Exhibition showcases words and photos of students in East Africa

Susan Smith, Arlene McKechnie, and Virginia Taylor are behind a new
photography exhibition that features the work of Tanzanian schoolgirls. Photo by Adam Feibel.

Young girls in Northern Tanzania are probably not complaining about heading back to school this September.

“For many girls, going on to secondary school is not a reality,” says Virginia Taylor, adding that those who do get to attend certainly don’t take it for granted.

Taylor, a member of the Ottawa-based non-profit Project TEMBO, spent 10 weeks in the village of Longido, Tanzania last fall volunteering to help a group of 42 girls develop language and study schools in order to prepare for secondary school.

The girls were given a camera and told to head out into their community and snap a photo for each letter of the alphabet, so they could learn by associating words and sentences with what they saw around them.

E is for Education will showcase the resulting photos and stories Sept. 4–17 at Exposure Gallery, on the second floor of Thyme & Again.

“They were so engaged in the activity and the outcome was so rich that we wanted to do something with this,” says Taylor, a Faraday Street resident and the exhibition’s coordinator.

The showing will display 10 banners that compile the girls’ work, along with items the girls need for school.

“You can see things through their eyes, and aspects of their culture and community,” says Susan Smith, a TEMBO volunteer.

Tanzania is the most linguistically diverse country in East Africa with more than 100 spoken languages, but its two official languages are Swahili and English. The girls are taught in Swahili and Maasai throughout primary school with very little instruction in English — but then there’s a sudden switch to English in secondary school. It’s a challenge that many Tanzanian school children are unable to overcome. Fewer than a third of the children pass the national exam required to continue from primary to secondary school, Taylor explains, so TEMBO’s aim is to help them move on.

Arlene McKechnie, a 10-year member and the organization’s current president, says those who attend the exhibition can get a better understanding of the challenges the girls face at home.

“It’s a chance to tell their story through their words and their images, which I think is often not given enough space,” she says.

The group also helps pay tuition and provide school supplies, and holds a fundraising campaign every year in the midst of the back-to-school season.

“We take it for granted. It’s September, we go back to school,” says Taylor.

“These girls can’t go to school if they don’t have a school uniform. They can’t study if they don’t have the notebooks and the pens and pencils that they need. They can’t play any of the physical activities if they don’t have shoes,” she says.

“So I think that we take for granted that we’re going to have these things … and so we’ve presented this show at this time when education is on the mind of so many people, because it really showcases that it’s not easy around the world — but it’s possible.”

For information about Project TEMBO go to projectembo.org.




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