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From Student to Mentor

Yesterday was a typical and an atypical day for EdPowerment in Tanzania.

First, the typical part – while some might deem this the “bad news” – it’s better to think of it as the ongoing challenge. EdPowerment’s U.S. and Tanzanian management visited Mrike Secondary School, a rough drive into the northern hills near Kenya, to check on our sponsored students and the progress of the school itself. Because of its remote location in an area that has poor access to water, Mrike struggles to develop its “campus.” The school, however, did get an allotment of new computers from a British organization last year, and EdPowerment pays for a qualified computer science teacher to build this program.

We were able to review the report cards of our 11 students and while some fared better than others, all struggled mightily just to pass math. (It’s interesting that this “national disease” in Tanzania seems also to have afflicted the U.S.). Our students’ grades were, quite honestly, awful and so ensued a discussion of what to do, particularly because those who do not pass the math portion of the final National Secondary School Exam receive an extra penalty deduction. The larger problem (challenge)that emerged is how to motivate students to study something they do not understand and see no use for. This led to the underlying issue – a lack of educational methods to build critical thinking, and motivational tools. Students here simply learn to repeat, therefore, when a question is posed differently, they can not respond. It seems that “application” – the real test of whether one understands a subject – is often left to post-secondary education. Imagine being 18 before learning how to apply rather than memorize a topic! So we are left tackling this obstacle.

BUT…. here’s the atypical and encouraging part of the day. Elizabeth Massawe and Veronica Gaspar, two sponsored students who graduated from Mrike last November and now have begun “A level” (Form 5 & 6) pre-university studies, accompanied us to urge on their former classmates. Eliza and Veronica gave the current graduating class “a reality check” on the National Exam coming up in November. This exam will determine the students’ future educational possibilities, so who better to give a pep talk than Eliza and Veronica? They shared their own test results, as well as the dejection of many of their peers who lost a chance at further studies because of low scores (over 60% of Tanzanian students failed the exam, which was subsequently regraded for better results). E and V entreated their peers to practice…practice… practice… math, civics and other subjects that can be stumbling blocks. Veronica and Eliza are exceptional – with no parents, no family resources and no strong educational foundation, they have been able to use our sponsorship program to turn around their lives. They now attend highly competitive post-secondary schools, realistically anticipate university studies… and serve as ambassadors for what a second chance and hard work can do. Now they can return to their community to teach and serve as role models for other “leftover” youth.