Last week was filled with cultural experiences! The first event was Rosemary’s send off, which we wrote about in the “Through Our Eyes” section. The second event was a primary school graduation for the child of a BCC center worker.
Melissa remembers her primary school graduation (which was actually 8th grade because it was a K-8 school). She was number one in her class and valedictorian, so not much has changed. John is pretty sure that he did not have a primary school graduation. If he did, it was not significant enough to make any lasting impression in his memory.
In Tanzania, children are generally given a primary school education by the government. This would translate to first grade through eighth grade for the United States. The completion of primary school is not a reality for everyone in Tanzania. Often the schools are too far from a family’s house to regularly attend or an illness or death can force a child to be removed from school in order to work and help the family. Typically either the eldest male child or the youngest male child has the most education. Many young girls receive a few years of primary education before leaving school to help around the house, and the other male children work to support the family. Because of all of these factors, completion of primary school is a large cultural celebration. It was even more of a celebration in this case because this was a private school that teaches English. Unfortunately for us the graduation was in Swahili and not English!
When we were invited to the graduation we were told, “This event will only take one hour; it is not like other African events.” That statement made us believe that it would not take long, and we would be able to complete other work after the graduation ceremony. We were wrong and we are sure that we will never learn! We were picked up at 9:30 am and 6.5 hours later, we returned home!
The primary school graduation resembled many United States high school graduations. The children were dressed up in caps and gowns, there was a band, a commencement speaker, and a valedictorian. A primary school completion note was handed to each child, and parents cheered and yelled when their child’s name was announced. Below is a photo of parents celebrating their child’s achievements. Each time a child received their certificate, the parents would give the child a hug, give them a small gift, and then return to their seat. The parents’ excitement was quite contagious, and we began cheering and clapping for each child!
Needless to say, the event was far more exciting than an American graduation! The commencement speaker showed up over an hour late. The band had a surprise, which consisted of a trombone player with a long fake beard and a white painted face running from the back and causing quite a commotion among the spectators (see photo below). There was a set schedule, but, due to the late commencement speaker, everything was an hour behind and nothing went in order except for the church service, which was the first item on the agenda. It was an adventure!
One tradition was very interesting to us; everyone had a cake. Shaeli, the center worker whose son was graduating, said, “Everyone brings a cake. It is shameful to not have a cake for your child.” We thought this was an overstatement, and then we saw all of the cakes! There is a tradition in Tanzania; after a child graduates from primary school, they feed everyone in their family, and other guests, a bite of cake. This represents how they are now a provider for the family and community. This was a very interesting thought for us. There is no way that either of us felt we could have been providers for our families at such a young age. Below is a photo of Shaeli and her son.
In Tanzania, primary school is the only government-provided education. The government does not pay for school uniforms and private schools charge fees for students to attend their primary schools. The next step in education after primary school is secondary school. Secondary schools are all private, they have school fees, and often they are boarding schools.
This system reminds us of the transition from high school to college in the United States. We feel that to make that transition after primary school at the age of 14, as opposed to 18 in the United States, would be very difficult. Also, to be that young and not to be unable to receive further education would be difficult. Fortunately, Shaeli’s son will be able to attend secondary school. He learned to speak English fluently, which will make secondary school much easier, as secondary school is taught entirely in English. Her son has applied to secondary school and will hear back from them by December.
Globally, education is a major issue. The United Nations is pushing for all governments to provide some level of quality public education services, particularly to young girls. BCC is also pushing for the Tanzanian government to include children with developmental disabilities in their public education systems.
We are learning that education is definitely a building block for success, and we are grateful for the opportunity that we have been provided to learn in high school, college, and now graduate school. Education can provide astonishing opportunities for any individual in any country under any circumstance. That means a higher quality of life for every individual, which in turn makes things better for the local community, the country, and the global community.