Justine Basso
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Justine Basso

Principal, Bashay Primary School, Karatu, Tanzania

Justine Basso with a Bashay student.Born in the village of Endashangwet, near the Tanzanian city of Arusha, Justine Basso might not have seemed destined for a career in education. Members of the Iraqw tribe, an ancient tribe believed to have migrated from Iraq around 9,000 BC, his family was "very poor," as he describes it, and his parents were not educated. In many parts of Africa, children are often needed at home to work or otherwise help the family sustain itself economically, so opportunities for education beyond primary school are limited.

Justine is not one to back away from challenges, however, and from primary school, he went directly to Usangi Teacher's College, where he completed the equivalent of his secondary-school education. He then went on to earn his teaching certificate from the Korogwee Teacher's College in the Tanga region. 


Grading Bashay Primary School

Tanzania suffers from a shortage of teachers, so a teacher who is gifted and also passionate about his job is a real find. One such teacher is Justine Basso, who lent his talents to a number of primary schools before becoming Headteacher of Changarawe Primary School. From there, he transferred to Bashay Primary School in the village of Karatu, eventually rising to become its Headmaster.

One of 96 government primary schools in the Karatu District in Tanzania's Arusha Region, Bashay Primary School was founded in 1961 by the Lutheran Church. The school was relocated from Umbe Hill to its present site in 1970. Before Grand Circle Foundation stepped, the students' record of achievement reflected the condition of the school facility. "During this time, the school infrastructure was very poor, so the academic performance was also poor," says Justine. When Justine arrived at Bashay in 1995, only four percent of seventh-grade students were passing their final exams.

According to Justine, the school's "poor infrastructure" encompassed many of the essentials we take for granted in the U.S., from the dilapidated condition of the classrooms and student latrines to a shortage of supplies such as desks, books—even water. And not only was there a lack of teachers, there was a lack of teacher housing.

Something had to be done. And Justine was just the person to do it.

A serendipitous classroom encounter

Bashay students in uniform.At about that time, Grand Circle Foundation was looking for a school to sponsor in Tanzania that was on the path of Overseas Adventure Travel's safari adventures in Tanzania. In March 2000, Willy Chambulo of Kibo Safaris, a travel partner of OAT and a gutsy leader in his own right, presented Grand Circle Foundation with ten schools near the highway to evaluate. Because of the condition of the school, Bashay Primary School was selected for Foundation support.

OAT safari adventures in Africa include a school visit, and later that month, Bashay Primary School received its first group of OAT travelers. Among the group of twelve was Susan Rickert of San Francisco, California, who was so moved by what she saw, she immediately organized travelers in her group to donate on the spot to help the school replace a roof that had been blown off by a strong wind. Susan has actively been collecting funds for the schools of Karatu ever since and was instrumental in the construction of a new secondary school there.

"I've worked with Justine for twelve years, and he is absolutely terrific," Susan says. When she first visited the school and saw the condition of the roof, it was Justine whom she approached to see how she could help. Justine has remained a close collaborator both in her fundraising activities for the school and in the scholarship program she launched to send deserving students to boarding schools.

Since the distances between village schools and local homes are often too far too great to cover on foot, boarding was often a necessity before the local secondary school was completed. However, it's one few families can afford—not only because of the cost, but also because children's responsibility toward the family is far greater in Tanzania than it is here. Susan's scholarship fund has therefore become indispensable to the 20 students who otherwise might not have received an education beyond primary school. "He motivates them and checks in with them," she reports. "He deeply, deeply cares about the individuals. He is much beloved by the teachers and the children, and respect for him at the school and in the village is very high."

A great lesson in collaboration

Justine Basso at Bashay School.Justine's spirit of collaboration extends not only to Susan's activities on behalf of the schools of Karatu, but also to Grand Circle Foundation. When the Foundation chooses a site to support, the philosophy is not simply to provide funding, but to find a school whose principal will work in partnership to make improvements.

Justine exemplifies that spirit and welcomes the opportunity to work together to make Bashay Primary School a stronger learning environment for the students in his care. Today, the school is a full primary school (kindergarten through seventh grade), serving 763 students taught by 19 teachers. Academics have so improved that 76% of seventh graders passed their final exams last year.

With Foundation support—and Justine's can-do spirit—three classrooms have been added, as well as a kitchen, a water tank, and a teachers' latrine. New desks, chairs, textbooks, laptops, and other supplies have been purchased, and fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables are being planted for the benefit of the students.

Justine also goes beyond these physical attributes to continue to implement policies to improve academic performance, ensure that the school is clean and safe, encourage parents and other villagers to engage in school activities, and motivate students to work hard "so that they will get good jobs after completing their studies," as he puts it.

"He's a very humble man and one of the most hardworking people I've ever known," Susan observes. "The school is his life's aim and his passion."

It's an important reminder that having a heart is just as important as being gutsy when it comes to leadership.

Featured in our November 2010 E-Newsletter. Read full issue here.