Compassionate Education in Tanzania

As someone at the beginning of my teaching career (I began teaching full time in 2010), I am always looking to other teachers for ideas on how I can become a better educator. I love observing teachers. I love learning from them, and I love witnessing the unique relationships between teachers and students. In a world with darkness that can sometimes feel insurmountable, teachers provide dedication, inspiration, and love. Around the world, across oceans and cultures, teachers shine a light that guides future generations and creates positive change in communities. The team of dedicated teachers at the Queen Elizabeth Academy in Mlali, Tanzania. It was in a meeting with the teachers at the Queen Elizabeth Academy in Mlali, Tanzania, when a teacher asked me what I do to help “slow learners” in my classes. Neale, in your classes in the U.S., how do you accommodate ‘slow learners?’ The term “slow learners” may sound offensive to you. Some people would call it politically incorrect, start a lawsuit if it were used to describe their child, be insulted or hurt or angry. But here in Mlali, Tanzania, it is the accepted term used to describe students who are significantly behind academically, many of whom would qualify for special education services if they lived in the United States. He might as well have asked me to write an equation for quantum physics, because I didn’t have an answer that would translate from my urban classroom in the United States to this rural school in Tanzania. “Oh, you know, we talk to the special education team about getting the child evaluated! They may call the school psychologist, and we might advise the parents to make appointments with the child’s doctor, and maybe consult with a behavioral analyst, and then we gather all of this information and create a plan for the student! And sometimes additional teachers are assigned to help the student, and to help the teachers create assignments for the student in each class. Does that sound like a plan?” At the Queen Elizabeth Academy in rural Tanzania, there isn’t yet a special education department. There are no doctors or psychologists or behavioral analysts who regularly visit the school to evaluate the children. There are no laws and requirements telling the teachers what they have to do, or what they should be doing, to better accommodate differently-abled students. The students don’t have access to colorful manipulatives or iPads or audiobooks. But there are teachers. Hard working, loving, compassionate teachers. Whether a school is in New Orleans or Paris or Mlali, whether it has SMARTboards or blackboards, theteachers who dedicate themselves to the next generation are every school’s greatest asset. Classroom at the Queen Elizabeth Academy in Mlali, Tanzania. Photo credit: Tom Kubik. At the Queen Elizabeth Academy, we are working to establish a special education program to ensure that all students receive a quality education. It is a lot of work, and not something that is required in Tanzania, so these teachers are putting in extra time, love and energy to make a greater impact on their community. It is humbling and inspiring. Teacher Jane is an example of an exceptional teacher. In observing her classes, it is clear that she loves her job and she loves her students. Last week, she came over one evening to do some washing. She wasn’t washing her clothes, though, she was washing her students’ uniforms so they would have clean clothes to wear to school. No one asked her to do it, and she wasn’t being paid overtime; she saw an opportunity to help and she did. As I write this, it is 8 o’clock at night, and Jane has been here for the last hour and a half because she wanted to continue to work on creating an academic plan for a student. Of the special education program, she says, I like to know how to help slow learners because it is a good step for changing their future one step at a time. I want them to feel good and to feel confident. Teacher Magomba often spends his planning periods working on the special education program, evaluating students and creating individualized education programs for them. His dedication to the special education program belies the fact that he has many other responsibilities within the school. He has become a true leader of the program, and has collaborated and assisted his colleagues to make sure it is a success. This program isn’t perfect, but it is a significant step forward in achieving parity in education. I feel honored to work with the teachers at the Queen Elizabeth Academy, who are so dedicated to their students and to becoming better educators, and I am happy to have found this kinship thousands of miles away. Because of these teachers the students at QEA will flourish and thrive in the world beyond their classroom. Students celebrating winning a game during recess at the Queen Elizabeth Academy in Mlali, Tanzania. Photo credit:Ike Edeani. Neale Mahoney is a Mama Hope Global Advocate Fellow from Vermont. To learn more about her work with the Queen Elizabeth Academy, click here. To experience life in Mlali, visit Under the Tree: Volume 2.


Mlali is a very small town in the middle of Tanzania.  It lies on a plateau at the base of Mt. Mlali, overlooking an iconic and stunning savannah.  The roads are made of red dust, which finds its way onto every inch of my body by the end of the day.  The sun sinks down peacefully every day beyond the horizon of acacia trees, then gives way to a moon that looks red each night when it rises.  I believe it’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I was welcomed to Mlali by Mama Faith, who is married to Athanas Sekwiha.  Athanas’s sister, Kilines, started the Queen Elizabeth Academy.  Athanas is a teacher at the school, and Mama Faith is the school cook.  It’s sort of like a family band, except instead of forming a band, they started a school.  I live in a lovely little apartment on the family compound, which also houses Athanas and Kili’s parents, Babu and Bibi, as well as other nieces, nephews, and relatives, all of whom play a role at QEA. The Queen Elizabeth Academy is sort of like The Little Engine That Could: in spite of countless setbacks, it has persevered.  The team of people who run the school are change-makers with heart and grit that are extraordinary.  There are dozens of times when it would have been far easier for them to bow down to the status quo as something acceptable, yet their love-driven work is turning their dream into a reality, one piece at a time. In addition to the school’s strong academic standing (it was ranked #7 in the district last year), QEA is a beautiful little microcosm in its community.  The school farm began three months ago and employs a parent as the head gardener.  In addition to providing food for school lunches, the farm has already sold enough produce to pay the salary for the gardener and the watchman.  Over 2,000 trees have been planted on the 36 acres of land, which were granted to QEA by the town of Mlali.  These trees will provide additional income as the delicious bananas, papayas, and mangoes grow and sell.  Equally as important, other trees have been planted specifically to help prevent erosion. The foundation for the boarding house is coming along very nicely!  I do believe the boarders at QEA will have the nicest view in all of Mlali!  The masons are working very hard each day to make sure the kids have a safe and beautiful home. I feel happy and whole here in Mlali.  In the two short weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve had laughs that made my belly hurt and heard stories of grace and beauty and inspiration.  I am grateful to be a part of this meaningful work, and blessed to have such wonderful friends and family who have supported this project.  With love from here to there….    

Shop Units Update

The team has made so much progress on the shop units over the past two weeks! I can’t believe that, in such a short amount of time, the foundation for the shop units is almost done! As discussed in the first shop units update, the shop units will provide rent-free space for QEA to sell their surplus from the school farm and fish pond. Not only will the school shops be income generating for QEA, but they will also provide many other benefits to the greater community. Due to the shop units prime location, they will be able to service people from all over the region who come to the area to visit the church, secondary school and hospital. Here are just a few examples of how the shop units will positively impact the community of Mlali and surrounding region: 1) Kids will be able to stop at the shop to pick up supplies on their way to school. 2) Typically, family members of those in the hospital stay outside the hospital for the duration of the patients stay. During this time, the family members are responsible for bathing them and providing them with meals. The shop units will the perfect place for families to pick up supplies and food while their family member is recovering in the hospital. 3) Right now, Mlali is going through what is called the “season of hunger”. What this means is that the community is waiting for their next harvest to be ready, which causes there to be less produce available to be sold, less food available to be purchased, and ultimately, leaves many people unable to bring an income into their home and many people searching for other ways to find work to make money. The shop unit project has employed a team of builders for this long term project which allows the builders to make enough money to provide for their families during the season of hunger. As you may know by now, today was my last day in Mlali, and I will be heading to Arusha to work with Glorious School for the next few months. Even though I won’t be in Mlali to track the progress of the shops, my fellow global advocate, Barbara Bemer, will be keeping us updated every step of the way! Stay tuned!   Take a look at all of the exciting work that’s been done on the shop units in the past two weeks!   Builders working hard to finish the foundation.     Irene and Felista showing off their dance moves!     Foundation all ready for cement!     Finished product!  As the foundation is the hardest part, now that it is nearly done, the walls and roof will go up in no time!  Can’t wait to see the progress we make in the next two weeks!     Before saying goodbye, I had to snap a picture with Babu and the head builder!