Songea School, Tanzania

The drive from Morogoro to Songea was fascinating and I dearly wish that I had more time to spend in the area. Shortly after leaving Morogoro, with its lovely mountain scenery, we entered Mikumi National Park. Our route took us some thirty miles across this park and even though I needed to get on I still saw hundreds of Thompson Gazelles and numerous giraffe.

From the far park gate to the turning for Songea the scenery was really interesting, lush, green, several hill ranges and mile after mile of grasslands. The small round bushes that festoon the Massi Mara remind me of the wool balls that appear on a badly washed jumper.

The final one hundred and fifty miles from Mikambo to Songea were truly beautiful, and the first one hundred of them have to go in the book of ‘roads I must drive my MG on before I die’ However the state of the road deteriorated into potholes and some sections with the surface tarred and gravelled, but the potholes were not filled first, so what you got was camouflaged potholes. We arrived in Songea just on 18:00, smack on schedule for once.

I checked into the hotel and waited for Oswin, Coco’s man on the spot. He arrived just as I was starting into my first Tusker beer. He filled me in on the following days schedule and also broke the news to me that the models cars, so generously donated for the children, by Rob Gammage, have been stolen. I was gutted, but fortunately the children didn’t know about them and so will not miss them.

Primary education in Tanzania is available to all children from the government, secondary education however, is generally inaccessible unless the child is particularly academic, or from wealthy parents that can send them to private schools. Coco support a primary school that was originally built by the community, but which the government wouldn’t staff. With Coco’s support the school started operating in 2006 and now has some 180 pupils. The first of my photos in the CoCo Songea picture gallery is of some of those pupils that were due to take their final National Exam the next week. Failure at this stage can condemn a child to a lifetime of poverty because they will be unable to get a secondary education. Those in the photo have been receiving Coco sponsored tutoring to assist them through this stage. Pass results have gone from the around 20% to 90+%.

Coco also runs a secondary school with over a hundred pupils and also vocational training courses. Photo 2 shows the main school building on the left and an extension on the right. The extension has been built by some of pupils studying a building course. They are unable to complete the project currently as they don’t have the cost of the roofing materials, plaster or paint.

Photo 3 shows the woodwork classroom where the pupils make doors, window frames, desks and chairs, as well as carrying out repairs and maintenance of the school. The 4th photo is of the tailoring classroom where they make soft furnishings for the school and all of the uniforms.

My 5th photo shows some 30 pupils who despite it being their annual holiday stayed at school for an extra day just to welcome me as their guest. I also persuaded the staff to join in the shoot.

A shot of the schools science lab demonstrates the minimal equipment that they currently have to teach physics, biology and chemistry. The final photo is of ‘Oliver’s House’ where some of the resident pupils sleep. This house and the surrounding ground was bought and given to the school by Sue and Chris Vernon following the tragic death of their son in a road accident in Africa.

As well as schooling, Coco run a micro financing program in the community and adult education services particularly centering on malaria and HIV Aids. Finally, they also run a highly successful agricultural program teaching the community how to grow crops without industrial fertilizers, etc. This year the community sold over twenty tons of maize, a feat never previously achieved.

I only spent one day in Songea and it really wasn’t anything like enough, but Bridget and I have to press on. We drove from Songea up to Mbeya not far from the Zambian border which would lead us into our next country.

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