A Garden School Grows in Africa

Students at MDFT Primary School

Our story begins with David Gido, Headmaster of the Making a Difference Foundation Tanzania (MDFT) Garden School, a small primary school in Arusha, Tanzania, the gateway to the best Safaris in Africa.

As a teacher, David wanted to do something about the growing number of HIV/AIDS orphans that were not attending primary school. He started tutoring about 10 children after school and the numbers soon grew. He then enlisted the help of a few of his school colleagues and paid them from his own meager salary. Soon, kids as young as 3 years old were walking very long distances to attend David’s school, which by now became the only viable education option for many of these families whose parents make on average about $2-$3 a day. Although there is currently a government initiative for change, most Tanzanian public schools are not free and parents must pay fees along with buying uniforms and supplies.

David grew up as an orphan himself. He was born in Rwanda, where his father was killed in the Hutu/Tutsi conflicts.  His mother returned to her native Tanzania, and as is common, David was not well accepted by his new stepfather’s family. As a result, he has a soft heart for indigent children who face a life of extreme poverty and difficulty because of circumstances outside their immediate control.

David felt such empathy that with his own money he rented a building and started a school. His objective was both simple and lofty – to create an education model that can make a profound and lasting difference in the students’ lives in order to transform their future. It is his wish to educate Tanzanian’s next scientists, business entrepreneurs, social developers and decision makers.

Around this time a kinship began on Facebook between David and Matinga Ragatz, an innovative and dynamic high school teacher in Michigan. Among her many accomplishments, Matinga was named Michigan Teacher of the Year for 2010/11 and in 2011 became a NASA certified Educator.

Matinga immediately felt a kinship with David as a teacher that aims out of the box.

“We began to dream together,” she said. “David wants to provide an education that truly makes a real impact in these young kid’s lives. We are collaborating on this prototype hoping to collect data and demonstrate an effective education model that can help transform the skills needed to provide a better quality of life for our students as well as for their community.”

One of their benefactors is Todd “TJ” Duckett. He is a former NFL running back and now a philanthropist and founder of New World Flood, an organization focused on encouraging young people to take up the slack during the economic down turn through volunteering and service to their communities. TJ visited the MDFT primary school in the summer of 2011 and is the inspiration behind the naming of the school farm, the Flood Garden.

On the MDFT blog, David explains it this way, “We decided to call our little farm the Flood Garden because we intend to flood our community with children who are skilled and able to take up the current economic slack and help fix the immediate issues in their own communities. We also want to FLOOD the community with innovative ways to improve their diet, income and budgets from the ideas of our little urban farm.”

From the start, the school farm was imagined as an integral part of the school.

“The school farm would help us diversify our income, start a parent cooperative where they could exchange sweat equity for school fees, create outdoor classrooms to lessen overcrowding within the traditional 4 walls, replace the immediate need for traditional books, labs and other conventional resources (the farm is the best textbook!!), introduce a better diet for our school meals program, create Kitchen Garden models to spread to our community the idea of growing one’s own food in a crowded, low income urban setting, and among many, many other things, create a place were our teachers could learn and innovate their lessons and skills every day!”

The MDFT teachers, although young, are very enthusiastic about participating in the Flood Garden learning model. The idea of making a Maasai style house as an outdoor kitchen came from them.  They are interested in teaching history to the students by showing them traditional Maasai building techniques. Currently the teachers make less than $1,000 a year, which is not enough to provide them with a living wage, so the teachers sleep in the school at night.

Along with this dedicated teaching staff, David has been able to gather support from parents, students and community members. Because they are low on funds they are able to find resources in the form of knowledge, materials, and care. One of the first people they met was Cecilia, a local community member with a degree in Agriculture who is turning her property into a nursery for exotic plants and ponds. Cecilia has been incredibly supportive and generous with her time consulting with the school staff on horticultural matters.

The MDFT Garden School is like a small seedling. There is still much room for growth.

Phase 1 is the current Primary School Garden (ages 2-7) with an emphasis on curriculum and self-sufficiency.

Phase 2 will be to expand the school physically to allow students to continue their education throughout their school careers (ages 8+).

As Matinga explains, “We want to study the impact of our education model on the future economic opportunities of our students but we cannot do that if our students leave our system at age 8.”

To this end David and Matinga are hoping to purchase 10+ acres of land that would allow them to:
a) build additional space for the school
b) expand farming efforts to provide a better meal plan for the students
c) expand the farm (both crops and fish ponds) to create a surplus they could sell
d) build dormitories and provide a better environment for the homeless children
e) expand the farm to create a Farm Cooperative for widowed mothers
f) expand their project-based education model to provide an innovative Career/Technology Education program for middle and high school students.

Unfortunately, there are currently no funds available for these programs. In the near future we hope to initiate a Kickstarter.com program as well as other fundraising efforts to raise money and awareness.

I’ll keep you posted.

Teachers at MDFT Flood Garden

Left to right (a friend of the teachers), David Gido (in blue plad), Teacher Loveless (pink vest), Head Teacher Jackie (in Red), MDFT Parent helper (in back), Teacher Nixon (in black jacket), Vanessa (5 year old MDFT student) on the day we broke ground

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