Marangu School Visit

This is going to be a really long post and I’m writing it late at night when I am really tired, so I apologize in advance if it doesn’t flow or there are some errors.
I just got home from a really long and amazing day at work (if it can be called that).  Today we, meaning the Salama Center social work team including myself, Elena (from Germany), and Ema (from Tanzania), traveled to Marangu (about an hour and a half outside of Moshi around the base 20150203_143601[1]of Kilimanjaro) to do a school visit and check up on some of our youth attending the school there.  There are six kids attending the Uomboni Secondary School, which is a boarding school, all of whom are in their early to middle teens.  The trip began with a long dala dala ride to Marangu from Moshi.  A Dala dala remember is a tightly packed van which is held together with duct tape and chewing gum, or so it seems, and jammed with up to 25 people.  After the dala dala we had to take a boda boda which again,if you remember is a motorcycle driver that will take you places at crazy speeds for a small fee.  The dala dala stands are full of people selling merchandise and food, they all yell to greet the “mzungu” or”white person” and try to sell you anything under the sun for outrageous prices.  We took the two boda bodas up to the school,which was past breath taking scenery just past the Kilasia Waterfalls.  I say two because there were no other boda bodas present so Ema and I shared one, that’s right…three people riding uphill on a motorbike, over rugged terrain.  After a few close calls we made it!

I’m going to fast track a bit here because there was a lot of speaking to random members of the faculty and the headmaster before we actually spoke with the kids we came here to see.  The kids were great, they seemed to be adjusting well to school and their grades were excellent.  Salama Center helped them to attend the school by paying their fees and buying their uniforms.  These were extremely poor children growing up who would have otherwise become street youth if Salama Center hadn’t intervened.  They were given this chance and they have so far succeeded beyond their own expectations.  A side note here, Tanzania states that their schools are free and provide quality education.  They are not free and from the personal experience of several people I have spoken with and their children they do not provide quality education.  In fact the schools do not cost anything per say but they have a number of “school fees” a student must pay for, these include things such as: desks, chairs, uniforms, the walls holding the classroom up, the door, etc.  These ridiculous fees tend to run higher than the original cost of the school when it wasn’t “free”.  Anyway, back to the students…

The boarding schools provide a far superior education to the public schools and provide children with the opportunity to grow academically and socially.  They are exposed to new people and new educational and creative outlets that they may have not been privy to had they stayed in their old neighborhoods.  We met the six kids in the stuffy headmasters office with a teacher hovering over us listening and interjecting about the needs of the youth.  We all looked at each other and decided that none of the kids were going to speak freely with us as long as there was an authority figure hanging over them.  We decided that a change of venue was in order.  I asked if we could move outside since it was a beautiful day in the mountains and kindly asked the teacher to give us some space, since these were private matters that we were going to discuss we couldn’t allow outsiders to listen in.  He agreed and the children immediately opened up.  We heard about quarrels with other students, accusations of theft, lack of supplies, and good things too such as, playing sports, hanging with friends and funny stories that they had about boarding school life.  One thing that all the kids agreed on was that the food was scarce and undesirable and that punishments were harsh.

Everyday the kids eat the same thing: porridge for breakfast and beans and ugali for lunch and dinner.  Once a month they have meat.  Ugali is a kind of traditional food that is made from corn, imagine mashed potatoes but a lot thicker, you take a piece and mold it into a spoon or bowl and scoop up the beans in this instance to eat.  It is essentially tasteless but a staple of Tanzanian cuisine. The porridge, as reported by the students, is tasteless as well.  They have to buy sugar in bulk just to cope with the utter blandness of it.  That’s it folks!  No veggies, besides beans, no fruits, no proper nutrition.  there is a small store on the campus that sells soda and bread (like they need more starch and carbs) and candy.  On top of that, they have to buy their own plates and utensils!  One of our students didn’t have a plate of his own and he had to share one with a friend.  Then there is the punishment.  There are signs all over the campus saying:  Speak English, To Be a Good Person, One Must Be a Good Student, and There is No Excuse For Laziness.  If you are caught speaking Swahili you can be forced to do demeaning exercises or you may be beaten.  For more serious offenses you are beaten.  This is the reality for these kids and a challenge that this society and culture has to face in the near future. I hope to speak with some administration to question what it is they get out of this kind of discipline and whether or not they believe it is having the effect they think it is on the psyches of the kids. There are child welfare policies supposedly preventing this kind of punishment and see more and more that the problem is in the implementation of these policies. Corporal punishment for children is not ok, in my opinion culture is not always “right” and just because discipline is done this way in another country doesn’t mean that it cannot be challenged.  More to be revealed in later days perhaps…

There was a particularly moving moment when Afidhi, a Salama Center youth, teared up because he 20150203_143342[1]missed his Aunty who had taken care of him since his mother died, and Ema being the great man that he is, instantly called her on his phone so he could speak with her. We made sure that the students would get everything they needed and made list of the supplies that they wanted for the term. Then it was time for us to go. After a long day of talking we were ready to be on our way back to Moshi. We said our good byes and went on our way. But it wasn’t that easy…

We could find no boda boda drivers to take us back….Ther one we did find said there was no one else working down at the stand at the moment. So we were faced with a decision…walk the long way down the mountain trail, go one at a time down on the boda boda or at the suggestion of the driver…all three jump on and we’ll go together! We all looked at each other and shrugged….so for the first time in my life and the lives of my companions we sat four of us on one motorcycle and began our descent. This is not a smooth road mind you, we went hurtling down a ruddy, rugged road at speeds which were not only dangerous but almost suicidal, and the whole time I had a smile on my face! As the beautiful scenery of green jungles and waterfalls rushed by and the threat of death was close at hand, I felt a real sense of peace and happiness. This is being alive! We flew past onlookers who stopped in their tracks to gawk at the scene that was flying past them. Two “mzungus” and two locals on the same 20150203_164557[1]motorcycle gunning it down the mountain. People were laughing and cheering, some were speechless and their faces revealed nervous trepidation, but I was ecstatic! Even the locals were amazed at this display of insanity! We reached the bottom and I shook the drivers hand and said a few words in Swahili to him, he was truly an amazing driver and just a little crazy and I thanked him for his skills. Then we were off on a dala dala back to Moshi! More to come soon thanks for bearing with me on this post!

Note- All photos posted with permission of the participants

8 thoughts on “Marangu School Visit

  1. pashelly

    Reblogged this on SocialWorkSynergy and commented:

    This is a reblog of MSW candidate Travis Atwater’s account of his field placement in Tanzania this Spring 2015 semester. Travis will receive his MSW in May 2015, and plans to continue working internationally. This sharing of his experiences and impressions gives a real sense of what an internship abroad can entail. You can read our other Student Abroad blogs from South Korea and India at Thanks to Travis, Stacy and Cat for blogging! The Editor


  2. Terasa

    This was totally an eye opener for most kids growing up with nothing. I could never imagine having to pay for this that should be free at that age. I think that teaches them responsibility at a young age. Again congrats and I’m also looking forward to more blogs. This is amazing!!!!


    1. Gabrielle Rosier

      I don’t know what is in the best interest of the child to endure corporal punishment and to live in a state of fear and impoverishment in a school or with their family at home. It’s amazing that someone with a westernized social services background is able to work in a setting such as this and leave these children filled with hope. I think allowing that one child to call his aunt was the best thing that could have been done for him in this situation. The only thing that can be done is instill hope and try and make a impact on these children’s lives. I think it’s a wonderful thing you guys are doing over there and I hope all the effort makes a difference for these children if nothing else but to let them know they aren’t alone and someone cares about their welfare.


    2. atwatertravis Post author

      Thank you for reading! It is a difficult situation to be in sometimes but in reality there is very similar situations in the western world as well, maybe just not a blatant. Really traveling helps to cement the fact that people are people wherever you go. Kids are kids, they enjoy the same things and laugh at the same silly games that we play at home! Building a report with the children takes a little time but once it is established there is no end to the possibilities. Empowering, building confidence, and instilling hope in the children is important, all the while we are trying to influence the powers that be behind the scenes to promote change. It is a balancing act to remain culturally sensitive while also standing up for human rights and dignity.

      I really appreciate the comments, thank you again! I am becoming more and more busy as the semester progresses but I will write more blogs soon!


  3. Molly

    This article is a real eye opener. It is amazing to read articles like this and find out how others live. It is astonishing that they use beating as a punishment and no variety of food is provided or a good source of nutrition for that matter. Going to a different place in the world is very inspiring and a fascinating experience.


  4. Jodi Nelan

    I really enjoyed this post. I imagine that you had some ethical conflicts around how the kids were disciplined and why (for speaking their native language– having a connection to your culture and family is a protective factor). Did you ever talk to the school admin? I’m volunteering abroad right now and coming up against similar situations.


    1. atwatertravis

      Thank you for reading! I spoke briefly with administration through my colleague and got nowhere. It is an accepted practice and for the most part both families and professionals believe that it is acceptable and even necessary to th learning process. This is an ongoing struggle. I would be interested to hear where you are and how you are dealing with it.



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