Until next year!

Until next year!

I remember how when I closed my eyes that first night, I saw visions of that reddish-brown road with the dust and the ruts coming at me. Godfrey, Emmanueli and Janerose had asked me to travel with a couple other teachers on a long, two-week tour of nearly 70 primary schools. We held meetings with students and their teachers, and sometimes with their parents, as we encouraged them all to join our 4-month Intensive English program (with Math & Science this year!) that is designed to prepare primary school graduates to survive their first year of secondary school where everything is taught in English! The roads were rough, but the kids adorable. At the end of the first day I found myself wondering what I had agreed to, but at the end of ten days, all I could feel was real happiness that I had gone.

Each village brought something new. In some of the villages, I would run into former students who were now teaching in these primary schools. They were living in really remote places and I could see that they were truly making a difference in their communities. I felt energized seeing them and proud of them for doing what they were doing. Over the past few years I have gone to mobilize the youth in the villages around three of our secondary schools (the three closest to the village where we live), but this year we doubled that and I was off to visit villages around 6 of our schools, and some of these primary schools were really off the beaten path. I found myself in some pretty amazing places -- in valleys and on mountain tops where traditional Africa still flourishes. In the past 15 years here in Igoda where Village Schools got started, we have gone from being a small, sleepy village with a couple of houses having tin roofs and, if I remember correctly, just two small shops, to a community where everyone has a metal roof (literally) and with many people even having electricity! This is what fifteen years of education has done. And now I was visiting villages that looked like what our village of Igoda looked like back when we first arrived. It was like stepping back in time, and knowing that in these villages we still had to convince parents that it was worth it to send their kids to school, and we had to convince kids to come.

In the valleys where herding and a nomadic way of life is the norm, even the primary schools have difficulties enrolling the kids and keeping them in school. As we muddled our way up some rocky paths, we saw the kids from toddlers to pre-teens herding goats and cows without a care in the world. The parents on the other hand were sure I had to be an inspector of some type and disappeared. Masudi who drove us had a great laugh over all that.

At one of the schools, the students were so surprised to see me, they couldn’t stop smiling and laughing, especially when I opened my mouth. I remember thinking that my presence was going to make great dinner conversation around the fire that night. I can just hear it now – she walks and talks and her clothes were such and such, and wow, that hair! The teacher told me out right – they have never seen a person that looks like you close up! Well, I told him, then I guess I need to come back more often!

On top of the mountains in our little RAV (which for some reason failed to have four wheel drive), we found more parents hiding their kids (who were of school age) when they saw our car. We were the first vehicle to come in who knows how long and I guess they were a bit skeptical. At one of the schools, my 68th to visit on this trip, it had rained hard in the early morning hours, and we were so relieved when we made it to the top that we all said that we were happy that the trip was almost over. The road was hand dug and the fall would be over 1,000 feet. By the time we reached the school we had purposed to visit, we were sprayed with wet clay from pushing the RAV out of the ruts and mud. It would have been crazy to keep on going and jeopardize all of us getting ourselves killed. So rather than pressing on to an even more remote village further along the way, we started our muddy journey back, but not after meeting with the 55 excited 7th graders! I was so impressed by the teachers there – they clearly felt a call to make their lives in that little village, with no health care or stores or transport, because they genuinely wanted to give the kids in that village a chance. It is easy to forget in the day-to-day bustle of our lives that not every place is like our village where we now have a clinic in our back yard, and where there is now electricity, transport, and shops where you can buy most anything. Life used to be so hard back when we first arrived, so I know what it’s like for them now.

In each of the 68 schools we visited, the message we brought was the same: you need to be able to speak, read, write and understand English in order to pass secondary school. If you’ll just come to school we’ll teach you enough English in four months so that you can succeed in school. It was fun wowing them with a bit of my Hehe repertoire. Sentences like “Ndilusele Kihehe ludodo” “Komale pa kigoda” and “Mama alikwia?” were guaranteed to make them laugh. (“I speak a little Kihehe”, “Sit on this chair,” and “Where is your mother”) But I reminded them that if the exams were in Kihehe and those three sentences were all I knew, that I would surely fail every subject - with a zero. And that’s why they need to leave their villages and come to school and learn English.

And coming they are! More and more each day. We set an extravagantly outrageous goal this year that we would enroll 3645 new students. To succeed, we put together a team of 5 missionary teachers from America who worked with two of our Tanzanian teachers to train 32 of our students and 103 recent college graduates so that they would all know how to teach our Intensive English and Math courses. But, more importantly, so that they would be ready to be dropped off in villages all around this country and then to head off on foot to visit homes and convince parents to send their kids to school to learn.

They send messages by phone all day long with their progress and at night it all gets totaled up in the computer and we’ve watched the totals rise from 459 (on day two) to 832 and then 1149 and as of last night to 1732, as we broke last year’s record of 1687. There will be more tomorrow, and more after the weekend, and more next month, and we’ll get closer and closer to our goal, each kid tremendously important, every single one of them a huge victory!

I think of the dedication I saw in my former students who are out teaching in primary schools in villages so remote that I honestly don’t know if I’ll get back to see them again. I think of the vision I see in our teachers who teach all day and then at the end of the day go once again door to door finding kids who aren’t in school and bringing them in. I think of all of those kids in the classrooms I visited – hundreds and hundreds – and I want so much for them to have a chance. Life is now back to its normal routine and I won’t be making any more trips to far away villages.

Until next year!