Message from the Chair

During the winter of 2009, I taught English classes in Standard IV (4th grade) in a rural government primary school in northern Tanzania. On my first day, excited and nervous, I burst into the barren classroom speaking English in rapid fire, writing emphatically on a faded broken blackboard and pantomiming with huge gestures. At first neither my students nor I knew what to make of one another. The faces of the children gazed back at me, a mzungu (white person), in stunned silence-wide eyed and panicky. It would be an understatement to say that we had NO idea what to make of each other!

I was immediately struck by the intensity of their desire to learn – and I soon discovered its source. Standard IV is the first milestone in a Tanzanian student’s life. At the end of the Standard IV year, the students take a National Examination. If they do not pass this exam, they can repeat the year again and take the exam a second time. But they only have this second chance -- if they do not pass the exam again, their formal schooling is finished. For those who do pass, national examinations are given again at the end of Standard VII (7th grade). If students do not pass their Standard VII exams, they cannot continue on to secondary school. The structure is rigid and final. In 2009, only half of the students in Tanzania passed the Standard VII National Exam. And only about 20% continued on to secondary school.

As my 10 year old students and I learned first to trust, and then to communicate with one another, I often asked them what they did after their school day. Many of them shared that they had to walk over an hour through the forest and coffee fields to get home. Once at home, they were expected to spend several hours working on the family chores: ‘gathering firewood’, ‘collecting water’, ‘ helping to carry the baby’, ‘sweeping’, ‘herding goats’, ‘helping Mama cook’. This is typical of many African countries; large families are prevalent and the children work from their early years. Not surprisingly, the young girls are saddled with more domestic responsibilities than their brothers. Thus begins the cycle that inhibits many African girls from even having a chance for post-primary education. More often than not, the cost of secondary school education is beyond the reach of Tanzanian families with multiple children. Sadly, parents then must choose who among their children will go to school. The girls are needed at home. Cultural attitudes reinforce that girls don’t need further education after primary school.

I have seen the disappointment and anguish in the faces of promising young girls who must accept that their lives cannot be enriched by higher education simply because they are girls. Despite the overwhelming evidence presented by global research and regional summits that investing in girls’ and young women’s education is one of the most worthwhile solutions in breaking the cycle of poverty many families face, the opportunities for girls in Tanzania remain limited.

I believe that education empowers. I have been fortunate to have had gifted teachers in my life, and to have attended wonderful girls’ schools and an exceptional all women’s college. I still hear my teachers’ voices in my head, especially the voices of those teachers who taught me how to think and to express myself. We all remember certain teachers who gave us those lasting inspirations. I believe that good teachers care deeply about their students, know how to nurture confidence, and offer illuminations of the unknown possibilities the world can offer.

When I first visited Tanzania in 2004, I left deeply changed by the children I met who had their most basic needs and rights unmet. Since then, I discovered that by sharing their stories with friends and family, I could help raise awareness and funds to help them gain access to education, healthcare, nutrition and love—needs that will help them grow into healthy participants in their communities.

I speak for the Board of Trustees for The Girls Foundation of Tanzania when I set forth our commitment to serve and honor those whose passions are steering them to give, to volunteer, to teach and to train young girls in Tanzania thus helping to form a modern generation of skilled, informed and strong women who can change their futures and the futures of other young girls in this dynamic and growing country.

Nano Chatfield
Chair of the Board of Trustees