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A School Day at Notre Dame

Today I visited the Notre Dame Secondary School in Njiro where we sponsor 10 young women and one young man. I sat and talked with them about their days, their plans and their lives for about an hour.

To begin with, the lack of electricity is challenging everyone’s lives in Tanzania because of random blackouts by the government. In Njiro, there has been no electricity for 3 days – and with no generator, that means the girls head to their bunks at dark – We have purchased solar lights for our sponsored students so that they can at least read in the evenings. But back to their days…

They rise and shine at 4 a.m. – cold water bucket baths. At 5:00 they go to their classrooms where they study until 7:00 (light providing). At 7:00 they drink porridge – don’t know what you think is porridge but after much explanation from them, I gather it is a liquid combination of maize flour boiled with water and maybe some sugar. At 7:30 they have assembly, prayers and the official start to the day. Class follows from 8:00 to 10:30 when they stop for tea and “scones” – something tells me this is not the kind they sell at Starbucks or Sarabeth’s. Classes resume from 11:00 to 2:20 at which time they have lunch. Back to class or other meetings from 3:00 – 5:00 when they break for a little rest, clean up until prayers at 6 – 6:30 followed by dinner. Lunch and dinner usually rotate among makande, beans and ugali with vegetables. Rice is a special meal about once a week.

The boarding girls return to their rooms after dinner at which time they can continue to study – if they have lights. But morning is coming soon – 4:00 – except for when they sleep in on Sundays until 5:00.

The girls don’t consider their lives easy – but they don’t complain and they know that this school – and a good performance on their Form 4 (12th grade) national exams – will determine their future. And here’s where there is a similarity to the U.S. – the subject that lowers their overall performance on standardized tests each year leading up to the final Form 4 graduation test is….. MATH and SCIENCE. So we are supplementing the payment of math and science teachers to encourage good teachers to stay at Notre Dame and even teach extra classes on Saturdays.

For our students, these realities will pave the way for tomorrow’s opportunities.