Imagine trying to learn all day sitting on a dirty, dusty floor. In Tanzania, that is the reality for millions of students due to a severe shortage of school desks.
“The children have been using their knees as desks,” says Lona James, Head Teacher at the Nyabigena Primary School in Kewanja near African Barrick Gold’s (ABG) North Mara mine.
Nyabigena School has 533 students and a deficit of 214 desks, according to a needs assessment conducted by ABG to determine the extent of the desk deficit in communities near its operations. The assessment encompassed about 25,000 students in 36 schools spread across 28 villages. It identified a deficit of more than 5,000 desks, a situation that has forced some schools to hold classes in two shifts per day to reduce the number of students who must sit on the floor or share a desk. “It is a difficult environment to teach and learn in,” James says.
ABG recently launched a $1 million initiative to address the desk deficit. The first phase of the program took place in September with the donation of 1,050 new desks to 10 schools in communities near the North Mara mine. “I am very happy to see that we now have new desks,” says Wegesa Masiaga Atieno, a student at Nyabigena, which received 100 desks. “we have been sitting on a dusty floor for a very long time.”
The program is being funded by the ABG Maendeleo Fund and will supply desks to schools in villages near ABG’s four mines, which are located in northwest Tanzania in the country’s Lake Zone region. “This initiative fits into our plans to enhance our support for education through a comprehensive approach,” says Stephen Kisakye, Corporate Community relations Manager at ABG. “It builds upon our efforts that include construction and rehabilitation of schools and the provision of scholarships.”
ABG’s partners in the program are the Tanzania Education Authority and the Hassan Maajar Trust (HMT), a non-governmental organization that provides school desks and other furniture and learning equipment to schools across Tanzania. On its website, the HMT indicates there is a deficit of about three million desks and chairs in Tanzanian schools, citing statistics from the Tanzanian Ministry of Education and Vocational Training.