Tanzania: Learning with Gratitude
by Major Chris Watson
It was just a dumb play – or so I thought. It was the early 1960s, I was 13 and everything was embarrassing. Especially embarrassing was the ‘dumb’ Sunday school play where I had to walk on in a white Salvation Army uniform, complete with a white hat, and pretend to be a missionary teacher in Africa.
|Students at the November 2004 graduation ceremony at Shukrani International College|
|Orphans being cared for by The Salvation Army in Mbeya are among those Shukrani College seeks to help|
|Julius, whose disability meant Shukrani College was his only hope of getting a good education|
|Rehema, recipient of the Principal's Award, at work|
|The old-fashioned college buildings, including (right) a dormitory wing|
Dumb it may have been but as I stood there I was aware of God’s Spirit speaking to my heart. Suddenly I just knew I would one day leave Australia to be a missionary teacher in Africa.
For 40 years I served God as a teacher, social worker and Salvation Army officer. On numerous occasions I offered, with my husband, to work overseas until finally, at 53 years of age, we were appointed to Tanzania where I became the missionary teacher I had known I would be.
I am now the principal of The Salvation Army’s Shukrani International College in the town of Mbeya, in the south-west corner of Tanzania. The college, originally known as Shukrani Secretarial College, was founded 10 years ago to help provide local people, particularly the disabled, with the skills necessary to find employment.
Through teaching secretarial skills it has helped hundreds of women find jobs. Men have been in the minority though they have benefited through learning computer skills and business skills such as bookkeeping. The poorest members of society have been targeted for the courses and surveys indicate that more than a quarter of students have been orphans.
The college seeks to help the disabled, orphans and marginalised poor to have a quality tertiary education in a Christian environment. Its courses are accredited nationally with the Vocational Educational and Training Authority and internationally with City and Guilds (formerly Pitmans) in London.
Training is offered at a very cheap rate and two-year diploma courses are completed in just a year. This puts extra pressure on staff and students but has the massive bonus that the students only have to pay for one year of tuition. Each full-time student is subsidised by the running of part-time courses to the tune of US$225 a year.
Around 40 students a year take full-time courses, with more than 1,000 part-time students studying English, computer applications and other office subjects. A part-time teaching and training diploma has been added to the syllabus this year.
It’s not all good news, though. The buildings, Second World War military huts donated in the 1980s, are being eaten away by termites. There is no funding from donors so repairs and renovation will have to wait. Space is also limited and the college is working hard to meet the requirements for ongoing accreditation.
Even so, it is giving many people opportunities they would otherwise not have.
Julius was born with badly twisted and deformed legs. His parents were peasant farmers in a small village in the district of Morogoro, about 300 kilometres inland from the Tanzanian capital, Dar-es-Salaam. Julius’s parents showed great courage by doing all they could to give him a normal life, including sending him to school. In villages such as theirs, even today some disabled children are locked away and left to starve.
At 14 Julius finished his primary education and he went on to complete his secondary education by the time he was 18. One of the teachers at his school sponsored him for much of that time. She remembers him being a clever boy.
Sadly, during Julius’s last year at school, his mother died. He was left in the hands of a sick father and they were looked after by his older brother. Because of his disability, he was unable to help his family.
He had been languishing at home for four years when he saw a notice in the post office window advertising Shukrani International College. When he read that disabled students receive free tuition he realised he had to try and get on a course. He took the entrance test and was accepted into the college. Julius is now studying for two diplomas that, potentially, could open up a new world of opportunity.
Twenty-two-year-old Rehema, a proud member of the Kinga tribe, is the youngest of five children. She had a very hard childhood – her father died soon after she was born and her mother passed away when she was just six.
Rehema’s oldest sister took charge of the children and one of her brothers got a job selling goods in the market, which brought in the income that kept the family alive. The older siblings scraped together the money for school fees and Rehema was able to complete her primary education. Sadly, funds were not available for her secondary education.
Rehema wasn’t going to be beaten though. She learned tailoring at a Catholic training centre and used her skills to earn a little money. From her meagre earnings she set aside a little money each month and managed to save enough to pay the low fees needed to take a part-time course at Shukrani.
She has gone on to full-time study where she passed her national diploma and has passed four out of five subjects needed for an international diploma with City and Guilds. She also won the Principal’s Award for attitude and application.
The difference in Rehema because of the opportunities she gets at Shukrani is amazing. She had ability and drive but the college has given her the means to achieve her dreams – and today she aims for things she once never even dreamed possible. Now she speaks about taking her A levels and going on to study for a university degree. She is aiming high but she knows that, with hard work and the support of the college, anything is possible.
Isaya was born in Dodoma, the political capital of Tanzania. His father died when Isaya was only two and his mother, who worked as a nurse to keep the family together and put her four children through school, died when he was 14. He went to live with his newly-married older sister but, shortly afterwards, she died in childbirth.
Isaya then went to live with his aunt. He completed his secondary education but could not get a job. There was no money for further education because the aunt had to pay for her own children’s schooling. Three years went by without any hope of a way out for Isaya until he heard about Shukrani, a college with low fees that could help him move into the career he craved.
He was one of the top graduates for the year and now works as a computer teacher. He is studying part-time for his teaching diploma.
Julius, Rehema and Isaya have many things in common. They have all been in seemingly hopeless situations but now have hope because of the opportunities they have received at Shukrani. Speaking to them, they are incredibly grateful for what the college has allowed them to do. Fittingly, Shukrani is a Swahili word for gratitude.
I am grateful too – grateful for that embarrassing moment all those years ago when God first called me to the mission field. I’m grateful for the years of preparation and grateful for the opportunities of today.
The results at Shukrani speak for themselves. In a country with a staggering 88 per cent unemployment rate, an amazing 82 per cent of Shukrani International graduates find a job within six months of completing their studies. The college is making a massive difference in the lives of people who would otherwise have struggled to scrape together a decent living.
Major Chris Watson is Principal of The Salvation Army’s Shukrani International College, Tanzania