It starts with a vision on how to make a better world.
This particular vision is to empower women and put an end to female genital mutilation and child marriages. It is a vision to lift an under-served and impoverished community towards a better, more dignified life.
It began over 20 years ago when the Tanzanian government gave a remarkable group of nuns almost 1,000 acres of land to start a project to help improve lives.
“The Sisters noticed with concern that girls have been getting married at a very young age for economic gain. One way of moving out from this cultural predicament is to provide education for a girl child at least beyond primary school. Believing that when you educate a girl; you educate the whole family. It is documented that child marriages are a reality here in Mara region and our Sisters are working at many levels to end this tradition”
~ Mother Generalate, Sister Lucy.
The Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa, a 150 (and growing) community of Tanzanian nuns envisioned a model school for girls to be at the heart of a multi-faceted effort to help lift the whole community from poverty and towards more dignified lives. Twenty years later, this dream is finally close to becoming realized.
The Kitenga School for Girls will be more than bricks and mortar and textbooks. It will be a place where girls can learn, dream and grow while being nurtured and taught and guided. At the core will stand the Tanzanian curriculum, and wrapped around that anchor will be programming and training that will help equip a girl to transcend her circumstances and prepare her for her future—such as health, nutrition, sanitation, agriculture, financial literacy, leadership, business development, citizenship….and more.
While certain components of this larger community development project have taken root and are growing, such as the community health clinic and adult vocational programs, developing the school has gone ‘poley poley’ – slowly, slowly. Building the needed (and government-required) infrastructure is such a challenge in this remote area where there is no road, electricity or until recently, accessible water. Over the past 10 years, with the help of various partners, a classroom block was built and dormitory foundation laid. But the challenge of finding the resources to finish the dorm and build the remaining infrastructure at times seemed insurmountable.
Yet the Kitenga Villagers kept asking, “When will this school open?”
Three years ago, the newly formed Girls Education Collaborative (GEC), pledged their commitment to this big, bold dream to create a residential school for 1,500 girls in kindergarten through secondary school (when fully built out). Building on the Sister’s success with benefactors that had helped build the clinic, community room, deep bore well, grist mill and classroom, we had a confident notion that although a young organization, we could play an important role in accelerating the great work already accomplished. When an adolescent girl directly tells you that:
“My father doesn’t want to pay my school fees. He wants to sell me for a cow.
He only sees me as a source of income”
~ a girl from Kitenga
Well, let’s just say, it’s highly motivating.
Working in hand with other partners, GEC strives to be a portal to resources and expertise that the Sisters may not have access to otherwise. In three years, by sharing the story of the girls from this impoverished community and how a pathway to an education could not only change their lives but the lives of their future families and the community at large, over 1,000 generous souls have become a part of this ambitious endeavor. These benefactors from around the world, in gifts as small as $5.00 and as large as $100,000, have joined together to help make this extraordinary vision a reality—to help turn the tide of embedded poverty, to bring forth a higher standard of living, to allow girls the life they choose to live.
To date, GEC has invested almost $400,000 in the Kitenga School for Girls. Our principal engagement has been the fulfillment of our pledge to the Sisters to ensure the creation of the secondary school’s two academic centerpieces—the library and science center.
GEC fully funded these buildings and with the Sisters’ blessing: designed them to be the campus’s first ‘green’ structures; hired the builder and personally oversaw construction. The Alice Kryzan Memorial Library and the Science Center are just a few weeks from completion!
Here’s the Alice Kryzan Memorial Library – waiting for a front porch with a sisal trellis:
Here’s the Science Center. The middle area becomes a flex outdoor classroom with a sisal trellis connecting the two wings:
The dormitory, of which we contributed $35,000 towards, is also almost finished. As is an additional classroom block,teacher housing, classroom latrines (thank you Buffalo Sunrise Rotary!). A second deep bore well is about to be dug (thanks again Rotary!) and a school orchard was planted (this time, a kudos to East Aurora Rotary!). Solar electrification, being donated by the Solar Liberty Foundation, will soon be installed.
What does this amazing burst of activity all mean? That planning and preparing for the school’s opening is finally, finally, underway. The hope to launch the first 80-90 girls this January (the start of the new school year) proved to be too ambitious. El Nino rains and a Tanzanian election were forces beyond our control – both had a slow down effect on completion. The adjusted schedule: A new pre Form One Prep Program will begin in the fall of 2016 and the first co-hort of students will start January 2017.
I visited Kitenga in September and came home with a list of all that is required towards this phase-one opening: furnishings (beds & desks), academic materials (books & beakers), a vehicle (for student emergencies & transporting supplies) and funds to build a simple, temporary kitchen. We are in the final stretch and working hard to ensure we can support these essential needs for the school opening.
‘There’s nothing a girl can’t do’ when given the pathway to become her full self. When given the opportunity to escape female genital mutilation, marriage while she herself is still yet a girl, or a household where she is kept from school in order to be the collector of wood and water, or to care for her younger siblings and watch her brothers go to school—a girl will gain equity and agency and the ripples will help break poverty’s generational chains.
“The work has begun, our dream has become true,
Let us continue to work together.” ~ Sister Lucy
Would you like to help us get to the finish line? As of today, October 19th, we are $15,000 towards our goal of the $65,000 needed to open school. December 16th update: We have raised $30,000 – $35,000 to go!!
Online donations are gratefully accepted here: https://girlsedcollaborative.wedid.it
Or, a check can be mailed to: Girls Education Collaborative, Innovation Center 4th Floor, 640 Ellicott St., Buffalo, New York 14203
PS: If we exceed our goal—and we sure hope we do—it will give us the ability to help support other (though not ‘required’) really important things like sport equipment & uniforms, art & music, leadership development……and more!
We invite you to share this story with your friends and family and help us continue to build support for this extraordinary opportunity to help a girl—where today, there are many limitations but few, if any, opportunities.
#LetGirlsLearn #EndPovertyNow #EndChildMarriage #NoMoreFGM #EducateGirls #TogetherWeCanChangeTheWorld