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Nasma, 32, hasn’t played in a long time—not since she was a child. With a family of five and numerous daily chores, she has little time to waste. Today, however, is different. Nasma is attending her fourth ‘Play Day’ at her children’s school, the Nyakitono Primary School in Nata, Northern Tanzania. Here, standing on the playground amongst other parents, teachers and students, Nasma cinches her pink sarong skirt tighter around her waist before taking the hands of two children and joining one of the groups dancing in a circle. The mood is light and fun with everyone singing, clapping and laughing.
In the vast grasslands at the foothills of the Kilimanjaro Mountain, the school stands alone. Schools are few and far between here, as the communities are isolated from one another. Traditionally conservative and nomadic, these communities are slowly waking up to change and new realities, such as the importance of education in determining their future.
In Nata, ‘Play Days,’ conducted in the community setting with the active participation of parents and community leaders have been an important part of this transformation.
This ‘Play Day,' like all the rest, is organized by the Parent School Committee, consisting of parents, teachers, village government representatives and the Ward Education Coordinator. The Committee advocates for the well-being of local children, amplifies the importance of education and the responsibilities of the community in keeping children in school, as well as developing a referral system to deal with incidences of child abuse. The Committee plans and implements awareness campaigns around issues concerning the welfare of their children and uses ‘Play Days’ to mobilize other parents and the community to collaborate on finding solutions.
Each ‘Play Day’ has a specific theme and teachers lead the games in which parents, children, local leaders and members of the community experience the joy, fun and inspiration of play and in the process are able to explore issues that are challenging their families and the community.
Children take center stage on ‘Play Days’ and communities are learning to embrace the idea that children can be leaders and advocate for themselves.
The theme of this ‘Play Day’ is “Parents are the Head of the Household.” The discussions center around the responsibilities of the household head to the children. 11 year-old Kerim leads the exchange of ideas in his group, encouraging the children to speak up.
“I am very happy to be a Junior Leader because it makes my parents proud,” says Kerim. “I also feel that they listen to me more when we talk as a group. Children should be confident and speak aloud when they have a problem.” The children collectively ask the parents to let them attend school daily, for more time to do their homework and for candles for light when it gets too dark to see.
Kerim and his best friend Yokibedi, 12 are on the field with the parents and other children. As members of the Leadership Club, they helped choose the games for the day.
Veronica, 11, says ‘Play Day’ makes it “easier to ask for things,” because it is a day for fun and parents are relaxed. “I used to ask my parents for permission to go to school every day, instead of staying home to help them and they would refuse,” says Veronica. “But ‘Play Day’ changed their minds. I think they saw that other parents are listening to their children and they started to listen to me too. Now, I only graze the cows on the weekend, after I finish my homework.”
“Children were missing school and staying home to do domestic work,” says Makoye. “Girls in particular, traditionally bear a heavier burden and their performance in national level exams was dismal.”
‘Play Days’ successfully mobilized the community to address barriers to education unique to the region, such as child labor, early marriage and other forms of abuse. “The Committees and ‘Play Day’ are changing our community,” adds Mayoke “Parents value children’s education and most importantly, their responsibility to protect them from abuse.”
For the Nata Community, the payoff is already sweet: in 2012, only 24 per cent of children passed the national exams. By the end of 2016, this number had jumped to 79 per cent—the results attributed to more regular attendance, particularly of girls.
The chairman of the school committee, Morigo, who is a parent and a local farmer says he is “happy” that ‘Play Day’ is useful in getting parents to see education as key to the future prospects of children in rural Tanzania. “The community must change in order to survive,” he says. “With education we also have a stake in the future of our country.”