Returning from a couple of wet and windy June weeks on holiday in the UK was actually quite a relief from the heat of Dar Es Salaam, but now Tanzania in mid winter is unusually a degree or two colder than the current British heatwave. It's the best time to travel being both cooler and drier, I took my children to Ruaha National Park, down the never ending 100km dirt road and was totally taken aback by the sheer size and beauty of Africa. Ruaha is relatively quiet and certainly unspoilt, we managed a great couple of days spotting lions in the long grass and elephants cooling in pools along the sandy river bed.
Driving back, a distance equivalent of Edinburgh to London, one realises the sheer challenges Tanzania is facing to provide services to it's rapidly growing population. In the early morning children as young as 5 trudge along the side of roads in the loneliest locations. James Stone (Plan International) graphically illustrates the challenges faced by one little girl who walks over an hour and a half a day to get an education, braving traffic and predators, both human and wild.
Returning to Dar I thought it important that my children understand more about the vast interior of Tanzania and the people who often live in such difficult circumstances. The Village Voices documentary films made by Laurance Price make ideal, if at times uncomfortable, viewing. They chronicle over 5 years the lives of remote villagers from the Lindi coast to the Northern plains and give a detailed insight into the cycles of grinding poverty and simple wishes for just a slightly better life. Teenagers lament their lost opportunities to go to secondary school for the want of $50 school fees due to a lost harvest.
Thankfully since these films were made in the middle of the 2000s, secondary enrollment has tripled and now over a million extra teenagers attend Forms I-IV, partly due to budget support funding pumped in from UKAID and other donor partners. However the majority still drop out young and as I've chronicled recently a crisis of demotivated teachers and inadequate schools means that for many, secondary school is a frustrating, unrewarding experience.
Supporting education in Tanzania involved some difficult choices in the coming years, how to improve quality and make complex systemic reforms whilst extending the school network for both remote villagers and the marginalised in more prosperous areas?
Some of the most rewarding work I ever did over a decade ago in Ethiopia was to make maps of the mountainous North, that were used to select sites and reduce walk time to new school locations. The Tanzanian government's Big Results Now! Initiative has also established a geographic interface to show district exam pass rate changes graphically. This is being extended with individual school locations and data to drive transparency and accountability, with improving schools being rewarded with additional grants and funding. Whilst the technology has moved on and the internet has come of age, Tanzania is poised to benefit from this approach to improve its network and reduce journey times for young learners. I hope meaningful learning opportunities will reward those who conquer the long and dusty roads.