Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Helping at the Masai school

I really didn’t expect that we wouldn’t see many more flushing toilets again during this trip. I should have read the small print! Though the ecotoilets in the Masai camp were pretty impressive: a high straw fence around a toilet seat on blocks and wrapped in black plastic; the ground covered in gray stones like some kind of water feature, and atmospherically lit by a kerosene lamp, with ash as a flush. Almost like it belonged in House and Garden. I’m afraid I can’t say the same for our dome tents, but the mattresses provided helped a lot.

What an interesting few days have just passed: On Thursday I visited a poor Tanzanian school, Friday I was on safari, Saturday I was laying on a sunlounger by a hotel pool, Sunday I was iceskating in Kenya and yesterday I got back at 5am and worked for 12 hours. I’m on the train on the way to work again. Surprisingly not too tired. Though I am definitely going to bed early tonight.

The time spent with the Masai tribe was really interesting. It was great to see that so much of the school had been built already with the money we sent earlier. We didn’t contribute much by our actual labour (though I did have fun throwing the mud and cement mixture at the walls!), but I am certain we did by our presence – the message it sent that we cared. On the final evening of our three nights the local children were brought to the school building, more than 20 of them ranging from babies to young men and women. They sang for us, and then we sang for them, this was followed by a dusk football match on the pitch that most of our group had spent the last few days clearing by hand. When the school is finished it will teach about 20 students. There are two rooms off the main room, one will house a local teacher, and the other a Western teacher.

The next day we visited the local school where the students currently attend. Many of the students who attend walk 1 ½ hours each way to get there. We went in to meet them and discovered even the youngest class are very familiar with the word “picture” and were thrilled to ham it up for the digital cameras flashing about. A bittersweet moment, cameras worth thousands of pounds capturing images of a school that struggles to provide pens and books for all of its 375 students (with just seven teachers!). We brought them pens and will send more.

Forty-eight percent of the Tanzanian population lives below the poverty line; one of the poorest countries in the world. Education is a particular problem in rural areas, most families are unable to afford school fees, and although women have been given rights to land ownership, enrolment and literacy rates remain particularly low amongst girls and women. Additionally, HIV/AIDS infection rates double among young people who do not finish primary school. If every girl and boy received a complete primary education, at least seven million new cases of HIV could be prevented in a decade. Pretty impressive how amounts of money that can seem small to us can so dramatically affect the lives of others. It was so nice to directly meet the people the money we are sending will help. Below are the girls whom thought it strange that most of us didn’t have children. In their culture I would be a grandmother already! They are standing in the main school room, we smacked the mud on the wall that you can see behind them; it is supposed to represent Mt Kilimanjaro.

The baby was so cute! He happily let all of us in the room have a turn holding him.

Did I say not too tired earlier? Journey is not even over and I am starting to feel it now, lulled by the gentle rocking of the carriage. I'm going to bed early tonight.

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