Tanzania’s Good as Giving Gets – Giving U™
Giving Spotlight: Mpanga School, Usambara Mountains, Tanzania
When traveling in the Usambara Mountains, my group and I visited a school called Mpanga Primary School that taught about 750 kids, ages 7-14. In preparing for our visit, we went on a shopping expedition to buy some gifts for the students. Tito, our guide, suggested that we buy paper, pencils, chalk —basic necessities for the school. But we collectively rejected Tito’s advice (school supplies seemed so boring) and instead bought an assortment of sports equipment, musical instruments, and art supplies and much more fun!
We arrived at the Mpanga Primary and met the school principal in his office. We presented our gifts and he thanked us profusely, telling us that the sports equipment and art supplies will make school more enjoyable and encourage the kids to attend. We then went on a tour of the classrooms and saw the children (who go to school in shifts due to lack of space), squeezed in 5-6 kids to a desk and sharing 1 book. Some classes had more than 100 students in them. We all took a step back. It was then crystal clear that we had selfishly bought the children what we wanted them to have, not what they in fact needed. Looked like we were the one’s learning a lesson that day.
The kids were fabulous though (as all kids are!) and excited to meet a group of foreign visitors.
As part of the welcoming ceremony, they all lined up outside the school and sang and danced for us. Then it was our turn to sing and dance. Our group of international travelers chose one song that most of us knew — the chicken dance — which we had practiced the night before. We got up in front of the students and quacked with our hands, flapped our wings and shook our tail feathers — more or less in unison.
We pulled a couple of students from the audience to join us and the kids were besides themselves with laugher. Several literally fell to the ground in hysterics, especially when their principal got up to shake his fanny too.
Afterwards, a couple of us from the tour decided to make a group donation to the school, which GAP Adventures’ Planeterra Foundation matched. Jointly we were able to raise $800 to go toward the purchasing of building supplies for 20 new desks. The parents of the children built the desks from the building materials that we supplied.
The new desks were a much better use of funds than the flutes and paints we originally bought. That said, the kids loved the soccer ball, which replaced a ball of rags they had been kicking around. Can you imagine 700 kids sharing 1 ball of rags?
The children of Tanzania, and the Mpanga Primary School in particular, were truly amazing to meet and an unqualified highlight of the 3-week trip of East Africa.