My day job has prevented me from adding to this blog since last December, but I cannot resist writing about my just-completed visit to northern Tanzania on behalf of the Karimu International Help Foundation (www.karimufoundation.org). My wife, Marianne, and I left from Los Angeles International Airport on July 29. Sixteen American, Chinese, and Japanese volunteers worked with us and the people of Dareda Kati. An account of some of the events of our thirteen days in this remote village follows.
August 1: Our first full day here was a quiet one, although it would be interrupted by some startling news. The day was quiet because Ufani Primary School’s teachers were taking part in a nation-wide strike of teachers. They have hoped to duplicate the success of Tanzania’s doctors, to whom the country’s central government recently conceded a large (twenty-six percent) pay increase after a strike. The starting pay for teachers is about $125 per month.
Daniel Amma, the handsome, thoughtful Assistant Head Teacher, led our volunteers on an informative tour of Ufani School. It culminated in a look at the five-thousand-liter holding tank for the school’s brand-new water system. Karimu had funded the purchase of the tank and the laying of pipes that bring fresh water to Ufani, as well as to a handful of taps along the route that the pipes take from the water source on the breathtaking Rift Valley escarpment, which towers above the school. The government has assumed responsibility for regularly disinfecting the water. This will save many lives not only here, but several miles away in Managa, a village we have never visited. The World Bank agreed to a government request to supplement Karimu’s work by laying pipe all the way to Managa.
Suddenly, a call that Daniel took on his cellphone suppressed the jubilant mood: the government had jailed the leader of the local chapter of the teachers union and was threatening to arrest other strikers en masse.
Daniel and his wife, Victoria, and their two young children had lived in a cramped, gloomy mud hut only two or three years ago. By borrowing from a bank, however, and faithfully making payments at the standard interest rate of twenty to twenty-five percent, Daniel has managed to build a small brick house with concrete floors, and to acquire enough solar energy to power a single dim fluorescent bulb in the sitting room. He and his family dream of borrowing again so that they can install indoor plumbing and then again in order to upgrade their solar system. A hard line by the government on teacher salaries will not help.
When we arrived in the village yesterday afternoon, Daniel mentioned the strike. He also brought up the possibility that Tanzania’s high court would instruct the government to yield to the teachers’ demands. Today I reminded him of this, but he shook his head.
“In Tanzania,” he told me, “the courts are not independent. They will do whatever the government says they must do.”
Back in the United States, people sometimes ask Karimu’s officers why we raise money to improve public institutions that the Tanzanian government ought to maintain. In fact, the government had threatened to close Ufani School in 2007 because of the filthiness of its lone pit toilet—which served more than two hundred students—rather than come through with the funds to help this very poor community build an adequate latrine. That abdication of government responsibility led to the founding of Karimu. The current campaign against teachers is a fresh reminder of why Karimu has a place here, working with schools and other public facilities to which the government’s commitment is shaky.