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December 2020 newsletter

 

Steve and Loyce Veryser, Tanzania

 

Loyce’s crowded classroom at Kitanigiri Secondary School in Mwanza.

Last year after returning to Tanzania, we had shared that at Kitangiri Secondary School, where Loyce teaches math, there had been a large influx of students but quite a shortage of desks. Though it wasn’t meant as a plea necessarily, many of you donated to support our ministry over the year, and as a result we’ve been able to support the school with getting more desks!

We’re so grateful for all of your support, and with $1,700 — at about $25 each — we’ve just arranged for the fabrication of 67 new desks for the school, which is just enough to cover one classroom in the crowded school! As it is, the school of just over 1,000 students has about 700 desks, and students share seats to stretch what’s available. Some also sit on buckets, sacks or the rough floor.

Philbert the welder

As I write this, the desks are still being fabricated. The school found a welder nearby, named Philbert, who could make them for us. After getting steel pipe and sheets from a hardware store in town, he cut the material and is welding it together to assemble the desks. As you can see in the photo at left, his “workshop” isn’t much more than a power saw on a small piece of earth. The area where he works is in a row of workshops, and he probably pays a few dollars a month to rent the space. It’s been raining off and on as well, so he has that to contend with but still expects to have the whole job done in just 10 days.

Two of the students who will use the new desks are 14-year-old Sumaiya Abdul and 17-year-old Jacob Juma, both first-year students.

Sumaiya is from a village across Lake Victoria from Mwanza and came here to stay in town with her older sister. For as many difficulties as schools like Kitangiri face, those in rural areas are even less equipped. It’s therefore common for students from rural areas to come stay with relatives in town for better access to education — especially for secondary school.

Jacob lives with his grandmother because his mother has passed away and his father is not around. At 17, he’s old for the grade and must have been a few years behind starting school. This is also common in villages, where kids grow up helping their parents tend fields and livestock, and educating children can be seen as an obligation to the government, or even a luxury.

Sumaiya Abdul and Jacob Juma

While some students commute up to 10 miles to Kitangiri every day — generally hopping on a “dala-dala” minibus for a few cents, neither Sumaiya nor Jacob live very far from the school. Jacob lives a 30-minute walk away, in an area called Pasiansi; Sumaiya has a five-minute dala-dala ride. Both will usually go the whole school day — 7:30 to 4 pm — without a meal, as do many of the kids at the school. In villages too, it’s common for people to skip lunch while they’re hard at work out in the field for the day.

Schools here are closed for the month of December, and students like Sumaiya hope to travel home to visit their parents. It’s not customary to exchange gifts or cards here, but families will travel to be together for the holidays and stay together, especially in their home villages, for two to three weeks. They do have a special meal together on Christmas; it sounds biblical but literally many will be slaughtering a cow, goat or chicken for it. Churches are packed for lively Masses on Christmas, and especially children will have a new outfit for the occasion.

We’ll keep you in our prayers and hope you can find time to enjoy a merry Christmas, even if the pandemic does continue to put a damper on celebrations this year. Christmas is one of the few times in the year that Loyce and our kids have time off from work and school at the same time, and, following the custom here, we usually travel about an eight-hour drive or overnight ferry ride, across Lake Victoria to her hometown for the holidays.

Merry Christmas,
Steve and Loyce

 

Steve Veryser Steve Veryser
Based in Mwanza, Tanzania, Steve Veryser is Maryknoll Lay Missioners' regional director for Kenya, South Sudan and Tanzania.