#1: Selina

There is a time to laugh and a time to be serious,” says Selina as she reflects on her life as a secondary school student. In January 2015, Selina experienced first-hand the challenge faced by many young girls in rural Tanzania: poverty.

In the fall of 2014, Selina attended TEMBO’s Primary and Secondary Success (PASS) program where she studied English, Math and sciences in preparation for secondary school. But when she returned home, her parents told her that they had no money to purchase a uniform or pack the necessary supplies for school. Selina admits that she was angry when she saw others go to school. “I cried so hard,” she says. For one year, she stayed home helping her family on the farm. “My mother and father are both farmers, and my mother was sick and could not work. I helped my family, but I was always thinking about how I could go to school. I pleaded with my brother to help, but he told me not to talk about that because there was no money.”

For one year, she continued to think, never giving up. In early 2016, she approached a local teacher in her village. He suggested she write a letter to TEMBO. Waiting for a reply was very hard for Selina: “What can I do? What can I do?”, she thought. Finally, she heard from the Director of TEMBO (Tanzania) that she had been selected for sponsorship. Selina smiles and says, “My heart was so happy”.

Today, Selina is in Form 4 at Engarinaibor Secondary School just weeks away from writing the Tanzanian National Exams. If successful, she will have the opportunity to continue her studies at the advanced level.

Selina can still recall arriving at school: “When I put on my uniform, I thought I was so big, but when I got to school, there were so many people bigger than me. I was so much shorter than others.” Selina’s small frame has never deterred her from her dream: she is a determined and focused student who keeps her head down and her goal foremost in her mind. Selina hopes to be a doctor someday and with her love of sciences, she believes she can make it. She knows that she must focus on studying for the exams. “My family cannot afford to bring me home during the school break, so I stay here at TEMBO. I like the hostel. I feel like I am at home and I am with my friends. It is a good place to study and a good place to sleep.”

When asked about challenges at school, she laughs and replies without hesitating, “A thief! Someone stole my underwear and soap. You have to be very careful and keep an eye on your soap while you shower.” Today, she is happy that she still has the 3 pairs of underwear she started with at the beginning of the year!

#2: Sarah

In 2013, Sarah was given the “Spirit Award” at PASS (TEMBO’s academic enrichment program) for her enthusiasm for life and the spark of joy she brought to the program. Now, six years later, Sarah continues to radiate confidence and enthusiasm as she shares stories about her current college studies.

Currently, Sarah is in the second year of a three-year community development program at the Local Government Training Institute in Dodoma.  She enthusiastically tells the TEMBO staff, “I have to get to class early if I want get the front seat.”  She is very proud of the good grades that she has been receiving in her communication and sociology classes, and she believes that by living in the college hostel “I will have more time to learn and study.”

As part of her college program, Sarah must complete a field study component at the end of each year. Sarah selected a placement at the local ward office where she applied her learning to community conflicts. She was able to develop a deeper understanding of marital conflicts, the need to address early marriage for girls and how to mobilize women to help them understand and deal with personal issues. During a recent school holiday, “I went back to the ward office to volunteer to just learn more.”

When asked about her dream, Sarah replies, “I hope to someday work for an NGO in Tanzania. I have to be strong to realize my dream and I have to be patient. But I think, someday, my dream will come true.”

#3: Adela

Adela is 13.  She walks along the path talking about school, math class, her new friends and more. When asked who inspired her to get an education, she turns and looks directly at you and replies, “My grandmother”.  There is no doubt.

When Adela was young, her family situation was challenging and her grandmother, Dorothea, decided to move Adela and her two younger brothers from West Kilimanjaro to Longido, to come and live with her in her small two-room house.

Dorothea is now retired, and while she can recall easily her own educational experience, she speaks meekly about her achievements. Many years ago, Dorothea went to secondary school, a challenge for girls of her generation, but she was lucky: her parents wanted her to have an education. Soon after completing school, she did  a year of military service that was compulsory for students at that time. A year later, she went on to college where she studied to become a teacher. She was then appointed by the government to teach at Engikaret Primary School for 5 years. During those five years, she married and had two children, but her husband soon ran away to marry another wife. As a single parent, Dorothea moved to Longido where she continued to teach at the primary school for another 25 years. When life got difficult for her daughter, Dorothea helped out by taking care  of 3 of her 5 grandchildren including Adela and her two younger brothers. For the past seven years, Adela has lived with her on the property of Longido Primary School. Adela speaks fondly of life with her grandmother, “I really liked primary school. I liked to read and I liked to learn with my grandmother. We sat at the table and she helped me with my homework.”

Adela continues to love learning and reading.  As a PASS student in fall 2018, she loved going to the library where she could borrow books on the topics she was studying with the local Tanzanian teachers. Adela told the teachers, “My grandmothers says that PASS is a gift, that education is a gift and I must use it wisely.” In January 2019, Adela was selected to attend Form 1 at Longido Secondary School. It was a special day when she walked off to school in her red sweater and green skirt, with her grandmother at her side, smiling and carrying Adela’s trunk.

#4: Esupat

“I live in Kimikouwa in a traditional Maasai boma with my mother, grandmother and my six brothers and sisters. Many girls in our community are forced into early marriage. People ask me if my father has a husband for me, but I say ‘NO!’  I am very stubborn about my education.”

Esupat, age 19, recently completed four years of study at Ketumbeine Secondary School where she was Head Girl. Since graduating in November, she has been keeping herself busy while waiting for the exam results, a nerve wracking waiting period for students in Tanzania. Her first job was in a small store where she helped to sell flour, rice and maize. More recently, Esupat worked as a tour guide in a remote village. Here she had the opportunity to share information about the Maasai culture including issues facing young girls. For Esupat, “This opportunity was really fun and I liked talking about our culture. I am proud to be Maasai.”

In addition to helping tourists, Esupat also spends time mentoring her immediate family. Her cousin, Leah, is now in Form 1 and sponsored by TEMBO. Esupat talks to Leah about school life, about studying and the need to focus on your dreams. “It is very important to study hard and to focus on mathematics,” she tells Leah.

And yes, Esupat will most likely need her mathematics as she heads off to study supply management in September at a college in Mbeya, Tanzania.

#5: Noorkorianga

“My family supports education and wanted me to go to secondary school. My father went to secondary school and my mother completed primary school.”

But when it came time for Noorkorianga to register for secondary school, the family had no money. Longido District experiences periods of severe drought and the fall of 2016 had been an exceptionally dry year. Noorkorinaga’s father was willing to sell a goat to help provide for his daughter, but the price of a goat at the market in January 2017 was very low.

Sitting at home in their boma (traditional Maasai home), Noorkorianga knew that they had a problem.  “My father felt shame that he could only give me a few things”, recalls Noorkorianga. With the little money he had from the sale of a goat, “My father had bought me a trunk, a pink sheet, a bar of soap and a black skirt.”  They both knew that this was not all that she needed and that without the necessary items, she could not go to school.

Together, they came to Longido looking for support and talked to the staff at TEMBO Trust. Fortunately,  Noorkorianga could be added to the list of sponsored students and she was able to join the other students at Tinga Tinga Secondary School, with a full trunk. Looking back on the first few days and weeks at school, Noorkorianga says, “I did not like it at all! The environment was not good and we had problems with water. It was hard to study because we had to share one book with many other girls.”

Today, however, things are much different at school and she smiles as she talks about what she now has including three years of education. “I now have fun at school. I play sports and I enjoy the talent shows and the English debates.” While school life has become more interesting, she is worried about what life will be like when she goes home. “The men will see that I am big, and I am ready to get married.” But, for now, she pushes all that away and focuses on the book she has in her hands. “I have what I need for now and that is OK.”

#6: The Joel Sisters

How can you resist a smiling face – not one, but three smiling faces! The Joel sisters all carry with them a radiant smile, a love of life and a compassion for one another. Of course, each one has their own unique traits as well.

Agnes, now 17, is perhaps the most reserved of the three sisters. Joining TEMBO in 2016, from the beginning, Agnes demonstrated a strong sense of responsibility. She recognized that she needed a good education if she was going to help her mother who supports a family of 8 children by selling maize and sukamiki on the roadside. Over the past four years, Agnes has done well at Lekule Girls Secondary School, always working on her English and love of reading.

Glory, a spirited, adventuresome girl loves studying but also loves to compete on the sports field where her favourite sport is netball. “I study hard because life is hard,” says Glory. “I am lucky. I go to the same secondary school as Agnes. She helps me a lot with my English and other subjects.”

And then there is Sarah, a caring, confident 14 year-old who loves to help others including her teachers and other students. In January of this year, she headed off to Enduimet Secondary School on her own without the support of her sisters. While one might think that she might miss her family, the greatest challenge she faced was “Cold! The school environment is so cold!” And how are your studies? “Oh, they are easy. God is helping me!”

All three sisters are hoping to enter into a helping profession as a doctor, nurse or teacher. Now, who wouldn’t want to have them take care of you with their warm smiles and caring personalities.

#7: Kamama

“I will” resonates throughout young Kamama’s story as she talks about her family and education.

Kamama comes from West Kilimanjaro, a small village on the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, where she lives in a traditional Maasai home with her grandmother, parents, and 9 brothers and sisters. Her father completed primary school, but her mother had no schooling. Kamama recognizes that “My mother never went to school. Now it is my turn.”

Kamama is a very serious student, always trying to gain the most from every lesson. She is currently in Form 4 with a concentration in all three sciences – physics, chemistry and biology. Sitting at the table, she glances at the physics textbook in front of her. She knows that the upcoming exams will be hard but she does not hesitate when she thinks about what lies ahead. “I will pass! I will continue on to Form 5 and Form 6 and I will  go to university.” Kamama talks about the importance of education and the need to help her family. “I am continuing my schooling so that I can help my family. I will get a job and when I get money, I will go to my village and help people in my community.”

Her compassion for others is readily apparent. As a leader in the new TEMBO Girls’ Hostel this past June, Kamama demonstrated a strong sense of maturity and leadership. When asked to register the girls, hand out toiletries or solve a problem, her response was always, “I will”.

As our conversation with Kamama ends, she turns her head back into her books and studies long into the night. You just know that Kamama will make it!

#8: Nyekonde

Getting to secondary school has not been easy for Nyekonde, but as she wipes away the tears, you see her fierce determination to reach her  final goal. This is her story.

“My name is Nyekonde and I am 14 years old. My mother lives in Namanga but I live in Longido with my grandmother. My family is not good. I want to get an education to help my family.”

“My grandmother and I live with other people in a house. The food is not good and sometimes we have no food. In January, when it was time to go back to school, my grandmother had no money to pay for me to go back to school. I cried so hard. I was so afraid that I would not go back to school, but I like school and I wanted to go.”

At school, it can be very difficult if you have no pocket money. Students may need to get their hair cut (about $.60), provide the school with a file folder for your records, or, if you are girl, buy more sanitary pads (about $1.20). Nyekonde’s sister sometimes helps and gives her a bit of pocket money for school, but more often, there is nothing.

“Last term, I had no pocket money, so I had to go without many things. I cut my hair with a razor blade. When I ran out of pads, I had to go to the matron and borrow one. She gave me a pad but she told me that I had to come back in 3 hours with the money for the pad. I had to go and beg others to give me money.”

But Nyekonde will not be held back by her situation. She is a strong student and she will not be denied. “I really like my Civics class. I want to be a police officer someday. And yes, I am on the Star Girls football team. I am also part of the Malihai Club. We plant trees and vegetables and then sell the trees so the school has money.”

Our interview is over, and Nyekonde runs off to join the other girls to play ball. And you know that you have just spent time with a young girl whose strength of character will carry her far in life.

#9: Naserian

“I am 16 years old and I am the first-born child of Sonjoy, the village leader. My father has three wives and 11 children. My mother never went to school, but my father completed primary school. When I first went to school, my father would tell me “Study hard, work hard.” I was afraid of disappointing my parents, so I tried hard”

Naserian is now studying in Form 3 at Lekule Girls School. She remembers well her first day at school. “It was late and it was dark. We had travelled all day. I could not see the buildings. I was with my friend but she was sent to a different dormitory. I could not find my way through the bush. I cried. I cried a lot. But in the morning, I found my friend. “ Naserian works hard at her studies and enjoys geography and history, but not mathematics. Tears come to her eyes when she talks about being punished at school for not having shoes in a good condition.

Despite the challenges, she is fighting to stay in school. She knows that there are many girls in her village that do not go to school, and she does not want to be like them. “When they come home from school, they burn their school clothes or they hide them. They do not want to go back to school. Others have children.” She fears that her community would rather see her married; she fears that if she does not pass each year, that someone will come and try to marry her. But she is encouraged by her father and his strong leadership role in the community. “He is a leader, a mwana kiti, and he wants his village to change.”

Naserian’s father was the Guest of Honour at the opening of TEMBO’s Girls’ Hostel. He spoke firmly and directly to the audience about the importance of education. He inspired the girls to stay in school and told the parents that it is their responsibility to send their children to school.

Naserian is proud to be the daughter of the village chairperson. “But I don’t want to be a chairperson. He has A LOT of work! I will be a teacher!”

#10: Simayo

Nemeel is Simayo ‘s mother.  She is fiercely passionate and determined that her daughter, Simayo will have an education.

Nemeel talks about her situation openly.

“I have seven children. The first five children have no school. I did not have any idea about going to school. But I have eyes and I watch people send their children to school. I think about my last two children – two girls. My husband does not want them to go to school. He wants cows. But I say that these children are mine and I will take care of them. So I go to a teacher at their primary school and I ask him to take care of my children. Today, Simayo and her sister stay with the teacher and his family. They do not come home. When it is first day of school, I bring everything they need to them.”

“Sometimes, Simayo’s father asks to talk to his daughter. I agree and I bring her to the boma. I walk with Simayo and we come only for 2 days. I sleep with Simayo in the same bed. I make sure Simayo is safe. When she comes home, her brothers try to tell her to go to the forest to get firewood, but I know there are warriors out there. I stay with her always and then we go back to the teacher’s house. I protect her.”

Simayo, now in Form 3,  is enthusiastic about learning, has an insatiable curiosity and a focused attention on her studies.  She says,  “I love school and I want to do well. When I come to TEC during the school break, I must review all subjects and get help from the teachers.”

Despite Simayo’s passion for education, she remains at great risk of being forced into marriage. She knows what great lengths her mother has gone to make sure she receives an education. She has the same fierce determination as her mother.

#11: Paulina

“We Maasai girls have not been given a good chance to study. Even me, I am a good example. When I finished my primary level and I passed to go to secondary school I lost hope because when I tried to call for help from any relative everybody ran from me. They said they have a student who benefit from them and they cannot manage to help me. So I lost hope. I started to give  up. My mother told me no other way. She told me that I needed to find a job and to let that money go to school for my siblings. I was crying all the time. I remembered that the goals which I had planned to reach now had been demolished.

Today, I am in secondary school and the thing is that I cannot believe it. In school, I try my level best so that I cannot fail. Even if school is tough, I try. I continue like this because without pain, there is no gain.”

Paulina lives in a village just up the road from Longido and was selected to attend  the first offering of TEMBO’s PASS program in 2013. Her mother takes in laundry or cleans houses when she can find work, but had no money to send Paulina to school. As TEMBO-sponsored student, Paulina completed her first four years of secondary school at Lekule Girls School and passed the national exams at the end of Form 4 with Division II (equivalent to B+) In July 2018. Paulina moved to a new school near Lake Victoria where she is completing her ‘A’ Level schooling (Form 5 & 6).  She has made good friends at her new school but she has had little to no opportunity to explore her new environment.  “I am always studying. Yes, I can look out the window, but I only see the tops of the buildings. I have to look at my books now. Maybe later I will see Lake Victoria.”

At the end of Form 5, Paulina returned home for the school leave carrying with her as many books as she could carry. She stayed in the new Girls’ Hostel so that she might be closer to the academic support provided by the local secondary school teachers. Two days before heading back to school, she went home to pack her bag and help her brothers get ready for school. “I have to be there for them. My mother is away trying to find work and my brothers live with a neighbor. I try to focus on what is right in front of me now. Today, my brothers. Tomorrow, my education.”

#12: Tepeyan

“My parents only wish me to get married. They wish that they could get a cow. The only advice that I got from my mother was to go to a celebration. We went to these celebrations and we meet morans (young Maasai men). I told my mother that I was still young, but she said, ‘Just go!’ We are young and we do not know anything. The celebrations are at night and the boys and girls sing and dance – like a disco. The men approach and we are still young, and we are afraid of the men. When we run to our mothers, they tell us to ‘Go.’ When those men catch us, we are still young. We can do nothing. The result is that we get pregnant.”

“But I have learned. I think I was good at education. This happened to me, so I learn from this for my child. I can teach her not to go there (celebrations). I have a daughter – my first-born. She is at school in baby class (nursery school). She is still young, only 8 years old, and she can learn languages at school. It is very important that she get education. When I see any child who does not go to school, I feel pain in my heart. Life without education will be very difficult. If you do not have any education, you will have nothing.”

“Education has helped me. I have learned a few things, like to make beads, like make clothes and to keep livestock and a farm. I have a little education but I know that it is very important to bring my children to school.”

“My dream for my daughter is…I wish for her what I wanted. I wanted to be a doctor or an engineer. My best subjects were physics and biology, I think she will do well. I believe in her and she will do if she wishes. I will protect her. I do not wish my daughter to pass the way I did.”

Tepeyan is now 23-years old and lives with her husband and three children in a small village near Longido. She works for TEMBO Trust as a matron during the TEC (Tembo English Camp) and PASS (Primary and Secondary School) program. She is an excellent role-model for the young girls and talks with them about the importance of education.

#13: Noosiria

“Today, I am leaving for college. I am going to study in Moshi at the Forestry Institute in Tanzania (FIT).”

Noosiria has just arrived at TEMBO to say goodbye and pick up the forms that she must take with her to school. She stands confidently as she talks about what college means to her and why she chose this program.

“I want to protect my environment, to protect the trees. I want to prevent people from cutting the trees. Sometimes people come from outside to take away our trees. I don’t like this. When I finish college and I get a job, I can help to make a good forest.”

“I completed four years of secondary school at Enduimet Secondary School. It was a good environment because it was close to Mount Kilimanjaro. I really like school. When I was in school, I liked sciences. At FIT, I will also study sciences.”

Noosiria lives in Longido and attended the PASS program in 2014. She then continued as a TEMBO-sponsored girl for 4 years. Today, she stands at TEMBO under the trees in the garden. She can still remember the lesson taught by the TEMBO gardener about planting trees. One day, perhaps she will return to Longido and help restore the land that has been severely impacted by the cutting of trees, erosion and severe drought.

But for now, she must run – the bus is leaving soon.

#14: Witness

Just like many new graduates in Canada, 23 year old Witness was worried that she might not find a job. Two months ago she completed her studies in Education and she was ready to put all that learning into application.

With the support of TEMBO, Witness completed secondary school, graduating from Form 6 at Iringa Advanced Secondary School. From there, she went on to earn her B.A. in Education at Ruaha Catholic University, specializing in English and Geography.

Witness has been connected with TEMBO since her father passed away in 2011. Her aunt asked TEMBO to support her niece and TEMBO agreed by paying for Witness’ school fees and supplies, school uniform and more. During secondary school, Witness attended TEC (TEMBO English Camp) twice and she credits this experience with improved English skills, increased confidence, learning to cooperate with other girls, and sharing ideas.

After completing her teacher training, Witness focused her attention on finding a job. In a competitive job market, this is not an easy task. “I am willing to travel anywhere in Tanzania for a position that suits my qualifications.” While searching, she taught in the Preform 1 program at LIL (TEMBO’s Longido Learning Centre) where she taught 20 girls and boys. How does she like teaching? “I like the students because they show cooperation,” she says. “Although,” she adds, “Sometimes they disturb you when you are teaching because they like to play.”

Just prior to releasing this post (November 2019) Witness notified TEMBO that she had accepted a teaching position in Mwanza. She was very excited as she packed her bag and headed off for what we hope will be a prosperous and rewarding career for Witness.

#15: Ngaaya

“I fear that my father will marry me off if I go home. I do not understand why he wants this for me but I know that it is true. When I talk with him on the telephone, he tells me to come home, that he wants to see me. But I know that it is not safe for me at home.”

In 2015, Ngaaya arrived at TEMBO with nothing more than the clothes she was wearing. She had come on a motorcycle from a remote village outside of Longido. Ngaaya had been accepted to attend Pre-Form 1, but her father was reluctant to send her. Following traditional Maasai culture, he wanted his 13-year old daughter to be married.

“I came to PASS and I worked hard. I did not understand mathematics but I tried. I stayed at TEMBO during the school breaks because I could not go home. I went to the Learning Centre. I asked teachers for help.”

During her four years of secondary school, Ngaaya has grown into a confident young woman. This past year at the TEMBO English Camp, she took on the challenge of being the MC for the fashion show, a student-organized event on the final evening. “At first, I said no, because I did not think I could do it. But then I said YES. Maybe I will try.” Ngaaya’s performance as MC was a hit with the other girls thanks to her engaging, spirited personality.

Last week, Ngaaya completed her Form 4 exams and returned to TEMBO. Now, she is thinking about what she might do. She recalls a tour guide visiting her school and she thinks that maybe this is something she can do. “I am Maasai and I can talk about my culture.” Ngaaya is very grateful to all of the people who have helped her get an education and who have helped her get this far in life, and yes, she wants “nice results on the exam.”