As a volunteer, I’ve felt that my primary goal is to share ideas. To exchange thoughts
and learn new ways of doing things. To promote education and health. To encourage equality. To enable. Because of the risk
of encouraging dependence, financial contribution is something I’ve resisted. So when I was asked to help with this
project of finding computers for the school, I wasn’t initially very enthusiastic about it. Can I really enable anyone
by helping to pour money into a computer lab at a school where the students are malnourished and there’s not even electricity?
What should my role truly be?
I decided to bring some informational resources to the school - - ideas and literature
on how to request funds - - and then relinquish the job to the people who were asking for this technology. At first there
was little response. My fellow teachers seemed a bit overwhelmed by the detail and work needed for a thorough proposal in
a foreign language. They were expected now to think out and plan for a project to bring in a technology they don’t understand.
They don’t know how to use a computer, or what all to use it for. How could they build a plan to protect, maintain,
and use computers when they didn’t even know what is required for protection, maintenance, and use?
But they persisted.
“It must be done,” they told me. “What about that computer project,” they kept asking. From the headmaster,
“How is the grant going? Do you have the support you need? Why don’t we get teacher so-and-so to work on such-and-such.
And the accountant can help with . . .” So we met again, for the third or fourth time, with those interested in the
project. I brought cost estimates from Njombe, and we brainstormed as we sipped on warm bottled coke. The brainstorming was
becoming more refined than at previous meetings. Clearly their minds had been churning up ideas in the interim. Leaning forward
on the edge of his seat, each of the members was eager to share his ideas on how we can effectively run this lab, how we can
protect it, how we can install it, how we can fund it . . . “We really need to know about computers,” they kept
saying. “What else do we need to plan?” They discussed how to express in writing their dedication to this lab
and how to demonstrate their thoroughness in planning how to make it work.
Each was assigned to write a section
of the grant within the week. One of them was late to write his part; another stepped in and offered to take the responsibility.
The accountant pulled his files off the shelves to find receipts and compile the estimate of the school’s previous contribution
to the lab. He then walked the hours into Mlangali to find estimates for desks and window bars. Other members came to me asking
for advice on how or what to write. At the end of the week, twenty-four pages of hand-written grant were handed over to me.
Reading through the grant, I was convinced that the committee had done their work. My task was now to type it up, smooth out
rough edges, and correct the English. I borrowed a laptop from another volunteer and asked permission to use the school generator
to power the laptop as I typed. I would bring the diesel. “Absolutely not,” I was told. “You’re working
to help the school, so we’ll provide the fuel. Just tell us when to start it up.”
Meanwhile, we were
grading final exams and preparing parent report forms. “Where did he get this ‘2’ from?” I kept asking
as I was grading papers. “It’s supposed to be ‘3’!” Then I would look at the student’s
copy of the exam and see that the number was completely illegible, or the typewriter hadn’t written a clear mathematical
symbol. And the student’s grade would descend even further as he became frustrated with the impossible problems. And
sitting by the kerosene lamp, hours into a night of writing parent report forms for the 40+ students I was assigned, I caught
myself copying 37% instead of 87%. “How many times,” I wondered, “have we teachers made similar mistakes
without noticing?” Microsoft Excel may be a drag to learn, but more and more I’ve realized its beauty in simplifying
and improving a teacher’s work. Then we got two new math teachers to double our department. Great! A week later, they
were gone, en route to the city where life is modern and technology exceeds hissing shortwave radios with generic acid-leaking
What I’ve realized after watching our school as they write this
grant proposal is that we need this technology. Not in order to be on the front of the national trend, but to catch up with
it. We need computers to boost our school in its ultimate goal of being a learning institution, and we need this education
for the development of our area. As a community, we have plenty of barriers to overcome before final success with a computer
lab. Electricity, security and lack of expertise for maintenance and repair are serious considerations. But as a volunteer,
I see the community is aware of these problems and ready to find ways to tackle them. I’m certain there will be difficulties
and delays. It will be a learning process for the school. But seeing their eagerness and dedication, I’m also convinced
that these difficulties will be faced rather than abandoned, and the computers will be put to good use as a much-needed educational
Ulayasi Secondary School was founded in
1988 near the village of Mlangali in the Ludewa district of Iringa region, Tanzania. It currently has approximately 600 students
studying at Ordinary Level, Forms I-IV. Of these current students, we have approximately 280 girls and 320 boys. However,
under the leadership of Father Volker of Mlangali Parish, a new Advanced Level class is scheduled to begin in May 2005, increasing
the size of the school by another 100 students at that time and reaching 200 or more A-level students in 2006.
The Ulayasi staff includes approximately 30 workers:
Ludewa is a rural district in the southwest of Tanzania, bordered by Lake Nyasa (Malawi)
in the west. No paved roads or electricity enter or cross the district. Communication services are minimal, with 2 radio-call
phones in the district and one post office in the district capital (Ludewa town, 60km from the school). A large majority of
the population are farmers, most of whom plant field corn (maize) as their primary crop. Many of those living along the lake
sustain themselves by fishing; throughout the district, various other crops such as coffee, cassava, beans, and wheat are
also planted, and livestock is kept in small numbers (cattle, poultry, and goats). Monthly income could be roughly estimated
at $15 per family. The area has a great deal of potential - - fertile soil, adequate rainfall, hardworking people - - and
is beautifully located in the mountainous highlands jutting high above the lake. Most of the population is Christian, with
many others practicing traditional beliefs.
is the third largest town in the district with a surrounding population of under 10,000 persons. It has one gas station, a
police station and court, and a single radio-call telephone. No postal services are available. The Catholic Parish and a number
of other Christian churches (Anglican, Evangelistic, Lutheran . . .) provide much spiritual and project leadership in the
area. Though the town is only about 40km from the lake, the mountains around Mlangali rise so sharply from the lake’s
edge that access to the lake is very limited. Locals grow field corn as their primary crop and staple - - it is used to make
a cornmush eaten daily, usually accompanied by beans and greens. A small amount of coffee is grown in the area almost strictly
as a cash crop, but the immediate area of the school appears to remain one of the poorer areas of the district.
Our school has many strengths making it competitive with other secondary schools in the country. Our teachers truly focus
their lives on the school. Unlike many Tanzanian schools where teachers dodge class almost as much as their students, our
teachers are in the classroom, adding periods, and supporting their students to build a positive and interactive learning
community. Students, as they set aside their many financial and family problems, are respectful and hardworking. Immediately
upon entering the beautiful school grounds, it is clear that Ulayasi is proud to be an efficient, disciplined, and well-maintained
school. But in our underdeveloped and rural area, progress toward the future is slow. Tradition holds strong, and technology
is few and far between. In sending our students on to higher education and sending our teachers on to advanced careers, we
are finding they are unprepared for the technology awaiting them. Even in Ludewa district, other secondary schools which usually
follow the lead of Ulayasi are already equipped with computers and training their students and staff. Ulayasi, a well-established,
respectable, and large learning community is certainly falling behind comparable secondary schools on a national level of
technology. The result is that we are producing students who are unprepared to compete with others in higher education. We
are transferring teachers who are incapable of using teaching tools which other Tanzanian teachers can already apply to their
work. Within weeks or even days of reporting for work, new teachers are driven away by the underdeveloped environment. Documents
produced at the school are written by hand or typed by the secretary: official papers are unprofessional in today’s
world and the few typed exams are illegible or riddled with typos. Other exams are copied in chalk on rough blackboards. Students
learning in a third language can’t even read the writing! Carbon-copy and hand-written parent report forms produce errors
unfair to our students even after the hours poured into them by our teachers. We recognize that our goal of providing solid
secondary education to our students is being restricted by our lack of technology, and thus our need to update.
Why then can’t we buy computers on our own? As a government school, we are allocated funds from the government, but
these are not excessive. School tuition per student is only Tshs. 40,000 (~USD 40) per year at government schools, and even
the school projects serve as a supplement to the income rather than a large income source in and of themselves. All told,
school income suffices to maintain the school, but is not enough for very large purchases such as establishing a computer
lab. We aren’t looking for blind handouts, but rather a boost to get us started on building our own lab, which we feel
we will be able to maintain and supplement financially, and which will certainly be useful in improving academics at the school.
The community is very enthusiastic about engaging in a cross-cultural exchange with
any interested partners. A similar pen-pal exchange has been set up for the students through the WorldWise Schools program
with great results. We expect the students’ eagerness and thrill in receiving
correspondence from the US to extend to teachers as well in any exchange through PCPP. Please feel welcome to reach us at
the following address:
Box 666 Njombe
We thank you for
your consideration and wish you the best!