The story of the women who inspired me.
Moivaro Village is a small village 15 minutes outside Arusha, Tanzania. In Moivaro lives a group of women who believed that despite poverty and hardship their children deserved to have access to education. These Mamas saw education as a path to a future. Most women in Tanzania, are stay at home moms. But not in the same way we think of stay at home mothers in the US. Mamas in Tanzania are not only responsible for the upkeep of the house/hut, but because they do not have running water or electricity daily chores take on another more challenging component. The Mamas have to walk miles in some communities to the nearest water pump a task that can take hours. In Moivaro there is a stream that runs through the village, but the stream is not only used for water for cooking, cleaning, and showering but also the village sewege and other villages sewege runs in this water. The Mamas also have to travel many miles to the closest market to purchase food for the family. None of the families in the community have cars so they have to take public transportation which costs money, so many women walk. The families also do not have kitchens but fire pits which is where they cook and prepare meals for their families. But despite the challenges of everyday life, these Mamas wanted to do everything in their power to keep there kids off the street and give them an education they never had.
The Mamas with the help of the village church worked to build and establish the Moivaro Village School. The school was a wooden structure with dirt floors and colorful benches. Unfortunately, neither the roof nor the dirt floor could handle very much if any rain. The rain leaked through the roof and the base of the structure causing the dirt floors to become muddy and filthy. But this did not stop the children from coming. The Mamas hired a local woman to be the teacher and the church offered to pay her the little they could spare every few months. The school began to grow and more and more children who lived to far away from government schools or who did not have enough money to pay for uniforms or school fees began attending Moivaro. When I visited the school in the summer of 2007 they had 30 regular students and as many as 50 students on a given day. The school strived to offer the poorest of the poor the same education the wealthier villages down the road were getting in the private and government funded schools. The women’s dream of keeping their children off the street was coming true, and never before had such a large number of the children from Moivaro attended secondary school.
However, even with all the effort and support of the Mamas the school was still not giving the children the quality of education they deserved. Also the school was only hindering the students ability not aiding in their success. After seeing the potential and the spirit of the Mamas, my peers and I knew that we had to do something. After returning to the States in the fall of 2007 Bricks + Books = Foundation for Learning in Tanzania was born. Within months Bricks + Books was able to raise over $20,000 and start the construction of the school the Mamas and children of Moivaro deserved. In January 2008 the school construction began with local construction workers and builders. Every day the community members would gather around the construction sight and watch their new foundation for learning being constructed.
Within months the concrete walls were up and the roof was being put on. When we arrived in July of 2008 the school was complete, which meant it was time to paint. Working with the community we painted the interior and exterior and then a local artist volunteered to come to the school and paint letters, numbers, animals, food, and object pictures on the walls with the English and Swahili. When the desks were brought into the classroom, and the school supplies were purchased and organized the school was almost ready to open its doors to the children.
However, one major obstacle Bricks + Books was worried about was the sustainability of the school. Since the construction of the original school house, the teacher had struggled to collect the minimal school fees. Why would we have any reason to believe it would be different this time? We decided the best approach would be to have a meeting with the Mamas of the village (those mothers who had paved the way for the school in the first place). During our meeting it was clear the passion and drive these women had for seeing the success of school as well as finding a way to sustain it. The idea was brought up that we could open a store-front for the women and they could sell vegetables or clothing, to support the school. But within minutes it was obvious they didn’t need us to give them ideas they already had a plan. A few years back the Mamas had all pitched in to buy a hair dryer because they had wanted to open up a hair salon. But when money dried up they stored the dryer away in hopes that in the future they could try again. The Mamas faces lit up as they talked about this hair salon and how it is just what the community needs, and that they would also be interested in opening a convenient store in the store-front next door. These Mamas were empowered and when we found them two vacant store-fronts down the road you could see the excitement. The Mamas explained that they would devise a plan for the stores so that mothers who could not afford the school fees could work in the store to make that money back. These stores would also provide jobs and resources to women in the village in need of an opportunity.
We also met a young girl in the village who was attending teachers college and wanted to know what she could do to help. Teacher Rachel’s father had also offered to help with the convienent store, because he had a background in management. Earlier when meeting the different mothers at the school it was obvious that they wanted to help their children they just did not have the education to do so. One of the big holes in their education was English. This is where Teacher Rachel could come in, she offered to hold an English class for community members in the afternoons after school let out. These classes would not only enable the parents to empower themselves and but play an active role in their childs education.
This is why on this Mother’s Day I look to these Mamas for inspiration. Despite all their hardships and challenges they were also hopeful and determined to finds ways to provide a better life and more opportunities to their children.