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Hub nonprofit Project MEMA extends outreach in Tanzania

Kassmin Williams
Hub nonprofit Project MEMA extends outreach in Tanzania
The four students being sponsored by Project MEMA went on a safari at Arusha National Park. Thomson Safari sponsored the trip. (Photo courtesy of Project MEMA)

Primary school students sponsored by Project MEMA on Safari. Asha, Gifty, Beatrice and Emanueli are the first people in their families to see safari animals in person because of the high cost to attend a safari tour in Tanzania. (Photo courtesy of Project MEMA)

When Project MEMA launched in 2010, the Boston-based nonprofit supported one government nursery school in in Moshi, Tanzania with the mission of enriching children’s lives by promoting education and healthy living. Since then, the organization has grown in scope and influence.

Project MEMA has supported its first school by providing lunches, school uniforms and school supplies to the 80 students and completing an enhancement project where the organization worked to replace all chalkboards throughout the school, replaced tables and chairs in the porridge room where the students eat lunch and renovated the playground at the school.

“It’s difficult for the teachers to teach and the students to learn if the actual school itself isn’t really up to par,” said Amy Wendel Project MEMA founder and director.

The organization’s expansion in the last several years has included supporting a second nursery school in Moshi, the Rau Children’s Center, and sponsoring four primary students’ education and two secondary students’ education.

The partnership with the second nursery school happened after Wendel paid a visit to the school and saw it was in need of major renovations.

The Rau Children’s Center, formerly Watoto Rau Nursery School, was founded by a group of volunteers who, like Wendel, visited Tanzania and wanted to help in some way. However, the group had trouble maintaining the school after returning home from their visit.

“It’s kind of [a] common theme for people to go to [Tanzania] and kind of see a situation and want to help and have the best intentions but they come back to the U.S. and it’s difficult because their lives sort of takeover,” Wendel said. “And then maybe six months later what they thought they were going to do, it just dies.”

After taking over the 20-student school, Project MEMA renovated the entire school, adding new floors, brand new desks and a playground and building a bathroom.

The organization also had murals painted on both the outside and inside of the school.

“That’s been really exciting because it’s a smaller school, so it’s really now Project MEMA’s school,” Wendel said.

Rau Children’s Center is tuition-free and Project MEMA provides a teacher for the school and gives uniforms and school supplies and has replaced the students’ flour, milk and sugar-based porridge with one that now includes ground millet and peanuts for substance.

This year, Project MEMA began looking at what the organization can do to support students after they have left nursery school.

Supporting a primary school would have been impossible because of the high costs, so Project MEMA has selected four of its nursery students to sponsor in primary school.

When Project MEMA started the sponsorship, which pays for the student’s tuition, uniforms, school supplies and footwear, the students were in a government school.

The organization has now found boarding schools for two of the four students, Emanueli and Beatrice, and is looking to have the other two students, Gifty and Asha, placed in boarding school by 2015.

Wendel described the primary school education in Tanzania as “pretty poor.” The teachers often don’t even show up to classes.

The lack of language education at some of the primary schools in Tanzania also makes it difficult for students to pass exams at the secondary school level.

Often students are taught in Swahili during nursery and primary school and then taught in English during secondary school.

“In primary school, you may or may not be getting English lessons, so for a lot of students getting into secondary school is pretty difficult because all of a sudden you [do] math in a language you don’t know,” Wendel said. “That’s a real struggle for secondary school students that goes back to primary school because if you get into a better primary school, the chances of learning English are so much better.”

For Wendel, the best alternative would be a boarding school education, which would eliminate a lot of other factors that could hinder a child’s education.

Many students walk between one hour and one-and-a-half hours to school each day and then are expected to assist with household chores when the school day ends.

“In boarding school, you’re just there and you’re concentrating on school and that’s it,” Wendel said. “The focus is just so much greater on your studies and the quality of teachers is better.”

The four students were selected based on need and academic progress.

Tanzania-based Project MEMA volunteer Living Kiwelu completed an assessment in which he visited each student’s home, talked to their families and traced their academic progress.

“That’s always a tough decision because I want every graduate to go under our umbrella, but we’re small so we just simply don’t have the funds,” Wendel said. “So you just have to pick them and then move on and support them as much as possible.”

As a celebration of the students’ sponsorships, Thomson Safari donated a one-day safari tour to Arusha National Park to Project MEMA.

In September, Wendel travelled to Tanzania for her 10-month visit and accompanied the students on the adventure.

While it may seem like a simple gesture to most people, the safari adventure was a dream come true for the students. According to Wendel, the students were the first people in their families to take such a safari tour because, despite living in a country known for its wildlife, most cannot afford the admission cost to the parks to see them.

In 2012, Project MEMA partnered with another organization called Knock Foundation to sponsor two secondary students.

To help Project MEMA in its effort to support students throughout their education in Tanzania, The Elephant Walk in Waltham is hosting a benefit dinner for Project MEMA Monday, Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m.

The $40 dinner includes hors d’oeuvres and a three course sit-down dinner with 50 percent of the proceeds being donated to the organization.

While Wendel still considers Project MEMA to be a small organization, she appreciates the amount of growth that has occurred throughout the last three years.

“We’ve been growing at a steady pace since 2010 and we’re really thankful and excited to be able to help so many students,” Wendel said. “We’ve seen real progress with our students, with their studies, with their health — the quality of the day-to-day at these schools. It’s amazing.