As I contemplated this task of my job description, I felt very confident. After all I had taught French at the university in England and to professional adults in Germany, so teaching Tanzanian high school youth would not be so hard – a piece of cake!
Full of this assurance, I went down the hill, direction classroom, with a song on my lips. But as the days went by, I was faced with a sad reality and the song on my lips died…
One day in our advanced English class (made up of high school level students joined by secondary school teachers) I started teaching about “the verb”. As I asked who could tell me what a verb was, they all stared at me with blank eyes. Not wanting to be defeated by this reaction or lack thereof, I told them the definition in Swahili – a verb in a sentence is a word that expresses an action. After explaining and giving a few examples, I wrote a sentence on the
blackboard: They play football. One of the students, Edyson, volunteered to underline the verb as I had asked. He took the blue piece of chalk, hesitated a moment, then underlined the word football. “This is the word that expresses the action, Madam.” This and so many other similar situations took my assurance away: the piece of cake was stuck in my throat and I was realizing more and more that I needed nothing less than the Spring of living waters to help it go down.
When my husband and I accepted the call to take over this ministry in Tanzania a few months ago, we both had a different picture of this country in our minds - beautiful national parks, Mount Kilimanjaro, fantastic animal migration in the plain of the Serengeti, Lake Victoria, etc. These things certainly should attract tourists which would lead to economic development and everything else (infrastructure, education,...) would follow suit. But when we arrived in our work location, something did not seem quite right. We had a hard time reconciling what we knew about Tanzania with what we saw around – dust, poverty, ignorance, poor infrastructure and sickness. It took us a few days to chase away the beautifully painted picture we had – this was not too hard since we had not come here on a touristic trip.
Still the hard reality of this part of the country is not easy. More than 44% of the circa 45 million inhabitants of Tanzania are under the age of 15. This would be a fantastic asset considering that “the future of society is indexed by the youth of today.” (E.G. White). But the sad news is that of the 100% of children enrolled in primary schools, only about 20% complete secondary school and in reality most fail the final test of secondary education. The figures are even more dramatic in remote rural villages like Mago where we are located. The ratio of pupils to qualified teachers nationwide is 54:1. Most teachers in remote rural places have not completed secondary education and because of underpayment and bad teaching conditions the rate of teacher absenteeism is very high. The quality of education is questionable (the failing grade is 20%!). The teaching language in the government primary school is Kiswahili; but the teaching language in secondary school is English. Enrolment fees in secondary school are 20.000 TZS (about $12) but in addition there are testing fees, caution fees, watchman contribution, academic contribution, identity fees, emblem fees, fee for lunch, etc. which makes it very burdensome for large families, orphans, single parents or very poor families. As a result, most students, especially in rural villages, drop out of secondary school and have nothing else to do but fuelling crimes and other illegal activities and spreading life-threatening diseases like Aids. Janet and Frank Fournier started Eden Valley Foster
Care Mission, our present ministry, 10 years ago with the goal to offer a better future to these young adults who have lost their parents or are very vulnerable because of Aids (the district in which we operate, Makete, has one of the largest prevalence of HIV in the whole country; in some places a whole generation is missing).
So far our ministry focused mainly on teaching young orphans and vulnerable youth a trade (carpentry, sewing, mechanics, and recently agriculture). But true education cannot be limited to trade knowledge. In other words sending these young people back to their communities after two years here with only the capacity to economically provide for themselves and for their families while having no moral or Biblical standard (here sexual promiscuity, drunkenness and idleness seem to be second nature) does not solve the problem in the long run. “God has placed in (the parents’) hands the precious youth not only to be fitted for a place of usefulness in this life but to be prepared for the heavenly courts.” The lack of knowledge and education has an impact not only on the earthly lives of these children, but, as the Bible clearly says it in Hosea 4:6, on their eternal destiny. In places where the value of education is not appreciated, superstitions and the power of darkness thrive. People here believe in spirits, accept at face value whatever the witch doctors, priests or pastors say, and almost never read the Bible. Their minds are in bondage. The object of true education is for them to “know the truth and the truth will set them free.”
And so the Bible has become here in our school a very useful teaching tool. This has nothing to do with indoctrination or proselytizing, but I know what the Bible has done in my life and in the lives of so many others who have had a wrong start in life. God’s Word truly has life-changing power.
After about two months of service in Mago, I look at my Job description with a different attitude. It is not a piece of cake that I am asked to ingest. “... How important, …, the mission of those who are to form the habits and influence the minds of the rising generation. To deal with minds is the greatest work committed to men. ...” 1MCP 4. When we look at our students, picking up their noses, making fun of each other, seeming totally bored in front of a book, but suddenly energized when passionately kicking a soccer ball, doing whatever they can to avoid working too hard, we know that the task is way over our heads. We just cannot do it by ourselves. But we think of Jesus Christ who took a handful of fishermen, not educated, selfish, and, after enrolling them in His school, made of most of them the light that changed the face of the world. And we are convinced that this “piece of cake” attitude needs to be changed into eating His flesh and drinking His blood to dwell in Him and He in us so that through us He can repeat this transformation process and make of each one of these precious young people, who are considered failures by the world, a light that changes their communities. This is a high calling and, honestly, we feel like Moses when God called him in the burning bush – Lord, we cannot. Yes, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Mt. 19:26).
Elisha and Nadège Vande Voort
Eden Valley Foster Care Mission