News / Africa

A Woman’s Journey: Helping Bring Literacy to Tanzanian Children

Ashley Holmer with Amina, a young community member from Mungere Village (Red Sweater Project)
Ashley Holmer with Amina, a young community member from Mungere Village (Red Sweater Project)
Sophia Gebrehiwot
Ashley Holmer is the founder and executive director of the Red Sweater Project – named for the most important garment of the school children supported by the effort.  The organization strives to create educational opportunities for children in rural parts of Tanzania, by helping communities to build schools, train teachers and develop curricula.  

The project began in 2005 when Holmer moved to the East African country to work as an English teacher as well as a soccer coach in a Masai village, Monduli juu. The village chairman from a nearby community offered her 20 acres of land, upon which she built the community’s first secondary school, which today educates over 140 students.

Eight years later, she again partnered with the villagers of Mungere to build another secondary school on 15 acres of donated land. 

Building schools is just part of the challenge. Unlike primary education, secondary schooling is not free and government tuition fees can be quite high.  There are shortages of qualified teachers, and students have many hurdles:  schools may be many miles away, too far to travel by foot. The project aims to lower fees and helps recruit and train teachers.

Some families can not spare their children from work at home.  Most children are needed to help their parents by herding livestock or farming. As a result, approximately 18 percent of children in Tanzania enroll in secondary school, but only about seven percent graduate.

Girls have specific reasons for not attending, including early marriage. Holmer says in most cases, 13-year-old girls who are not in school get married by age 14 and give birth a year later.

Those who are lucky enough to attend school often face threats. Quoting a recent study, Holmer says a majority of the girls fall victim to sexual abuse, often perpetrated by school administrators.  Most of the girls entering these institutions, according to Holmer, suffer under traditions that fail to value women as much as men.

The Red Sweater Project founded by Holmer attempts to create a school environment that values girls as much as boys and provides mentorship and health outreach services for students.

Construction of the first classrooms on Holmer's second school in March 2012, Mungere Secondary. The school opened its doors in September to the first 40 students.(Red Sweater Project)Construction of the first classrooms on Holmer's second school in March 2012, Mungere Secondary. The school opened its doors in September to the first 40 students.(Red Sweater Project)
x
Construction of the first classrooms on Holmer's second school in March 2012, Mungere Secondary. The school opened its doors in September to the first 40 students.(Red Sweater Project)
Construction of the first classrooms on Holmer's second school in March 2012, Mungere Secondary. The school opened its doors in September to the first 40 students.(Red Sweater Project)
Since the color red is closely associated with the Massai tribe in Tanzania, in appreciation and respect to the tribe the project chose red to be the official uniform of the students.

Over the years, the Red Sweater Project has gained the support of community members who have donated land and resources and work hand in hand with the project.  Holmer says it’s these partnerships that help guarantee success.  She points out the importance of inquiry and consultation with local villagers about the needs and the goal of the intervention. 

“Our project is not here to provide but to create educational opportunities by working in conjunction with the community. It’s their land, and they are in charge. They are involved in the development and construction of the schools. Our role is to facilitate,” Holmer explains.

She acknowledges that her years in Tanzania have involved encountering – and overcoming – challenges. Holmer points out that the country has over 120 tribes, each requiring different approaches to educational hurdles.  

“You have to treat and change depending on what is acceptable and what is not,” she says. “You are dealing with centuries of history and tradition. You also have to realize you make mistakes and be open to learn from it.”

It also helps to learn the language.  Holmer says Tanzanians appreciate the fact that she took the time to learn Swahili. 

“When you stand up in front of village leaders,” she says, “how you speak can say a lot about you. They realize we have a lot of differences but with good communication in the end they realize we are working for the same goal.”

Holmer says her proudest moments include seeing buildings finished and teachers with full classes.  As classroom voices ring out she realizes that, if not for the Red Sweater Project, thousands of students would not have the opportunity to learn, and live better lives.

Listen to interview with Ashley Holmer of The Red Sweater Project
Listen to interview with Ashley Holmer of The Red Sweater Projecti
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

You May Like

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid