A Window Into Baraka’s World

So, how is Baraka doing?  I am very pleased to report, after visiting with him last month, that he is thriving.

I spent most of March in Tanzania, meeting with the team in Arusha, as well as getting to know our scholars, teachers, and the many people who make up their communities.  It was my first visit to Tanzania – to Africa! – and it was thrilling.

One of the highlights of my visit was having the opportunity to travel to Baraka’s village with Meghann, our Executive Director, and photographer/filmmaker Tyler Wolfhord of Halle Project. The journey from Arusha to Baraka’s village of Loki is 35 kilometers and took about 2 hours. Though 35 km is only roughly 22 miles, Loki village is far down dirt roads and unpaved paths that are often hard to navigate. There are no buses or other forms of public transportation that reach the village, so Baraka’s family relies on bodas (motorcycle taxis) to reach town. 

I knew this experience must have been somewhat out of the ordinary as I heard Meghann’s reactions to Baraka’s proud, but modest home. A seasoned traveller who has spent over 15 years in Tanzania, Meghann was still struck by the extreme remoteness of Baraka’s village, Loki, a Maasai village set out on its own on the Mara.  The distance to retrieve water—a light-hearted “over there” referenced by Baraka’s mother, Rebecca—was a distance that would take close to two hours there and back. The reality that exists for Baraka’s mother and seven siblings in their boma, which is so isolated from any other village, was far different from my own.

The pride, however, with which Baraka and his fiercely strong and proud mother took in welcoming us to their home was immense. Rebecca is the second of the three wives, has given birth to nine children, eight of whom are living. She is 40 years old. Rebecca, along with Baraka’s father, is proud of her home, but is keenly aware of the value of an education. She has encouraged and supported all of her children to attend school, including Baraka’s older sister, who attends secondary school—a rarity for a young woman in Maasai culture.

Baraka’s father, Tolito, has 3 wives and 21 children. Baraka’s family lives in bomas in the Loki village, 35 kilometers from Arusha and the TFFT office. Each wife has a boma made of mud and dung. Some have metal roofs, some have grass roofs. The wives all keep cows and goats, and live a pastoralist life. Tolito works as a security guard at a church in Arusha, making $35 a month in salary to serve his family of 25.

When Baraka lived with his family in the boma in Loki, he would wake up at 3am to get ready for the day and then walk more than three hours to school – each way. He attended a government school, Losio Primary School, where the classes have over 60 students per teacher. During the rainy season, Baraka and his siblings were not able to attend school as severe flooding cuts off the valley between their home and the school.  The journey is arduous, therefore their father, Tolito, doesn’t allow his children to begin attending school until they are eight or nine, and able to make the trip. This delay put Baraka and his siblings far behind their peers. Tolito, though, is committed to allowing both his girls and boys to get an education, as he understands the opportunities education can provide them.

Witnessing Baraka and his family’s way of life was eye-opening and awe-inspiring.  I also felt a great sense of respect for the family’s strength and desire to maintain their culture, while also striving for a better education and more opportunities in life. While his life and day to day responsibilities at home include helping with the care of his siblings and minding the families grazing herds, Baraka has done an amazing job of adjusting to life at school. Having transferred from Usa River Academy, where he attended for the past three years, to Precious Primary School in January, Baraka continues to adapt and thrive.

Baraka became a TFFT scholar in 2016 at the age of 13. TFFT’s holistic scholarship program enrolls every scholar in an “English-medium” boarding school, providing their basic needs each term, consisting of everything from toothpaste, toilet paper, soap to wash their clothes and their bodies, to school supplies. Scholars receive health care, counseling services, career coaching and peer mentoring. Scholars’ families are also offered services to improve their own livelihoods. From micro-loans to trainings, the scholarship program dramatically, if incrementally, improves the lives of all 25 members of Baraka’s family.  

Tolito has said that the education Baraka has gotten the past three years has taken him leaps and bounds further than his siblings. His children who had once studied together are now tutored by their brother, Baraka, during the school holidays. Rebecca is deeply committed to her children and encourages them in all they do. Rebecca joined and was an active participant in TFFT’s positive parenting training to learn the basics of child development and she never misses a meeting with TFFT or an academic progress day at school. Baraka struggled his first semester with TFFT, primarily due to his lack of English. Over time, his English has steadily improved and he now is one of the top five students in his class, receiving all As.

Baraka is resilient, disciplined, and committed. Last year, Baraka was given the TFFT Ambassador Award, which is presented to a scholar that represents the best of TFFT—in academics, their behavior, and their commitment as a scholar. He plays soccer and studies hard while at school. Baraka is a consistently strong student, excelling in every subject. Baraka’s favorite subjects are Mathematics, English, and Swahili. He loves all sports and he loves to draw. Baraka’s most recent school report from his teacher read: “Baraka: your performance is marvelous, keep on aiming higher.”

“Baraka” in Swahili means “blessing.”  We believe that with his adaptability, courage, determination, grit, the “blessing” of education will create a positive trajectory for Baraka’s life.

All photos courtesy of Halle Project
Written by Laura Thompson