Jonathan visited the Ikimba schools for the second time in September 2015. Here he tells us what he found.

Tanzanian students have a tradition of greeting visitors with regimented displays of assembly warm ups, managed by the head boy or girl, and enormous enthusiasm, and my recent visit was no exception.

classroom ikimba tanzaniaOne I remember from last time was Alex, two years ago a young form 2 student and acting as student librarian in the new library. Now a taller form 4 student just about to take his final exams, Alex still maintains the careful records of library loans and use, and we reminisced about our first meeting, when Mzee Elias Mashasi, our local representative, cut the cake made especially for the occasion.

One of our aims for this visit was to encourage the setting up of girls’ clubs in the schools, to bring girls together to address the challenges facing them at school and at home by engaging in activities such as discussions, sports (how they love netball!), role play, drama, songs and peer group mentoring to help support younger students.

We hope that this will help them build self-esteem and encourage families and communities to recognise the value of education. Attendance at school by girls is not always consistent due to traditional gender inequalities, demands made on them by families and the difficulties of managing their monthly menstrual hygiene needs.

Under the trees

I held meetings with girls in the schools during my visit where such issues were discussed. I was surprised how open they were prepared to be with me and other teachers, both male and female, and it is now becoming easier for male staff to be involved in these discussions.

The schools are responding with new ideas for supporting girls’ aspirations. Izimbya school, to which I travelled 55 kilometres on teacher Robert’s motorbike and held a girls’ meeting ‘under the trees’, has already introduced some counselling for girls and better hygiene facilities and support.

I also held a workshop for counsellors and teachers from the schools. Joyce Sebastian, school counsellor and Veronique Mawenda, second mistress from the other remote Kibirizi School, having left very early in the morning arrived on motorbike taxis, protecting their beautiful dresses with large plastic capes from the dusty gravel roads that had choked me the day before riding pillion on Robert’s bike to the schools, but appeared looking as if they had just stepped off the morning commuter train to London.

Great ideas for girls’ empowerment

In a workshop brainstorming session the following are some of the group’s ideas generated by a lively Post-It note activity in response to the question – “Why and how should we develop girls’ clubs in our schools?”

These chimed well with the views expressed by the girls themselves in my meetings at the schools during the previous two days. How reassuring that their teachers, counsellors and mentors thought the same.

There was hope here for some positive developments and I look forward to my next visit, when I can once again ride the dusty roads on Robert’s Korean-built motor bike through the rural beauty of the Kamachumu plateau to enjoy the school songs, the teachers’ and students enthusiastic welcome, and see if girls really are achieving their aims for gender equality, learning and a future supported by a greater willingness of families and society to allow them to go where their aspirations and hearts lead them.