The Secondary School That's First in Our Hearts
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The Secondary School That's First in Our Hearts

From a mere idea to an institution that can stand on its own, we bid a fond farewell to Banjika Secondary School

As recently as the turn of this century, getting an education beyond primary school was little more than a dream for the children of Karatu, Tanzania. Back then, the nearest secondary school was in Arusha—more than 80 miles away—for graduates of the village's three primary schools, two of which are Grand Circle Foundation partners Bashay Primary School and Njia Panda Primary School.

That was before OAT traveler Susan Rickert visited the Bashay school—an experience she describes as "a pivotal moment that changed my life." This moment changed the lives of the local schoolchildren, too, as Susan committed herself to raising the funds to build a secondary school right there in Karatu, to serve graduates of all three primary schools.

On her own, Susan raised approximately 80% of the initial $37,000 needed to start the school, and Grand Circle Foundation and the Karatu community committed to donating the balance. A longtime OAT partner in Tanzania, Willy Chambulo, was instrumental in coordinating the funding and services needed to build the school.

Susan Rickert was not the only OAT traveler who was inspired by a visit to a Karatu school to give of herself. Like Susan, Janice Lathen had fallen in love with the village people during her visit with OAT—so much so that she decided to devote her life to providing them with a better future.

A professional computer consultant, Janice gave up her business in order to found Powering Potential, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide students in Tanzania with computer technology, the solar-powered electricity needed to run it, and computer training. As a result of Janice's efforts, Banjika Secondary School has installed 21 computers installed, has access to the Internet. Banjika is the first and only government school in Karatu and the surrounding area to offer Computer Studies and IT as part of a curricular subject.

Since the Banjika Secondary School officially opened its doors on April 15, 2005, Grand Circle Foundation has given more than $171,000 to help grow the school into a full-fledged campus, encompassing 16 classrooms, chemistry and physics laboratories, faculty housing, and more. From an initial 80 students, enrollment has blossomed to 577, and five graduating classes have now earned their diplomas.

As its final project for the school, the Foundation will provide sinks, water filters, plumbing supplies, 18 library bookshelves, 24 mosquito nets, and $1,200 worth of text books. In addition earlier this month, the Foundation provided new solar lighting for a school dormitory.

This June 16, Banjika, under the leadership of headmaster Justine Joseph, hosted a celebration ceremony to thank the Foundation and sponsors. One thousand villagers arrived to give their thanks, and a group of OAT travelers was on hand to enjoy the festivities. Throughout the day, students entertained their guests with singing, dancing, acrobatics, and even a fashion show. Then, with speeches and a ceremonial distribution of certificates and gifts, the school was officially handed over to the school board and Mr. Joseph. The ceremony culminated in a delicious banquet of rice pilaf, beans, potatoes, and fruit, prepared by 20 of the students.

The following week, Janice and the school headmaster, Justine Joseph, led the U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania, the Honorable Alfonso E. Lenhardt, on a tour of the school to show him the potential for computers in Tanzanian classrooms—a demonstration of what is possible when Americans and Tanzanians collaborate to improve educational opportunities.

As we now turn our focus toward schools in greater need of assistance, Grand Circle Foundation is proud to have facilitated the support of our very generous travelers and to have had a direct hand in changing the lives of children in the village of Karatu by offering them new dreams for the future.

Featured in our July 2012 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.