By CHANTAL COOKE
30 seven year olds are gathered around me thrusting their dusty exercise books into my hand, keen for me to take a look at the work they have done in school that day. Their eager faces peer up at me, and there is no shoving, no shouting, no squabbling – just enthusiastic students wanting to share their learning.
You’ve probably guessed by now that I am not in the UK.
This is a state run primary school in Arusha in Tanzania. These young students, with their dog eared exercise books, have been given a head start in life by the Arusha Children’s Trust; a project set up and sponsored by Tanzania-based safari company Tropical Trails.
The Arusha Children’s Trust takes children from age four to seven, at seven they move on to the state run primary school where they are squeezed in three to a desk, with around 60+ children to a classroom. Although this doesn’t sound ideal, it’s better than many places in Africa and certainly better than no education at all.
However it has its problems; often the teachers are not paid, which means they aren’t that motivated (who can blame them?) and it’s difficult to attract the right people to fill the posts. When I visited (March 2015) they had vacancies for six teachers.
This is why projects like the Arusha Children’s Trust (ACT) are so important. They give these children a head start in life and make it easier for them to learn and advance once they join the state system. It also helps to instil in them a life-long love of learning – something that is close the heart of Tropical Trail’s founder Mike Brydon.
Mike talks passionately about empowerment; about giving local people the power, and the responsibility, to look after themselves. He is happy to teach anyone anything he can in the hopes they will use it to pull themselves up and create a better life for them and their families.
At the ACT school children not only get a basic education they also get a hot meal – something many of them do not receive at home as the families are too poor. By providing a hot meal of porridge the children are keen to come to school to learn and the parents are keen to send them there.
If you join a Tropical Trails safari, or stay at their lovely Karama Lodge or the budget Massai Camp, ask them to take you to visit the ACT – it’s a heart-warming experience. The children sit obediently at their desks reciting the alphabet as the teacher points to the letters on a black board. When she asks for a volunteer to come up to the front, a sea of hands shoot into the air waving frantically to get her attention. They are just so keen you can’t help but smile.
Soon it’s time to finish and the class sing a song for us saying that because we visited they are as happy as fish swimming in the sea –thirty children wiggle their hips mimicking those happy fish. And four adults break into huge grins.
There are lots of ways to support the Arusha Children’s Trust: book your safari direct with Tropical Trails or stay at one of their two properties; check Pack for a Purpose and bring some much needed supplies with you; or best of all, donate some money. By giving them cash, however small, they can buy food and supplies locally (contributing to the local economy) and also maintain the school buildings. In western terms it really doesn’t cost much to run the school but the impact is huge – on the children, their families and the wider community.