Late on 8 November I left Heathrow for Dar es Salaam via Dubai and, after battling with the Tanzanian immigration, I emerged into a wall of heat and a myriad of taxi drivers holding name cards in the air…none them with my name on! It turned out that my driver had been waiting for 5 hours (there were a few issue with flight punctuality…) and had grown a little tired of waving my name card around, but we found each other in the end nevertheless.
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After a night’s stay in Dar we set off on our journey to Morogoro and Raleigh International’s field base camp, passing local ladies carrying all manner of goods and containers on their heads, Masai men in their distinctive red cloaks and so many beautiful children. After meeting everyone at Raleigh’s base camp and getting the itinerary for the next leg of the journey, I checked into Hotel Acropol, an old guest house which appeared to have changed little since colonial days, and introduced the millions of mossies who had found their way through the curtains and mossie nets to my trusty 100% deet.
The next day saw a 7.30am start on our journey to Singida – an 8 hour drive and midway between Morogoro, Shinyanga and Ndala, our ultimate destination and the location of our school. The landscape was ever changing crossing from north to south, ranging from arrid desert to lush arable land, from vast open plains to high mountain ranges.
Again we were off at 7.30am the next morning, after a boiled egg and a banana, back in the 4 x 4 for the final 8 hour leg of the journey, arriving in Ndala and to the offices of Save the Children by early evening. We were greeted by Ethel and Emmanuel from Save the Children who are local people with first hand knowledge of the area and its people. After brief introductions, we made our way to the project site and our first glimpse of the Early Development Centre which is being built by Raleigh International volunteers and funded entirely by Lara’s Foundation.
Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest countries and Shinyanga one of its poorest areas. HIV Aids claims many lives and leaves many children orphaned in Shinyanga, many of whom are cared for by the extended family or the community. Ndala shares in this situation and many of the children, all under the age of 6, who will be the first students in our new school, are orphaned and are living with their extended families in the village.
The compulsory age of school attendance in Tanzania is 6 years olds with the Government having a commitment to providing preschool education for those under the ago of 6. However, many areas do not have an appropriate building or teachers and so miss out on preschool. This leaves the children of these areas at a constant disadvantage when they attend primary school as they struggle to keep up with those children who have had the benefit of preschool learning.
In Ndala there is was no preschool. Twenty five children from the village had been taught by two devoted ‘teachers’ in a series of temporary shelters. Currently they are using a partly built market place but once the building is completed they will be moved out. This will be their 3rd move this year. The teachers are really carers having had only 2 weeks’ training, and the level of commitment and enthusiasm they display is matched by the level of deprivation they overcome. They simply have nothing other than a roof . There are no floors, just sand and dirt, no walls, no lights, no books, no toilets….these are the children who will be moving into their brand new, purpose built, Lara’s Foundation funded, school complete with a large classroom, teachers’ room , 3 toilets for the boys and 3 for the girls, and a kitchen. The contrast is stark.
The three parties to this build, Save the children with their knowledge and expertise of what is needed and what works best in the area, Raleigh International with their volunteer manpower and support and us, Lara and her Foundation were all eager to get this project moving.
From initial talks between us in September, through the start of the build in October and to the completion of the centre in December, we have all worked hard to ensure that nothing gets in the way of progress. Everyone is committed to having the school ready by the end of the 2013 to allow the children to start benefitting from it by early January 2014. Everything is on course to achieve this goal.
The school will be known as Lara’s Foundation school and a brass plaque bearing our logo and the words, ‘Dedicated to the memory of Lara Jones’ and ‘Donated by Lara’s Foundation’ will take pride of place at the entrance to the school as soon as the final plaster work is completed.
Having the school is a great advantage to the children of the area but Lara’s Foundation hopes to go further.
We hope to provide books and teachers’ aids to the school and we are talking with our sponsors EC London, where Lara taught English and where their new Library is dedicated to Lara, to discuss the possibility of teachers going to the village to teach the teachers how to teach the children English.
It is essential for the children in Tanzania and in so many countries to have a good knowledge of English as without it there is no possibility of them progressing with their education. Primary education up to the age of 14 is in the local dialect, in this case Swahili. All schooling and college and university tuition after 14 is in English. Imagine learning maths and biology or engineering in your non native language! Only the children whose parents can fund private schooling have any chance of further education. This is why the goal of Lara’s Foundation is to bring English to rural communities.
With this in mind, it was essential to ensure that all the community, local government, committees, individuals and anyone who had any influence in deciding whether it was acceptable for our teachers to come to Ndala to teach, were consulted.
On Thursday 14 November I met with 16 community officials who were very interested to learn about our Foundation and what we could offer. After talking with them and listening to them it was clear that everyone wanted the same thing and that within the community there was a firm commitment to the school and its ongoing success. Everyone of the 16 people spoke with their words being translated by Ethel of Save the Children. Each one thanked us for our funding of the school and our offer of further support. Each was sensitive to the circumstances that had brought the Foundation, and me , to Ndala and one member proposed a minute’s silence to remember Lara. It was quite emotional.
The next day I met with the final person and the one who had the final authority to allow our teachers into the village. This was the Victor Emmanuel – Ag. Shinyanga Municipal Director (Municipal Education officer). I met with him in his offices where, through Ethel, I explained again what Lara’s Foundation was about and what we hoped to do. I asked if there was anything I needed to do in order to ensure that there would be no resistance to this. He confirmed that, although there were certain procedures that had to be followed, there was no reason at all why things could not proceed as we hoped.
No one can be blind to the inequalities that exist across continents in terms of access to food, clean water, health care , education and life opportunities and no one organisation or individual can hope to address all of these diverse issues. By being focused on education and in particular, English Language tuition, Lara’s Foundation hopes to make a small contribution to small rural communities with the hope and belief that in so doing a dis proportionally large improvement will be made to the life choices of those people who are the beneficiaries of the support we are able to give. We aim only to respond to needs identified by the community itself and not to impose our ‘support’. We always to be sensitive to the local customs and social norms of the communities. We always remember the reason and motivation for the creation of Lara’s Foundation and that is of course Lara who is our inspiration and driving force. She is the reason that keeps us dedicated to making Lara’s Foundation a worthwhile organisation, that keeps her friends and supporters continue to devote their time and efforts to fundraising and the lynch pin that holds us all together in our grief. Lara is constantly in our hearts and minds and we thank her for being our eternal source of energy.