Holding hands and lending a hand

Whitney Clark, Whitney Clark, and Whitney Clark

As the sun rose over the Indian Ocean, casting the early morning light upon the seaside village of Bagamoyo, Tanzania, Sarah Spier awoke to the exuberant whispers of children outside her door.

“Mwalimbu! Mwalimbu!”they called in Swahili. “Teacher! Teacher!”

Spier spent five weeks last summer volunteering at Mwambao Primary School in the palm tree-strewn district of Bagamoyo.

“I walked a mile to school every day and the kids would wait for me so I could walk with them,” Spier said. “They would all want to hold my hand.”

The first-year City College student has since formed the Mwambao Alliance, an on-campus club and non-profit organization in the process of being listed under the 501 IRS provision, which allows tax deductible donations.

The alliance’s objective is to raise money to buy books and much-needed school supplies. Spier insists that financial sustainability is key, so a fraction of the money will also be put into stocks and funds so over time the school will be making more money.

According to Spier, Bagamoyo is one of the poorest districts in the Pwani region of Tanzania, and of 750 students at the Mwambao School, about 250 are orphans.

“Some of the kids could not afford to buy books so they wrote on trash with lead,” Spier said.

The tiny school was home to only four classrooms that Spier called “primal” and “bare,” yet she said the students paid no mind.

“The kids are the happiest people you will ever meet,” Spier said. “They changed my whole life.”

Next summer Spier aspires to travel back to the Mwambao School with the members of the alliance to revamp classrooms and provide new lesson plans to teachers, the majority of whom have only a seventh grade education. She also wants to work with City College professors and local teachers to develop the lessons.

“I made a promise to these kids,” Spier said. “Seeing their faces light up every day, I felt totally at home.”

Spier was limited in communicating with the children so she plans on enhancing her knowledge of Swahili for future visits. During her visit, she taught them animal names in sign language.

A member of the alliance, Rungwe Hashen Rungwe, was born in Tanzania and speaks Swahili fluently. He intends to begin teaching the fundamentals of the language to other members, but because of scheduling problems, has yet to finalize class times. Having experienced life in various countries, Rungwe noticed the distinctive ways of life of Americans.

“It is very diverse, American life,” he said. “When you walk down the street you see people from Asia, people from Africa; everybody is different.”

In order to adequately increase funds for the Mwambao School, Rungwe believes it is necessary to educate the public about Tanzanian culture.

Thus far, the alliance has met once, but club president Spier is optimistic about the future.

“I want to show people that youth still care and we want to make a difference,” she said.

Currently, Spier is working to launch a pen-pal program that would connect members of the alliance with students of the Mwambao School.

“Africa feels like it is my home,” Spier said. “I want it to be a part of my life forever.” ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?