Experience #13 - Bwawani, Tanzania

Children! The importance of education for them is already part of our common sense and the pseudo priority for the world, isn’t it? Good! As obvious as it might seem, travelling through African rural communities has brought up the fundamentality of this topic for me.

To learn this time, we had the precious opportunity to know a project in Bwawani, near to Dar es Salaam, the main city of Tanzania. Through WWOOF (which we already mentioned and thanked before) we met the kind Mr. Remmigius Raphael, a Tanzanian well informed man, who transmits credibility and highly connected. You will understand more about so many qualities.

When he used to work in the municipality of another city, Remmy felt his heart was telling him that he needed to do something more for the unprivileged people and to improve the community. In this moment he had the courage to decide that he wanted to dedicate his resources and energy to do so, and changed his life with his family for a rural area where he founded the Ngerengere River Eco Camp.

What impressed us the most since the beginning is that it gets even clearer that a change maker must be capable of abstracting barriers and go after his purpose with determination. This was how he started in 2003, educating families whose children suffer from malnutrition. The issue in these situations was not about resources, most times (joyfully), but about a lack of consciousness regarding how fundamental for children development is to vary nutrients. He taught the power of mixing different grains in the meals to solve malnutrition. It’s incredible to think how the will and action of someone can influence drastically the health of dozens of children.

The confidence that it was possible and the assurance of his mission was what made it all real. His talent to create a network of friends and his ability to be in contact with the community for a cause inspired me a lot. Remmy started by raising awareness and he repeatedly told us it was not easy to prove his genuine intention. It took a long time to conquer the community acceptance and convince that his role would be of a servant leader for their own good. He had to face situations, in the villages, where people showed to be hostile by doubting the suitability of his intentions.

After many conversations, presentations and countless calls, he gained the concession for a few hectares of land for the project. One of the main objectives is the spread the importance of a sustainable development for the families and for the environment. Centenary activities such as the production of bricks, charcoal and forest burning are very common and are still happening today, as a way of generating income. He confessed that to transform the mind of people who have being doing the same thing for so many decades is still difficult. It’s the famous problem of the unquestionable common sense…

Precisely this principle of raising awareness is the one I admire the most for believing in the potential of starting a transition gradually, one by one. The way he found was starting by small groups, making them aware of the importance of changing a few habits for their own sake. This makes them naturally part of the change and a propagator of ideas. Imagine the power of it to change everything we know that are wrong, but many times we don’t even try due to laziness, fear, self-indulgence, among other self-excuses…

A well known case that I keep as a big reference of it, without getting into the capitalism x socialism discussion, was the awareness campaign to literacy in Cuba in 1961, after the revolution. In just one year, the government’s initiative to raise the population consciousness regarding the importance of educating everyone elevated to literacy rate from 76% to 96%. – There is a recent documentary about this, called Maestra – Today this rate is 99.8%, according to the World Factbook. In the book El Pensamiento Economico de Ernesto Che Guevara (free translation: The Economic Thinking of Ernesto Che Guevara) from the author Carlos Tablada, he tells about the incisive way that Che, who actively participated in the revolution, approached specifically this topic. It’s mentioned several times that in his point of view and in Fidel’s obviously, the transformation is generated only when people have awareness of the cause and make part of the movement.

Is worth reminding that in Brazil today, here are in 2014, this rate is 90% (according to the same source)… Without mentioning the sad functional illiteracy. Ah, but Brazil is big, there are more people…. escaping excuses, we always have… And in 1961 there was no internet, actually in the Castro family’s land there barely is today, but by choice…

Beyond the part of the project focused in sustainability like the reforesting plan, the Ngerengere River Eco Camp also teaches agriculture in schools, builds water wells, gets bikes for children and develops professional skills for widow mothers. So many activities!

As soon as we arrived there, we are happily impacted by the structure they have, mainly for the volunteers. Of course the cold shower with mug was already expected. What justifies Remmy’s capacity to make friends all around the world. We were even happier when we saw the greatest news of the project. After an intense work, he managed to gain a good will investment from England to build the first community school to two hundred children in the village. Instead of volunteer teachers, classrooms in huts and students seated on the floor, now education there will be with graduated teachers paid by the government, classrooms with blackboard, tables, chairs and school materials. I think you can feel the joy of it only by reading, can’t you? But hold your emotion together as there are a lot of images of it in the video by the end!!!

Out of every experience we live a conclusion stays in our mind, a personal learning from a conversation, a smile, a hug. These moments leave marks that cause many thoughts. You can imagine the hyperactivity in the mind and the emotions in the heart! However, this school left something else for us, just because we were professors for a few days. Way beyond the responsibility of teaching that concerned us a bit, I was specially impacted by the “instruction” they gave to the volunteers in this matter, as it initially seemed to be lost… There, any moment dedicated for teaching has an enormous value, simply due to the fact that these children have no access to anything, practically.

But what does that mean? Unfortunately as this issue has always been there, their parents also didn’t have the opportunity to study and therefore don’t have the ability to educate their own children at home in the day to day life. It’s a very sad family cycle. A clear example is that even in places where there is easy access to water, is very common to see children with their skin grimy. Another usual situation that shocks me is to note that they don’t even react to keep away a fly that land on their face. It could seem to be minor details, but for me is a major prove of the power of educating and the consequence that a chain of miseducation can generate.

Our initial bureaucratic concern about the content that we would teach fell apart when we noticed that those children need to learn everything and any class given with the heart starts to generate a transformation. In these moments, the opportunity we had in the past to learn how to think put us away from the reality and a structured education method had no value at all for those few days.

Keeping this in mind, we tried just to play counting up to ten and teach the concept of numbers in English. – Remind that the language was one more challenge, as they speak only Swahili, the local language. – After a few hours, we personally felt this lack of fundamental education. We tried to play memory game with only six cards and even with local friends helping to explain in Swahili, we could notice they couldn’t understand a mechanic as basic as finding to equal cards. Believe me, we were playing for a while just to be able to transmit this rational but we failed.

Intending to help more, we got together with a volunteer friend we made there, Annette Woehrle, to buy a few school materials for the classes. We got white paper, coloured pencils, crayons and exercise books. First we felt the happiness in the spontaneous smile of the pupils for receiving something new in their hands. Amazing! Actually, the second sensation left clearer that they don’t receive any stimulus, not even to develop the curiosity and creativity. We saw that in the last activity we made, when they needed to draw anything in the entrance of the new school and we had a major difficulty to do so. The challenge was to make them feel comfortable to release their mind to simply paint a point in the paper.

The good news is that slowly the artists inside them manifested themselves, the activity became a great fun and all of them wanted to ensure they could show their work running in our direction yelling “teacher teacher”. Was an unexplainable feeling, especially when we answered back “nzuri”, that means very good!!!

Talking about the loving way we were treated there, every morning we were received in the class with a student choral of good morning and the farewell was full of love wishing us peace and a good journey. A very intense way to fell the effect of education made with love. Gratitude and fulfilment my darling friend Remmy!

Well, the most positive we’ve taken out of all these is that the change can be gradual and start by the basic of the basic can awake many reactions. People willing to dedicate themselves to education change considerably every little life and this is the inspiration we take with us. What give us even more hope is that he still dreams about making this success a reference to share with other communities to improve more and more lives.

Is very crazy as it seems improbable, but we can significantly influence the social education all the time, even with minor acts and words. It’s worth remembering that nowadays this goes way beyond children, as every day we see disrespect, lack of civility and scarcity of love even between people who were exhaustively “educated”. In work, in the streets, in television, everywhere. We must stop to look and start to change, it depends only on each one of us. Let’s go?

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