Monday, December 10, 2007

Drama used to fight poverty of expectation in Tanzania

from the Financial Times

By Caroline Daniel

The sight of more than 900 primary school children arrayed beneath the lilac laburnum trees is both impressive and unsettling. Their uniforms are mismatched. Many of their royal blue skirts or shorts extend to their ankles, held up with white string or oversized belts. They are long because they have to last for all their time at school.

Camfed, the British charity that supports girls' education in rural Africa, has helped more than 12,000 pupils in Tanzania stay at primary school through its safety net fund. It does so by offering the most basic aid, helping children - especially those who have lost both parents - by giving them pens, exercise books or uniforms. Even these can be unaffordable to many families.

"Primary education for girls [offers] probably the highest return available [on] investment in Africa and the developing world," says Larry Summers, the former US Treasury secretary. "It transforms societies as it empowers women, improves literacy, health and the environment."

Poor health and Aids have had a severe impact in Iringa, where the school is situated: 198 of the 916 pupils have lost a parent. Shida, 13, is one of them. Her father died when she was eight. "The problem is getting school clothing and having no sweater as it gets very cold in this area," she says.

She farms from 3pm to 6pm most days. Asked what her favourite part of the day is, she misunderstands and says: "Wednesday". It is because she does not have to farm that day. Camfed has supplied her with five exercise books, soap, a pen and a school bag. "If I didn't get this from Camfed I would get them by selling firewood. One bundle is enough to buy one exercise book or a pen." To collect just one bundle of heavy wood in the mountains takes Shida five hours.

It is not just girls who suffer. Shadrack is a 15-year-old orphan helped by Camfed who lives with his blind grandmother. "I get up at 5am and sweep the house, carry the water. After school I wash clothes, find vegetables to eat and cook, "

It is not the poverty that is striking, but the poverty of expectation. In a country where just 13 per cent of children go to secondary school, education remains a luxury. Even Shadrack, who is fourth in his class of 231, answers the question about what he will do next with a long, eloquent silence. He has no money to go. "It pains me in my heart that I am just going to stay at home."

Yet girls suffer far more. Camfed has encouraged the school to stage a play showing this. In it, the girl whose parents do not care about girls' education is called Camfed. The boy who plays her father is called Nyadosi, the name of a wilting vegetable leaf in the local Kihehe language. Each time his name is mentioned the children collapse into giggles.

An obstinate father, he warns that girls are useless and that if they go to school they will only return pregnant. Reeling home from a pub, he drunkenly sings: "I'm never going to send my girl child to school, even if I am bewitched."

The play opens with a song in Swahili. "Girls have the right to get an education. . . She should not be put in violation of her rights by female genital mutilation or rape," it says, before continuing to argue that boys should do household chores equally. Finally, they should "have shares in banks and should not be married off before the proper time".

"Drama has been used a lot to pass on development messages especially in rural areas. The literacy rate was very low, so it was not very effective to use the written message, but when you use the performing arts the message gets across very fast," says Penina Mlama, director of Camfed, Tanzania, who is also a published playwright.

At the end of the drama the actors self-consciously took their bows. Those whose characters were against girls' education, all add this caveat: "God forbid that it should be like that."

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