The value of educating young women
Two Queen’s alumnae are making a difference in the East African nation of Tanzania by helping to educate young women to build better lives for themselves and others.
Maureen Law, Meds’64, and I were at Queen’s at the same time, but although the University was much smaller in those days, we never met. That happened about 40 years later when our shared concern for girls’ education brought us together. Now both of us are very involved as board members of TEMBO, a small Ottawa-based charity. The word tembo means “elephant” in Swahili, and the acronym stands for Tanzania Education & Micro-Business Opportunity.
For nearly 10 years, TEMBO has sponsored girls in the Longido District of northern Tanzania to go to secondary school, teachers’ college, and vocational school. Over those years, TEMBO has sponsored more than 200 girls for up to six years of education. It’s currently sponsoring 85 girls. The girls TEMBO helps are mostly Maasai who come from homes with very few resources. Without this sponsorship, they would almost certainly be married and pregnant before the age of 15.
The parents of the girls are often illiterate and are unable to provide much support. Their community is only beginning to understand the value of education. That’s just one of the reasons the sponsored girls struggle for academic success. Others include the fact that their primary school education often is very weak. The girls attend overcrowded schools that have few, if any, resources. Secondary school classes are in a third language. (These girls are born into homes where the language spoken is Ma, an oral tradition; primary school lessons are delivered in Swahili, while secondary school is taught in English.)
To improve their opportunities in life, it’s clear these children need an earlier intervention. Seeking a possible solution, TEMBO maintains contact with local educators, government officials, education officers, traditional leaders, parents, and students who, despite these barriers, have “made it.” The overwhelming conclusion of these interactions is that the community needs broad support, and so TEMBO is about to begin construction of a Learning Centre that will offer informal education programs for nursery-age children, primary school students, secondary school students, and adults. In short, the Learning Centre will be a resource for all members of the community.
The Longido District Learning Centre will build on the work of the small three-room library that TEMBO has been operating in Longido Village for several years, as well as on the lessons learned from the small school and community library that TEMBO has recently built in the nearby village of Orbomba.
This part of TEMBO’s work has become our special passion. We’ve worked with local leaders and together have developed an understanding that to be successful, the learning Centre must belong to the community and serve the needs expressed by the residents.
Orbomba has provided an excellent site for the Centre, and Maureen and I returned to Tanzania in October to finalize an agreement whereby the village will assume responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the Learning Centre once it’s constructed and resourced.
We’re now a very experienced team. Maureen had a distinguished career that included the position of Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare in the federal government and senior positions with the World Bank and World Health Organization. After a career in information technology, I graduated from U of Windsor law school in 1990 and practised law in Ottawa until I retired in 2009.
TEMBO is a small charity that keeps its administrative costs low. All its Canadian members are volunteers. In Tanzania, TEMBO has five female employees who are the breadwinners for their families and are now able to send their own children to school.
If you’d like to learn more about the work of TEMBO, please see www.projectembo.org.