Sospeter and the Lads - his Form 3 Classmates
Dear Project Wezesha Supporters,
Today we're sharing an update about one of our young men - Sospeter. Currently, he is a Form Three student. Next year he will be a Form 4 student, on his way to high school if all goes well!
This post comes from the blog of our volunteer Kate who recently lived in Mgaranza Village for several months and taught at Amahoro Secondary School and in our Academic Study Camp. You can read Kate's entire blog, including more of the pictures that accompanied this post here.
Sospeter is the unassuming leader of the pack. When I search for a teacher to help me and can’t fine one, Sospeter is the student I call upon. He is dependable. He has an old soul, with sound judgement and a calm demeanor that make him easy to be around. He is highly regarded by his peers and deemed trustworthy by adults. As a result, has earned the nickname “the General.” Sospeter exhibits a unique balance of seriousness and kindness.
Sospeter and I at Golden Beach during a Project Wezesha outing. Smiling for pictures is an American norm, not a Tanzanian norm. Hence the difference in our expressions.
Lucas, Madaga, and I walk with Sospeter to his parents’ house. Despite being a student, and only a teenager, Sospeter does not live with his parents. He visits them once a week. We walk the dirt roads to the far end of the village, up and down the rolling hills.
The conversation fluctuates between English and Swahili. Sospeter carries himself differently than his peers. While walking between Lucas and Madaga, it is evident that he is eager to become a man among men. And yet, in his desire to become a peer to his mentors, it is obvious to me that he is hungry for their guidance and positive influence.
We arrive at his parents’ house. Sospeter’s warm introductions to his parents and siblings are sweet. He has three sisters and one brother. Despite the close knit ties among family and friends in the village, I have observed very few signs of affection from a Western perspective.
Sospeter’s interactions with his family are different. He greets his mother warmly and stands with pride as he introduces us to his father.I sit on a short stool, with Madaga and Lucas on similar chairs nearby. Sospeter is to my left, and his family sits on a mat on the ground to his left. It is a typical home visit. We discuss Sospeter’s academic progress, and the family expresses their gratitude for Project Wezesha. Without the non-profits’ support, Sospeter would not be in school as the family could not afford it.
I deviate from the scripted interview questions to ask Sospeter if he could have any book, what would it be. He answers quickly, as though he prepared for this exact question. “Physics.” I smile, knowing that my own sister is a physics teacher. My smile quickly fades. It is unlikely that Sospeter will ever own a book, nevertheless one about physics. Despite this reality, Sospeter holds on this his dream to become either a doctor or an engineer in order to help other villagers.
A textbook like this would cost around 20,000 Tanzanian shillings. ($8.75 USD)
After the conversation, I ask to look around the family’s property. I have never been to this part of the village before and the views are spectacular. Across the valley, we can see the ridgeline of larger mountains. I am told it is the boundary of Gombe Stream National Park.
Sospeter is eager to show us around. He explains that when he was in primary school, he was part of a Roots & Shoots project through the Jane Goodall Institute. One part of the project was planting trees around his house. It is with care and pride that he shows us these trees. No longer saplings, they have taken root. They provide shade, prevent erosion, and contribute to the thriving environment by hosting other living things.
The proximity to Gombe inspires Lucas to ask Sospeter a challenging question. “If a chimpanzee came to your land and destroyed your crops, what would you do to the chimpanzee?”
Both Lucas and Sospeter lack the English vocabulary to define the topics they are discussing. Yet, they do not need to know the terminology in order to address the intersectionality of wildlife management and conservation in conflict with private landowners who depend on the land for their livelihood.
It is a similar to the conversations and disagreements about wolves between ranchers and conservationists in Wyoming. Ranchers state that wolves kill their livestock and therefore their livelihood. Allies of the large canine state that wolves are a critical part of the ecosystem and need to be protected.
Sospeter acknowledges the difficulty of this conflict, but states his conclusion to the hypothetical question. He would let the chimpanzees go. They were here first and they too need the land to survive. Perhaps Roots & Shoots can be credited for helping Sospeter become a steward of the natural world. I see so much potential in this young man.
Sospeter is a dedicated student. And yet, his dedication is challenged. Due to the fact that his parents live far away from Amahoro Secondary School, Sospeter needs to live elsewhere. Many other students find themselves in this same predicament. The common solution is to rent a room from a villager who lives closer to the school. This solution is not available to Sospeter. Instead, he lives with his grandfather.
Living with a family member, closer to school seems like an ideal solution to me when I first hear of the arrangement. Then the details are shared with me. Sospeter’s grandfather is elderly. As a result, Sospeter must do all of the housework.
This is also true for all of the students who rent rooms. They all fetch their own water, do their own laundry in the stream, and cook their own food on an open fire. They wash their own dishes and clean their own dirt floors. The difference in Sospeter’s situation is that in addition to caring for himself, Sospeter is also charged with the responsibility of caring for his aging grandfather. To make matters worse, his grandfather is an alcoholic.
I am told that on many occasions Sospeter has had to clean up after his grandfather’s alcoholic binges. Sospeter does not complain when he reports this. Instead, he states it as a matter of fact, without the slightest hint of judgement of his grandfather or resentment of the situation.
I rack my brain for other solutions. I converse with my colleagues to discuss other possible living arrangements. I arrive at the same conclusion as Sospeter, Lucas, Madaga, and Sospeter’s family: without additional resources, there are no other options. This is the best case scenario for him.
This hurts my heart. Sospeter has all of the necessary traits to be successful. He routinely demonstrates a growth mindset. His intrinsic motivation leads him to study hours on end. He is responsible and mature, loyal and trustworthy.
And yet…. he was born into a family, through no fault of their own, are poor farmers in east Africa.
That is not the family I was born into. And I am riddled with guilt over my undeserved, unearned privilege.
Months after returning to the States, I continue to wrestle with this guilt. What is my role? What is my moral responsibility? How can I use my privilege to help others? How can I bare witness to the students’ lives that intersected with mine and do justice by them?
For now, all I can think to do is to share their stories. To advocate on their behalf. To strive to bring the humanity out in others and hope to inspire others to contribute to the greater good of the world.
If you feel so inspired, learn their names. Visit their homes. Sit with their families. Contribute to their future: Educate Children in Western Tanzania*. Hear their stories.
Project Wezesha would like to extend immense gratitude to Kate for all she has done and continues to do for this community of education-loving, inspired and inspiring young people! Stories are important and knowing these students individually -- really knowing their dreams, their accomplishments, their challenges -- is critical for a deeper understanding of your impact when you contribute to Project Wezesha and Girls Ed.
Thank you to you - our donors for all of your support. Please consider sharing this report with friends via email, Facebook, or Twitter ... handy sharing buttons below! If you'd like to get involved through your own fundraising efforts -- please be in touch and we'd love to discuss ideas! No contribution is too small -- remember, a Physics text for Sospeter is only $9.00
Rai Farrelly & Lucas Lameck
Students at Amahoro Secondary School
Lucas and Madaga - Educators, Role Models, Mentors