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Welcome to Cheltenham Rotaract! Sunday, 11th February 2001


Rotaract Overseas Project 2000

This article is a personal account, by one Club member, Peter Quantrell, of a two week Rotaract project in Tanzania during November 2000. It also provides information on the efforts of Rotary Club of Arusha, and the local area.

The people I work with know that I am not one for an idle beach holiday – so they weren’t too surprised when I said my next break was two weeks in Tanzania. But the purpose of this trip was not purely to travel but to be part of a team of 17 volunteers – both Rotaractor and Rotarian – to build a classroom block at Maji Ya Chai Secondary School near Arusha during the first two weeks of November 2000.

I have been a member of the Rotaract club in Cheltenham for five years. The Rotaract Overseas Project [ROP] is an annual initiative, led by Brian Stoyel, a Rotarian, from Plymouth, currently Chairman of the RI Rotaract Committee. As this was my third project; I was surprised to be accepted for the team. My previous experience of volunteering overseas had been with ROP in Tanzania (1996) and Ghana (1997) doing renovation work for Sight Savers International.

I’d been preparing for the project for the previous three months and the week before departure was a whirlwind trip around town. As well as getting their gear together – including books and toys for the school children, medical supplies etc – arranging inoculations and meeting their costs of £850, every team member is expected to raise funds towards the estimated £8000 project costs. Funds are spent on construction materials, food, accommodation, local transport etc and anything remaining would be donated to the school. My contribution of £750 was raised through donations from friends, colleagues and Rotary clubs and sponsored events.

It was an early meeting of the team at Heathrow – 0430hrs on Saturday 4 November. Flying with KLM via Amsterdam, we finally landed at Kilimanjaro airport at 2300hrs after a 90-minute delay in departure because of an engine fault. We met Brian, who had flown out a week earlier, then crammed ourselves and our luggage into a convoy of minibuses, for a 30km drive from Arusha into the rural countryside.

Our home for the next twelve days was a small house without electricity or any amenities. The place very soon looked like a scout camp with rucksacks, camp beds and mosquito nets everywhere. We relied on an intermittent supply of water from a standpipe, which was chlorine treated and filtered, cold showers in buckets and squatted over a hole above a cess pit for a toilet. Our saving grace was an elderly local cook, named Peter, who could produce culinary delights from two charcoal burners and a regular supply of Safari lager and sodas.

Upendo and the Leper Centre

Upendo is a rural agricultural community, relying on maize, other cash crops and livestock for both income and food. The rains have failed for the past three years, with the result that 80% of the local crops have failed. People’s incomes are badly affected. The area is served by a local health centre, and dispensary both run by the Government. Rotary donations of medicines have helped the service in recent years.

In Upendo, there is a leper colony which was started by Faye Cran, a Rotarian in the Rotary Club of Arusha. The centre provides medical assistance, profitable work and refuge for people who otherwise would be outcast by their communities. The centre is self-supporting through its own livestock and gardens, and through the manufacture of gifts for retail locally and abroad. Many lepers live in the centre with their families – there is a schoolroom in a converted container.

Helping the Street Children of Arusha

Thousands of children in Arusha, Tanzania, wage a daily battle on the streets of their city — a battle against hunger, poverty, and drugs. They have been forced into this lonely and inhospitable arena by families too poor to care for them financially and often too troubled to care for them emotionally. With no opportunity to go to school, no roof over their heads, and no food to eat, these children often turn to drugs as an escape. Now the Rotary Club of Arusha is offering them a different way out. The club is focused on the long-term, providing accommodations and access to job training, as well as an immediate means to make money.

The educational component of the program operates in conjunction with a vocational centre run by the local Rotary Community Corps in Upendo. Children are referred to the centre by a social service agency and learn carpentry, sewing, and other skills. The centre supports itself by selling toys produced in its workshops. Boys at the centre attend Maji Ya Chai Secondary School.

Maji Ya Chai Secondary School currently has five classes for children up to 16 years of age – but only three teachers. Students sit quietly waiting for their next lesson if they do not have a teacher available, or the elder children act as mentors for the younger ones and run activities for them. The school’s catchment area is the whole of Upendo, and children often walk up to 6-7km to school each day. The school charges US$20 per year per student which is a large proportion of the average family’s income, since the average incme is no more than US$25 per month especially if they have 2-3 children at the school. The teaching language is English.

Building Tanzanian style

We had a late start the first day, but otherwise the routine for the next twelve days was the same – up at 0630hrs, on site by 0730hrs, an hour’s lunch break but work through till or past dark, usually 1830hrs. We worked with local people, including schoolchildren from the Secondary School who helped out with many of the tasks. The purpose of the team being there is to accelerate building efforts – what usually takes three-and-a-half months by a team of 4-6 builders was done in less than two weeks.

We make no effort to enforce our own building style or regulations; it is all done at the direction of the local foreman, (known as "Fundi") using local techniques and materials. We ended up building a sixty foot extension to an existing classroom building to provide two classrooms and two offices.

The building was built from local bricks which are not of the same quality as those in the UK – very few perfectly straight edges – so maintaining a level or a vertical wall was an interesting exercise. Each wall was a single row of bricks. The base three to four layers were cemented in with mortar using sand and cement, but we made good progress. On the second day, we were given "matope" – mud – to use as mortar. On the third day, unsurprisingly, one of the walls fell down and it took most of the fourth to rebuild. That one was rebuilt with mortar. We left several walls supported by planks of wood as some looked like they might fall at any time.

The walls were built to a height of around ten feet so scaffolding was required by the fourth day – made from planks of wood. By the fifth day, we were able to start putting on a concrete lintel to provide extra strength. When this was in place, bricks were laid to a total height of around 12 feet.

Roof beams were made from wood nailed into A frames – these were lifted using teams of a dozen people onto the walls at one end of the building and shuffled down by the local builders to their final position. It took 2-3 days to completely finish the supporting beams for the roof. Aluminium roof sheets were nailed into position.

Whilst this was going on, the walls were pointed, and brickwork chiselled out to take steel window frames. The frames were mortared in. Window sills were made by filling in with mortar and half-bricks under the frames and levelling off. Concrete pillars were laid in front of the building, and two days spent laying a concrete verandah around the pillars. This was skilled work, and mainly done by the local builders, but a large team was needed to keep up a continual supply of concrete.

The walls were plastered – the mix made from cement and river sand, then lime was skimmed over the surface to produce a smooth finish. When we left, the building was up and completely roofed. There is still much to be done – glass needs to be put in the windows, liming needs to be finished and the building needs painting. But by our being there, much more was achieved in twelve days than could have been dreamt by the school.

How else the project helped

A container was shipped from the UK, via Dar-es-Salaam, arranged by the Rotary Club of Arusha, with desks, chairs and IT equipment. It also contained books donated by an education supplier through one of the Rotaractors on the project.

We brought toys, medicines which were shared by the local health centre, the Leper colony and the school. Our tools were given to the local builders and the vocational centre for the street children.


The team was hosted at a lunch given by the Arusha Rotary Club on the Thursday before we left. All members received a certificate from the Club and got to enjoy the local speciality – goat. Members of the local Village Committee and the Education authority as well as local press, radio and national television attended the lunch. The school gave us a departing ceremony on the Friday and we were mobbed by the schoolchildren as we handed over sweets.

Fortunately it wasn’t all work! The last two days were spent on landrover safari in Ngorongoro Crater and Tangire National Parks. An experience not to be forgotten, and a superb end to a memorable trip. The team arrived back at Heathrow after 11 hours overnight on Sunday 19 November.

Work on Monday was a bit of a let down after all that.

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