A Message From Africa

Nov 13, 2014 | Students

Christa is heading to Africa to meet our girls in Uganda and Tanzania. Our connection to all of them is through a man named Greg Higgins, who lives in Tanzania at the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre with his wife, Shannon, and many very lucky children. The man who founded and runs the orphanage goes by the name of Teacher: Edward Lazaro. We thought perhaps you might want to read Greg’s recent post about how the orphanage began trying to put all their children through a good school, to improve their chances in life. Your help is allowing Jeni Anselimu., Jeni Joseph and Winifrida Leonard to attend this school, so we thought you should understand how the whole story fits together. Thank you!

“When Teacher started the orphanage, the question of schooling was a very secondary one. The exigencies of sheltering, feeding and clothing the children were the most important problems of those days. When I came to the orphanage six months after its founding, we still lacked running water and electricity. Only one of the matrons had more than a grade school education and she left us the first year to take a better paying job. We had to focus on basic things such as building toilets, getting water to the land and eventually electricity. We followed the line of least resistance the second year of the orphanage and placed all of our children in the local public schools. At that time we did not have any older orphans to worry about.

Our experience with the Public School was mixed at best. We sent 14 students to First Grade and the teachers that year were willing to work with us and they seemed genuinely interested in the welfare of our children. However when the second year started, the new batch of teachers seemed disinclined to engage us and the quality of instruction appeared woefully inadequate. Our physical plant and operations were more secure so we were able to appreciate the deficits we were seeing in public education. I do not fault the teachers or the school completely since education is consistently short changed in Tanzania. Teachers are grossly underpaid and sometimes they must wait for months to receive their meager pay as the government dawdles with the release of funds. This problem is rampant in all sectors of public service so it is seen by all in the ranks who work for the government.

By the second year of our children’s schooling we had taken on some older children so we became much more concerned about the quality of the education that we were giving the children. Teacher’s daughter was in a private school called St. Louis and she was very advanced academically. Severa is quite bright and her impressive school performance was a combination of that fact and the better teaching offered at St. Louis. We decided to try Glory there to see if she could do well also. This trial was driven by our ongoing negative experience with the public schools. Within a week we felt as though we had made a good decision. She came home with more home work during that time than we had seen any of the other children accrue in over a month. Her English skills progressed rapidly in an English medium environment. In Tanzania there are two ways to offer education. Public schools mostly teach using Kiswahili for instructing while English is offered as a class. In a school like St. Louis, the teaching is done in English and Kiswahili is offered as a class. English is very important since all higher education is supposed to be taught in English. Kiswahili and English are the official languages of the country.

Glory did so well at her new school that we decided to take the plunge and send our best students to St. Louis for the second semester that year. This was a bit controversial because our children owned many of the top academic positions in the public school including the top student (Jeni A.). As the second semester advanced, it became very clear that the children at St. Louis had a definite academic advantage over those still in the public schools. But during this experiment we noticed a change in the way the children were relating at the orphanage. Whenever one takes action, you should always expect an unforeseen reaction! The children were “grouping” themselves as “smart” and “other” because of who got chosen to attend St. Louis. This convinced us to take another step since we did not want such discrimination to take hold. For the coming year we determined to send all of the children to St. Louis. We have tried very hard to create a family atmosphere in the orphanage and this step seemed completely logical. And in retrospect it turned out to have its own unexpected consequences as some of the “not so good” students began to do much better.

Presently we have over forty children in St. Louis and this created its own dilemma. We had to pay for it!!! The lower grades (up to Class 2) are a bit cheaper per year than the upper grades which cost about 500 dollars a year. It is easy to see the problem when you multiply this number by over 40! This galvanized us to begin looking for sponsors to help with the ongoing costs. Our sponsorship program for school is the only one that we do at the orphanage that allows a direct connection between a donor and the children. Having sponsors to cover the costs of orphanage care never seemed reasonable to us since we were going to provide the basic needs to all of them without discrimination. It seemed silly to us to think that one child would get new clothing or special food while another did not based on sponsorship.

We pay the fees for the coming school year at one time in December. This requires going to a bank where you might stand in line for four hours for the honor of paying your school bill. We could split the fees and repeat the process in the summer, but this always seemed like asking for self inflicted punishment. Taking a back pack full of money (The largest bank note is worth $6.70) to the bank and waiting most of the day is not pleasant. But imagine the poor person in line behind us when we reach the window with 40 applications to record! Since each application might take 3 to 5 minutes to accomplish, your time in line just increased by several hours!

Our list of sponsors has steadily grown over the past several years and we are most grateful for the support and assistance. We are just now starting to notify donors about the coming school year fees that we will pay next month. Shannon and I have built our time around being in Moshi then to help with this process. We will go to the bank with the matrons and helpers. When you have to carry around a backpack full of money, it is a good idea to have as many people with you as possible! I want to thank all of those who have helped us with these fees in the past and who continue to do so now. Without this generous assistance it would be very difficult to press forward to give these children the futures we feel they deserve.

From all of the staff and children – THANK YOU.”

If you would like to learn more about the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre, please visit them at: Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre