Gongali Village School

Gongali Village School
children at the Gongali Village School, built by Primary Schools for Africa in Nov/Dec 2010

Monday, 28 January 2013


Hi All

Greetings from Africa (Tanzania)

Wednesday, Thursday 9,10 January 2013

An exhausting 22-hour journey

The flights from Vancouver to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro International Airport, though a science in stamina, always seem to bring pleasant surprises, in this case, meeting other NGO’s embarking on similar inspiring adventures; Sally, a 40ish blonde American, visits Arusha regularly to help with English training for Tanzanian primary school teachers; Anna, an adventurous young twenty-something woman is on her first visit importing school supplies to an Arusha orphanage; and Francis, a Dutch KLM stewardess, participates in the company’s “Wings Of Support” initiative that offers aid to needy third world children.

Saturday 12 January 2013

Mathew’s new car – what a ride

The 3-hour ride to the school sites on the narrow bumpy roads is a little unsettling at the best of times, but in Mathew’s new car and with his limited driving experience (just graduated from a driver’s training course), it proved to be just a little more harrowing. Speeding down hills, wandering over the white line, sometimes being totally in the oncoming lane only to return at the very last minute, using the cell phone, braking too late over speed bumps that catapulted us out of our seats, were a few of the instances that caused sudden increases in my blood pressure and produced a few “mild” expletives (that exceed the censor level of this blog). Like a kid with a new toy, however, Mathew was so excited to own a car that he tended to tune out my comments, and actually, I found it all very amusing. His pride in his new “status” showed when we arrived at his hometown of Karatu; he proudly and slowly cruised down main street, honking and waving at friends and strangers alike.

a construction masterplan

The remainder of the day was devoted to schools masterplanning discussions at the District offices. The meeting with Lazaro Titus, District Chairman, and the two village mayors, Peter Hayshi and Winner Msemo, described the school organization and clarified concerns shared by the charity directors and myself that the schools would be properly sustained. Schools are located in Wards that make up the Village structure. Villages are organized into Districts. The eyes and ears of each school’s day-to-day operation is the local Ward’s School Committee, ie, a Chairperson and 4 men and 4 women. The School Committee reports on day-to-day issues while the Mayor and his Ward Councilors make major funding decisions and requests to the District. The School Committee reports to a Ward Education Officer who reports to the District Education Officer. A District School Inspector reports on building maintenance that is handled by the Village office.

One important issue I had was property ownership. The Mayors confirmed the transfer of titles of the lands that were donated by local farmers. The properties now belong to the villages.

Teacher procurement is a critical issue. Gongali’s four classrooms have only two teachers. Kilimamoja’s first two classrooms built last September have approximately 80 children enrolled but are still waiting for teacher allocation. It’s optimistic that they will be available shortly. Since the national Ministry of Education allocates teachers based on the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” system, Lazarus ensures his squeaks are deafening.

The main agenda item was deciding on the next buildings to be built at Gongali and Kilimamoja, and perhaps the new site at Ayalabe village. After much discussion, the 2013 construction priority is a new Teacher’s Residence at Gongali and a 2-classroom building at Kilimamoja. Subject to more available funding, we may be able to add a much-needed water system and perhaps solar power at Gongali, and a Kitchen and Dining Hall at Kilimamoja.

Interestingly, throughout the discussions, I noted a wonderful passion and excitement from Lazaro and the Mayors on all matters education. They insisted on their personal involvement. Lazaro again brought up his personal project to build a Teacher’s College at Ayalabe. As described in a previous blog, it is in conjunction with a new primary school that we may be able to help with.

Sunday, Monday 13,14 January 2013

site inspections and technological hope

It was good news for our construction project and even better news getting new technological information on electrical, water collection and hygiene support systems for the schools. On Sunday morning, en route to the Kilimamoja site, Mathew and I visited Lazaro Titus at his home for an arranged meeting with a solar design and installation contractor. Roof-mounted solar panels at Lazarus’ home provide power for lighting, as well as power for his refrigerator and outlets for charging (computers, cell phones, cameras). We worked out the design and elemental costs for a typical school site. I now have all the information I need to phase in solar power to the schools. Solar panel systems are relatively expensive (around $12,000 for the entire school), but as an initial phase at Gongali, we may be able to provide a few panels to do one classroom building and a teacher’s residence.

We then proceeded to the school site, and were very pleased to discover a new route in the maze of rough dirt paths to the schools that cut out most of the bone-jarring bumps and ruts. Construction of the residences is almost complete – just painting left. Builder Fabian is doing well, considering ongoing challenges with workers’ truancy and sickness, and will have a nicely finished building in time for the opening celebrations this coming Sunday.

Kilimanjaro School Site – new Teacher Residences at right

the new Teacher Residences
On Monday we were invited to visit Mayor Peter Hayshi’s home for a demonstration of a typical biogas installation. Peter was “at the office”, so his wife Fortunata (another very apt name) described the system. For the uninitiated, it is based on the bacterial fermentation of cattle droppings and human waste in an underground concrete tank that produces methane gas building pressure that forces itself as clean fuel through a pipeline connected to a kitchen stove (think propane burner type) with options for gas lighting as well. All that is needed are two buckets of manure per day. The manure is mixed with two buckets of water and dumped into a small concrete well connected by a pipe to the tank. Fermented waste is forced out under the pressure caused by the gas to another small adjacent concrete tank and is used for fertilizer. Great recycling! With a strike of a match, Fortunata demonstrated the stove and lights. As far as use in school applications, I’m not sure…it would mean having to own and manage cattle. But who knows?

home biogas installation – “fuelled” by only 2 cows
Fortunata is also the Chairperson of the Gongali School Committee. We took the opportunity to discuss their roles and responsibilities, to name a few; maintenance, security, pupil (and teacher) discipline, parent-provided school supplies, co-ordination of enrollment, and thrice-yearly reports to the Mayor and Council. She described the many difficulties raising the needed funds, but was cautiously optimistic of the future. After a snack of warm milk (heated by the gas stove) and cucumber slices, we warmly hugged and thanked her for providing such a wealth of good information.

At the nearby Gongali school site, I was treated to some welcoming singing by the three classrooms that were in progress, and afterwards, had some serious discussions with the two teachers, Medard John and Sarah Mollele, about much-needed water supply.

“Mr Alan, we thank you so much for the classrooms, the kitchen and our homes, but we are really struggling for water supply,” Sarah said. “The village is delivering one container each week, but it is depleted very quickly. There is barely enough for drinking and cooking, but what about bathing and watering our garden?”

Previously, we had planned to connect underground piping to a water line a kilometer away, but Fabian advised that since it has no flow during dry periods it would have to be backed by rainwater collection. Sarah pointed out there is enough rain each year during the rainy season to completely fill a tank and that that would help solve the bathing and garden watering. I decided then that this would have to be the next project for this site (and felt badly that we could not have addressed this sooner).

Thursday 17 January 2013

Dr Hilonga

I finally met Dr Askwar Hilonga, PhD, a Tanzanian who ecstatically contacted me after bumping into the PSFA website a year ago. We had been communicating ever since. Askwar grew up with Mathew in the village of Gongali and is a fine example of the dogged determination to succeed despite the many obstacles facing a poor village family. And did he succeed! He’s now a lecturer at the Nelson Mandela University and as a personal enterprise, has founded and registered his new organization, TAHUDE - Tanzania Human Development Foundation, whose “ambition is to utilize different talents of men and women who wish to effect positive changes in the lives of people.” Check out their website.

L to R: Dr Hilonga, Mathew, Nelson Mandela, Alan, Shukrani
We met with Askwar and his Tahude partner Shukrani Majogoro and waxed philosophical for several hours about how we could work together towards “building community”, in particular, as it relates to education and school building. They have chosen the village of Nambala next to the university as their implementation model where a recent successful initiative is the creation of a micro-financing system. Poor farm families contribute 5,000 Tanzanian shillings (about $3.20) each month into the communal pot. There are about 30 members so far. Anyone can take loans out at small interest rates to grow small businesses and farm operations. Later we visited a site that they purchased with hopes of building a much-needed new school in this area. And finally, we wrapped up an amazing day with a visit to Shukrani’s home where we witnessed yet another biogas installation. This one provides all their cooking needs from only two cattle.

Friday 18 January 2013

Arrival of the Stringams

On Thursday, we picked up our project donor Michael Stringam, his wife Charlotte, and her mother Lillian at midnight at the airport and got them settled in by 1:30AM. After a good rest, on Friday, Claud, Mathew and I briefed them on the school ceremonies and their subsequent safari tour.

But Friday was not without a significant event. I was wonderfully surprised by a text message from Claud at 8:00AM, proudly announcing the arrival of a baby girl just 3 hours previous. Later, after the Stringam brief, Mathew and I discussed the all-important issue of the baby’s naming. Some of you readers of my book “From Clay To Classrooms” may recall Mathew, in the tradition of using the name of a significant person in the family’s life at the time of birth, named his new little baby after my wife Maureen. The birth coincided with the completion of the first two classrooms at Gongali in November 2010. Interestingly, Claud’s little daughter’s arrival coincided with the completion of this project, so we discussed the obvious options for the name; “Charlotte” or “Lillian”. Claud eventually picked Lillian since it sounded more Sawahili; Lillian Claud Goi. What now remained was when and how to surprise Lillian. Claud decided an appropriate time would be at a get together at his home on the way to the airport on Tuesday. At that time, she could also see the baby. 

Saturday, Sunday 19,20 January 2013

The opening celebrations

I enjoyed sharing in the excitement of the Stringam’s first impressions and ongoing discoveries of the beauty of Tanzania and the charm of its people. We headed out to Karatu and the “Tanzanice Lodge” on Saturday and spent a relaxing day preparing speeches (partly in Swahili) and enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the lodge staff.

The next morning’s arrival at the school site was as amazing as the previous visit last September when we opened the first two classrooms. Three lines of children led by a teacher danced and sang a greeting and shook hands with the dazzled Stringams.

singing pupils greeting us

A colorfully dressed group of women then filed past, chanting a soft melodic tune.  They led us to our canopied seating area, where energetic men performed the traditional jump dance to the strong synchronized drumbeat of two lithe women. Three rows of school-uniformed pupils then marched in to sing the Tanzanian patriotic song; very sweet.

Next was a dance by a group of local women who invited Charlotte to join in. She did so, with gusto, swaying from side to side, clapping and spinning to match their moves. The locals were impressed with her enthusiasm.

dance entertainment
Mayor Winner Msemo’s greeting speech (translated phrase by phrase in English by Mathew) vigorously expressed gratefulness for the new teacher’s residences and promised the village’s utmost effort to obtain the two needed teachers for them.

I introduced the Stringams in Swahili; “Habari za leo mabibi na mabwana. Ninayofuraha kuwa hapa kuwakaribisha familia ya bwana Michael Stringam, mama Charlotte na bibi Lillian” ambaye ni mfadhili wa jengohili.” (Good day, ladies and gentlemen. I am pleased to be here to introduce the family of Michael Stringam, his wife Charlotte and her mother Lillian, who are the generous donors of this project).

The remarkable aspect of this event was the cultural exchange between two nations; the Osoyoos tribe of southern British Columbia and the Iraqw tribe of the Karatu District. Charlotte is the granddaughter of an Osoyoos chief. After opening his speech with a couple of lines of reasonably-spoken Swahili, Michael continued in English with Mathew translating to the crowd gathered in a large semi-circle in front of the head table. He presented Mayor Winner gifts intended for the teachers; 72 colourful backpacks, one for each of the new pupils. Charlotte had had her Osoyoos tribe’s emblem stitched on the flap of each backpack. 

Lillian presenting gift to elder
Next was Lillian's presentation of gifts, "elder to elder", presented to twenty-two of the village's well-respected seniors.

Charlotte presenting “dream-catcher” gift to Mayor Winner

Charlotte then explained her tribal origins and proceeded to present gifts to the various VIP’s. Village and district officials each received a “dream catcher”. This consists of 2 overlapping 3” metal rings with various feathers attached below. The rings have threads woven across the circle, its purpose as Charlotte described; “when you hang this above your bed it will catch the bad dreams and allow only good dreams to pass through to you as you sleep.”   

Michael presenting drum gifts to Village Chiefs
The most significant gifts were the two hand drums with drumsticks given to the two tribal chiefs, their leather surface painted with a bear on one and a turtle on the other.

Michael receiving gift of giraffe from Village Chief
Michael and Charlotte - wrapped in a "conjugal" blanket
The final act of the exchange was the amazing performance of the senior tribal chief, who first asked permission of the head table to speak in the tribe’s native language. He then led the village audience in a chant as he danced to the rhythm of his own singing, culminating it by rallying them three times with a peppy cheer.

ribbon cutting for new Teacher Residences

At the ribbon cutting that followed, Michael Stringam and Mayor Winner did the honours to officially open the new teacher residences. We took photos of the Stringams against their dedication plaques, toured the finished product and received some good feedback on its design from Peter Hayshi, who stated that the design of these residences, along with that of the classroom buildings, would be used on all other (ones we would not be doing) future school projects in the region.

dedication plaque

Over dinner back at the lodge, as we reflected on the day’s colourful events, I reminded myself how lucky I am to be having these amazing experiences of sharing in the transformation of a community; of seeing their joy and appreciation of our work, and their sincere commitment to maintain a successful school operation. During the meal, however, Claud the excited father innocently slipped out the news of the birth of his little daughter to which Michael immediately questioned; “What are you going to name your little girl?” During the pregnant pause that followed, Claud, Mathew and I exchanged glances. The cat was out of the bag. Puzzled by the hesitation, the Stringams and I watched as Mathew and Claud proceeded to have a quick discussion in Swahili. The result is what I have come to admire about Claud (and Mathew) and most Tanzanians I have met; their directness and honesty. Claud first explained the “custom” of the naming and then announced; “Lillian”. It took a moment to register with Lillian, then she and the Stringams, looking somewhat embarrassed but grinning broadly (and with a few tears), vigorously shook Claud’s hands in appreciation.  

Monday, 21 January 2013

Gongali decisions

It was an early rise for Claud and the Stringams as they left by 6:30AM for a 1-day safari tour of the Ngorongoro Crater that was less than an hour away to view the many species of wildlife, including the “big five” that luxuriate in the lush plentiful confines of its 20 km diameter. 

plaque dedication - Sang and Alicia classroom
Later in the morning, Mathew and I drove to the Gongali school site for a photo of the plaque dedicating the first classroom to donors Alicia Lee and Sang Han.

We arranged to meet on site with Mayor Peter  Hayshi and builder Fabian to seriously discuss water supply to the site as well as another teacher’s residence. Subject to funding, we will install underground piping to connect to an existing water line about a kilometer away, ending as at Kilimamoja with a concrete tap enclosure. We will also provide a roof gutter and 3,000 liter SIM tank system behind the kitchen building for general use as well as a roof gutter and 1,500 liter SIM tank system at the end of each residence. I agreed to send plans for pricing as soon as I returned to Canada.

The Gongali school site - Jan 2013
The way to sustainability

After dismissing her class for the morning, Sarah Mollele, Gongali school’s resident teacher, excitedly approached me at the end of our meeting and said; “You must see our garden before you leave.” She led me to the plot of land behind the residence where, in the few short months since I had been here last, she had transformed an empty area into a bountiful garden growing soya beans, spinach, mchicha leafs (great Vitamin C content) and pumpkin. Ingeniously, to keep the chickens out, she cordoned off the garden with collected firewood branches stored around the perimeter, using the firewood as needed for cooking.

Sarah’s garden
Her look changed to sadness as she explained; “The plants have grown from recent rains, but are now in danger of drying up.”  When I told her of our plans to provide water systems within the next few months, I was rewarded with that wonderful characteristic feature of so many Tanzanians; a generous and beaming smile. To me, Sarah is a hero. Under such adverse physical conditions that seems unimaginable to our western thinking, she is succeeding to not only educate and look after her 30+ pupils, but to manage her own household. “I work hard to survive,” she said with resolve. “This is my home now, this is my community.” I admired her determination. Hopefully we can continue with the planned support systems (water supply, solar power and perhaps biogas fuel) so that her life will be a little easier and her children will have a better chance.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

We’ll be back soon

On the way to the airport, we visited with Claud Goi’s family to see little “Lillian”. She was a beautiful healthy 7-pound baby girl, 5 days old now. They have an interesting custom; the mother remains in bed to bond with the baby for 40 days…and the husband unbegrudgingly assumes the household duties. How great is that for her?

Lillian and Lillian with mother Valerie Goi
This trip was incredible. The Stringams had an experience that, for them as well as me, was rich beyond expectation. How often does one get to be part of a cross-cultural exchange between the tribes of two distant continents with such colourful and diverse customs? Thank you, Michael, Charlotte and Lillian. PSFA and the village of Kilimamoja are indebted to you for your generous contribution and for making a difference in their lives.

On the technological side, we now have a few possible solutions to improve the quality of village and school life. And from our planning perspective, the priorities of the next projects for the remainder of 2013 are clearly in focus:
  • a Teacher’s Residence at Gongali
  • piped water supply and rainwater collection at Gongali
  • a two classroom building at Kilimamoja
  • a Kitchen/Dining Room at Kilimamoja
A heartfelt thanks to the past donors that have made our projects possible. Please continue to support our valuable work.

PS. My mom Gladys celebrated her 90th birthday while I was at the Gongali school site. I mentioned this to Sarah and surprisingly, she quickly suggested that she and a few other teachers as well as the mayor sing happy birthday. So I quickly got my camera and managed to video it. Check it out on YouTube:

And while you’re at it, check out this one of a few of Sarah’s kids and me from my September 2012 visit:

End of Update