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Champion Father advocates for disability inclusion and helps Upendo get back into school

Despite fee-free primary and secondary education in Tanzania, the extra costs of educating a child can be debilitating for many families in rural Tanzania. Children living in poverty, girls, and children with disabilities are the most vulnerable to being denied their right to a basic education. The direct costs of school materials, and the lost opportunity costs of a child being in school rather than at home supporting their family through unpaid labour, continues to keep children out of school.

So They Can’s Msomi Scholarship project provides needs-based scholarships to dedicated students in our program-supported schools, who otherwise could not afford to continue their studies. The annual scholarship, usually provided to a child over a number of years throughout their education, covers the costs of academic materials, such as books, pencils, uniforms, school lunches, and boarding accommodation when necessary. It is a measure that addresses students’ immediate educational needs and it is implemented alongside our projects that support parents’ long-term economic empowerment through improved livelihoods and household income.

Thanks to community mobilisation work carried out by So They Can network of Champions, children at risk of dropping out of school are identified for support through a Msomi scholarship. Upendo, a young Maasai girl living with a disability in Babati, is one such student who, since 2022, has been a Msomi Scholar.

When Upendo was found at home in her pastoralist community, she had already been out of school for a year, and felt total despair that her educational journey had ended. Although she successfully completed primary school in 2020, her secondary school was a daily 10km round-trip from her home – a long walk for anyone, and an impossible walk for someone with a mobility impairment. Upendo’s situation is not an isolated case, according to UNICEF Tanzania,  less than 1% of children in pre-primary, primary and secondary school have a disability, even though it is estimated that 7.9% of Tanzanians are living with a disability.

It was the dedication and advocacy efforts of one of So They Can’s Champion Fathers, Peter, that changed the outlook of Upendo’s future. Peter coordinated the Ward Education Officer’s approval for Upendo to re-enter the school system, and the Regional Administrative Officer’s special permission for her to join a secondary school with boarding facilities. The life-changing support of TZS 650,00 (approximately AUD $440) provided to Upendo annually through the Msomi Scholarship is enough to cover the costs of her school materials, food, accommodation and medication.

Upendo shares that, ‘getting an opportunity to go back to school, after staying at home for a whole year is like a dream. My parents had started thinking about finding someone to marry me, until So They Can gave me this golden opportunity.

The Swahili word, and name, Upendo means love, which is fitting for the spirit of Upendo and her story.

‘I am working hard in my studies. I don’t want to be dependent because of my disability, and I know this opportunity to study will help me achieve my life goals.’ 

27 Msomi Scholars (14 girls: 13 boys) are being supported in Tanzania in 2023. The average scholarship value is TZS 224,150 (approximately AUD $142). Upendo continues to study hard, and perform well, as a Form 2 Secondary Student at Gallapo Secondary School. She recently was trained as a member of the Child Protection and Safeguarding Desks at her school.

Cover photo: Upendo with her father

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