It is not every day you meet a person like Paul Gwacha. He is so passionate about education that, even after being run off the road by elephants and stranded for a week in a remote village, he got back on his motorbike to continue providing face-to-face support to community learning centers. Gwacha is the District Coordinator for the Radio Instruction to Strengthen Education (RISE) Project in northern Tanzania’s Kiteto District. Implemented by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT), with support from the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the RISE Project provides accelerated, early primary education to out-of-school children in under-served areas via Mambo Elimu Community Learning Centers (MECLCs) and an Interactive Radio Instruction series.
Gwacha’s resolute commitment and determination is key to RISE’s success in Kiteto, a remote rural district where it is not always easy to mobilize support for education. Kiteto is inhabited largely by agriculturalist communities and Masaai pastoralists. Although many parents are aware of Tanzania’s Education for All policy, there are still a large number of children not attending government schools. In many communities, families do not have the resources to pay for uniforms, books, and other indirect education costs, and schools are often more than eight kilometers away. Also, especially among pastoralist groups like the Masaai, there is a fear that male children who follow the route of education will migrate to cities, and the community will lose its skills and manpower. Female Masaai children often marry at puberty and leave their studies to focus on their family responsibilities.
Ownership and Support for Learning
Gwacha meets with the largely Masaai communities to listen to their fears and to discuss the benefits of education in ways that are relevant to their lives and needs. With RISE staff and district MoEVT officials, he mobilizes their support and ownership in establishing a MECLC in their village. For example, he points out that benefits of being literate in Kiswahili include being able to visit a hospital without a translator and to read medicine labels. Together they also discuss how education can help young people not only communicate with government leaders and teachers, but become government leaders and teachers themselves.
'We've Reached Somewhere'
Although Gwacha was born in a town outside of Kiteto, he moved to the district as a primary school teacher in the 1980s and has stayed because he is invested in and appreciated by the community. He has learnt KiMaa and uses it to facilitate community dialogues, and he has gained the trust of the communities with whom he works by being straightforward and honest with them. He has also collaborated effectively with the Kiteto district office and earned its recognition and support. Gwacha explains that community and district support are critical to ensuring the future of the non-formal educational activities in the region. “We’ve reached somewhere, but we still have a long way to go,” he notes. “This year is about sustainability because the RISE project will be finishing in 2010 and then the district will take on the management of the IRI centers.”
The district has recently taken financial responsibility for the MECLCs and will take on full management of the centers once the RISE project ends. It will be a tough job coordinating between the district office and the different villages without RISE’s overall management, but given Gwacha’s energy and determination, there is a good chance of success.