We welcome all friends and family who would like to support children and families in this way to remember these children next January when they again will return to school. I can see Chris and I will continue to focus our fund raising efforts largely for school support in the coming years.

Leave a Reply