by Susan Goracke
(A profile story from our partner, Africa Bridge)
With big smiles on their faces, Orida Mwakaja and Gilbert Agray celebrated along with their classmates earlier this year when a pickup truck loaded with boxes of new uniforms — crisp white shirts, apple-red sweaters and navy blue skirts for girls and shorts for boys — arrived at their Kalalo Village primary school in Lufingo Ward, southwestern Tanzania.
The uniforms and other school supplies arrived thanks to a grant to the school’s Most Vulnerable Children from Africa Bridge, a nonprofit organization based near Portland and one of Vibrant Village Foundation’s partners.
Orida and Gilbert are proud — not just of their new uniforms, but of the education they are receiving. To realize their dreams, they study hard at school. Twelve-year-old Orida is in Standard 7, her last year of primary school. Although she is an orphan, Orida has big plans for her future. After completing primary school, she wants to attend secondary school for six years. Her hope is to continue her education at a university and become both a doctor and a businesswoman.
“My favorite subject is math because it will help me to make a lot of money as a businesswoman,” Orida explains. When not studying or helping with home and farm chores, Orida enjoys running.
At 11, Gilbert is a Standard 6 year student whose favorite subject is Swahili, Tanzania’s national language. Gilbert loves playing soccer — known as football in Tanzania — and one day hopes to become an airline pilot.
Despite the new uniforms, Orida knows her school lacks some basic necessities.
“My primary school’s seven classrooms need more desks, more windows to help keep out the cold in the winter, a toilet and — most importantly — more teachers,” Orida points out. Eight teachers are responsible for 427 students, with class sizes ranging from 53 to 80. Orida hopes her village will improve its schools because she believes education is important in bettering the lives of villagers.
Africa Bridge’s staff listens to children in the Tanzanian villages it serves. Last year, Orida participated in an Africa Bridge Future Search session. She shared her concerns, identified needs she saw in the community and learned how she could help.
Africa Bridge teaches and promotes self-sufficient agriculture to villagers so they can improve their standard of living and provide a future for vulnerable children, including orphaned children like Orida. The organization helps villagers establish crop and livestock co-operatives by providing start-up loans to co-op members and by offering intensive training.
Already, Gilbert and Orida are proud of Kalalo Village’s increased emphasis on agriculture. The village grows maize, bananas, avocados, coffee and tea, in addition to raising cows.
“I want Kalalo to be known for its agriculture,” Gilberts says.
In a country that has seen its adult population significantly reduced by the spread of HIV/AIDS, resulting in large numbers of orphans and fewer resources, children such as Orida and Gilbert understand they must overcome many challenges if they are to succeed in school and obtain the education they desire.
But they also see the positive changes already happening in their own village as organizations such as Africa Bridge empower villagers to create economically sustainable businesses, grow more food and improve schools so that even the vulnerable children and families will thrive.