PENDO’S LONG WAY TO SCHOOL
Excerpt from the report: Long Walk Home by Claudio Verbano
Fog lies over the savannah landscape near the Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. It is 4 o’clock in the morning, two hours to go until sunrise. There is no sound to be heard in the small Maasai settlement, inhabitants and animals are still in the middle of their sleep. Only in one of the huts something is stirring: The ten year old Pendo puts on her school uniform and starts her four hour long way to school…
It is pitch dark, the grass around the settlement is still damp from the fog. Pendo says goodbye to her mother Dahab, the only person who gets up with her so early. It remains a mystery how Pendo manages without an alarm clock, as not even a cock crows at this time of day. Her mother gives her some milk before she leaves the house. Pendo lives together with her mother, her little sister and her younger brother in a traditional Maasai boma. Her way to school is long and arduous, altogether it is almost 20 kilometers to school and 20 kilometers back home, every day. On her way she walks alone for the first half hour, which is not without danger, since besides giraffes, zebras and buffalos there are hyenas and other animals that can cross her path at any time. Pendo is always happy to gradually meet other children. She runs towards school with quick and determined steps.
Pendo has been walking this route for four years now, she knows every stone, every tree and can therefore estimate exactly where she has to be when the sun rises to get to school on time. Those who are late are often heavily admonished by the teachers. Pendo urges the other children to hurry. But she can’t be considerate for long, because her goal is to reach school before eight o’clock, before morning roll call. When the sun rises at 6:30 a.m., it suddenly gets warmer. The sun is so strong that a short time later the fog disappears and a hot, dusty morning awakens from the cool night. Pendo is not impressed by this and leads her small group to school without a break.
After a walk of almost four hours, Pendo reaches her classroom and is only a few minutes late. Her teacher Innocent has understanding for her, as he knows exactly how far she has come just to start her day now. He leaves it at admonishing words and Pendo takes a seat.
The young girl is often tired in the first lesson and sometimes falls asleep briefly. The effort she was able to ignore completely before is now getting to her. Her teachers are actually reluctant to tolerate this, but still let her rest a little. Everyone knows that she could be much better at school if she didn’t have to walk so many hours. At least Pendo obviously tries hard to follow the lessons, reports to the class and tries to do well, especially in geography lessons and Kiswahili, which is not easy with almost 50 children per class.
In every break Pendo tries to do her homework and repeat material from the lessons. She often asks other students for advice. In contrast to many others, Pendo does not have time after school to do anything else for school. Without electricity and light at home there is no possibility to read a book there. It is already dark when Pendo arrives home anyway.
For Pendo’s father Maiseyey it was always clear that his daughter should go to school one day: “I love our traditions, but as responsible parents it is also our duty to prepare our children for the future. School is a chance for us to learn how to stand up for our rights.”
It is often the challenges that make us stronger and more determined to fight for something. Pendo has long proven how much she fights for a school education.
Photos: Claudio Verbano