On August 1st, 2015, Intersport in production with Arrow Electronics arrived on ground in Tanzania to do a story on Neema International and the Tuleeni Orphanage as part of their CBS Courage In Sports annual broadcast. Courage in Sports is an hour special featuring different organizations/heroes in sports and how they have made a difference or inspired the world. One of the honorees for the 2015 special is 21-year-old Austin Gutwein, who founded the non-profit organization Hoops of Hope—through free-throw-a-thon events and basketball marathons, Austin and Hoops of Hope have raised over $4,000,000 to aid in the construction of health clinics and schools as well as to provide medical supplies and educational materials to thousands of orphans in Africa. Austin arrived in Moshi, Tanzania to present Neema International with two basketball hoops for the new Tuleeni Orphanage center in Kitandu Village, Uru.
In addition to the basketball hoops, Neema International was chosen as the first ever recipient of the Digitruck, produced and funded by Arrow Electronics and their partners Close the Gap, Greenlink, and Affordable Computers and Technology Tanzania (ACTT). The Digitruck is a 40-foot shipping container that has been converted into an insulated and furnished classroom equipped with 20 laptop computers, a printer, a TV screen, and an Internet router. The entire truck is powered by solar panels, which are built in on the roof of the container and can hold enough energy to power the truck for 2 full days.
The Digitruck is located at the new Tuleeni Orphanage facility in Uru. It was such an incredible couple of days having the Intersport team, Arrow Electronics representatives, and Austin all in town for the filming of the “Courage in Sports” segment. Mandy got to present the Digitruck to Mama Faraji and Tuleeni children and all the children got to play with the computers… their faces lit up with hope and excitement.
Because Mandy and the kids have not moved into the new center yet, the Tuleeni children are only able to use the computers on the weekends when they are not in school. However, Mandy and Ali wanted to make sure that this amazing classroom was being utilized as much as possible so they decided to start a “Digitruck class” for kids in Uru who were not currently enrolled in school.
“There were a couple kids who worked day in and day out alongside us during the weeks leading up to the arrival of the Digitruck… they helped hoe/dig the sides of a road to expand the width so that the Digitruck could pass through the village successfully. The road that Ali, the kids, and I worked on was a total length of 1.2 kilometers. When we tried to offer the kids some sort of payment or even lunch during the days they worked with us, one of the boys looked at us and said, ‘The only thing I want is to be able to be one of the students who gets to study in your classroom once the truck arrives.” He mentioned not wanting to go down the same path as his older siblings and thought there was something better out there for him. The other children all agreed and said that they too would give anything to get the chance to go to school. There was no doubt in my mind that these 6 individuals would be the first students on the roster for the Digitruck class.” — Mandy Stein
Mandy and Ali’s original idea was to just put these teenagers in a classroom to get them off the street and hopefully introduce them to other kids like themselves who wanted to get an education and not to wind up becoming a teen parent or an alcoholic like so many individuals had around them. Mandy and Ali didn’t really have a plan for these children’s futures… they just put the kids in the classroom anyways because they had to start somewhere. The girls officially began teaching classes in mid-August for 15 teenagers in Uru between the ages of 13 and 18 years old. All of these individuals attended primary school but for one reason or another are no longer in school. (Refer to the bottom of this page for more information about the Tanzanian Education System) Eight of the Digitruck students are girls-—more often than not, Mandy and Ali have seen girls from Uru get pregnant within a year or two of dropping out of school, and then go on to have between 6-8 children EACH before the age of 35. If they could prevent this from happening, they could not only save these potential mothers’ lives but also prevent anywhere from 48-64 children being born to mothers who have minimal education and no way to support a family.
“These students are bright and want SO badly to succeed and get an education… and that was immediately apparent to us when we first put them in the Digitruck classroom—They didn’t fail the PSLE because they were lazy or because they weren’t smart… Instead it seems that the fault lies in the hands of the education system (the teachers, classrooms, schools, resources, etc)—these students had hardly learned anything in their 7 years of primary school education… and now, at 13 or 14 years old, their academic career is over— unless we could do something about it…” –Ali Hanson, Neema Assistant Director
What could Neema International do to give these kids a better future?? There had to be more out there waiting for them besides a life of destitution.
While public government schooling was not an option for these students, they are still eligible to attend a Private Secondary School if they can pass the test, get accepted, and pay the school fees. Some of these students haven’t been in school for three or four years now, and are 17 or 18 years old, but even they are still eligible for private schooling—Mandy has helped over 70 children of all different ages apply to private schools in the past and therefore is very familiar with the entrance exams and what these students need to know in order to be accepted.
She and Ali set up a curriculum that was highly focused on English and Mathematics—while these students will not be ready in time to apply for the 2016 school year which begins in January, if they continue going at the pace they’re moving at now and the students all continue studying extremely hard, they will DEFINITELY be ready to sit for a Private Secondary School entrance exam in September/October 2016. The girls hope that their students will be able to begin real schooling again in January 2017.
Mandy and Ali made a deal with the Digitruck students—if they remained dedicated to class and worked hard, Mandy and Ali would make sure to get them to a high enough academic level that would give them a fighting chance to be accepted to a handful of excellent schools in the Kilimanjaro region. In order for this to happen though, Ali and Mandy would have to teach at an extremely fast pace and the majority of the studying and memorization would have to take place outside the classroom, on the students’ own time.
This places a lot of responsibility on each student and gives him or her the power to decide what their future will look like. The only behavioral guidelines that we have set for these students are that they don’t get pregnant/get anyone pregnant (if pregnant, they will not be granted admission to any school no matter how smart the individual may be) and that the students keep their Digitruck grade average above 50%. If they hold up their end of the deal, we plan to use Neema International’s Education Sponsorship Program to find them a sponsor who will fund their education all the way through to their completion of university.
For children who grew up in a safe home filled with positive influences, these guidelines would have been a no brainer, because getting pregnant or doing drugs or failing classes weren’t things that existed in their sheltered world. Additionally, schooling and getting an education would have been a given, instead of something that you wished for like a Christmas present or a reward. Unfortuantely, this wasn’t the case for the Digitruck students.
The aforementioned 15-year-old boy (who helped us prepare for the Digitruck’s arrival and wanted nothing more than to go to school), is the youngest of 6 siblings, all of which whose educational career ended after Primary School. His two older sisters are both married with children and have moved to a different village but are still living in poverty. His 24 year old brother is an alcoholic and has been in and out of jail multiple times—his 20 year old brother, who has a two year old daughter, hangs out with a crowd that resorts to drinking all day instead of being productive members of society—his 17 year old brother, a victim of rape himself, has gone on to rape two younger girls in the village. And this sweet 15-year-old student of ours is stuck living in a two-room mud hut alongside of his parents, all of his brothers, two of their ‘wives’ and their offspring. This is not exactly a conducive environment for a teenage boy who is trying to write a different ending to his life story. After the first day of class, when all the students were leaving, he looked Ali and Mandy in eyes and said in the most sincere way possible, “Thank you so much….”
Mandy and Ali are aware that many of their students come from similar situations and that there is no way that they can fully understand the influences that the students’ families may have on them. The girls know that making a life change and deciding to better your own future can be very difficult for a teenager to grasp and that school is the last thing on these students’ minds when they are hungry and tired and there is so much going on around them that they can’t control… so to help motivate these students, Mandy and Ali have brought them clean clothes and food from time to time and often reward them by putting on a movie during class instead of simply doing work. Additionally they are in the process of setting up a partnership with a Canadian non-profit organization called Femme International, who focuses on feminine health, personal hygiene (for both males and females) as well as Sex Education. Femme did an educational workshop with the older Tuleeni children in 2014 and it was extremely successful—the kids learned so much and have tried to apply it into their everyday lives.
“The students have created a family amongst themselves. They now have friends who have similar goals as them and two adults who serve as their champions and are willing to fight for their right to a better future.”
Information about the Tanzanian Education System:
At the end of Primary Class 7 (the last year of primary school), the students take a nation-wide Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE). All students who score 40% and above are eligible to go on to Secondary School and will receive placement at the local government Secondary School they are zoned to. These students can either go to the public school they were assigned to, or, if their families can afford it, they can apply to a private school and take an entrance exam to gain admission there. Everyone is allowed to apply to private schools (regardless of if you passed the PSLE), but if a student couldn’t pass the PSLE, it is highly unlikely that he or she would be accepted into a private school—and even if they were admitted, the student would have an extremely hard time competing academically… also, private secondary schools cost about $1200 per year and the majority of families cannot afford this expense.
So in other words, if a student doesn’t pass the PSLE, his or her academic career is over at the age of 13 or 14. While failure to pass the PSLE is the most common reason why students do not go on to Secondary School, there are still FAR TOO MANY students that we meet who DID pass their Class 7 national exam, but their parents cannot afford to pay for them to go to Secondary School. Public/Government Secondary Schools are not free and cost about $130-$200 per year. While this is a huge drop from that of private schools, there are still tons of families who cannot come up with this amount annually—especially if they have 5 or 6 other children to provide for.
For more information, please visit our Education project page.