By:  Brian Singer, Project Zawadi Executive Director

For the last 17 years, I have visited Tanzania each January to share in the activities that kick off the new school year. My visit this year was particularly special. Just before going to Tanzania I left my day job of 21 years in the field of US-based micro-lending. Leaving that career allowed me to do something that I’ve been wanting to do for several years: focus 100% on Tanzania.

My first photo in front of the Ikizu Guest House where I lived as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the mid 1990s.

Most special for me was the opportunity to stay at Ikizu High School’s Guest House. This is, indeed, the very house that I lived in for two years as a Peace Corps math teacher in the mid-90’s. I had many flashbacks as I walked through the house and the school compound. The sights and sounds of the students getting ready for their next activity, the school bell ringing, and the amazing sunset right outside the guest house made me wonder if 25 years had really passed since I first arrived. I remembered preparing lesson plans in the guest house, teaching in the classrooms, and correcting exams in my office.

The sunset view has not changed much since then!

It occurred to me on that visit that maybe I could teach a math lesson again. Several students readily agreed and we decided to meet in a classroom on a Sunday afternoon. At their request I prepared a lesson on scientific notation. Approximately 20 students showed up and we spent 90 minutes making progress on the topic. It was surreal to be teaching again in a classroom that I had taught in so long ago. As always, it was a true privilege to work with students that were so eager to learn. I wished we had more time. In fact, as we walked out of the classroom, one of the students asked me if I could return the next day for another lesson. That moment really struck me. This is exactly why Project Zawadi exists.

Back in the classroom teaching a lesson on scientific notation 25 years later.

There are millions of students across Tanzania just like these 20 students. They are hungry for knowledge and they are ready to work for it. For them, education is a privilege and they don’t want to waste that chance. This is clear. If they have access to reasonably good school infrastructure, the basic necessities and a well-prepared teacher, then they will put in the work needed to advance their education.

Those students inspired me so much…

I am also quite literally thrilled with the pieces that are now in place for a new era of Project Zawadi programming. We have an incredible team on the ground in Tanzania, directed by Judith (Student Sponsorship), Adrian (Tenda Teachers) and Ombeni (Model Schools) who each do an incredible job leading their programs.

Project Zawadi staff from left to right: Adrian Maganga, Benard Maziba, Maneno Wright, Ombeni Mgwilanga, MaryMaria Zacharia, Lilian Charles, Brian Singer, Judith Merinyo, Neria Atieno, Chukista Malima Not pictured: Gingiri Mwesa, Edgar Mwansasu, Procory Peter

The Student Sponsorship Program recently welcomed two new Counselors, MaryMaria and Lilian, to join the existing team of Neria and Chukista. They are putting their mark on the program by making sure that every student has someone they can talk to about academic and life challenges. Benard recently joined the team as the Apprenticeship Assistant and will be working to open up new opportunities for sponsored students who leave the traditional academic path.  

The Tenda Teachers Program team expanded to include, Edgar and Gingiri who will be assisting with the implementation of the Teacher Professional Development Program (TPDP).  In this pilot year, the TPDP is providing training and professional development to 215 primary school teachers and principals across four wards. This program is designed to be easily and rapidly expanded in future years.

The Model Schools Program has been working with the initial two partner schools on the priority projects they identified through a community planning process in 2018.  The ever-capable Maneno is assisting with all the renovation and construction projects, working to create safer classroom environments and ensure all of the classrooms have basic infrastructure for students and teachers.

Supporting those on the ground, we have a fabulous administrative staff both in Tanzania and the US, a wonderful Board of Directors with a great mix of experience and enthusiasm for our mission, and some truly gifted, passionate, and tireless volunteers, including Dan, Ian, Karen, Linda, Louise, and Nicole, sharing their expertise and countless hours of time to promote education in Tanzania.

Volunteers, Louise and Nicole, with the 2018 English Bridge teaching cohort.

This blog would get very long if I told you about all of the great things that are happening in each program.  It is truly humbling and fascinating to see such a great group of individuals all working together. Indeed, those 20 students learning scientific notation on a Sunday afternoon reminded me that if we do our part, the students will definitely do their part.