BOSTON, Massachusetts — Education in Tanzania was dismal. Most elementary-aged children were dropping out and teachers did not have books or desks for their students. In 2018, almost half of Tanzania’s population was living on less than $1.90 a day. Families under the international poverty line were consumed by trying to survive each day, leaving education to plummet on their list of priorities. Schools, children and their families in rural Tanzania had it even worse. That is, until Nancy Scull and Betsy McCombstook took a trip with their friends to the public school, Meali, in Tanzania’s Arusha Region in 2007. Soon after touring the school, Scull and McCombs founded Friends of Meali International, a nonprofit that has since steadily improved education in Tanzania.
Tanzania’s Education Crisis
While education in Tanzania has improved, it has a long way to go. Earlier this year, only 5.4% of elementary-grade students could read with comprehension. Public schools are still struggling to obtain the necessary materials to teach children and they are facing persisting shortages of teachers.
When USAID partnered with the Tanzanian government to help alleviate the country’s education crisis in May, it identified four major education challenges for the country.
Student-to-teacher ratios are very large
Public schools have high turnover rates of teachers, especially in rural Tanzania.
Young girls are more likely to drop out of school than boys because of poverty, teen pregnancies, marriage and gender-based violence taking place at school.
Public schools produce low-quality education
Friends of Meali International’s Strategy
When Friends of Meali International first started, it helped the Meali public school by buying materials, building classrooms and paying for scholarships. In just five years, the organization transformed Meali and was able to move on to help other schools. The nonprofit developed a two-step strategy it is using at the two new schools it adopted, Losirwa and Oldeani.
First, Friends of Meali International focuses on “capital improvement projects” for a school. In past projects, they built a dining hall, library and computer center, as well as installed solar power on every campus building.
Friends of Meali International then implement programs that community members say their school desperately needs. Some past programs have included scholarships, advanced English courses and free lunches. The organization’s philosophy is that these programs work as giving boosts to the schools in the communities they serve.
Since first donating to the Meali public school, Friends of Meali International has seen more students — with a large increase in girls — enroll in primary school and more students are continuing to secondary schools, with one student now in medical school.
Annually, the nonprofit serves almost 2,000 students in rural areas. The organization has improved Meali to the point that it is running stably. Friends of Meali International plans to expand and help other public schools in Tanzania once they wrap up their current projects.
The organization says they have seen astounding improvements in Tanzania’s students — especially young girls — in ways they never expected. “Despite their many hardships, these children have the same aspirations as other children. They want to be teachers, doctors, policemen, computer experts,” the organization writes on its website. “By removing some of the obstacles and improving their educational environment … More students can dream!”
– Delaney Murray