Emirati-funded Sharaf school builds hope in Tanzania
The Wama Sharaf Secondary school helps girls from rural areas to continue their education.
Beaming with pride, Gloriya Masawe looks confident as she demonstrates the science of candle making to an audience that includes her country’s leaders and dignitaries.
The occasion is a happy one – the inauguration of the Wama Sharaf Secondary school for girls built by Emirati benefactors who have chosen to invest and help the small rural town of Lindi, in southern Tanzania.
The charity school was opened in the presence of Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete, first lady Mama Salma Kikwete and benefactors Ibrahim and Sharafuddin Sharaf, owners of Dubai’s Sharaf Group.
As part of the UAE’s drive to improve literacy levels around the world, the Sharaf Group chose to invest in much-needed schools for children in rural areas.
Education is the long-term solution for so many of the world’s challenges, said Sharafuddin Sharaf, vice chairman of the group. It is important not to neglect rural areas where many children have no prospect of learning.
“Education can bring lifelong prosperity,” he said. “It is the foundation of knowledge and skills, health and nutrition, science and technology. Education must remain the number one priority for all of us, for our children and for the world.”
The event in the coastal town attracted all the local dignitaries.
As hundreds watched Gloriya, 17, apply herself to the task of explaining how to make candles. She was unfazed by the camera flashes. Despite her young age she is used to the hazards of life.
If not for the school, she would have been a mere statistic, a blip on the radar of girls in her country who drop out of secondary education and end up with hopeless lives. The statistics make grim reading but they indicate the fate of girls whose families live in abject poverty.
Despite high economic growth rates for the past decade, Tanzania is still considered to be one of the world’s poorest countries.
On the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme, Tanzania ranked 163rd of 170 countries in 2000, and 152nd of 187 countries in 2013.
Its figures show that more than a third of Tanzanians live well below the international poverty line, even though the percentage of those people has fallen.
One of the main problems the country faces is a high population growth; 71 per cent of the population is under 30. The UN has predicted that it would become the world’s 13th most populous nation by 2050, with 138 million people.
This growth is already straining an exhausted network of schools, especially in rural areas where many pupils must travel long distances.
To make things worse, the schools tend to lack libraries or laboratories, and have overcrowded classrooms and high student-to-teacher ratios.
Since secondary education is neither free nor compulsory, school fees represent a major obstacle for parents. As a result, many children in Tanzania, especially girls, do not progress to the secondary level.
The alternative is subsistence farming, highly sensitive to extreme weather patterns, such as the recent droughts that have severely affected crop and livestock production. This lack of education prevents any escape from what is a vicious cycle of poverty.
While the country needs an educated and skilled workforce, the lack of school opportunities results in the tragedy of unfulfilled potential.
Gloriya was fortunate to have been chosen to attend a pilot secondary school project run by the Women and Development Foundation (Wama), an NGO founded by Mrs Kikwete in 2006.
Just like the Wama Sharaf School, this was built by private benefactors in another disadvantaged area of Tanzania.
Gloriya went to live with her aunt when she was six, after her mother died. Her father died when she was a baby. Her childhood was deprived of many necessities as her aunt had to support her own five children, Gloriya and two other orphaned cousins.
The family lived in a two-bedroom hut scraping together a livelihood from a small plot of land. “My mother died because we could not afford to take her to a doctor,” said Gloriya.
“My dream since her death has been to complete my studies, become a doctor and save those who were ill.”
Living through such poverty, she could not believe that any such opportunity would come to her. But after completing her primary education at 13, she was chosen for the Wama secondary school.
Mrs Kikwete said the model schools were in line with the Wama Foundation’s goals of increasing access to health services, girls education and women’s welfare.
Scholarships were initially provided for five students from each region of mainland Tanzania and its islands, which include Zanzibar.
The foundation discovered that while many students benefited from the programme, they did not do well at their studies. “We came to learn that vulnerable and orphaned children need special treatment in many aspects such as food, upbringing, love and psychological support,” Mrs Kikwete said.
The school has done very well and most of its students are thriving.
Wama worked with a private donor to build a pilot primary school in 2010 for children coming from the Tanzanian mainland and Zanzibar. Wama then approached the Sharaf group to build another school.
“The Wama Sharaf School increases the number of model schools that aim at supporting girl children who are orphans and come from vulnerable backgrounds,” Mrs Kikwete said. “The school will help them improve their status and help them achieve their goals.”
Sharafuddin Sharaf said his family linked up with Wama because of its good record. The group built a sprawling, modern school and equipped it with amenities including an IT centre with 50 computers, dormitories, a library and science laboratories. The school can accommodate more than 500 day and boarding pupils.
Gender inequality was another reason the group wanted to build the girl’s school, Mr Sharaf said. “Building such a school is simply the right thing to do.
“It is one of the best investments any society can make, for it is only by supporting inclusive education, where boys and girls have equal opportunity, that we can build balanced societies, where everyone has genuine opportunities limited only by their individual talent.”
For Gloriya and her schoolmates, the generosity of benefactors such as the Sharaf Group has given her the opportunity to perhaps one day fulfil her dream of helping people in her country.
Updated: November 10, 2015 04:00 AM