Valeska

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A visit to a village to encourage tree planting, became a little more involved!

Submitted: September 22, 2016

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Submitted: September 22, 2016

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From Usa River it was a long, dusty journey the Valeska village and the primary school there. Having said that during the rains, the going could be slippery and challenging. It was loosely called a road but in fact it was just a track and the further away from Usa, the drier the environment became. However there was an mfereji, an irrigation channel, that had to be crossed several times, but none the less the dry stirred plenty of choking dust. There are several stories about the our journeys there, among them our work at Dolly and Kwa Ugoro primary schools, but all that is for another time.

We originally travelled to Valeska to visit a Lutheran Parish, because the pastor asked us to plant trees there but as it turned out, we never planted a tree around the church! We planted trees at the mosque during our time there, but our main focus became the primary school. Most primary schools were receptive of our environmental programme and because the school happened to be the first public building we came to, we stopped there for a chat.

By this time we were familiar with the lack of infrastructure and resources in state primary schools, we had seen it all because we were providers in an Assistance for Primary Schools project financed by the New Zealand High Commission, which provided text books, school desks and other items to rural schools. My principle role though was to plant trees and educate about the importance of environmental conservation, so we worked mainly with schools. However, I didn’t quite expect the situation at Valeska!

There was a mud brick building that was the head teacher’s office doubling as a classroom. One wall had collapsed completely and two other walls had partially fallen with it, the roof was flapping in the breeze! Kids were still being taught inside. There were two more ‘classrooms’ (each with multiple age groups), underneath two large, spreading Acacia trees, there was a portable blackboard, but the kids sat on the bare earth! There were two modern concrete block classrooms but with desks for only half of the kids so they in squeezed together (Swahili: banana). The real bright spot was the kids outside had a clear, if distant, view of Mount Kilimanjaro, but that would have been mundane for them.

I hit it off with the head teacher, which was not unusual, but was useful, and he was enthusiastic about planting trees around the school. Our meeting was interrupted by quite a delegation: village leaders including the village chairman and his secretary, the district education officer and the pastor who had asked us to go there. The pastor knew that I had taken on additional projects and the delegation was keen to see what I was prepared to do for them. In these situations, I usually listened, but made no commitment. After I had a chance to consider the situation I called for a public meeting at another date. This was because the more people you include, the less chance of corruption and my theory about projects was to impart ownership to the people involved – they were not my projects though I did use that terminology because it was easier.

We walked around the school grounds and later the local women’s group had prepared a meal for us followed by the speeches. Hang on! Breezing over the meal is not appropriate, great care is always taken and there is pride among the women about their ability to feed a group well! I was told about the challenges the village faced, which were the same as every other village. But there folk were a cosmopolitan lot! There were seven tribes represented with a spread of religions, which was more important to them than me because we were free to work on a holistic basis – all were Tanzanians.

I asked the head teacher to provide a list of the school’s needs that fitted into the Assistance to Primary Schools Project criteria and told him we would return in a week to carry out an environmental seminar, which I told him was my key role, I would collect his request at the same time. I would think on about the village request, which was essentially a school building project. Sometimes I had to reign in my enthusiasm because as well as the nursey at our house, which was ongoing, the environmental projects were occupying all of my time and as well I had taken on another school’s rehabilitation project.

Suffice to say, under the leadership of the head teacher and his environmental teacher, and not forgetting some pretty awesome kids, our environmental programme was a galloping success and personally satisfying. As did the Assistance to Primary Schools Project, which was perhaps incentive for the environmental project to go well! At the village meeting after our first seminar, I undertook to write a proposal and to do that I needed basic information – but I could not promise anything! The school roll was eight hundred and growing, there was a source of gravel and sand that could be used for making bricks and the menfolk undertook to make them if the cement was provided. There was a local fundi, builder/blocklayer, who was prepared lead the project. This was important to me because using locals helped the l community economy, and the cost of travel was not a factor. There was a building plan in place, so to be added to the two existing concrete block classrooms, the next project was a staff room and a storeroom. At first, it didn’t seem to me that the priority educational needs were those two rooms, but it was the logical step, the storeroom would be used as a classroom meantime, and after all it was Valeska’s project.

I carried out due diligence with the costing, wrote up a funding proposal and sent it off not knowing if it would be approved, if there were funds available or when the money would come through. I did have hope because I had found that reporting on expenditure, showing outcomes and being transparent made it more likely that projects would be funded and happily this one was, so I could set the wheels in motion! The village people gathered rocks which were needed to bolster the foundation and floor – the kids also carted their share during school time as well! Instead of hiring a truck to cart the cement, I used my project Toyota. This saved funds and it meant that I could deliver the cement when needed. Much better than cement going hard in the bag or otherwise going missing.

All schools have a visitor book and a log book, so we made sure each item was recorded in both books, all for the sake of transparency. Unfortunately, we had no sooner started the project when the head teacher was given the boot! It was nothing sinister, but it still upset me. An edict came down from government that all teachers should be at least form four graduates! There had been a time of a shortage of teachers and there was a ‘pressure cooker’ recruitment and training. Unqualified head teachers had to step down and all ‘pressure cooker’ teachers had to study and sit an examination. I preferred the old guy to the new one!

There are all sorts of issues that crop up when you are building, those issues are not exclusive to third world countries, but through the village peoples’ good work and because I transported all the materials instead of hiring trucks we achieved our goal well under budget. There was some luck along the way as well, the suppliers, through negotiation, discounted costs of materials and through some other contacts we found that the education department was providing roofing iron when school buildings reached the height of the lintel. The walls are built up and at the top of the windows and door, the lintel, reinforced concrete, goes right around the building to tie it all in. Two more courses of blocks complete the wall and the roof can go on.

So because of the cost saving, we were able to build another classroom! But still there were funds remaining, although not enough to complete another classroom. I called a meeting and told the village people that there were funds left and to utilise them, would be a cost on the village. I detailed that I could supply cement, reinforcing bars, timber for the rafters and nails including roofing nails. There would be no money for the fundi so all the work would have to be voluntary. They agreed and after all the fundi had his children studying at the school too! So soon there was yet another classroom at the school!

The building of the last classroom showed me that the people had actually taken ownership of their school, but for me the coolest thing was that when I left there, from a distance I could not see the school! The kids had taken ownership of the trees they had planted, so the school was invisible behind a screen of vegetation!

 

 


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