By Chris Chagaris
Two years ago, the Greenwich Citizen profiled the Old Greenwich-based charity Children of Tanzania, whose primary focus is improving education and welfare for children in that East African country's many impoverished villages. Our first profile mentioned that one of the organization's main goals was to raise enough funds to build a second classroom for the Endupoto Primary School in a Maasai village.
What a difference two years makes.
Now the school not only has a second classroom, but it also has an education program and textbooks -- for the entire school. In addition, the school has been outfitted with 120 malaria nets. "Malaria is a big problem in rural areas, so as part of our education program, we showed the villagers how to use the nets," explained Children of Tanzania's founder, Susan Rohrer.
Children of Tanzania has also implemented a well-drilling program, which is vital because children who attend the school come from villages that have no access to clean water.
Despite the undeniable strides their eight-year-old organization has made, however, Rohrer and Children of Tanzania's co-chair Lisa Oram are acutely aware that many projects are waiting to be completed and must be prioritized. "There might be a case where we have to decide whether to sponsor a child to attend secondary school, which is fee-based because those are boarding schools, or allocate funds for the school itself," said Oram. "It's a delicate balance that has to be struck. Sponsoring a child's school fees can cost up to $1,700 per year. We weight these situations on an emergency basis."
Two children are currently waiting for sponsorships. A Riverside family sponsors Neema, a 12-year-old girl mentioned in the Greenwich Citizen's previous article. She attends Tumaini Junior School in the village of Karatu, and Oram and Rohrer are proud to say that Neema continues to thrive.
For many Tanzanian children, though, school often takes a backseat to everything from illness and lack of food to tending the family flocks. Only five percent of Tanzanian kids attend secondary school, and even those children often do not have the opportunity to finish school at the appropriate age.
"Primary schools go up to the American version of seventh grade," explained Oram. "However, many children have to stop and start their primary school education in order to help their families out with work." Many teachers at these schools are older children who have only graduated from primary school.
Many schools do not even have essential learning tools like books and pens. "Many schools teach by rote, the teacher drawing with sticks in the mud," said Rohrer. She told a touching story of how she visited a school and gave children She told a touching story of how she visited a school and gave children canvas backpacks and fabric markers for an art project. "They had never seen these before, so they were a bit intimidated and at a loss for what to do," she recalled. But the kids got the hang of their new tools soon after Rohrer gave a drawing demonstration. "Many schools also don't have desks, so kids have to sit on the floor or stand to learn," she added.
Another major hurdle for children to overcome is often a language barrier. For example, it is mandatory for children to pass an entrance exam to attend secondary school. "The problem is, among other things, that exams are given in English. Many primary school classes are taught in tribal language or Swahili, the national language. There are 140 different tribes in Tanzania and each has its own dialect. A huge percentage doesn't even speak Swahili," said Oram.
Since the majority of children and villagers often lack food, the organization is working to build kitchens and implement food programs so villages can learn to be self-sustaining. "The Maasai, who traditionally raise cattle, are starting to grow crops, which is a great thing," said Rohrer. "They need a planting season to help with the dire need for food." She continued, "There hasn't been enough rain in Tanzania despite the two rainy seasons. Consequently, maize prices in Tanzania are the highest in Africa."
One of the schools that the organization is aiming to help in the coming year is Ntulya Primary School, which will serve 600 children from various villages in a remote section of Tanzania. The school's buildings are complete, but books are needed, among other essentials.
Providing proper nutrition to the students is also a major issue. Children of Tanzania aims to implement a farm project to augment a much-needed lunch program for the school. These components add up, and the organization must raise roughly $7,000 for the books and $25,000 for the farming project and the kitchen.
All of the organization's endeavors require a considerable amount of funding, and Rohrer and Oram are very grateful for the donations they have received on behalf of these initiatives. They are fully aware of how the rough economic climate here affects donations, however.
"We are realistic, and we do the best we can," said Oram. Ironically, she noted that last year was their best ever in terms of donations. But they are down significantly from last year, and raising funds is a constant challenge.
Area young people are joining in to help the cause, such as Riverside schoolchildren who recently held a talent show and fundraiser to benefit the organization. "They voluntarily did this, and I think that this is the type of thing that can empower kids to understand what they can do to help," said Rohrer. Another fundraiser, a Ladies Holiday Boutique, will be held Nov. 3 at Innis Arden Golf Club.
Rohrer emphasized that the organization's aim is to see what in particular would benefit each individual village. "We definitely don't go into these places with a Western set of eyes," she said. "Each village is different, and even though we here in the West may think the villagers need certain things, if we just superficially look at the problems they face, in most instances that isn't the case at all. We want to offer and teach them the basics, and then they can effectively make decisions for themselves."
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.childrenoftanzania.com or call 203-637-0191.
The Children of Tanzania is sponsoring a Ladies Holiday Boutique on Nov. 3 at Innis Arden Golf Club.