About 43 weeks over the course of 76 months (that’s six years plus change) – that’s the number of days I have spent in Tanzania forming a partnership and building a remarkable school with the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa.
About 85% of those days were spent chiseling a castle from a rock, shaping a dream and willing it to life, thru literally – blood, sweat and tears.
Those days were not easy ones – but when a girl has told you that all she wants is an education, but her father wants to sell her for a cow – you persevere.
The remaining percentage of those days are the ones happening now – when the sweat and tears and frustrations and small victories and successes and failures have miraculously coalesced into a real place and within that place are girls. Girls learning. Girls growing. Girls becoming who they are meant to be.
I have just returned from what I believe is my sixteenth trip to Tanzania as Executive Director of Girls Education Collaborative. Being a small start-up, the ED wears many (all actually) hats, so my time in Tanzania is primarily for project management: getting things planned and executed; building a partnership; understanding contexts, restraints and opportunities; and more.
That work continued this past trip as it has for all the previous trips but with one most significant difference: a school no longer just newly opened, but getting stronger by the day.
From my perch, it is almost harder to comprehend that the school has finished its first year than it was comprehending that it actually opened! There is something about seeing a cycle successfully wrap and planning for the next, that sinks in very deeply and causes this rather enjoyable reaction: Holy smokes. We did it.
The fact that the Kitenga School for Girls has successfully navigated its first year and is now energetically planning for its future, is a profound testament to the many people over many years who did the part that was uniquely theirs to make this dream turn into something real. To make it enduring and sustainable, an ongoing commitment from many players will need to continue. The first of those players were the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa, who more than 20 years ago worked with the government to secure the land for a project to help lift the community towards better lives. Over the years more and more individuals joined hands with the Sisters – hands from across the world. With the school now open, new actors are becoming integral to the school’s success – such as the teachers, staff, parents, and yes, the girl students themselves.
From my observation, one of the main forces propelling the school forward right now is pride. Pride in their beautiful school, pride in the individual talents of their students, pride in having the best and brightest of teachers, pride in the kind and hard-working staff, pride in the natural beauty of the campus, and pride in the anticipation of what will someday be achieved by the remarkable students of Kitenga.
You know and I know, that pride alone won’t build a new dorm so more girls can attend or put fruits and vegetables on the table so girls will have the nutrition they need. But we also know, that without that magic sauce of pride, ambition, anticipation, faith, determination, confidence and hope – human potential and possibility will never be fully realized.
After my recent 2-week stay in Kitenga, I can see that many things remain to be done – need to be done. But now, stoking that fire are not just the dreams of the Sisters and their partners, but the dreams of the girls themselves. Their pride, ambition, anticipation, faith, determination, confidence and hope are what now keep the dream alive and marching toward its full vision: hundreds more girls having an opportunity to become who they want to be.
Someday I hope you get to meet the girls of Kitenga. If you knew these girls as I am getting to do, you’d join me in knowing – there’s nothing a girl can’t do.