Linda Simon Paulo in the Tingatinga School garden. Photo credit: Craig Davis/Africa Lead
Twenty-nine year-old youth activist, Linda Simon Paulo, believes that malnutrition is the greatest threat facing Maasai communities in Tanzania today. But combating malnutrition requires tackling a number of other interlinked challenges, including poverty, drought, and traditions that discourage girls’ education. “Parents often force their daughters to marry young,” she explains, “but these young women are ill-prepared to provide for their children.” As a medical doctor, Linda recalls treating the same malnourished children time and again because their mothers did not have the resources at home to provide a healthy diet for them. Without an adequate education and marketable job skills, these young women could not find employment or start small businesses. After returning from six weeks in the United States as a YALI (Young African Leadership Initiative) fellow in 2014, Linda started Education Village, a small NGO dedicated to improving the quality of education in her Maasai community. One barrier to education within the community, she notes, is hunger. Children come to school without having eaten breakfast, and the school does not offer lunch. As a result, concentration and performance are poor, school attendance is low, and the dropout rate is high.
The first school targeted by Education Village is Linda’s former school, Tingatinga Primary School in Longido. According to Winnert Marisha, who has served as head teacher of the school for more than thirty years, the greatest challenge to education is food. “The children don’t have any food,” says Marisha.
To address this issue, Linda and the head teacher recently went door to door to raise funds to provide lunch for the school children. However, many mothers said that their family could only eat one meal a day, and lunch was a luxury they could not afford. Despite the challenges, Education Village raised enough funds to cover a bowl of corn at lunch for each of the 252 students for the month of August. “Next month,” Linda says, “there may not be enough funds for lunch.”
Linda recognizes that sustainability is a major challenge for Education Village. For thirteen years (2000- 2013), a World Food Program (WFP) project provided breakfast and lunch for the children. During this period, attendance and retention were at an all-time high, but after the project ended, the school was left to fend for itself. Attendance suffered, and the dropout rate rose. Linda admits, “We did not learn how to make that (lunch program) sustainable.” Four years later, however, Linda is seeking a sustainable solution to secure a hot lunch for years to come. She is currently designing a project that will construct a greenhouse in which to grow vegetables to help ensure a continuous source of food for the children.
When asked what she feels is her greatest asset to offer Tanzania, she says, “My time.” But unlike other non-profit workers, her time means an even greater sacrifice. Teaching full-time at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences University in Dar es-Salaam, Linda must travel twelve hours one-way by bus to reach Tingatinga. She relies on four volunteers in the village to carry on day-to-day activities.
Linda discussed Education Village’s support to Maasai school children. Photo credit: Craig Davis/Africa Lead
Africa Lead (AL) is complementing USAID investments in young leaders like Linda by providing a technical support package to strengthen strategic planning and sustainability. Over the next six months, Africa Lead will provide Linda and Education Village NGO capacity strengthening in the form of hands-on support in financial management, donor mapping, and proposal writing. Africa Lead has also started linking Linda with other young NGO leaders in the region to conduct site visits, share experiences, and learn from each other. Finally, Africa Lead will provide monthly mentoring.
While many donor efforts attempt to tackle larger policy issues at a national level and may take years to achieve, young African leaders like Linda work at the grassroots level to combat malnutrition family by family and to promote food security one community at a time.