Transforming Lives through Education in Dodoma, Tanzania
By Amy Korpi
In a region where only one-fourth of school-age children have an opportunity to attend secondary school, where there is a 70,000-to-1 ratio of health care worker to patient, where the life expectancy is 45 years, people dream of a better life.
“We’re making this dream a reality in Dodoma, Tanzania,” says Fr. Martin Connell, SJ, provincial assistant for education of the Eastern Africa Province who serves as headmaster of the new Our Lady Queen of Peace Educational Centre (OLQP) and its St. Peter Claver High School (SPCHS).
“The mission of our school, which opened in January 2011, is to assist young men and women to develop their talents, intellectual and otherwise, in order to serve others to the greater glory of God,” Fr. Connell explains. Facing many challenges, at-risk children will be able to live and study alongside children of diplomats and government leaders at a school with goals for a farm, bakery, and more to make the educational project financially self-sufficient. The school also plans to serve as a medical dispensary for the children and surrounding community.
At present, SPCHS serves 140 boys and girls, and includes a four-story dormitory with two wings that can house 640 students each. As a boarding school, it puts girls on equal footing with boys; otherwise, the girls would be expected to perform domestic duties upon returning home each day. Plans for OLQP also include a
two-year, post-secondary vocation college and a two-year college preparing elementary school teachers.
Unlike many African nations, Tanzania promotes peace as “an absolute value and avoids ethnic conflict, which Fr. Connell credits to Julius Nyerere, the nation’s first president after independence from colonial rule in 1964. “Nyerere was adamant that education must work for the common good, foster cooperation, and promote self-reliance,” explains Fr. Connell. “My reading of the Secondary Education Development Plan (SEDP) of the Tanzanian government makes it clear how important our Educational Centre is. The country’s successful implementation of its plan for primary schools has created an upward demand for access to secondary education, which will play an important role in improving Tanzania’s economic and social development.”
Jesuits in Africa
“This most recent Jesuit educational endeavor builds on a solid foundation. The Jesuits first traveled to Africa in the 16th century under the direction of the Society’s founder, St. Ignatius Loyola. In 1976, Jesuits arrived in Dodoma—one of the five poorest regions of Tanzania. There they established a parish and eventually opened Saint Ignatius Primary School. In 1986, Jesuits working in Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda were joined under one superior and called the Eastern Africa Province of the Society of Jesus. The new province immediately began opening schools, beginning with the highly successful Loyola High School in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania’s largest city, about 250 miles east of Dodoma).
A native of Toledo, Ohio, Fr. Connell brings considerable experience to his mission: he’s served as an administrator at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland and the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, and has a Ph.D. in teaching and learning. While teaching at the School of Education at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Fr. Connell was asked if he’d be willing to leave his post to open a new high school in Tanzania. “Absolutely,” he immediately answered. “My educational and work background,” he explains, “coupled with my desire to follow St. Ignatius’s principles of a universal Society and the virtue of availability to go where the needs are greatest have led me to this place and time.”
“It is no surprise to those who know the Jesuits that the Society believes in the transformative power of education—as a link between learning and a better future for students,” says Fr. Connell. “But education also empowers individuals to improve the lives of their fellow citizens. Here in Tanzania, we believe it will not only help improve our students’ and their community’s quality of life, but that it will support a more informed democracy, and help Tanzanians diminish the poverty that many face every day.”
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