Giving children the chance to choose

Our head of fundraising, Ronan McCay reflects on his recent trip to Tanzania to visit our international projects. In part two of his Tanzania Diary Ronan visits Morogoro.

Last night I ate whole fish on the bone for the first time in my life. I’d always been put off by the little eyes looking up at me from the plate, but I came to Africa determined to embrace the local way of doing things and there was no backing down now. Besides, if my Tanzanian colleague Heri was willing to try tobacco onions during his visit to Derry last year, the least I could do was to show similar respect for his country’s culinary traditions. It was delicious, and by the time I return to Ireland I’ll have eaten three more. Having spent the morning with children who get porridge at school and for many little else at home, I’m frankly very glad for what I got.

The sun rises and sets around the same time year-round in Tanzania, and the people here rise with it to make the most of the day ahead. We’re out of the hotel and on the road by 7:30am, headed for Morogoro’s Mvomero district. I’ve so many questions I want to ask but as we drive along I just want to silently soak in the sights and the scenery.

Protocol advises that before visiting any schools we, first of all, meet local government officials to brief them on our plans. We are warmly welcomed at the council offices – my colleague translates from Swahili to English for me – and sincerely thanked for Children in Crossfire’s support. Once we’ve signed the visitors’ book, we’re back in the jeep and on our way again, now accompanied by an education officer.

I’m excited to see our early years’ education programme in action – I’ve come 5,000 miles for this, after all. A couple of hours more and we pull up at Madizini Primary School. Three blocks of classrooms box in a large clay square that serves as play area, open-air classrooms and more. Under the shade of a tree a teacher sits marking exercise books – office space is at a premium here so everyone makes lemonade from lemons.

We’re greeted by the head teacher. I don’t have to understand what she’s saying to immediately know she’s a formidable woman. There are a lot of formidable women in Tanzania. Along with the chairman of the parent/teacher committee and some parents of pupils in our pre-school programme, she shows us around the school as we talk.

Eventually she introduces us to Monica, the pre-school teacher. We take our seats at the back of the classroom and watch on as she engages her pupils. Monica doesn’t just educate them; she also captivates and motivates them. Her energy is infectious and these little children are in thrall to her, as are those of us observing. As adults, we all remember the teachers who inspired us when we were small and these children will remember Monica.

Children in Crossfire kitted out this classroom with all the resources Monica needs to help her pupils learn. Books, toys, stationery, equipment all provided by us – and by our supporters. We also trained her, and now she’s working with other pre-school teachers in the area to help empower and enable them.

Madizini exemplifies Children in Crossfire’s positive impact on young lives. But it also typifies the challenges schools across the country face: vast overcrowding, too few teachers, insufficient resources to meet the needs of all the year-groups. They are building a couple of new classrooms but, astonishingly, they need almost 40 more. A couple of the teachers live in government allocated accommodation within the school grounds but I’m told that others, who aren’t from the local area fend for themselves to find very most basic accommodation, miles from home and their own loved ones. I don’t have the heart to ask if Monica, who’s celebrating her birthday, is one of them. I still wonder if that’s the sort of sacrifice she makes for the wellbeing of the pupils in her care.

As we travel back to Morogoro town I’m delighted by what Children in Crossfire is doing for Madizini but also dismayed at what the good people there are facing. We need to do more, we need to raise more.

It’s Friday, late afternoon. All week members of our Tanzania team, along with staff from the Childhood Development Organisation (CDO), our partner organisation in Morogoro, have been holding a training workshop for around 40 pre-school teachers and classroom assistants. Upskilling more Monicas. I’m able to catch the very end it’s a wonderful sight to see. My colleague Frank translates as one young woman tells me how vital the week has been for her. When she walks off Frank tells me she has a nine-hour bus journey home. This is a huge region and there’s only so much we can do, but these newly trained educators will change a great many lives.

It’s been a long day but there’s still time for a briefing with our colleagues at the CDO offices. Both our team and theirs, together, are doing amazing work. I fall into bed, my mind racing back through the day just gone, but it’s not long before I’m sound asleep. Tomorrow we’re going to the Kinda district – and that means motorbikes up a mountain.

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We are a registered charity in Northern Ireland (NIC101412) and The Republic of Ireland (CHY 20045517). Children in Crossfire is now also a registered ‘Not For Profit’ in the USA and is recognised as tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (EIN 46-2267122). We are developing Advisory Groups in Chicago and Boston to assist with a fundraising programme.