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When modest gesture makes big difference

29th December 2011
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Editorial Cartoon

A Dar es Salaam-based agency engaged in the implementation a string of development projects appears to have, perhaps coincidentally, seen the logic in an appeal by American clergyman, civil rights crusader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King, Jr (1929-1968): “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

A news story in yesterday’s issue of this paper quoted an official with the agency, Organisation for Community Development (Ocode), as saying one of their projects has been instrumental in improving learning and teaching conditions in three Dar es Salaam primary schools over the last 12 months.

According to the official, the collaboration between the agency and parents as well as a number of other stakeholders including “influential figures” had enabled the schools to get 200 new desks, 41 office chairs, 26 tables and three cupboards.

Students, parents, guardians and other people and institutions associated with well-placed schools and other institutions of learning may not easily see the significance or relevance of the gestures of goodwill directed at the three schools as it is usually the wearer of the tight shoe who knows exactly where and how it pinches.

Those who have been following developments in the education sector in Tanzania know that massive strides have been made in terms of putting up more schools and training colleges. This has happened at all levels – from kindergarten right to university. In some parts of the country, notably urban areas, the mushrooming of educational institutions has assumed pleasantly surprising proportions.

But as expected, this phenomenal growth has created “developmental problems” in that many of these schools and colleges have found themselves faced with serious shortages, particularly with regard to academic and human resources generally as well as in respect of even the most basic of learning and teaching equipment and facilities – or necessities such as quality toilets.

Small wonder, then, that a six-year-old Standard Six pupil at one of the three Dar e Salaam schools cited was so elated after his school became of the beneficiaries of the desks issued under the Ocode project that he remarked: “These desks have changed our lives… Our uniforms do not get dirty any more as we no longer have to sit on the bare, dusty floor during classes.”

Precisely, for it is really a revolution when the modest donation of a handful of desks, a few bags of cement and a few million shillings’ worth of water and construction materials spares 200 or so primary school children the risks of contracting flu and eye or diarrhoeal diseases while finding it to grasp and retain what they are supposed to learn.

But focusing on a mere three schools is surely doing much too little for comfort. We definitely need thousands of Ocode-type campaigns, and not only in Dar es Salaam but throughout the country. And we know it can be done.

Revered 13th century mystic poet Jelaluddin Rumi has this to tell doubting Thomases: “If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.”

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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