Even ten years after my first visit to Losinoni, a trip to this small Maasai community never ceases to feel exciting, inspiring and like a true adventure. My visit to Losinoni this past week was no different. We arrived at the school on the dusty road, lined with acacia trees and dotted with young boys herding goats across the grassy plains. A chorus of blue-uniformed students was there to greet us, in addition to local education officials and school committee members. We were greeted warmly with a welcome song prepared by the students, each verse describing the past AfricAid contributions they were most grateful for.
The dynamic Head of School, Mr. Ezekiel, gave our small group a tour around the school campus, showing each section with pride. He showed us the classrooms AfricAid supporters had previously built, the solar panels installed for a computer and photocopier, and the kitchen where the school lunch is prepared each day. With visible excitement, Mr. Ezekiel shared how significantly the school lunch program has boosted attendance at the school, through the support of many friends, including an AfricAid supporter who has run races to provide over 30,000 lunches at Losinoni. We also spent time with the moms of the students, who make beaded keychains and bracelets for AfricAid to sell to raise money for the lunches -- and who have also come together to pay the salary of the cook as their way of contributing further. All of us were excited to come home with bags full of beautiful beaded jewelry, each hand made with so much love and care.
We had the chance to see the almost-complete renovation of a classroom, made possible by the generosity of two AfricAid supporters who asked for donations to Losinoni in lieu of gifts for their wedding. Afterwards, we all gathered into a classroom, where the school committee members and local leaders had prepared snacks and soda for us, including the most generous gift of all -- a goat to share together. During the celebration, we had the chance to share our gratitude and congratulations for the hard work of the school leaders, and Mr. Ezekiel shared an inspiring report with us. I was particularly heartened and inspired by the section that described the magnitude of the impact AfricAid supporters have had at the school over the past several years:
"The above mentioned achievements have resulted to better standard seven examination results. The number of pupils selected for Secondary School increased from 13 in 2004 to 75 in 2012 which is an increment of 83%. The above progress for standard seven examination have set a new record for this school when compared to our past achievement of only 25% selected for secondary school. This is an obvious outcome of AfricAid support as earlier mentioned."
Even though the school's leadership has achieved unheard-of results for a rural Maasai school, they dream of even larger impact. Most immediately, Mr. Ezekiel hopes to provide a library for the students of Losinoni, creating a shared space for students to read and learn computer skills. With his vision and leadership, I have no doubt that he can make this dream a reality, and I hope that AfricAid can play a role in supporting him.
Although the sense of adventure when visiting Losinoni has remained the same over the past ten years, so much has changed along the way: an entire community has come together to make a new future possible for a generation of young students.
We are excited to report that the computer labs that AfricAid has installed in six secondary schools in the Arusha region of Tanzania are now being used by our Kisa Scholars to communicate with their sponsors in North America! As the Scholars -- girls in their last two years of high school who are enrolled in our leadership training and entrepreneurship program--- have become increasingly familiar with computer technology, they are now beginning to use the computers for far more than just their school work.
After researching the best way for Scholars and sponsors to communicate with each other, AfricAid has set up a private Facebook group that allows sponsors to learn about the general activities of the Kisa Scholars and their curriculum. TheFacebook group also enables private communications between Scholars and sponsors, within the parameters that have been set up by the mentors of the Scholars. This will help the sponsors know that their Scholar is thriving and learning from being a member of the Kisa program. At the same time, the Scholars are uplifted by the communications they receive from a caring person, school group, book club, etc., across the ocean. In the face of the huge obstacles that challenge young women in Tanzania, it is a true morale-booster to know that someone, even thousands of miles away, is rooting for you to keep moving forward!
The Facebook group will also allow the Scholars to take part in a communication/information exchange with their sponsors that uses the AfricAid curriculum that was developed in order to help our Tanzanian students and their sponsors learn more about life in Tanzania and North America, respectively. Each month a particular question is discussed, such as who are the leaders of your community or what type media impacts you the most.
We’re so proud of our Kisa Scholars and the progress that they are making with the help of the computer labs that our supporters are making possible!
This past month, AfricAid's Kisa Scholars welcomed some very special guests - members of the She's the First team. She's the First is a nonprofit that works to sponsor girls' education in developing countries, giving girls the chance to become the first in their families to graduate from secondary school. As a part of this mission, they have supported and sponsored many of our Kisa Scholars, for which we are so grateful. This past month we had the opportunity to share our work with them in person as part of their visit to Tanzania!
When I was in high school, I remember very, very occasionally walking into class to find the ultimate surprise - guests. It might be former students, or one of the teacher's friends who just happened to stop by, but it always meant one thing: a shorter, more laid-back class in which none of us would get yelled at. I'd pull out a piece of notebook paper to write a note to a friend (in gel pen, of course, and then painstakingly folded into some intricate origami pattern), while others would start games of hangman or throw paper footballs. The downside, of course, was that whatever work we did manage to get done that day would have extra eyes upon it, especially if we had a presentation to do.
So when we visited with Kisa classes this week, all of this was playing through my head. I feel we owe both an asante* and a pole* to the Kisa mentors and students for letting us tag along and disturb their classes. Once there, we listened as the girls discussed status quo and their place in it, as another class presented their business plans ("Royal Chicken, where the chickens are fatter!"), and as they learned to fight back against negative stereotypes affecting women in Tanzania. Breaking into STEM fields was high on that discussion list, just as it is in the USA.
We also had opportunities to meet with our STF Scholars after classes were over, and learned more about their goals and dreams. Many of them were preparing for exams, so achieving Division I or II was highest on their list of priorities. They also talked about going to university, and many of them want to study law - a profession direly needed by people in the area, especially by women.
We weren't surprised to find them well-spoken and enthusiastic about joining the Kisa Project. Even the first-year students knew what it meant to be chosen for the program, and told us they were ready to be leaders among their peers and in their communities. We have no doubt they will be!