“Mungere will always shine”
This is the closing line to the school theme song for The Mungere School, located in Mungere village.
Students open each school day with this song, and shine they do. Boasting a higher grade point average than those of any other local school, a daily attendance rate of almost 100%, and ranking among the top institutions in the region, Mungere is gaining a reputation as a quality, affordable day school in rural northern Tanzania. Despite their shining accomplishments and dedication, however, the demanding daily tasks of life in a rural village does not make studying outside school hours an easy task. Out of the 85 students that attend, the majority live in homes with no running water or electricity. While the school has plans to install renewable solar energy to power classrooms, computer and science laboratories, the Red Sweater Project recognizes the challenge most of its students face when trying to study at home during the evening hours.
It is 4pm, and the final school bell rings. Along with her classmates, 17-year-old Form IV student Anna Ormunderei begins her walk home, a trek which usually takes her about an hour. Arriving two hours before dusk, Anna washes her school uniform, and then starts on her household chores: fetching water and firewood, washing dishes and preparing the family’s dinner. As do most of the students at The Mungere School, Anna lives in a traditional maasai boma, a round hut made of mud and sticks with a thatched roof. She shares the space with her mother, father, and three younger sisters. The sisters share one bed while their parents sleep on the floor of an adjoining room. As an equatorial country, the Tanzanian sun sets like clockwork and, with dusk arriving around 7pm each evening, students must attempt to study after their family’s evening meal in the dark. Anna explains that despite the late hour, studying after the rest of the family is sleeping (and is no longer using the family lantern) is the only option if you hope to use it undisturbed and to have any sort peace and quiet.
Studying at home for Anna and her classmates is especially important during school years when they must they must pass national exams. Success on these exams is critical so that Anna can advance to her final years in high school and fulfill her dream of going to university. Thanks to The Mungere School, Anna will be one of the first female students in her village to graduate from high school. When asked why she wants to go to university, Anna’s face lights up with excitement. “I must finish school and attend university, I want to be a doctor and help people like people have helped me” she answers proudly. So, each night as her sisters sleep beside her, Anna is left to study by the light of a kerosene lamp (often a difficult task given the windy Tanzanian plains), which also emits harmful fumes, a borrowed flashlight (coupled with the hope of working batteries), or, if she is lucky, a borrowed mobile phone with a small torch light which she can use to illuminate her books as she studies.
Like almost all of Anna’s classmates, Amina Ngea experiences the same. She is left to attempt to study chemistry, math, history, and other subjects after the sun goes down, while her family sleeps in the next room. When asked what would happen if they snuck under a tree with their books to study during daylight hours, Amina laughs. “There is so much to do to help our parents, that even sitting down for a few minutes is impossible, with younger brothers and sisters to wash, clothes to clean, and water to fetch. Our parents know education is important, but at the same time, helping our family with the daily chores needs to be done first.”
Recognizing the desperate need for adequate study conditions for Anna, Amina and their classmates, companies have joined forces and stepped in to help. Over the last four years, the GE Foundation, Mpowered and other private contributors have donated solar lights to each Mungere student to overcome this burdensome issue of students’ inability to study at night. Thanks to their solar lights, Anna, Amina, and the rest of students of Mungere are now able to study much more comfortably, and the results have been noticeable. The school’s teaching staff have stated that the addition of the solar lights has led to higher grades while, at the same time, adequately preparing students to engage in class. The economic impact of the solar lights is another important benefit. The average household wage in the region is roughly USD $2 a day, and the average cost of operating a kerosene lantern is roughly USD $3 per week. While the whole family benefits from the economic impact of a single solar light, the focus of the initiative remains on the students. Thanks to continued support from our donor community, the students of Mungere will always shine.
- by Marci Rivera