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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More