Vienna Man Opens School in Tanzania

Picture this: Students clad in burgundy and white uniforms, singing and dancing, swaying to music. They look joyous and proud.

Sounds like a normal occurence, but for these students in east Africa, the opening of their new school this past spring was a rare opportunity for them to obtain an education.

Two years ago this school was only a vision of former Peace Corps volunteer Charlie Sloan (above left).

Now the secondary school is a reality for 90 students in Tanzania. It was made possible through the generosity of Northern Virginia benefactors and the efforts of Sloan.

Sloan, who grew up in St. Mark Parish in Vienna, where his parents, Daphne and Chuck, are longtime members, is back visiting his family for a few weeks.

He received a degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. His cousin encouraged him to serve in the Peace Corps, and in the fall of 1992, Sloan enlisted and was posted to Karatu, Tanzania, where he taught physics and math in a government school for two years.

One of the exceptional students was Frank Manase. Sloan taught him chess, card games and pool, and the Manase family welcomed Sloan.

After his Peace Corps service, Sloan returned to America for several months and then decided to return to Tanzania to teach in 1996. He began working at the Marian Girls Secondary School in Bagamoyo, operated by the town’s Roman Catholic mission.

While teaching, Sloan developed some ideas for improved education. He envisioned a school with smaller class sizes, no corporal punishment, stronger arts and sports programs, food available during the day for students, and increased secondary school education for local students.

Two years ago, after many struggles, Sloan created the basis for Nianjema School. He formed a non-profit organization with three other trustees: Manase, now a third-year medical student in the capital city; his brother Daniel Manase, an architect and contractor; and Gideon Kiyenze, a government official.

The group purchased a 15-acre tract of land, previously set aside for a school by town officials. They paid extra for the valuable coconut and mango trees there, the fruit of which is now part of students’ lunches.

Daniel Manase and Sloan started constructing the school by hand in December 1999, with no electricity on site. Assisted by local hired help, the building blocks were composed of the property’s sand and water mixed with some concrete. Each of the classroom desks and chairs were hand-hewn.

A little over a year later, in January 2001, the school opened with an equal number of girls and boys, all in the first term (approximately equal to seventh-grade).

The four forms at Nianjema School are roughly equivalent to grades seven through 10. Courses are taught in English.

The school consists of several buildings, designed for cool ventilation, with an open quadrangle in its center. There is a four-classroom building, the library, two-room laboratory, administration, assembly/dining hall and two bathrooms with showers. When school is not in session, the site is used for other community activities.

The school day starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. Students are taught 11 subjects: physics, biology, chemistry, civics, mathematics, accounting, Swahili, English, history, geography and religion.

The weekly 90-minute religion class is led by local Catholic, Islamic and Protestant church leaders. Sloan has invited a Holy Ghost Father Valentine Bayo from his parish, the Catholic Mission of Bagamoyo, to come to the school for the Catholic students. The mission is about a half-mile away.

More classrooms need to be constructed for next year’s 60 additional students. It is planned that the student population will increase annually until the school reaches its capacity of 240. A dreamed-of computer lab to accommodate the desired hardware and software must also be built.

Sloan told the HERALD in a recent interview that he likes living there.

"I experience different cultures, languages, people, new things," he said, adding that he has learned to speak Swahili. He said there is a tremendous need for qualified teachers there. Although his primary desire is to continue teaching physics at the school, Sloan has many other responsibilities as a manager helping run Nianjema. Some of his activities include buying and delivering food in bulk for the students’ simple daytime meals, coordinating on-going construction and obtaining governmental approvals. Sloan encourages parents to become more involved in their children’s schooling. Most parents are proprietors of small shops in the town, Bagamoyo, which has a population of 36,000.

The area has a rich history. Located on the Indian Ocean, Bagamoyo was the first capital of Tanzania and a large slave exporting port. In 1867, German priests of the Holy Ghost order founded a mission there to bring Christianity to freed slaves, some of whom the clergy had purchased at the trade market.

Sloan said it is extremely difficult to get funding from the government for a private school. During his few weeks stateside, a reception was hosted by his family at Marco Polo Restaurant in Vienna to request additional benefactors for the school’s future. Most of the school’s financial support is supplied by more than 100 donors, most of whom live in this area. Tax-deductible contributions to Nianjema Secondary School may be made to the non-profit Tanzania Education Fund, Inc., 107 Pleasant St., N.W., Vienna, Va. 22180. For information call Chuck or Daphne Sloan at 703/938-9668.

Copyright ?2001 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2001