A roller coaster week (Ann)

It’s been quite a roller coaster week, even by Zanzibar standards! On Wednesday we heard that the Standard VI Primary School leaving examination results were published. But there’s no internet connection at the school so we had a day of frustration, not knowing how the students had performed.  In the evening we found out that five students had passed with distinction and had been selected to attend the top schools in Zanzibar!  Msabah is attending Lumumba secondary (the top government school on the island) because of his great results in science. Students from Lumumba go on to be the backbone of Zanzibar’s scientific community. By conincidence, this is where one of our volunteer teachers (Mushtaq) and the inspiration behind our project, Feroz went to school.  The others will be attending academies that specialise in languages, the arts and vocational training. Later on Wednesday evening we had a call from an excited Haroun, a founder member of Safari English Club and one of the most advanced student.  He’s just passed his school leaving exams with sufficient credit to get a free loan to go to university.  Asia, another of the older girls also passed.  There were 7 in their year group at school and only 3 passes, so we were happy that 2 of them were from Safari English Club.  Haroun says that the English language support helped him excel at school.

To put the primary school results in context, there were 120 students who took the public examination from the village school. A few fail and the majority get Grade D which is a pass.  This year there were 11 Grade Cs (most from Safari English Club) and just the 5 who got Grade B.  The primary school doesn’t have a great track record and is ranked 123 out of 240 schools on the island. One of the hardest subjects (apart from English) is Maths, which most students fail.  Until we started the after school English club, no students from the school had ever reached higher than a Grade C or been awarded a scholarship.

By Thursday the results had reached the school and the students who achieved distinction couldn’t wait to tell us about their success.  Their friends were so proud of them and you could see the younger ones looking up to them.  We congratulated those who got Grade B and also recognised the hard work of those who got Grade C.  We’re keen to see what we can do to nudge everyone up a grade so that we can have more passes in the future. Thursday’s English club started with photos and recognition of the happy students, then  Haroun gave a pep talk to the he younger students about the importance of consistent hard work and how they could aspire to achieve what he has done.

The most important part of Thursday related to pastoral care, the area where Gasica really excels.  We met with the head and the deputy headmaster to find out more about the personal circumstances of the students who will be going to school in Stone Town. We’d been told that Zanzibar culture makes sure that children are very mobile when it comes to schooling and that wherever there’s a better educational opportunity part of the extended family will accommodate young people.  This was certainly the case for 4 of the 5 scholarship children.  But for Sleiman it was a different story. He comes from a difficult background and his mother is a widow.  They don’t have family in Stone Town. The family relies on the income from his older brother who’s a fisherman. Sleiman’s typical day was to get up at 5am, get to school for a 7am start, stay after school for Safari English Club and then get home by 4pm.  Then he’d often have to sell fish at the side of the road to help the family finances and would run out of time to do his homework.  For the villagers, Sleiman’s success is a major talking point as they can’t imagine that someone from his background could achieve what he has done. Gasica talked to all the children who’d passed their exams and asked them how they felt.  The others were happy, but Sleiman wasn’t.  Gasica asked him why.  He said that it seemed that passing the exam had just caused his family more trouble.  They couldn’t afford the uniform or books. He was just hoping that his brother had a good catch on Friday so that he could sell some fish and the money could be used to  purchase the school equipment. But he couldn’t see how it could be done by Monday when he was due to start his new school.  Also he couldn’t imagine taking the local bus for more than an hour to get to school for a 7am start.  He’d be late and he’d be beaten.  Gasica has offered to look after Sleiman in his own home and is meeting his family tomorrow to discuss the details.  Safari English Club is going to contribute towards his keep. At last Sleiman could smile.

On Friday we were invited to celebrate the exam success.  The Community leader and his deputies were all at the meeting along with the teachers , the five students and one member of their family. As with any Zanzibar celebration at the school, the table was covered in a white lace cloth and the dignitories (including us) took seats at the front.  The Deputy Head said that the talk in the village was of the number 5 and everyone’s pride in what the students have achieved.  Everyone had advice for the students about working hard and choosing good friends.  At last the speeches were over and the students retired to the back of the room to enjoy the snacks and to look at their present of a recycled yoghurt pot filled with pens and pencils.

Logistically it’s quite a challenge for the parents to sort out school uniform, new shoes, books and accommodation in just a few days.  We decided to help by taking the students shopping on Saturday. Unlike British kids, the Zanzibaris are quiet when they are excited.  The drive to Stone Town was relatively subdued, no doubt they were processing the major change that’s about to happen in their lives.  We collected Gasica and his son along the way and also Caroline, proving that it’s possible to pack 3 adults and 6 children into a Nissan X Trail.  The kids who took turns in sitting in the front of the car struggled with the seat belt and took some persuading to wear it. First stop was the school uniform shop where everyone was bought a white shiirt and either a black skirt or black trousers.  Next was thestationery shop where everyone needed to buy 11 exercise books and paper to cover them with.  The shop was nearby the school that Msabah is going to so we took a detour to have a look.  The village secondary school has about 15 students in the year group whereas Lumumba has about 80 students in a year group.  It is about 10 times the size of the village secondary school and one of the girls said spontaneously “Wow, it’s so beautiful!”  Caroline had made copies of the photos of the school celebration so each child and parent has a copy of a photograph of the event.  As the children won’t be living at home we thought the photos would be a good reminder of the day and are probably the only printed photograph of the child and parent together.

The day ended with ice creams in the car park where they were shocked at the price of ice cream. We drove back to Unguja Ukuu dropping off one girl at her new home. It was the end of one chapter for them and the start of another.  We’re just so happy that we can help them fulfil their potential and explore the world beyond their village.  They are so keen to explore it and find out more about their world.