Gongali Village School

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

Monday, 5 January 2015


UPDATE – 22 December 2014 

PATRICIA ELIZABETH PRIMARY SCHOOL, Qameyu Village, Babati District, Tanzania; 4 Classrooms, Administration Building


Greetings from Tanzania again!

Amazing, awesome, unforgettable. Words cannot adequately describe the experience we had on 20 December in Qameyu Village.
congratulating Restus and the local VIP's

women greeting us - thrown flowers rained down on us 
When Mathew and I arrived at the site, our car was blockaded by about 90 colourfully dressed chanting and warbling women. As we got out of the car, they engulfed us and led us to the reception area adjacent the beautiful newly painted orange-red buildings. No time to look more closely at the buildings, as the mass of about 300 villagers huddled around the canopied VIP tables were anxious to proceed with the opening ceremonies.

Similar to Gongali, we were treated to drumming and dancing then a few passionate speeches by the District and local politicians who emphasized the responsibilities of parents, teachers and students themselves to maintain a quality environment. A few points made;

the handshake with one of the first pupils
“Parents - provide clean uniforms and food; children - study hard, and keep the walls and floors clean from the mud (a challenging task in the rainy season).”

we all joined in the dance
The top VIP, District Executive Director, Mr Mrutu, invited me at the beginning of his speech to accompany him in singing the national cultural anthem. It sparked a rousing applause. 

My speech told the story of donor Ted Woodcock whose wife recently passed away and how he wanted to memorialize her with the name of the school, “Patricia Elizabeth Primary School”.

“…she would be very pleased to be here to see the smiles on all you wonderful children.”

And then I gestured my arms and eyes upward and said;

“She’s probably looking down at us now and smiling at you.” Everyone laughed.

We cut the ribbon to the doors of the Administration building to more great applause, recorded it with appropriate photos, then disassembled informally for congratulatory chats and drinking of soda (pop) for the kids and local “busa” for the adults.
The atmosphere was quite jubilant until the ever-present threatening dark clouds suddenly released a torrential downpour that sent everyone scurrying for shelter - our cue to leave.

It was a tense two-hour ride back to Babati to our lodge. The rain slickened the clay roads causing me to lose control of the car at one point down a steep slope. The one good thing about the trip though was the reduction of speed of the boda-boda motorcyclists who drive way too recklessly, passing and cutting in too soon, creating huge dust clouds. They were reduced to overcautious slipping and sliding at slow speeds. Thank God at least for that.

the new school - minutes later, the sky fell
"jump-dance" entertainment

Election Fever

December 15 was the national Election Day for lower level government leaders; Ward and Village officials; chairmen and executive officers. Next year it will be for the district and national levels; District Chairmen, MP’s, President.  In the last few days before an election, men from both parties (CCM and Chadema) were driving around everywhere, blasting out their appeals to voters through boom-box loudspeakers mounted on the back of pick-up trucks. And noisy celebrations in the streets and bars were the norm – an excuse to party, it seems.

When I arrived at the Gongali Primary School site on 16 December for my meeting with the school committee, I was surprised to see District Chairman Lazaro Titus speaking to a large gathering in the schoolyard. Head teacher Mark Mollel educated me on post election procedures. The school was the site for the village voting. I noticed wind-blown pages of electorate lists pasted on the exterior walls of the school. And today, it was Lazarus’ job to brief the population on the results. Since there is no local TV media, the District Chairman has the daunting task of going to each ward in each village to announce the results. I spoke with him briefly. He looked exhausted. 

Gongali/Kilimamoja Primary School Operating Budget Assistance

meeting with school committees
My school visits and discussions with the head teachers uncovered of a serious lack of operating expenses. Government assistance amounted to a paltry 200. CDN per year for school supplies only, not enough to cover costs for all the books needed for new graduating classes. Being always so busy with building construction, I admit to being a little neglectful in looking closer at the way the schools were operating. The school office has no shelving to store books, no cabinets to store binders and files, not even any binders for the files - just heaps of paper and books on the floor. The teacher’s desk in classrooms is a shared kids desk. Building maintenance is non-existent. The wall paint on the first few buildings we did at Gongali and Kilimamoja is peeling and wood trim is back to bare wood. Some windows are broken. The impoverished village cannot contribute anything significant, other than uniforms and meals at home, i.e., no food program for kids lunches. 

After hands-on work sessions with the school committees of both schools, I concluded that their need was genuine; books, administration supplies, teacher desks, shelving and painting, but no food program as unfortunately it was not in our mandate and original agreements with the village. We painstakingly went through their list of needs and arrived at a minimal budget, about half of what they were asking. And when I announced that this year we were fortunate to have some available funds to at least get the schools in basic and decent working order, to my surprise, the committee members all stood up and cheered. This was a new experience now for them, to actually have a budget to work with.

We discussed administrative procedures, including the need for a bank account, double signatures on cheques and District Education Office co-ordination. And when they satisfied me that all procedures were in place a few days later, I deposited a couple of thousand dollars each in their accounts.

Getting Closer; Electricity at Gongali Aslini Primary School.

Probably the greatest achievement of this trip was finalizing the installation of electricity to our first school, Gongali Primary School. After six months of challenging commitments from both the national company Tanesco and our electrical contractor, the switch is about to be turned on. Back in May, we signed a contract with Tanesco to do the installation, but because we were a “private” organization, we were required to provide the equipment to them. They gave us a shopping list of items; a transformer, cable, connectors and ground rods that we had to purchase from a manufacturer. With no choice, we agreed, but ohm-my-God, we had our work cut out for us. We ordered the transformer from the manufacturer in Arusha, and when its assembly was completed, we hired a truck driver and had it delivered to the site at Karatu. Insuring it in transit was not possible so we took the risk.
The Transformer FINALLY installed

The transformer sat at the site for five months, waiting for Tanesco to get two wooden poles. I was re-volt-ed that nothing was happening. But it seems we got a stroke of luck when, as I was meeting with the school committee at Gongali, we had an unexpected visitor; the honourable Member of Parliament Israel Natse (remember him from the high school opening?) who just out of curiosity and also for good press I imagine, wanted to sit in on the meeting. That was my cue! I mentioned the Tanesco resistance to our electricity connection progress and no sooner had I completed my sentence, than he was on his cell phone. Tanesco started work again the next day. 

transformer repair
Poles arrived at the site the next day, but they were not installed in the locations shown on my plan to run the line to the head teacher office, but instead were located to connect to the last residence building. Their field foreman apparently had good reasons to do so, but it required our electrician to relocate the main panel and do extensive building rewiring. 

Well, guess what! When it was finally installed in December, Tanesco noticed the transformer was damaged. Yes, probably in transit. I consulted with the manufacturer and was relieved to hear it was only a minor problem. He gave me instructions and I hired a welder to reinstall the broken part, which he did (see photos). So at the time of my departure from Tanzania back to Canada, Tanesco was back on the job, current-ly installing the meters and hopefully doing the final connection.

Despite all the hassles, it was worthwhile. The school staff and students are excited and are finally taking the Korean-donated computers out of the boxes for January training classes. The homes and classrooms will have lighting! And most importantly…cell phones can be charged. What a huge life-changing accomplishment for this dark part of Africa! And remember what I described previously about the Mayor’s plans now - to relocate his offices here, build a church, and more.

The two new school projects this year were a complete success. We are so fortunate to have finally found a quality builder in Restus Sanka, and I have great confidence in both the Gongali Village and Qameyu Village local government and school officials to complete their share of the remaining project facilities. Major issues remain however;

Both the Edith Gvora High School and Patricia Elizabeth Primary School projects need electricity, water and sewage drainage systems. We can help with continued donations from our friends in Canada and elsewhere.

We are also fortunate to be partnered with Dr Askwar Hilonga and his “Gongali Model Co”. They continue to strive for solutions to assist in the High School’s development. To date they have initiated and were responsible for the drilling of well-water near the high school site and are seeking solutions for funding of the associated pump systems.

Christmas in Tanzania
Christmas goat

Christmas here is simple, but heartwarming. It’s such a nice break from the Western commercialism. Christmas Day and Boxing Day are simple family times, cooking hearty meals (pilau a highlight) and visits from neighbours who express their appreciation. I was cycling on Christmas Eve and passed a man and his young son walking a young goat to a neighbour’s house. He explained it was a Christmas gift for helping him with his crop harvesting.

A pleasant surprise. I received a newborn calf as a Christmas gift from a local family near my lodge who befriended me over the last couple of years. What to do with that? Of course, it should stay with its mother and I must now pay for its upkeep and feeding so that it may grow to be a healthy milk-producing cow. Haha. I had to applaud it as a very clever enterprise on their part.

my Xmas present

Before leaving Karatu, I visited Gongali School's top pupil Patricia at her home. I was shocked to hear from head teacher Mark Mollel that things had turned worse for the family. The father had abandoned the family, and with no income, little Patricia hasn't even a school uniform to wear. It didn't seem fair to have the school's top student feeling sad and ashamed about her clothing. I gave the family a Christmas present; enough funds for a new uniform and a bunch more for food.

Star Pupil Patricia's family
Valerie and Lillian

My last few days in Tanzania spent with Mathew Sulle and Claud Goi’s families were relaxing and memorable. The highlight was the enjoyment of their kids watching a couple of rented I-tune movies on my computer, a rarity for Tanzanians. Do you remember, a year ago, Claud’s new baby was named after Lillian, the mother of donor Michael Stringham’s wife Charlotte who visited their project last January. I was very happy to see little Lillian in her beautiful white Christmas dress and her hair perfectly braided in little ribbons, almost one year old, walking now and the centre point of attention with her big smiles. We did a lot of eating, sharing stories, laughing and reminiscing. I’m very fortunate and blessed to be a welcomed part of these families.

Asante sana sana (Thank you so much) and kilalaheri (good luck) to all of you in the New Year.

End of Update

Easy Rider - I want this guy's job