Sunday, January 23, 2011

Barbro Girls' School

The other Fairfield ladies, Samuel, and I took a day trip to Barbro Johansson Model Girls' Secondary School. We were told that the Form VI class is about to graduate, and they would love to hear about our college experience.

The trip to Barbro wasn't what I was expecting. First we all squeezed onto the dala dala, but that has become pretty standard in our adventures. The unusual part was once the dala dala left us at the bottom of a big hill with no school in sight. Several men rushed over to us speaking fast Swahili that I couldn't understand. Next thing you know, Samuel hops on the back of one of their motorcycles and insists that we do the same. WHAT??

In general I'm very opposed to motorcycles because they bring back scary memories (first rotation in the Emergency Room with the victim of a motorcycle accident). But somehow I left all those concerns back on the dala dala and hopped on like a champ. I rode up the hill for a few miles with the wind whipping my hair around and having so much fun! I was a little nervous about wearing a skirt, but that turned out alright. You might also notice that my arms are getting a beautiful tan, while the rest of my body remains a blinding white... I might need to get to the beach one of these days.

Administrators greeted us at the gate and offered us a delicious lunch. They explained the mission of the school and a bit of history about how it came to be. Barbro Johansson was a Swedish missionary who spent most of her life dedicated to improving education facilities for females in Tanzania. This non-profit boarding school was established with the intention of providing quality education to young ladies from all over the country, without considering their ethnic background, religion, or economic standing. In fact, many of the ladies have scholarships based solely on need, with preference given to “HIV/AIDS orphans and other children in distress” (according to the pamphlet). They work with many agencies throughout Tanzania to identify students with a history of academic excellence and desire to learn, though they may not otherwise have the opportunity.

We walked over to the academic classrooms where over 40 girls shuffled in after us. And then it was time for the speeches. We divided up a few topics and I was selected to discuss mission trips and the study abroad program, which somehow included my experiences with the Honors Program, Jesuit Mission and School of Engineering. The ladies listened intently to every word, which is not a reaction I'd expect if giving this talk to a high school in America. Afterward they had many questions, especially surrounding the cost of education and payment options. Since most of the girls rely on scholarships just to pay for boarding school, it seemed unlikely that any would be able to afford a school in the U.S. for over $50,000 a year. We emphasized that there are many organizations out there (*Rotary*) who want to give money to ambitious students if they show potential and a willingness to work hard. Along with grants and financial aid, we insisted that continued education was a possibility for each one of them. This led to an emphasis on education in general. Even so, many of the girls plan to apply to Fairfield!

My favorite part was sitting down with a few ladies after to answer their specific questions.

I wasn't expecting this, but they called me over as we were preparing to leave. The girls were so sweet! And all very excited about going to college. They asked questions ranging from challenging classes and acceptance rates to how people live in the winter and what kind of food they would be eating there. They could not believe my description of Barone Dining Hall. I guess that makes sense, considering their dining arrangements every day:

On this particular day, they were eating ugali with beans and spinach. Ugali is a staple among Tanzanians. It's a grainy, mushy, bland creation from flour, oil and water. It doesn't have any taste and is used just to fill up your stomach in the middle of the day. I was informed that 90% of Tanzanians eat this everyday, sometimes for lunch and dinner.

I had such a great day talking with these incredible ladies. They gave us a tour of their dormitories and around the campus a bit. If anyone ever complains about forced triples at Fairfield, they should see the 5 bunkbeds crammed into one room with a few dressers and closets. The ladies at Barbro School didn't seem to mind though. They were all so happy to be at this school receiving a top quality education and having food on their plate each day.  


  1. this sounds amazing! I'm so proud of you and all you're doing over there <3

  2. that's so cool! They look so interested in what you have to say!

  3. You'd be amazed at how respectful the children are. Or maybe they were just especially interested in higher education. Either way, they were such great girls!