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

    Ethiopia's Anti-terrorism Law: Security or Silencing Dissent?

    Yonatan Tesfaye was detained in December 2015 on charges under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation; eleven statements from his Facebook page were used as evidence

    Egypt Orders Trial for Journalists Charged With Harboring Reporters

    Order targets journalists' union chief Yehia Qalash, Khaled al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel Rahim for allegedly spreading false news, harboring fugitive colleagues

    Nigerian Oil Production Falls as Militant Attacks Take Toll

    Country no longer Africa's petroleum king due to renewed militancy in its oil-producing region

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahdai
    X
    Lisa Schlein
    May 31, 2016 1:56 PM
    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Chapter for Tunisia's Ennahda

    Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party says it is separating its religious and political activities in a broader bid to mark its so-called Muslim Democratic identity. The move appears to open a new chapter for a party that bounced back from the political wilderness of Tunisia’s pre-revolution days to become a key player in the North African country, and a member of the current coalition government. From Tunis, Lisa Bryant takes a look at how Tunisians are viewing its latest step.
    Video

    Video New Mobile App Allows Dutch Muslims to Rate their Imams

    If a young Dutch-Moroccan app developer has his way, Muslims in the Netherlands will soon be able to rate their imams online. Mohamed Mouman says imams rarely get feedback from their followers. He believes his app can give prayer leaders a better picture of what's happening in their communities — and can also keep young people from being radicalized. Serginho Roosblad reports from Amsterdam.
    Video

    Video Moscow Condemns NATO Plans to Beef Up Defense in Eastern Europe, Baltics

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday an upcoming "landmark summit" will enhance the alliance's defensive and deterrent presence in eastern Europe and the Baltics. He is visiting Poland ahead of the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Zlatica Hoke reports
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video F-35 Fighter Jet Draws Criticisms as Costs Mount

    America’s latest fighter plane, the F-35, has been mired in controversy. Critics cite cost, faulty design, and the attempt to use it to fill multiple roles. Even the pilot’s helmet is controversial. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Concerns Over Civilian Suffering as Iraqi Forces Surround Fallujah

    Thousands of residents are trapped inside the IS-held city ahead of a full scale Iraqi offensive aimed at retaking it.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora