POULSBO — When students at Gateway Christian School learned about Weema, an 8-year-old girl who attends Sakila School in Tanzania, and how excited she is to go to school everyday, they were surprised.
Weema (pronounced way-mah) was born with one leg and walks to school with a specially-designed prosthetic.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like to walk four miles. My parents drive me [to school],” third-grader Hail-ey Knott said. She said she feels blessed to have running water while Tanzanian students must walk to a well.
Fifth-grader Joslyn Leage added, “I wouldn’t want to walk that far just to go to school.”
While many Gateway students said it was hard to imagine walking so far to school, they felt more grateful for the lives they have after hearing about Weema and other Sakila students.
Seeing the difference between their lives and Weema’s motivated the Gateway students to raise funds for a new prosthesis for her as she grows.
The third-grade students held a book drive. Other grades held bake sales or solicited donations from family and friends. One fifth-grade student said everyone looked through their backpacks for loose change.
Third-grade teacher Angie Smith said one first-grader asked her friends not to give her birthday presents but instead to make donations to Weema.
The school’s fundraising goal was $400; more than $500 has been raised. The fifth-grade class will hold one more fundraiser, a karaoke night in the school gym, on March 26 at 6:30 p.m.
“Jesus said that ‘It is better to give than to receive,’” fifth-grade teacher Bill Parrott said in an email. “Providing an arena in which our kids can put their energies and creativity into giving to the students in our sister school in Tanzania is a great way to put that principle into practice.”Smith said her students really understand they have many more resources than the Sakila students.
“After all, we are so blessed to live in a country where we have the resources at our fingertips,” Smith wrote in an email. “We consider it pure joy to help others not just in our community but across the world.”
Lorraine Anderson, one of the founders of the Poulsbo-based Sakila Sponsorship Program, wanted Gateway’s students to understand Weema’s life. She gave her missionary update during a morning chapel assembly a few months ago, but she didn’t expect the students to take on Weema’s story so earnestly.
“[The students’] compassion just poured out of them,” she said.
Ayanna Selembo, one of Smith’s third-grade students, has been to Tanzania many times to visit her family. Her father, Godwin, and grandfather, Bishop Eliudi Issangya, founded the Bible school that spawned Sakila.
“This vision for a school had been [Godwin Selembo]’s for a long time,” Anderson said. Selembo was born in Tanzania and came to the U.S. when he was 17. He and his wife, Kim, are on the Sakila Sponsorship Program board of directors.
Sakila was founded in 2002 with the help from the sponsorship program, run by Gene and Lorraine Anderson and Marion and Loretta Sluys. It was the Sluyses that invited the Andersons to visit Tanzania when the school was being built, expanding from an old chicken coop that housed the preschool.
Lorraine Anderson had no desire to visit Africa at the time, but the children won her over once she arrived, she said. The sponsorship program gives between $300,000 to $400,000 a year, which pays for the teachers’ salaries, school supplies, and food — some of the children aren’t able to be fed at home.
Since 2003, more than 800 students have come through the school’s doors. The school has two campuses: primary school (K-7) and secondary school (through college prep). The students must pass a government test to continue on to secondary school, and since 2003 only one student has not passed this test, Anderson said.
The students grow up speaking Meru, a tribal language, and learn Swahili (the national language) and English when in school. “The [Tanzanian] government is amazed,” Anderson said. She recalled a visit from a Tanzanian education official in 2005, who said Sakila was run like it had been there for 40 years, not three.
Sakila has a dedicated staff, Anderson said. “Some teachers have been with the school since before it even had sponsorship program, when they were only paid $5 a month.”
The school’s floor is compressed dirt and there is no indoor plumbing. But the children are captivated by their education.
Gateway fifth-grader Jamo Moore’s dad visited Sakila and said it was “amazing to see what we’ve been talking about. Even with the little stuff they have, they still have smiles on their faces.” Jamo hopes to visit Sakila in the future too.
In 2004, Anderson said she asked Sakila students what they wanted to be when they grew up. Godwin Selembo told her, “They don’t understand the future, they live from day to day,” she said. In 2010, she asked again. Now, the students are saying they want to be doctors, business people, pilots, engineers. One boy said he wants to be president of Tanzania.
“These are the kinds of answers we’re getting from these kids now,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be a whole different country.”
Soon, Weema will receive her new prosthetic as she outgrows the one she has now. Anderson said the fund is being kept open; Weema will need a new prosthetic leg every one to two years.
Many of the students said what they like most about the fundraiser is seeing how the money is used, and the lives they are affecting.
"When we help Sakila and Weema … it’s just the littlest things that you give, like your time … [I]t makes you feel good," fifth-grader Aspen DeSalvo said.
Donations are welcome at karaoke night, which will have a live band assembled by Parrott. For more information, visit www.sakilasponsorship.org.