Our Scholarship Program

by Rachel Bryant

I knew that what the folks at Village Schools were doing was different and was drawn to it from the start. I admired their love for the poorest kids, those who had been denied a place in the government schools.

I identified with what they said over and over, that everyone deserved a chance at an education. And I knew they were especially committed to seeing girls finish theirs; I'd been told there was a scholarship just to keep the cost of their schooling down.

Wasia was able to go to Madisi Secondary School thanks to the Scholarship for Girls Program

I knew all of this when I left for Tanzania but then I saw it in action. My time started in the village. Wasia, my hostess for my first two weeks, was also my student: I taught her plenty of English. But then she became my sister, welcomed me into her family, taught me about village life and tried to protect me from my own cultural naivete.

As our friendship grew and our respective language skills improved, I learned how she had ended up at Madisi. She was older than students should be in their first year of secondary school, but that wasn't uncommon for VSI kids. She had a truly charming disposition and laughed whenever possible, yet most of her 18 years had been fraught with difficulty.

Her mother had been the sole provider for her family, so she was sent away to the city to be a house girl. There she worked all day every day for a mere 7 dollars a month. When she heard about Madisi Secondary School, she didn't know how, but she knew she needed to go. She heard there was a special discount for students from the village and a scholarship fund just for girls. Though she still could not afford it, her dream of going back to school seemed somehow possible.

I've since wondered how much of a dream going to secondary school was for most village kids. What I've come to realize is that the word "dream" would be entirely too hopeful for their situation. After the year I spent in Tanzania and the hours I've spent studying its woes since then, I would say a more accurate term would be "miracle".

Let me explain.

The Tanzanian government believes in the importance of education and has made some critical changes in the past few years to grant as many of its children as possible access to primary school. A recent World Bank study showed that 84% of Tanzanian children attended primary school--a considerable jump from just 59% in 2001.

But due to limited space and increasingly limited funds, only 6% of secondary school aged kids in Tanzania are enrolled[1]. Most of those come from the city[2], yet Tanzania is a very rural country--the least urbanized in Sub-Saharan Africa to be precise.

That means the majority of eligible students live in small villages scattered throughout the country. As little as 2% of students from those areas who pass their placement exams are actually able to attend Secondary School[3].

That makes Wasia's story not at all uncommon--most of her peers were in the same boat. She had been denied a place in the government secondary school and was bracing herself for a life of poverty in the village. For her, going back to school would be no less than miraculous.

That's how she knew she just had to go to Madisi--a school, in her own village, that would accept anyone willing to study.

It's for kids like Wasia that the scholarship fund for girls exists--to make the impossible possible. It has made secondary school accessible to hundreds of girls who otherwise would have had precarious and unstable futures.

Perhaps what is most incredible about the fund is its simplicity: for all women. Period. Because really, stipulations and qualifications, application forms and selection committees would probably have meant another "no" for Wasia.

[1] Walden Publishing Ltd (2006). Tanzania Profile. 342-351.
[2], [3] World Bank (2009). Tanzania country brief, World Bank country brief :Tanzania, 1-58.