#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!

UPDATE: February 2020

This story was first published as part of TEMBO’s 15 Girls’ Stories project (2019).

Selina has now completed Form 4 with excellent results – Division III (equivalent to a C). When she received her results, she was thrilled as this will allow her to pursue a career in health sciences. She is in Longido awaiting placement by the Tanzanian government for advanced studies or college, but keeps herself busy by helping in the home and working in a small store.

#2: 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.

UPDATE: February 2020

This story was first published as part of TEMBO’s 15 Girls’ Stories project (2019).

Today, Adela is in Form 2 and continues to do well in school. During school breaks, she goes home to stay with her grandmother and helps take care of her young brothers.

#3: 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.

UPDATE: February 2020

This story was first published as part of TEMBO’s 15 Girls’ Stories project (2019).

During the school break last December, she joined the Girl Care program at TEMBO. This provided her with a safe and supportive living environment, nutritious meals and access to resources. When asked what she liked about the program, she noted: “I went to the Learning Centre with the other girls and used the Form 3 syllabus books. This will help me when I go back to school.”