Paul Yoronimo and Daniel Amma were the first two people that Marianne and I ever met in Dareda Kati. They met us when we got off the bus on the wide road—still made of dirt at that time, in 2007, and also treacherously potholed—that passed through the village center. Paul was the Head Teacher, and Daniel the Assistant Head Teacher, at Ufani Primary School, which explains why most of Karimu’s work in Dareda Kati has directly benefited Ufani School: Paul and Daniel got to us before anyone else could.
There was nothing underhanded in this. Marianne had asked our Tanzanian travel agent to put us in a remote village and to set us up with an opportunity for volunteer work. It happened that the agent, Joas Kahembe, knew about the terrible state of Ufani School. In fact, Joas knew that the school’s condition had been declining for several years. He had placed other visitors from rich countries in the village before, hoping that somebody would want to turn the school around. None of them had taken the bait. But, possibly because Marianne and I were teachers, we bit.
No child should be deprived of a decent education. Yet the work that Marianne and I ended up doing in Dareda Kati after we founded Karimu could have been usefully anchored to any number of other projects, besides the renovation of Ufani Primary School. Even the best school can’t do much for children who often stay home because traveling to school over bad roads exhausts them, or because the rainy season turns the roads into rivers of mud. Even the best school can’t do much for children who often stay home to help their mothers, sick from years of constant cooking over open fires for their big families. (In the latter case, needless to say, the children are almost always girls.)
These needs and others would have been visible to Marianne and me, if we had possessed the eyes to see them, while Paul and Daniel led us on our first walk over the village’s bad roads and past its open cooking fires. The needs would later come into sharp focus and guide Karimu’s expansion into areas of development work outside of education. However, on that first morning in Dareda Kati, all of the village’s needs—including those of Ufani School, which we would not see until the next day—formed a background blur. As we walked, Paul and Daniel were in focus.
Both seemed to be in their thirties. They insisted on carrying our overstuffed suitcases all the way to the house where we would stay. That was at least a two-mile walk. The ease with which they did so implied a strength that was not obvious in their slender frames. Marianne and I wore the khaki and olive-drab “safari” clothes that many tourists in Africa feel obliged to buy and that Africans themselves, with their love of bright fabrics, laugh at. But Paul and Daniel, as teachers, had opted for professional dignity over native color: dark slacks, shiny shoes, tweed coats.
Not every part of Africa is hot all of the time. On this overcast winter morning in the Southern Hemisphere, at four thousand feet above sea level, the tweed coats made sense. The shine of their shoes probably made less sense. It was rubbed off by the powdery red dirt of the roads, rutted by oxcart wheels and eroded by the annual rains, as we followed these gracious men up and down the hills of the village.
Our path in this direction was mostly downhill, so I found myself already worrying that Marianne and I would have to carry our own suitcases on the mostly uphill way back, five days later. (Of course, this being a part of the world where hospitality is unquestioned, we would not even have the choice to carry our own luggage when we left.)
The next year, the renovation of Ufani Primary School started, and there would be times when shiny shoes made even less sense. The work began during a school vacation so that classes would not be disrupted. But Daniel and one or two other teachers would show up every day with some of the older students. The ones in line to graduate from primary school had requested extra help to prepare them for the upcoming exams that would give them their only opportunity to qualify for secondary school. During breaks in the long study sessions, held in the one classroom that did not need rebuilding, Daniel traded his tweed coat for a shovel and helped the Tanzanian builders and Karimu volunteers mix and spread cement.
By the time there had been a few more Karimu trips to the village, and its needs for development work not limited to education had become clear, Daniel’s motive for ruining his shoes in construction work seemed less mysterious. Tanzania’s program of universal education, admirable for its ambition, is nevertheless a government-mandated policy, implemented with a certain disregard of the need for citizen approval. Few government resources find their way into rural villages, some of whose residents must fear that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing: what is the chance that a child who has acquired a taste for learning will be content with a life of subsistence farming? Why would such a a child remain in the village to live near his or her parents, as they grow older and need their child’s help?
Policies that will benefit a nation can hurt individuals. The wounds will fester if those individuals have reason to fear that their government will do nothing to redress the injuries. So it’s not hard to understand why some people in rural villages do not trust the schools, their provenance, or their mission.
This mistrust has been a factor in Karimu’s readiness to take on projects unconnected to education, like the footbridge over an often-dangerous river that we built last year. We have wanted our actions to show that we value the lives of all of the villagers, including those who are suspicious of the modernizing course that the government has set for their country. But even the most suspicious rural villager is likely to give a break to a teacher who shovels cement with them in his shiny shoes.
The Head Teacher, Paul, never shoveled cement with us. Though he had been Head Teacher for some time, he kept his wife and three children in another village that was not within walking distance, even for Africans. We saw less of Paul during the school vacations than we saw of Daniel, who lived less than an hour away by foot from his classroom.
Over the years, Paul’s family found a ride to Ufani School to meet us a couple of times. The children were watchful, and their large, pretty mother—whom Paul identified, in the style of Tanzania, not by her name, but as “my wife”—was extremely warm. (We have spent enough time in Daniel’s house to have made a point of asking his wife’s name, which is information he would never have volunteered; she is called Victoria.) Marianne and I would hug Paul and his family and chat about paying a visit to their home.
Unfortunately, our obligations in Dareda Kati are many, and visiting Paul’s family always failed to rise to the top of our list. We regret this now, after his transfer to a school closer to where he lives, which took place before our 2013 trip. In the Ufani School teacher meetings attended by Marianne and me, and sometimes by our Board member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, we never discerned any tension between Paul and the others as they talked about the school’s needs and how Karimu might help. We always admired the way that Paul seemed to present himself as no more than the first among equals, and the way he insisted that every teacher’s opinion should be heard.
Yet there were issues of mistrust, which haven’t been fully explained to us up to now. We have the sense that the mistrust may have been rooted in recommendations for promotion that some of the teachers thought were unfair, or in decisions about textbooks that some of them thought were not in the best interests of the students. Although there may have been more, these are the hints we have.
Maybe we’ll never get a full explanation. Rightly, much goes on in the village that is none of our business. Marianne and I may still try to see Paul and his family at their home some day. Still, the visit could be awkward if the subject of the reasons for his transfer comes up, so it’s possible that we won’t see Paul again.
We want to believe that the decision to transfer Paul was wise, and that the children of Ufani Primary School will be better served in the future. But, whatever he did wrong, we are convinced that he did some good things for the school, and we can’t forget those.
At the end of our first five days in the village, in 2007, which began when he and Daniel carried our suitcases for us, it was Paul that we talked to more purposefully than to anyone else. We promised to send money to help Ufani School, but we also told him that we could not afford another trip to Africa. And it was Paul who assured us that we were wrong by taking my arm and looking in my eye and saying that we had entered the people’s hearts and therefore must come back. His absence is a wound.