small foundation with a big impact

secondary choices

10-12-2017

One of the main responsibilities for any board of a charity is ensuring that they spend their generous donors money wisely. With Happy Watoto, because we have virtually no ‘head office’ costs, we know that almost 100% of the donations go exactly where they are needed – the welfare and education of the Tanzanian children in our care. Our duty to our donors however needs to go further than this – we need to ensure all the money spent in Tanzania is spent wisely – a feat often easier said than done ! An example is the secondary school education of our children. On my recent trip I visited five very different types of school with five very different price tags.

The Rolls-Royce option comes in at TSh3M of school fees per year plus extras like uniform, a small amount of pocket money and medical expenses. All in all about TSh4M (roughly €2,000 per year). Tengeru Boys School is always first or second in the region for exam results, is in the top 20 nationally and has aspirations to break into the top 10. A brief visit there is enough to help understand why. A sprawling campus style school for 570 boys, it prides itself on being ‘self sustaining’ – it has it’s own fabulous bakery, a small farm with cows, chickens, pigs, rabbits (we had the misfortune of arriving at the farm during the last few minutes of one of the cows), it has a huge banana plantation as well as sweet potato, maize, beans and a variety of other crops growing in neat vegetable patches. It has it’s own workshop making tables, chairs and beds for the school. The school also uses the pupils to help with all these activities, which helps them learn useful skills about the real world as well as helping as part of the school community. It’s amazing to see. The library is the neatest I’ve ever seen – the bookshelves were pure art in the way they had been organised. Every boy who passed us greeted us with a cheerful ‘Good Morning’, there were exams taking place with lots of boys busy cramming the last few facts into their short-term memory before the next big test. The teachers were well presented and very eloquent and passionate in their explanation of their teaching and care of the students. All of their students go on to study ‘A’ level and many go to university and end up with some of the best jobs that Tanzania can offer a young adult.

So, it must be a no-brainer for us, right ? No need to even consider any other school ? Well, not exactly. Yes, we do have students at this school, but most are not. As well as the issue of spending a finite amount of funds wisely, with the Government school options at 20% of the cost, there is also the issue of the entrance exam, which means only the very brightest get admitted. Remembering that the children in our care come from the most bleak of backgrounds, it is a miracle if any of them get a university degree and go on to become a doctor. It is still a real success if they get employment as a carpenter, or a dishwasher in a hotel or if they open their own fruit stall on the side of a road.

I went to two Government schools. The first was one of the worst examples of a school I’ve ever seen – there appeared to be no classes taking place, and children roaming aimlessly around a dishevelled, uncared for compound. Classrooms had been turned into dormitories for 80 children, and corporal punishment was regularly administered. It was essentially a doss-house for children until they reached an age where they could be officially cast aside to a life of misery. Needless to say none of our children will be staying at this school.

The second faced the same issues as the first – too many students, not enough teachers, not enough money and poor facilities. In addition to that, many of the local children had to walk 5-6 kms to and from school and the new students had an average graduation from primary school of a grade ‘C’ (not great!). This school however, had one main difference – an inspirational Director of the school who eloquently explained the challenges he faced, and equally eloquently explained various mitigations and strategies he employed to do the absolute best with what he had. He was proud of the fact that his school had moved from about 150 out of 170 schools in the region to 120. He had found a sponsor to install a new hot water system, and another to renovate a piece of wasteland into a sports field. He used some recently graduated students to come back to the school to mentor and guide some of the new students. He spent the school’s money as if it was his own and asked some of the wealthier students to pay a small surcharge for food and books. The children appeared happy and studious – even in classrooms that sometimes held 65 students. So, is this a good choice for some of our children’s secondary education?

In conclusion, one size does not fit all and we work hard to find secondary schools that match with our children’s abilities, ambitions, characters, and other practical things like location to their guardian and extended family. Just like choosing the right school for your own children, there are no easy decisions, but we hope with our guidance we are helping these children to a solid future which was an unreachable dream before they became part of the Happy Watoto family.

Richard Lines,
Board Member Happy Watoto

 

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