Gongali Village School

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

Monday, 1 February 2016


Hi All

I have just returned from my Tanzania trip; challenging, productive and interesting.

Peter Daniels, one of our directors, joined me from South Africa after completing an organic farming project that he introduced to the small village community of Masithuthukisane, near Durban.

After the usual cellphone SIM card organizing in the bustling city of Arusha, Peter, project manager Mathew Sulle and I drove our rented car to Karatu and spent the next few days visiting the two new school sites under construction.

Tidivi Primary School - Kilimamoja - Huduma Ward
Our builder, Restus Sanka is a marvel of organization. He already has the concrete brickwork halfway up the walls on our first two classroom building. The villagers are showing up at the site to witness construction and offer help with some of the manual labour; digging, carrying bricks and water.
As much as their resources allowed, the village on their part constructed a two-classroom building and an 8-seat latrine type toilet building. We will complete the remaining roofing, wall plastering, interior finishes and painting. The four classrooms finished by end of March is a good start for the school. Teachers and pupils have been assigned and classes will begin next term. Now, we have to focus fundraising efforts for the next building priorities; teacher residences now, and administration building, electricity, administration building and kitchen/dining hall in future successive years.

Project Manager Mathew with a 
future pupil kicking off 
the start of constuction
Laying out the building's perimeter for the new
2 classroom building. The village's incomplete 
2 classroom building is shown in the background 

concrete brick walls rising at Tidivi Primary School

Simba Milima Primary School - Dofa Village

This is our latest school project and is sponsored by The Safari Partners in Vancouver BC, Canada. We are starting with a two classroom building and an Administration building. Next year's priority will be to construct a Teacher Residence building. The name "Simba Milima" is a result of Safari Partners' Chris Ronneseth's idea to name it after a Canadian animal. We submitted a list of animals and the village unanimously chose the swahili translation for cougar or mountain lion: simba = lion, milima = mountain.
Like the Tidivi site, this is a perfect site for a school. It is flat, with panoramic views of surrounding hills, and located centrally to the homes of pupils needing a school in the surrounding area of Dofa Village. The only downside at the moment is a stream gully that becomes muddy and is very difficult to cross during rains. Builder Restus Sanka attempted it and was forced to abandon his 4-wheel drive and walk 4 km on a muddy road in pouring rain to get help.  "Hakuna matata" he says, "we're used to these things". The local council promised to solve the problem by constructing a roadway and culvert across the gully.
digging the trenches for the continuous concrete footings

walls to lintel height

Again, as at the Tidivi school, the construction is efficiently proceeding on an accelerated schedule to complete the project well ahead of the heavy rains in March/April. Restus is confident that pupils will be sitting in class in April.

It appears that the village council is also anxious to contribute, albeit with their limited resources. Along the road on the way back from the site, we spotted a group of villagers meeting under a tree. We joined them and found discussions already underway for building of toilets and the locations of accommodation for teachers. It's amazing how these meetings are organized. No buildings or email are available, but there are lots of shady trees and everyone has a cellphone (cheap in Africa - $20).

meeting of Dofa Village ad-hoc school committee

The locals are excited about this school. We met with the District Education Officer Martin Goi and village Education Officer, Mr Joachim Lazaro to discuss mutual post construction responsibilities at Simba Milima.

School Operations and Standards will hopefully improve...

Mr Goi is the nattily dressed gentleman in the photo. He was newly appointed by the Ministry of Education as the Karatu region's District Education Officer - Special Projects. He will be administering a new much-needed educational program, SWSH (School Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), to primary schools. Much to our delight, Martin advised that he would monitor our schools' operations and keep us informed of academic performance as well as physical needs. One area that we have noted that needs improvement is building maintenance and site landscaping.
This guy is motivated. He told me his focus will be to inspire teachers and community leaders to improve school academic and physical standards. In the course of a week, in meetings with the teachers from three of our schools, Edith Gvora High School, Gongali Aslini and Kilimamoja Ayatsere primary schools, Martin strongly urged the need to produce better grades and more attractive environments. He proudly announced that schools will now compete yearly for "Best School", and that this can only be achieved by strong leadership from head teachers. He quoted an example of the new headmaster at neighbouring Njia Panda Primary School, who, in the course of one year, rose his school in regional academic performance ranking from 57th to 7th place.

The ability to inspire pupils and teachers is of course is challenged by the schools' incredible everyday struggle with basic human as well as logistical needs; seasonal lack of water and food, electricity, toilets, furniture, school supplies, cleaning supplies. I was saddened when visiting a Standard 2 level math class to see the kids intently watching the teacher do numbers operations on the blackboard, but not one pupil with an exercise book or a pencil. They had simply run out of supplies a while back. Funds come from the federal Ministry; a paltry 10,000 shillings per student per year (about $6.00 Canadian), barely enough to buy a school uniform. But the teachers and communities are determined; the few books are shared, local carpenters make furniture, and farmers share food from successful harvests.  

On our part, we are helping. Since 2014, we have donated funds to each school for supplies and maintenance, and although it only covers about 50 - 60% of their needs, the teachers are happy to be at least somewhat functional. Mathew is Santa Claus. This year, from a list of needs from each head teacher, Mathew will be confirming prices from local bookstores and shops and on his own time (remember all his work with us is voluntary; he does this in addition to his responsibilities as the assistant manager of a large Arusha hotel) he will organize the purchase and distribution of some furniture, books, cleaning supplies and oversee maintenance work. Thank You Mathew.

Gongali (Aslini) Primary School - a work in progress...  
This is our first school, built in 2010. It needed a few improvements. From the list of needs, in addition to school supplies, we provided buckets, brooms and mops to clean floors and walls, we repaired sinks that were leaking, we replaced nine broken windows and we repainted fascia boards. We also provided a plan to build gravel pathways, plant trees, shrubs and flowers, and seed grass areas that the teachers, pupils and community volunteers can afford to do within their own resources, to create more pleasant outdoor spaces that will also drastically reduce the amount of mud tracked into buildings.
Watts Up Rocko?
Only 2 buildings left to complete here; a Library/Teacher Room building and a two-family Teacher Residence. The school now has all seven teachers, the latest one a young man (I will nickname "Rocko") who spent most of his paycheques to be "wired" with the technology befitting a modern single person; cellphone, headphones, laptop, stereo, boomer speaker system, TV, and even a satellite dish. A residence was not available at the school for Rocko, however the storage room in the kitchen building had enough space to cram in his equipment as well as a sofa and double bed. And with the school at this time being between headmasters, alleviating the need for approval, the timing was right for Rocko to seize the day and move in. Only one important thing was still needed; "juice" for the electronics, and a lot of it. Well, he was in luck. This school was probably the first one in the country to have electricity supplied to it (our previous project - refer to blog dated 1/5/15), but no connection was made to the kitchen building yet. So with the help of a buddy who knew a little about wiring, he ran one in a shallow trench from one of the residences to the storage room, installed a few light fixtures and outlets, and then, with only moments away from watching his favourite Arsenal team to the background megawatt sounds of Metallica, Rocko excitedly flipped the switch for the crowning moment of his bachelor lifestyle....flip, flick, flip, flick....NOTHING??!!**
... then a visit to the main electrical panel... to witness a smoking circuit breaker!...that shut off power to the whole school.
the teachers at Gongali (Aslini) Primary School
An inspection by our electrical contractor, a reprimand and 740,000 Tanzanian shillings later, we generously rewired everything and restored power with a promise by the new headmaster that a foolishly dangerous escapade like this would never happen again. Rocko sheepishly apologized and I have to admit, I felt a little sorry for him. Rock on, Rocko!

Life at the School
cooking a rice dish
The teachers are supplementing the minimal spaces of our building design by adding traditional structures to the residence buildings; an outdoor cookhouse, a toilet building, a chicken coop, a goat shelter. The initial requirement was for just a sitting room and two bedrooms, but our current design adds a kitchen, toilet room and shower room and at some point in the future we hope to expand these existing residences to include these spaces. It will mean going away from the wood-burning fires in smoky shelters, but the teachers are willing to change to indoor propane gas burners and will not miss the harmful effects of the smoke on their lungs.

traditionally built add-ons; a cookhouse, chicken coop, goat shelter, and shower room

Kilimamoja (Ayatsere) Primary School - opening of two new classrooms
two new classrooms at Kilimamoja Ayatsere Primary School
Construction of the last two classrooms has just been completed and with overnight heavy rains subsiding, we were all set to attend the grand opening on Sunday morning. The villagers had been preparing entertainment and food for a few days now, the VIP's were invited; all we had to do was show up. Well, we didn't make it. Mathew, Martin Goi, Peter and I headed down the highway to Kilimamoja Village. Once there I turned my rented 4-wheel drive off the main highway onto a steep road that was the 8 km route to the school, and stopped to survey its navigability. The deep gully on each side was daunting and the rain-slicked clay surface looked a little dicey, but considering Mathew and Martin's silence as approval, I decided to  gingerly proceed. Within a few moments however, the car was sliding out of control. We slammed into a ditch only a few yards from a deep gully and our efforts to back out were futile; the spinning wheels just got us deeper and deeper. We got out to ponder a solution. Martin, suited with tie and his signature hat, opted to look on from a safe distance while Peter, Mathew and I concluded the only possible alternative; a local tractor to pull us out. Then came the rescue for the embarrassed "mzungu"s.

A few local villagers wielding machetes calmly approached, and after a moment of quiet discussion, proceeded to cut down branches from the roadside minyaa trees and laid them down in the ditch behind the wheel forming a strong mat that the wheels easily gripped to get us out. Then slowly, slowly, driving up the hill, with everyone pushing (and getting splattered with mud), we made it back to the highway. The mat was an impressive solution showcasing ingenious local knowledge. Why didn't we think of it??
We then phoned the main VIP, Moses Mabula, who hadn't left his home yet, as if waiting to hear of our outcome before attempting this road himself. He canceled the opening to a future date.
Teacher Accommodation Critical
Mathew, Martin and I did visit the site a few days later to look at things. The finished two classrooms looked great. Thank you, master builder Restus Sanka. In addition to the schools supplies (that we are now providing), there is an urgent problem of accommodating the new teachers recently assigned to the school. The government response to supply the teachers was somewhat simplistic. Two teacher families and all their furniture and belongings were loaded up onto a government truck and then literally dropped off at the school. They were on their own now; only farmer's houses within 8 km, so no rentals available. The headmaster had the only solution; put them up temporarily in the new 7th classroom since this room is not required as a classroom for another year. Out next priority project is obvious; build another residence building here as soon as possible.

An Impressive Orphanage Project
On a final note of inspiration, I met a couple of young women, Kajsa from Sweden and Sabine from France who were volunteering at a new orphanage designed by Swedish architects. It was under construction at the village of King'ori, near the footslopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. They invited Claud Goi and me to visit it so we stopped in on my last day on our way to the airport.
L to R: Kajsa, Sabine, Caroline, another Swede
It is a very impressive project by Econef Tanzania, an independent NGO (non-governmental organization) located outside of Arusha. Its architecture is sustainable and attractive, cleverly using local materials in tune with the environment. I was fortunate to be able to meet and have a conversation with the originator and driving force of its operation, a local woman Caroline Nicholas who aims to improve the standard of living for orphans in the area.

Orphanage in King'ori Tanzania
 For more information and wonderful photos, visit their website: