To Tanzania With Love
By Paul Morgan
Sara Douglas is a small, athletic woman with a quick smile and an earnest demeanor. And while it doesn’t take too much effort to imagine her teaching an English class in a small African village, it is startling to learn that she has been in that harsh environment for almost three years and is ready for more.
Douglas and her twin sister Sydney are both 2010 Brevard College graduates. Sydney was a soccer playing Piano major and lives in Denver. Sara was a Wilderness Leadership major and a Tornado tennis player who fell in love with the idea of teaching overseas, and is living her dream in the Equatorial East African nation of Tanzania.
The sisters grew up in Houston, and it was the Houston connection that pulled Sara Douglas into the life of a teaching missionary. “I’m sponsored by an organization called Village Schools,” she said. “The founders are members of my church in Houston. They opened three schools in Tanzania in 2005, and now have 26 schools across that country. Ten more are under construction, and we are educating more than 8,400 students who would otherwise not be enrolled in classes. This year, more than 850,000 children will finish primary school in Tanzania,” Douglas said. “The government can only take 98,000 of them into its secondary school system. Village Schools is trying to change that equation by partnering with villages wanting to build their own schools. I love the kids and I love the work that I’m doing.”
Living conditions in Douglas’ village of Nankanga, in Western Tanzania, are quite difficult. She only has electricity for a little more than two hours a day, usually from about 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. The climate is similar to that in Houston, mostly hot and humid, but with rainy seasons thrown in. There is no well in the village. Water is piped to the village from nearby mountains. “I filter my water, and some boil theirs, but most just drink it as it comes,” Douglas said.
“There are four or five different tribes in my village, and probably about 100 across the country,” Douglas said. “Nankanga’s population is about 2,000. My first assignment, in a town further north, was in a school of about 600 students and lasted for nearly two years. I’ve been in Nankanga for about six months. The tribal customs and cultures are very different in each location.”
Douglas’ current school was built in 2007 at the request of the village leaders, who approached Village Schools and asked for a school. “Although education is not yet valued in Tanzania like it is in the West, the leaders are very supportive,” she said. “Most young men still become farmers or fishermen, but attitudes toward education are slowly changing.”
A typical five day school week in Tanzania is much different from one in America. Douglas said that she’s up at 6 a.m. and teaches English classes to her uniformed students from 7:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. She also helps
with administrative chores and pitches in when a building project, like a recently completed women’s rest room, comes along. At 4:30 p.m., the students return for another hour and a half of sports and other activities. When the
electricity comes on at around 7:30 p.m., they return yet again for what are called evening studies until 10 p.m.
There are some 50 students in the school in Nankanga. About half are Christians, half Muslims. Douglas is the only American teacher working with eight Tanzanians. “There is some curiosity about me I think,” she said. I’m the only American in the village, but I’m welcomed because they know I’m there to help.”
Of the 50 students, about 20 are women, which Douglas said is a much higher percentage than is normal. “The ages of both the boys and the girls range from 14 to 20. We also have several older students, including two mothers in their 30s. My personal goal is to enroll even more girls” she added.
Douglas said the she is the most proud of what she has dubbed her Memory Verse Program, in which a student who learns 50 verses is awarded a Bible. “It’s very rare for someone in Tanzania to have a Bible,” she said. “I doubt that more than 10 of my students have one, and they are very highly prized in the community.”
Asked what she does in her spare time, Douglas replied that there are no other Americans nearby. “I usually spend time with some of my girls,” she said. “I’m happy doing that. I believe that I am working in Africa for a greater purpose, and I’ll stay in Tanzania as long as I can.”
Paul Morgan is a retired journalist and journalism professor. His article originally ran in the April 18 issue of the Transylvania Times.