Parent Support Group Chair, Tanzania
Meet Hellen, a teacher at a CAMFED partner school in Kibaha District, Tanzania. For seven years, Hellen has enjoyed teaching Swahili to secondary students, and now she is stepping up to support the most marginalized children as Chairperson of the school’s Parent Support Group.
Connected by the common goal of ensuring that every child has access to quality and complete education, CAMFED mobilizes a support network of schools, parents, traditional leaders and community members, working together to serve the wider needs of students. Having grown up in the same district as many of her students, Hellen has lived through the challenges they now face, and has a deep understanding of what action needs to be taken to ensure that no child gets left behind. Therefore, Hellen is perfectly placed to chair her local Parent Support Group, made up of eleven local community members, teachers, parents and district education officers.
I became a teacher because I felt like I needed to use my knowledge and skills to teach and give back to the community and help students get their jobs.
For the students at Hellen’s school, poverty is the main barrier to education. Unable to access other forms of transport, students living in remote villages have no choice but to walk up to 15km each way, averaging a two hour walk to school every morning. As the school day starts at 7am, students are leaving their homes well before sunrise, navigating the dangerous roads for the most part in darkness. On top of that, Hellen’s school is currently unable to provide lunches, so children whose parents cannot afford to send them off with a packed lunch will go without food until they return home in the evening.
In response to this, Hellen negotiated an agreement with her school, allowing students coming from these long distances to start classes at 8am, with their parents stepping in to do their chores for them in the mornings. Additionally, the Parent Support Group currently provides what they can from their own small farms to serve breakfast at school, but enough porridge for 481 students requires a lot of maize!
In addition to contributing food from their own farms, members of the Parent Support Group put forward small amounts of money each month to spend on resources for the most disadvantaged students, such as exercise books, pencils, sanitary pads, and uniform. Hellen describes the impact that a uniform has on a girl’s life: “Wearing a proper uniform means that she will be comfortable, smart and happy. But if she has a uniform that is torn , she might feel ashamed to come to school and might be tempted to miss some of the classes. It’s about fitting in, being part of the school.”
Education opens doors. Being at school, students expand their knowledge and some of them go into entrepreneurship or university. There are a lot more options
As Chair of the Parent Support Group, Hellen is taking the lead on establishing innovative and sustainable ways in which the group can expand the vital support that they currently provide. So far, Hellen is looking into income-generating projects from which the profits will be reinvested into providing school supplies, and purchasing a small plot of land in her village to produce food for the students’ school meals. Hunger is a major barrier to students’ performance and attendance in school, and so the meals and financial contributions that Parent Support Groups provide is absolutely vital to bridging the gap between what schools and families can provide for their children.
With community-led initiatives such as these, the resources raised not only support vulnerable students to complete their education, but improve the school infrastructure and learning environment for every single child. With entire communities rallying behind their children and supporting all aspects of their educational needs, the scope for the next generation’s achievements is limitless.