In the aptly named Valley of Hard Rocks in Kunduchi, just outside Dar es Salaam, children use a hammer and their bare hands to break stones in a limestone quarry. It typically takes them an hour to fill one bucket. If they are lucky they will be paid eight cents for their labor. Three hours of work under an equatorial sun and three buckets of rocks will earn one child enough to buy one small loaf of bread.
Jacabo, aged 15, told a visiting Times of London reporter recently that his chest ached and he is dirty all the time. Another 15 year-old, Tumaini, voiced the sentiment of many when explaining: “I have no choice. It’s the only way I can earn money to feed my mother and my brothers and sisters.”
Jacabo and Tumaini’s stories are not deemed particularly unusual or harsh in present-day Tanzania. Among its 4.7 million school-aged children engaged in economic activity, 300,000 are engaged in the worst forms of child labor. They work for nominal wages in quarrying, commercial farming, mining, dump scavenging, domestic service, hawking and as street vendors. Girls as young as seven are sexually exploited.
A commitment to offer Jacabo, Tumaini and other children in such circumstances other choices inspires the Freeplay Foundation to request funding support for radio education projects in Tanzania. With a sound basic education, these children who deserve so much more out of life may stand some chance of climbing up onto the first rung of the ladder of self-help.
Now every weekday morning at 10 a.m. the children of the Valley of Hard Rocks stop their labor and gather in a hut at the edge of the quarry, where they perch together around a bright blue Lifeline radio. Their mentor, a dedicated man called Freddy Kennedy, pays for the hire of this makeshift schoolroom out of his own small earnings. With the aid of radio programs aired five days a week, he leads the children in literacy classes which he hopes will enable them one day to fulfill their dreams.
For Jacabo that would mean becoming a human rights lawyer, while Tumaini would settle simply for “a better life”.
Several thousand self-powered Lifelines have already been distributed by the Freeplay Foundation in Tanzania since April 2003, to support basic primary education in informal learning centers like the one at Valley of Hard Rocks, as well as in youth leadership programs in the UNHCR refugee camps for Burundians in West Tanzania.
In 2002, the foundation’s principal Tanzanian partner EDC undertook a pilot distance-learning initiative called Mambo Elimu or “Education is Everything” in Swahili. EDC created 100 interactive radio instruction (IRI) lessons for grades 1-4, and offered them through Mambo Elimu centers in areas with high concentrations of child laborers and orphans. The curriculum includes: Swahili, math, English and science. Life skills are also taught to improve problem solving, first aid, hygiene, and health.
After completing fourth grade, children are helped to integrate into either Tanzania’s formal school system or enter a vocational program that will prepare them for more stable, less dangerous work. Children up to 17 years are welcome in the first grade of informal centers, whereas in government schools, if children have not begun school by age 7 it becomes progressively difficult for them to enter. After 14 they can no longer be admitted and are therefore forever excluded.
The Mambo Elimu project has been a remarkable success and radio access via self-powered Lifelines is a crucial component of the project, for electricity is non-existent in remote rural areas and neither children nor mentors can afford to replace radio batteries that cost more than a typical day’s wages.
The project is being expanded and scaled up as quickly as donations of radios and the creation of new grade level radio programs will allow. EDC currently is developing scripts for Grades 5 and 6 and by 2009 will have introduced a Grade 7 full year program, to include extra English and business skills training. In 2010, the Mambo Elimu program will be handed over fully to the Tanzanian Ministry of Education and EDC will withdraw. The Freeplay Foundation expects to continue its work of fundraising and radio distribution indefinitely, until the five million Tanzanian children currently out of school all have the right of access to a basic education.
The latest shipment of more than 1,000 Lifeline radios will meet the needs of about 40,000 children. Included in this shipment, which is planned to leave Johannesburg at the end of August and arrive in Tanzania in early September, are radios donated by Global Giving donors during 2006. The Lifelines will be distributed during the final quarter of this year to mentors and teachers of children who are all desperately in need and who yearn to receive a primary education that can help them exit from poverty.
The Tanzanian government’s own quantitative measures are proving the success of Mambo Elimu. Children attending classes take the standard Tanzanian government exams. Mambo Elimu children routinely achieve results at least as good as the average scores for their grade. And they complete grades in just half a year, so progress at twice the rate of formal school children.
An inter-school exam included a formal Primary School and its informal Mambo Elimu Center counterpart. The headmaster of the formal primary school prepared the exam. The top 13 scores came from Mambo Elimu learners. Teachers and children from the primary school declared themselves unhappy about this result. They requested another exam. Once again, Mambo Elimu students achieved the top scores.