Project Bassadowish: A wider look at the community…

22nd February 2015

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The walk to school in beautiful Bassadowish.

The village itself has no distinct borders and stretches for several kilometres in all directions. At its heart a small market lines the main dirt road through town and behind it a grandiose circular church building stands by the school football pitch. It looks somewhat out of place surrounded by the humbler dwellings of the village community but is the heart of a mainly Roman Catholic and Lutheran community. A low lying range of steep hills encircles the village on one side, while open plains stretch to distant hills on the other. The walk to the village centre is flanked by the brown of ploughed fields, some worked with mechanised tractors and others with a wooden cattle driven plough.

The people of the village descend from the Datoga (also known as Mang’ati) and the Iraqw, two of the hundred and twenty or so tribes that can be found in Tanzania. The name of the village is derived from the Datoga language and means ‘White River’, possibly in relation to the large lake that fills the basin below the village. Swahili is the second language here after the local dialect, a form of Cushitic with elements of Hebrew and Arabic that has traveled from across the Mediterranean and now can be found throughout the ‘horn of Africa’. Early clans travelled from Iraq down through Ethiopia before they stopped at first in Mbulu, eventually going in search of better farming land they settled in Bassadowish and the surrounding area.

The Datoga people, similar in culture and practices to the better known Masai, followed the Nile down into Tanzania. As they travelled they spread along the Sudan and Kenya and were the original settlers in Bassadowish itself. With a shared interest in farming land and livestock, the two peoples have now integrated and differences are hard to see to any but the native eye. As is the case around the world, many traditions have now been rejected as young people travel and interact more with other communities and the tribal differences are now largely in the past. Stories of women who had become pregnant out of wedlock being taken out to the bush and left for the animals are now historical tales as the gender roles have modernised within Tanzania in a drive to improve equality.

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Mr Mike, outside Bassadowish Primary School.

Michael Hayshi Qamara or simply ‘Mr Mike’ is the village Chairman and has been since he was first elected to the role twenty-five years ago. Elected every five years, the Chairman is now a political position, Tanzania having abolished the power of tribal Chiefs in an effort to improve national unity under a one-party political system. Mr Mike arrives to meet us at the school where our team are camped. He walks with the poise and considered step of a visiting mayor and has an air of gravitas that affirms his position within the community. He is dressed in a light brown suit with a blue tribal robe thrown over and around the shoulders and has the keen enigmatic eyes and presence that suggest he isn’t a man to be trifled with. He tells us that: “We are very happy to have Raleigh here in the village. They bring a new thing to the village, new ideas and an opportunity to learn from each other. It is  good for the young people visiting here to see how hard life is for the people here.” And life is tough. A year of poor rainfall has left the village with a shortage of crops to feed both their families and their animals.

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Joseph, Headmaster of Bassadowish Primary School.

The Raleigh project in Bassadowish is centred on the primary school, a 3km walk from the village centre, though many children will walk 5km or more to get there. The Headmaster is a genial and charismatic man called Joseph, who travels 20km by motorbike down dirt tracks each day to get to the school. He is keen to share with us the challenges that the school faces here. The children here are generally in good health, they arrive early for school racing around the shells of classrooms and shooting greetings of ‘Jambo!’ and ‘Bye-bye’ to our group as we spoon luke-warm porridge into us from our campsite behind the school. Infrastructure is where the challenges lie here. Without an onsite kitchen the children go home for lunch, which for some is a considerable walk. Many won’t make it back for afternoon lessons. Previous Raleigh efforts have seen water provided on site and our current group will look to help build a kitchen and introduce sack and kitchen gardens to the school as a means of producing their own food.

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I sit down to talk with Joseph and his team of teachers, in particular Alex, a young teacher of English and Maths who is passionate and often answers on behalf of the Headmaster. The matronly figure of Madam Josephine, the Kiswahili teacher looks on a little sternly to his right, while the quiet and smiling Peter and Sada, who live next to the school, watch from across the room. Bassadowish Primary started in 2007 with just 48 pupils and now has over 300, spread over 7 teaching years. Last year nearly 80% of students who left went on to attend Senior school, twice that of the previous year. Many children will leave education to work on the family farm once they are mature enough, but the numbers staying in education is rising. I ask the teachers if they know about the Millennium Development Goals and the target to achieve primary education for all. Looks are exchanged and the consensus is that the MDG’s are perhaps something we are more aware of than the people we are trying to help. Joseph explains: “This is a custom of people  to wait for the politicians to do things” and I can sense the resignation that must come with facing such difficult challenges on a daily basis. Overall the mood of the teachers seems very positive and Joseph tells me: “We are very excited to have Raleigh here because we learn much from you. It’s also very good for the village, so we hope that Raleigh will always come here. We are lucky because Raleigh likes to work with schools so we thank god for that. We hope to teach the young people about our traditions and culture and hope they can help us too by improving the health of people here”. I leave the school thinking about the challenges that a headteacher faces in a Tanzanian primary school, where simply providing food and decent toilets is a major roadblock to delivering a decent education but despite this Bassadowish Primary School seems in good hands with Joseph leading it.

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School children at Bassadowish Primary School.

The people of Bassadowish face many of the same challenges that are faced all over Tanzania. Creating a solid infrastructure of clean water, sanitation, and hygiene is an essential for the effective delivery of education and community services. With many communities spread out over large areas and increased migration to urban centres in search of better paid work, the provision of community based services requires a huge effort and engagement. The work of Raleigh International and other charities within the region can certainly make progress but it’ll take continued and increased mobilisation of the community alongside this for change to remain sustainable and effective after our venturers have left.

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The Raleigh volunteers making great progress on the School kitchen.