by Mara Lozier Shore

Vailethe lives near Lashaine Village in a remote part of northeastern Tanzania.  Like the other girls in her community, Vailethe lives with her family and their livestock in a boma, an enclosure made of thornbush branches built to keep out elephants and lions.  The boma includes one or more dung and stick huts, which provide the only shelter for most families.

In the traditional tribal culture that is the backbone of village life in this area, girls have virtually no opportunity to attend school beyond the primary level, as almost all secondary schools are in distant towns or cities.  Rural families lack money for food, let alone shoes, school uniforms, transportation, or tuition.  Foot travel is the usual form of transport here, even for journeys of many miles.  While boys and men hunt, protect livestock, and herd goats or cattle, women and girls do most of the physical work of family life.  They build bomas, collect and carry firewood and water, grow and cook food for the family, and care for the children, the elderly, as well as the _boma _itself.<!–more–>

As in many tribal cultures, men who have reached warrior status may have sex with any woman or girl they please, regardless of age or relationship.  She may be a child, she may be married, no matter—she may not refuse.  In these cases, girls are simply not in control of their lives.

A bright spot on this horizon is the Orkeeswa Secondary School, run by the Indigenous Education Foundation of Tanzania ( www.ieftz.org), an amazing secondary school for children.  Orkeeswa is a collaborative effort between local Tanzanians and Americans that attempts to solve the problems that prevent 97% of Tanzanian children from attending secondary school.  By building a sustainable school in this rural area, and by sensitively balancing the needs of the community’s traditional cultural values with access to education, Orkeeswa has created a community-based school that is improving the well being of the students and their families.  Specifically, Orkeeswa aims to:

increase the number of children attending secondary school,

provide students with safe drinking water and nutritious food,

teach knowledge and skills to students and their families in order to change attitudes and behaviors regarding nutrition, sustainable agriculture, and animal husbandry,

provide health education and services to students and their families (including HIV/AIDS prevention),

create environmental sustainability through the use of sanitation, clean water, and renewable energy resources.

In order to attend Orkeeswa School, Vailethe had to score in the top percentiles on an admissions test.  Only a lucky few qualify for the coveted spots in each class.  Only one child per family may apply, as Orkeeswa’s aim is to spread the learning over as many families as possible.  Admission to Orkeeswa is life-changing, opening doors to knowledge, opportunity and resources not only for the student, but also for his or her family.

Maura continues her post about Vailethe and her inspiring story tomorrow…