Investing in Education in Tanzania

Education is something we take for granted. Sure, some of our public schools aren't the best, but it is not only a given, it is a law that all children must go to school.

Photo © iStock/ranplett

And, everyone has the opportunity to finish high school at little to no cost. Many places around the world do not have this luxury.

Learning about the different education systems in our destination countries has been fascinating. Every place does it slightly differently, from when kids start, to when they finish, to what is required of them to move on to a higher level of schooling. While every country offers some form of free education, most of the time the free ride ends after about grade 7 or so. To continue on to high school (or the equivalent), a student must score well on an entrance exam, and the family must pay for the schooling. Though this price is quite small (by our standards), it is often cost-prohibitive for the family. More of an issue, however, is that the child is often needed on the farm or the family business. The idea of using very precious savings to send a kid to school when they could be producing for the family is one that most parents can't justify. Particularly for girls.

Amani, our safari guide in Tanzania, is one of the lucky ones. He comes from a poor farming village on the slopes of Kilimanjaro where most children finish their education after “Standard 7”. Amani had to plead with his parents to send him to secondary school, but as subsistence farmers, they simply did not have the money. Amani was very fortunate that others in the community saw his promise, and with the financial help of neighbors and extended family, he was able to convince his parents to invest what little they had in his education and his future. Upon finishing secondary school, Amani scored high on the national exam, and wanted to go to university to become a safari guide. His parents could certainly not afford this, but Amani's uncle, a guide himself, put up the money to cover the university costs. 

The community's investment in Amani's education paid off many times over. As a successful safari guide, Amani makes a wage that is many times that of most of his peers.  He has fully repaid those who lent him money. But more importantly, he has invested back in the community that supported him. After building his parents a brick home (a luxury they could have never dreamed of), he has installed a number of wells to bring safe and clean drinking water to the whole village. Others in the village have relied on him to make similar loans as those he received. 

Amani's story isn't an anomaly, but it's not the norm either. Education is the key to a more prosperous future in every underdeveloped country, but with such limited resources, most families simply cannot unlock their kid's potential. Fortunately, more and more families are realizing that investing in their kid's education is a way to secure their own future.  This is a paradigm shift from the traditional approach, where it is accepted that kids would be working in the field as soon as they are able. But once the shift has occurred, the impacts will be felt for generations to come. You can be assured of one thing - Amani will be sending his daughter to school, all the way through university.

Want to contribute to education on your next trip to Tanzania? Consider volunteer programs like African Impact and Cross Cultural Solutions, or support local education NGOs like Rhotia Valley and IEFT.

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