When we first started supporting the Loibor Siret School community in remote northern Tanzania in 2012, we were the generous visitors from a much more fortunate school coming to help for a few days, then moving on. However, that is not what our relationship has become. Loibor Siret and ABA – An IB World School have formed a bond which has had a profound impact on both our institutions and the community of which they are a part.
ABA raises funds for the school – that is what privileged students do, right? Right! But we do more. What we do is ask the school what they need; we do not make assumptions. We are not like those my Tanzanian friends call the “poop and fly” guys: do-gooders who descend like birds, poop and then fly away. When we learned that children may not attend school unless they have a uniform, we decided to have a “non-uniform for uniform” day at our school: ABA students would pay to not wear uniform for the day and, in doing so, would finance uniforms for children in Loibor Siret. My friend in the village sent us the numbers of children in each age range who could not attend and we set our school community the target of sending fifty-one students to school. We explained the cost of a uniform and asked people to give generously. They did. We raised enough to send more than twice that number. I immediately emailed my friend to say we had enough for replacement uniforms for others as well. “No,” he said. Keep the money for us. We will ask when we need help. Sure enough they did. We got an urgent call for help to buy essential textbooks some months later and were able to get them the resources they needed when they needed them.
What have we learned? Supporting is not about “pooping”. It is about listening to the community, finding out what they value and not making assumptions. Outsiders come to all parts of Africa, drop donations and leave. Building relationships takes time, commitment and, above all, setting aside your own pre-conceived ideas of what people need and opening yourself to hearing what they say is important. Over the years, we have been asked to provide new earth toilets, concrete floors, contribute to building a cafeteria, renovate dilapidated classrooms and this year, provide money and labour for a new one as well as buying books and resources for Science and Geography. The government provides no support for the school.
So we raise money every year – all levels of our school community are now involved – and we bring 13-year-old students out to work at Loibor Siret and make new friends among the pupils there. We knew our visit was celebrated each year but what has made the difference, according to the Loibor Siret teachers and parents, is that we continue to support and we continue to listen. This year, in his speech to the community, the leader told us that, since ABA’s involvement, more students attend school, there is less absenteeism and school scores have gone up (I saw the evidence on papers students showed me) and their first students deemed good enough academically will move on to secondary school in August. The village community has become more involved, witnessed, for example, by the fact that those who can afford it are now contributing corn and beans so all children get one meal a day at school. The biggest step forward however, which seems trivial to outsiders, is that the government this year paid for transportation of the building materials we purchased to construct a new classroom. This shows they are taking notice of what is happening in Loibor Siret and seeing evidence of collaboration, which is what they want. We learned that the community’s vision is to build enough classrooms to bring class size down from 70—100 to 45, the country’s maximum. If they do this and can employ enough teachers for those ratios, the government might adopt the school. The challenge is on!
It is important to stress that the benefits of this relationship are mutual. ABA students are changed by the experience. “How can they be so happy when they have so little?” “They welcome us like old friends and we can communicate even though we don’t share a language.” We could teach our grade sevens about communities like this in the confines of the classroom, researching on the internet and writing reports, but sharing the lives of this community for a few days has a far more profound and longer-lasting impact. As parents testify, their children are transformed by the encounter.
We will continue to listen to the Loibor Siret community’s values; we will share and support their vision. We will learn from and be changed by them. We will not just poop and leave.