In her own words, Grace Kanungha’s home is nothing spectacular: a small village in the middle of nowhere, Tanzania. Originally from Cornwall, Grace now lives there with Tanzanian husband Festo and their children. But what keeps them there?
Tanzania isn’t a headline-grabbing country. We don’t have a despot dictator. Financially it’s fairly stable. There’s no war happening. We’re not yet on the East Africa list for famine (but we could join it this year). We feel very strongly that God put the place into our hearts. And what keeps us there is a sense that we’re not yet done.
A stranger’s call
Our call is really about living with and among people. We’re just living in the community and trying to be a part of it and trying to see lives changed in small ways.
At first it was quite hard but then I was just settling in. People sort of look at you a bit warily. They don’t quite know what to do with you [as a white woman] so you actually get treated like a man. When all of the women are eating outside around the fire, you’re in the house eating with the men.
But it changed when I had children: we have the same struggles, we still give birth the same way – although I still get some interesting questions about that! And children are naughty whether they’re black or white. I think I became more human to them then. And as my Swahili grew I was able to talk more.
Within the village, I feel mostly accepted and part of the group. But if I go down to the hospital, where people have come in from outside – and I now understand enough of the tribal language to know what they’re talking about – it can be quite fun listening to what people are saying about me as they stare.
But you have to join in. So if there’s a funeral you go and you join in their cultural practice for a funeral. If there’s a wedding you go and join in their cultural practice for a wedding. I think that helps.
Wehave to travel two hours to get to a town big enough to get cheese or some of the basics that we need. But Kilimatinde is a very beautiful place and the people are very beautiful.
We employ lots of the local people in our school, St John’s Seminary, where Festo is headteacher.It’s a private school, which is hard for people to understand in the UK. We are used to private schools being for the rich and the elite and we are not that. We have to charge but our fees are much lower than our competitors – about £600 a year. And we’ve got lots of payment plans so people don’t have to pay it all in one go.
But more important than that is our sponsorship scheme, which shows local people they can afford to send their children to St John’s. It is helpful if people have ownership of their education. If they contribute something to it, they actually work harder at school.
St John’s students aremore likely to pass their Form Four exams [GCSE equivalent] than they would in a government school and with higher grades. In government schools they have many ‘D’s and ‘E’s whereas we’re focusing on the ‘A’s and ‘B’s. And if you get ‘A’s and ‘B’s you can go off to college to do A-levels. But if you get ‘D’s and ‘E’s there are very few follow-on courses that you can do, even in the vocational stream. It’s really restricted.
What do we do differently?
We actually teach. It sounds really simple. But even at primary level, in a government school, of six periods in a day you might get taught three or four of them. The rest of the time the students are just sat there. It’s the same in the secondary school.
We’re very serious with our teachers that they have to go into the classroom and they have to teach and they have to give exams and have to be monitoring the progress of the students.
The percentage of people who go to primary school but then can’t get into secondary school is high: in Kilimatinde in the primary school you may find they are 40 in the classroom and 15 or 20 who are going to go to secondary school.
For anybody who wants to go to secondary school, there’s no other option than an 11-plus type of exam. And if you fail, that’s the end of your education.
We see ourselves as educators but in a broader way than just at a school. Within the community people come to Festo for advice. The village leaders often call him to meetings; they bring him in as somebody who knows something about life and the world.
If you’re a headmaster, you’re somebody, you’re important. There’s a real culture of respect, which in some ways is a good thing. We lack it here in the UK. But in other ways it is not good. Some even grow one of their fingernails long to be a sign that they don’t do manual labour. We find that horrible because nobody is greater than anyone else whether you are a brain surgeon or a farmer.
People would question why Festo keeps animals and grows vegetables when he has a salary (it’s not enough to live on but he has one). But he does it purposely to teach them life skills that will help them survive. A friend of his built his house through keeping pigs.
And I in a smaller way do that with women, just in conversation. If your life has only been this village and you are now 40 or 50 and all you had was primary school education, your world is small and the way that you can understand how life works is small. So I just try to drop in little nuggets of “Well, how about this?” or “What if you thought about it in that way?”
Still in need
If you talk about people working with refugees or something to do with Syria or the Middle East, you can think: is what we’re doing important? Yes it is important! It’s just there’s lots of hurt in the world and there are lots of people that need help. And Tanzania still needs help. The level of poverty is still severe and the infrastructure that needs to be in place isn’t in place.
If you don’t pass the exam for secondary school, you don’t have anywhere to go. On the other hand, educating just one child can transform a whole family.