At its third annual graduation ceremony, Banjika Secondary School enters an exciting new frontier
In 2004, OAT traveler and long-time friend of Grand Circle Foundation Susan Rickert had a vision for the children of Karatu, Tanzania: she wanted each and every one of them to have the opportunity to further their education—an opportunity that was, at the time, elusive at best. In order to attend secondary school, students had no choice but to travel more than 160 miles round trip to the town of Arusha, which posed a great financial challenge that few families in the village could afford.
Determined to provide an accessible alternative, Susan began raising funds to build a secondary school that would serve graduates of Karatu's three primary schools: Bashay, Njia Panda, and Kambi Ya Nyoka. She raised approximately 80% of the initial $37,000 on her own, and Grand Circle Foundation and the Karatu community committed to donating the balance. Willy Chambulo, Alan and Harriet's longtime partner in Africa, was another driving force behind the project's success, aiding with logistics and labor. Construction of Banjika Secondary School's first three classrooms was completed in 2005, and the school was opened on April 15.
Since then, 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. Enrollment has increased from 80 students to 565, and three classes totaling 293 students have successfully completed the 4-year program—with the most recent class graduating on September 17, 2010. Susan Rickert traveled to Tanzania for the event, which drew an enormous crowd of parents, grandparents, siblings, and village leaders. "Most of the people in the village had never seen family members graduate from secondary school," explains Susan. "It was a full-day celebration."
While graduation day is always a joyous occasion, this particular ceremony held a special surprise for the future classes of Banjika. Janice Lathen, an OAT traveler and the Founding Executive Director of an organization called "Powering Potential," was also in attendance that day. Like Susan, Janice had fallen in love with the people of Karatu during her visit with OAT—so much so that she decided to devote her life to providing them a better future. In a speech at the graduation, Janice announced to the community that Powering Potential had successfully installed a satellite dish at Banjika—which would bring the school Internet access for the very first time.
It was the latest milestone in a project that began in 2007, when Powering Potential chose Banjika as the site of its first effort to bring technology to remote schools in Africa. The first step was the creation of "the Technology Tent," a solar-powered computer laboratory and training facility. Now, with the new addition of an Internet satellite dish, the students and teachers are at last able to connect with the wider world through websites and email.
Justine Joseph, the headmaster at Banjika, is grateful for the opportunity for myriad reasons. For one, the school can use the Internet to build upon textbooks that might be outdated. In addition, students will have unprecedented exposure to current affairs and world events. "Already, websites are attracting students to revisit subjects in more interesting and interactive ways," says Mr. Joseph.
The gratitude from Mr. Joseph and the entire community was palpable during the graduation ceremony, which featured dancing, skits, poetry, and songs—some of which were written in honor of Banjika's beloved benefactor, Susan Rickert. "It was the most incredible experience," says Susan. "I kept thinking, 'I wish other people could be here.' I wanted all the other donors to be able to see this outpouring of love and gratitude."
As a long-time supporter of Banjika School and the village of Karatu, Grand Circle Foundation is honored to be associated with partners like Susan Rickert and Janice Lathen. "We're so fortunate to have travelers who care about the mission of the Foundation," says Susan Harvey, Executive Vice President of OAT's adventures in Africa. "Susan and Janice are each proof that it only takes one person's vision to make a big difference." Now, in a community where most children could once do little more than dream of an education beyond primary school, technology has put the world at their fingertips—which will impact young minds for generations to come.
Featured in our October 2010 E-Newsletter: Read full issue here.