Here’s the latest from Patricia Schneidewind, our founder and director. She sent me her first blog post this morning and I’m putting it up for her. Enjoy:
As most of you know, I am currently at our project site, and writing from the “Bakhita House,” the project base camp. I have been silent far too long regarding the incredible progress we are making here in Tanzania, so I want to use my first blog post as a chance to tell you the Bakhita Story.
Ifakara, home of the Bakhita Girls Project, lies in one of poorest regions in Tanzania. Although it is the district capital, the town cannot even be reached by a paved road. The government for the most part neglects the region, and the development projects I have seen have been far and few between. It is almost impossible to find milk, yoghurt here, and the standard of living is very low, even in comparison to the rest of Tanzania. The only main effect the recent year’s economic growth has had on the region is the increasing brain-drain where only few people ever return, due mainly to the lack of infrastructure and job opportunities and rural/urban migration where many girls end up as child laborers, street children or sex workers.
To date, only 5% of the Tanzanian female population is attending secondary school, and only very small minorities of this 5% come from low socio-economic backgrounds. With the Tanzanian national poverty rate being 41.6% it is impossible to grasp the millions of girls who are denied access to schooling. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that if only 5% of girls are attending secondary schooling, and because Ifakara is such a comparatively underdeveloped region, that the percentage of girls in school here is even smaller, simply due to the lack of access to educational institutions, especially amongst the overwhelming poor population here. The need for a revolution is blatantly obvious.
The Bakhita Vision started to take form two years ago, when I first got involved in working in Tanzania. Two years ago, while I was teaching at St. Dominic Savio School, I met Senorina. And, as it so often is with two passionate women, dreams of change for the devastating situation so many young girls face surfaced continually. Dreams of creating an all-girls school with an aim to assist girls, who face both gender-based and economic injustices in realizing their potential and living a dignified and self-reliant life through providing secondary education to girls who could otherwise not afford to attend school started to take form. We dreamt of providing education to and re-establishing self-confidence and enable self-empowerment in young mothers, many of whom are forced to deal with disrespect and stigmatization from the community, but even their families. We dreamt of Bakhita.
Two years later, I returned to Tanzania hoping to set up a pilot class for 10 to 15 girls. But never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that by the second half of August I would be able to say we ARE setting up a pilot class. We have the classroom, the teacher, the cook (who will be providing lunches to the students free of charge for the students), a watchman (for the safety of the girls during the day and the school materials and property during the night). And most importantly, 15 girls, two of which are young mothers, who are all very excited to participating in an orientation course for Form 1, which will focus primarily on making the girls more comfortable with studying almost all their subjects in English. Furthermore, in order to facilitate both intellectual and social growth, in other words to launch Bakhita Girls as a platform for psycho-social support, we have hired a teacher who is a trained councilor and we will be conducting group and individual (when needed) counseling reproductive health skills, psycho-social problems and medical needs.
Starting next week, 15 girls will be sitting in our classroom. 15 girls will inaugurate the Bakhita dream.