We recently returned from a trip to visit the Serengeti Scholars in Arusha, TZ. Half of the Serengeti Scholars are in High School, soon to be ready for the next step, whether it be university or a job. Our visit concentrated on teaching the Scholars how to write a resume, how to interview for a job, and how to research jobs and university scholarships on the Internet. This was all new. While Career Counselors are so popular here, the position is never heard of there. Knowing this would be a challenge on our trip, I dug in. The questions I presented to the Scholars are commonplace here in the US. What is your birthday? “I don’t have a birthday. We are too poor to have my birthday celebration.” What is your address? “I don’t have an address……I live in the Village in a row house.”
By the time young men and women are in their mid to late teens, their sense of selves are well ingrained in their perception of who they are. For our Scholars, it is different. They have come together as a family, who help each other study, extend friendships to each other, and have a Project Manager who attends to their needs, and encourages their academic performance. This is admirable, to be sure. But apart from this support, who are they? To their parents, they are workers in the family. To their teachers, they are one of a hundred in a class. In fact, the common way to refer to a student us “that one.” How are young men and women able to overcome the status of being a “that one” and rise to a higher regard and existence?
Serengeti Scholars was founded as an educational organization. We quickly saw needs that called to us to become a Humanitarian Aid Organization. And now, we are a Career Planning Organization, destined to increase the self esteem of our Scholars whose shyness must be eradicated and sense of self increased in order to succeed in school and in life.
The majority of articles, posts, and commentary about Government Schools in Tanzania is that they are sub-standard. A great deal is written about the need for private schools to offer a quality education. I believe what I read, and when I first came to Tanzania, helped to fund a private preschool and day care. Outside the iron gates of the school was a village of hopelessness: young people milling around, women in little shops trying to sell vegetables and other basics, and wild dogs foraging around for whatever they could fill their stomachs with. Something was wrong. What was the purpose of life for the young kids who had nothing to do all day? What talent was going unnoticed and who cared? These thoughts kept eating away at me. What should be done? Build a Private School? Donate to an Ex-Pat School? None of these seemed like the right solution. In the current business world, scaleability is a criteria for growth – can we build this (whatever it is) and can it be scaled as business growth places new demands on the company? We used this thinking when it came to the idea of educating secondary and high school students in the Government system. Granted, these schools are substandard in appearance and function – class sized of 80 to 1 teacher, kids without books or recreational equipment, poorly equipped classrooms, and disenchanted teachers who are paid very little. Eventually they become as disenfranchised as many of the students in their charge. What began as a gamble – to choose the smartest kids in the highest ranked Government Schools in Arusha and surrounding villages, and get them through high school, was just that. And it is working Better than we thought it could. Eighteen Form IV Scholars are on their way to high school. They passed with Merit and Distinction and are elated to be on their way. In the break between now and when high school starts, they are students at a computer school, learning their way around the full Microsoft Suite. The goal: job ready youth who are out to help grow the infrastructure in this young country that needs so much, yet hold great promise. For a a relatively small $300.00 per year per student, our donors have given the Serengeti Scholars, pride, self-respect, and improved academic performance. We are ready to grow, and find the means to roll out the Serengeti Scholars Project beyond Northern Tanzania.
We are home from a wonderful and successful trip to Tanzania. We visited with our Project Manager, Ayubu Gadiye, the Serengeti Scholars, the Women’s Business Start Ups, and the Scholars’ parents. Each day of meetings was exciting compared to our last visit, when the Serengeti Scholars Project was first starting, 18 months ago. What has changed? There is an easiness, a sense of security, and pride in the lives of these 50 students and families that did not exist when we first met. Even more remarkable is the academic success of the Scholars, who have worked against all odds to get grades they never had achieved before. We are the demanding ones. We are the ones who listen to heartbreaking stories, each more wrenching than the one told before it. For every terrible story of of lives in dire situations, resulting in bad grades – there was another student with the same living situations, whose GPA was straight A’s. Entrance into the Serengeti Scholars Project looks first at Grade Point Average, and then family circumstance. When this Project was just a blink on our radar, we thought, “How would it be to pick really smart kids in Government Schools, and give them an opportunity to change their lives?” It (almost) makes no sense. Especially in Government Schools where the teacher ratio to pupil is 80-100 students to one teacher. It was the Wild West. Even the name Scholar makes no sense. Who would go to the poorest places on the face of the Earth, and find kids we could lift out of poverty? Who would expect to find Scholars in these Villages that God seemed to forget? We did. And it’s working. Just because there is not a school, and we have students in 16 schools, does not mean that we have not become a family. And I, who get to see these wonderful Scholars once a year, do not have a day go by that I am not thinking of the kids, and their families, and the potential we have for greatness. For every challenge, there is an answer. For every day wondering where our fees will come from, there is faith. Our sponsors and donors have made a miracle come true. You can be part of this miracle, too. If you’ve ever wanted to make a difference in people’s lives for the better, please visit our Donate Page.
Written by Barbara Poole, Founder
We’re off to Arusha, Tanzania this week to visit with the families of the Serengeti Scholars Project. We will meet with the Scholars, their parents, and our Women’s Business Start Up funded by Serengeti Seed Capital. What started out as a radical idea of not building a school, but instead taking the smartest, poorest kids and giving them the funding and mentorship to succeed in secondary school is succeeding beyond what we expected. More news this week as we travel and visit with the kids and their families who are proving that given education attention and respect, can rise above the poverty they live in. Please visit our website to learn more about the exciting work going on at Serenegti Scholars!
We’ve launched the Blog to share what we are doing at home and in Tanzania, where motivated, highly qualified qualified kids have been chosen as the first group of Serengeti Scholars. Each of these kids would never have walked through the door of a secondary school if it weren’t for the Project.
It’s our first year working with the Government Schools, and the poorest of the poor families. As of January, 32 kids from nine Government schools in and around Arusha, TZ are enrolled and looking to a bright future. The wait list for the Project is up to fifty, and we project 100 kids in School through our awesome donors support. What goes on to support this Project all the way in East Africa? This is the place to read all about it.
Last week, the Kid for Kids page on our site launched. Welcome to the Greenburg Academy in Yonkers, NY, where students and their teacher, Inez Arrigo, are the first School to sponsor Scholars. You’re reading the Blog, launching this week as well. It’s been an exciting time as photos of smiling students holding their new schoolbooks and supplies arrived in our Inbox. We’re off and running, and it’s really good!