“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the World ….”
I was 18 when I first read these words from Nelson Mandela, and yes indeed, they had an ever lasting effect on me. I had always had that special something for Africa. So there I went with three numbers: 21 years old, 8 kilos in my backpack, 6 months to change the world. Eluwai Primary School in Monduli, Northen Tanzania was going to be my home. No water, no electricity, no cell phone, but goats, many goats! The moment I stepped out of the 4×4 around 60 kids came running towards me, chaos, confusion….and the biggest smiles I had ever seen in my entire life.
First day of school started and I was impressed by their eagerness to learn. They had a million questions and they wanted to know everything about everything but had no one to ask. I had the most inspiring group of kids in front of me, demanding knowledge. The most familiar things to you were a great discovery for them.
They loved to sit down around when I was doing my laundry, and to me it was simple: Brown dirty water, brown dirty clothes that back in the day used to be white, result: laundry failure EVERYTIME. Then I explained: “In my country I put all the dirty clothes inside a small machine, press a button and clothes come out white.” Their faces turned pale and they asked: “Who do you put inside the small machine to wash the clothes???” There were uncountable unforgettable moments like these! I also met someone who was as inspiring as the kids I was teaching: Peter A.Luis. He had been teaching in a secondary school near mine were he soon saw how the students were being treated. There was no food at the school, there were no books for the students, and they were being abused by the teachers. That is when the journey to build Orkeeswa began. Peter had a dream. He shared his dream with me and today, Orkeeswa Secondary School is a reality; a reality that hosts 191 students and growing every school year.
Soon the whole community got involved and the village elders donated a piece of land for the school. But the challenge was not only in building the school, it was in changing a mindset. For the Masai, especially the elders, children are supposed to help progress the community. A girl of eleven years old, for example, will get married and her family will get cows for her in return. Young boys will usually take care of the cattle at home. So if the kids were to go to school, this community dynamic would be lost. Peter and his inseparable friend Raph started visiting boma by boma (traditional masai houses) talking with every family, every child, and explaining to them about the long term investment of education. He opened their eyes, made them think forward.
With the community on board, the first wall was soon built; the first window was put in place, and finally, the first doors were opened to limitless opportunities.
Orkeswa Secondary School opened its doors the 14th of April 2008 with a very amibitious goal, to create a school that will not only educate young Tanzanians, but provide them with the leadership skills to give back to their communities. This is a lofty goal to achieve but what makes this possible is Orkeeswa’s approach of involving the community as part of the school – so much so that it becomes one.
This is just the tip of the iceberg…. There is more, much more behind Orkeswa, but for today, I´ll let Bertha speak for herself ….
I you want to make a change from a distance, support one a student’s education and help us give them the chance to change goats for books. Meet Seuri, my sponsored student 😉