Monday, March 14, 2011

Spotlight on Village Schools International!

Recently, H2O for Life visited several school projects implemented by Village Schools International in Tanzania. H2O for Life has been partners with Village schools for two years. The site visits were eye-opening and amazing. Through telephone conversations, vetting of organizations thorough outside agencies, and numerous questions, nothing tells the story like a site visit. We met with Steve Vinton, the founder of Village Schools International. Steve and his family hosted us while in Tanzania, and we became educated about their work. The area around Iringa, where we were, is beautiful, but also very remote. We were only able to visit 4 schools out of the 20 due to the road conditions and the time it took to reach each school. Truly, we spent 9 hours in the car one day- stopped overnight, and arrived at Longa school the following day at noon. Was it worth it? You bet. The kids were delighted to see us, and we were thrilled to see their school.

Steve and his team have promised that they will visit every school and take more photos of the partner schools that we will be able to send to you. Every school design is the same- as a requirement of the Tanzanian Government, and all the students wear the same uniform colors. We will send you “generic” VSI photos that will give you a true picture of what the schools look like, and how they are configured. They are truly amazing given the location and community resources! Steve is also investigating the use of email between US and Tanzanian Schools.We'll keep you posted as that moves forward.

Village Schools International focuses on building secondary schools in villages. These are the small communities that you will have a hard time finding on a map. They are rural, mainly farming communities that survive on subsistence farming and community cooperation. In Tanzania, as with many school systems around the world, students are tested at the end of standard 8. If students do not score high enough on the test, their educational career is over. Students are tested in Tanzania in English, making it very difficult for a rural community to have many students that are able to pass the test. The students don’t have access to TV, radio or printed English materials which makes it hard to compete with “city” kids. Most students have never used a computer, and are just now, entering the cell phone culture. Village Schools has chosen to take on the challenge of offering form 1-6 education- similar to our high school and Jr. College- to ALL students. We met students that were innovative, smart and needed a chance to participate in higher education.

They have a terrific approach. Steve and his board of Tanzanian young men and women, visit villages. They inform the village that they can have a secondary school, if they are willing to build it! Village Schools will help provide the technical assistance and the materials that cannot be provided locally through sweat equity. (That’s where H2O for Life comes in!) They challenge the villagers to make the bricks, gather the needed sand and rocks, provide lumber that can be gotten from their land, and anything else that can be provided locally. Every family in the community knows how to make bricks and are willing to do so! They tell the village to let them know when they have the materials gathered. Amazingly, in the past two years, twenty villages have stepped up to the plate.

Village Schools International finds outside donors that will help with specific tasks that must be donated to complete the project. H2O for Life has joined forces to help with the water, sanitation and hygiene education for schools. The estimate needed to bring water, sanitation and hygiene education to each school is around $5000. As per our H2O for Life model, our schools will provide ½ of what is needed. Our H2O for Life schools partner with a school and set forth to raise $2500 for each project. The only reason that the projects can be done for this low price is due to the community labor and supply of materials.

Why does Village Schools have this expectation for each community?

They believe that by engaging the community to provide as many resources and labor hours as possible leads to true community ownership and pride. VSI’s goal is that the school will live long past the involvement of Village Schools and groups like H2O for Life.

On our visit to the schools, we had the opportunity to talk with parents, teachers and students. They are proud of the schools, and very grateful for the outside dollars that pushed the projects to completion.

VSI originally planned to build rainwater catchment at every school. They found. however, that some of the schools had a better plan. At Longa. Lukima and Madesi Schools for example, a gravity flow system with a RAM pump provides a wonderful source of water, that provides more than enough water for the schools. (H2O for Life funded the RAM Pump, the pipes and the needed cement)

Village Schools International also works very hard to engage English speaking volunteers in every school. This has resulted in a noted rise in test scores. Students are flocking to the schools. They accept all students, and some are beginning secondary education in their 20’s! Interested in volunteering?  We can help!

H2O for Life is all about education. We are proud to be partners with Village Schools International, and feel that they are producing exceptional WASH in Schools projects. To all of you supporting Tanzanian projects, thanks. Be proud of what your school has accomplished.

We will send new photos of Tanzanian schools, and are working on a video with footage taken with the kids.

Please let us know if there is more we can do for you.

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