Getting started at Mterini Primary School, by Ric Coe

Back in December, Eija and partners in Tanzania (Maro, Mbelwa, Ndanu) planned a project to help schools in Rombo District of N Tanzania. The aim is to help them get a water tank to harvest rain water, and introduce associated activities on hygiene and the environment.  She has sent proposals for funding to 6 foundations and the reactions so far have been uniform:  an interesting idea, but we have too many other proposals to consider at the moment. We will keep trying.  But in the meantime, members and friends of Liana have made some private contributions, enough to start activities at the first school.   I planned to visit Tanzania for work so I added a couple of days in Moshi to see activities get started.  Before that Ndanu had visited four schools explaining the opportunity and we selected Mterini to start with. All of the schools wanted had wanted to collaborate.

So early on Friday morning I met Emmanuel Challo in Moshi. He is a founder member of LWDO and an engineer in the irrigation department of the regional administration.  We drove to Kawawa where we picked up Ndanu and two more fundis, Idi and Elias.  Then to Himo, a small town near the Kenyan border.  Ndanu had a long list of materials needed and the fundis went shopping.  At the top of the list was 50 bags of cement, and about 30 items down it ended with 0.5kg of 1/2inch rivets. After two hours they had assembled everything they could, ordered a few parts to be made by the next day, and hired a truck and driver to carry it all.  The other two fundis, Musa and Ernest, joined us and we set off.

It’s not far, only about 16km from Himo to Mterini, but it feels further as the road is narrow, steep, rough and dusty. We found the school among fields of dried-up maize and, unusually in our experience, all the children were in class with teachers. The head teacher came out to greet us and, after missing a few turns, the truck also arrived.

What a welcome they gave us!  The Village Chair, the Chair of the project committee which they had set up, the Ward Education officer as well as teachers greeted us. Some of the older girls came out of class and presented us with garlands of pink bougainvillea flowers and sang a song.  We then looked around the school, and it was straight away obvious why this one had been selected and was ready to start first, for they had already begun with much enthusiasm.  The project will help build a tank and school stove, set up washing facilities and teach about hygiene, and help them establish a tree nursery, tree planting and associated environmental activities.  They had already started building a stone kitchen that will house the stove and, based on nothing more than the picture we had given them, they had made the simple handwashing facility and were using it.

There is only one feasible location for the tank and unfortunately that required felling a mature senna tree. Thinking about that led to talking about the tree planting activities. The Head himself is keen to take responsibility for that, including the idea of their learning and action being used as an example to introduce to other schools later. Mterini school has about 7 acres of land. The buildings and a football field take up less than half of that. The rest is farmed – the maize is being harvested now and there was pigeon pea still maturing – with plenty of scope for tree growing. Some small plots are used by teachers, the rest helps produce food for the school.  It was lunch time while were there and we could see what that involves.

Standard 1 and 2 students get porridge. Standards 3 to 7 students get ugali and beans.  Providing lunch at school is a government requirement but the ingredients are provided by parents, either in kind or cash.  Currently the lunches are cooked in an old wooden building with airy walls, soon to fall down as termites eat the poles.  Being airy is useful as there is a stove, but they also use two three-stone  fires inside the building with no chimney. The stove was built 17 years ago by a Himo Development project and they are not very keen on it. They say it is slow, unlike those school cooks using stoves Liana has built in Mwanga. I wonder what is wrong with it. It is made of stone and cement, which perhaps takes too long to get hot.  Once the food is ready it is divided equally among the 120 plates with the help of older students. Then they all line up to take a plate – eager but orderly – and go off in groups of 3 or 4 friends to sit under a tree to eat by hands, washed or not.

The water problem at the school was on display when we visited.  There is a standpipe and tap in the yard, but no water has reached there for many years as the supply from further up the mountain has disappeared.  There is a pipe with water about 2.5km away and the school would like to build a connection to it but that has not been possible, perhaps because there is insufficient supply there. So that is where the children walk to fetch water. While we were there some were bringing water so that the construction could continue over the weekend – 10 litre bucketfull per child, carried on their head and then poured into a plastic tank.


As the other fundis got to work, Ndanu and I went back to Moshi to buy a few remaining materials that were no not available in Himo. But the time we reached the last store it was 6 pm and it had closed, we arranged to meet there again at 8am the next morning.  A long day, but the feeling of a good start having been made on an important effort.  The next day we bought a lot of sisal rope and sacking, needed in the construction, and headed back to Himo. There we found that some of work we had ordered the day before had not gone well.  Cutting threads on 2.5inch iron pipe is a tough job, and a couple of them had gone wrong, so had to be started again.  The roadside iron workers are serious about the quality of their products and take pride in them, and would not let us leave with pieces they though were below standard.  Some welding was also necessary, a task that would fail every health and safety inspection but produced exactly the right parts.

On the way back to Mterini we passed a school at which Liana had built a tank three years ago. Ndanu had recently been asked by the Head to build a tank to collect waste water from hand and plate washing that they were now using to irrigate a vegetable garden. Recycling water is such an important idea in a dry area. While there, Ndanu noticed a problem with the gutters – wind had damaged one- and called the head teacher to arrange to fix it. This sort of 'aftercare' was not part of the agreement to build the tank, but is a responsibility taken by Ndanu.

Back at the school we found the fundis had made good progress and the steel mesh for the base had already been made, and they had even started making gutters.  I paid everyone for the work they would do, and had to leave to get back to my work. As I drove back to Moshi two thoughts struck me.  First, that the water problem is wide and deep – it affects huge areas and millions of people. Maybe our models efforts in one school are a drop in this ocean. But is a drop that will make a difference in that community, and every such effort is worthwhile. Secondly, the people I had seen and talked to – school children and teachers, tank builders and metal workers, engineers and cooks – all seemed determined to make it work. Liana has found and developed partners and associates that make it practical to undertake such work, even when we are not in the country. I am very confident that next time we go we will see a well built tank that is helping the school in many ways. And that has motivated me to find ways of raising more funds to start the other activities as envisaged in Mterini Primary, and to expand to some of the many other equally needy schools nearby. Let me know if you have fundraising ideas – or money!