June 2019, Nyamagongo, Shirati Tanzania
Manuel Kernen, M.Sc.
Educator and Social Justice Advocate, San Francisco Bay Area
"In May of 2009, I was at an end of the year party from CAL at Diana Malin’s house. At this party, I happened to sit across from Dr. Laura Mason. Over the course of the evening, Laura shared with me the life changing programs that REACH Shirati (formerly ASICS) was leading in rural Tanzania. I was hooked. A month later, I was in Shirati with a group of student volunteers to build a water catchment system.
Fast forward to January of 2019, and I was once more on my way to Shirati to teach and conduct some research. When I arrived at Tina’s Primary School, I was stunned. Out of the single building and water tank that stood there when I left in 2009, a vibrant school with multiple water tanks had emerged along with various buildings hosting classrooms brimming with students listening attentively to their teachers.
Seeing this transformation was remarkable, and a reflection of the immense dedication by REACH to establish a school that provides life-altering education to hundreds of children.
At Tina’s, the staff does more with the resources available to them than any school I know. No books, chalk, pens, papers, or pencils are wasted. The students too, are astounding. They show a thirst for knowledge and a true appreciation for their education. Some spend as much as two hours to walk to school – one way. Being here has given me a glimpse of the possibilities that exist, and the long-term impact the school can have for this community if allstudents proceed to secondary school after graduating from Tina’s.
The school is so full of life, so full of hope, that I have thought out a way to contribute and establish something tangible that adds another dimension to this thriving environment. So, with the support of REACH, the input of the wonderful Dr. Chirangi, and the incredible day-to-day efforts of the staff at Tina’s, we created a Gender Respect Program. Through a curriculum centered around sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and gender-based violence (GBV), this program provides students with information enabling them to make decisions that improve their chances to remain in school and lead healthy lives.
With the program now in its first year, I can’t help but be grateful for REACH Shirati and, above all, the dedication of all those locally involved at the school. At Tina’s, challenges exist. In fact, there are challenges every day. But every day, challenges are overcome through an uncanny perseverance that is ingrained in the social fabric of the school.
"To say that my experience with REACH Shirati has been transformative is no exaggeration. REACH has significantly shaped the way I perceive the world we all share. It is an organization through which I have encountered exceptional individuals and witnessed how positive change can occur when people are determined to make a difference. Effectively, REACH has prompted a life-long commitment to acquire local knowledge from communities like Shirati and seek ways to engineer culturally relevant community development.
"Ten years ago, I first heard about REACH without knowing anything of Shirati. Today, I could not share anything about REACH without talking about the beautiful human beings of Shirati, especially the students at Tina’s Primary School and its staff. To that end, ASANTE SANA Madame Anna, Fred Chacha, Moses William, Dishon Owino Aketch, Linda Arot, Vanessa Chyomhang, Juma Pangani, Denis Shabaan, Hellen Laurent, Wilson Marcelo, Mollie Ojala, Meekness Allen Mzava, Benard Samwel, Mary Ogola, Iren Fideli, Goa Achieng, Anna Paul, Caroline Emmanuel, Pendo Mangu, Willis Omolo, Deus Joseph, and all the inspiring students at Tina’s Primary School (and many others beyond Tina’s, like Dr. Chirangi)."
"To say that my experience with REACH Shirati has been transformative is no exaggeration."