8-year-old Sylvia’s* school is 7km away from her home in rural Tanzania. It’s a distance she walks alone every day. The hour-and-a-half walk takes her through difficult terrain, but this determined schoolgirl never gives up.
After her father’s death, Sylvia’s mother remarried and started a new family. Her stepdad doesn’t support Sylvia’s desire to get an education, because the cost of her shoes and uniform are too expensive for their poor family.
Sylvia’s daily journey begins
Each morning, Sylvia leaves her house, which is located a kilometre from the nearest road. As she walks through the surrounding fields to get to the road, the terrain gets thicker and the shrubs cut and scratch her legs and feet. Sylvia carefully searches for a safe route to avoid snakes and other hidden dangers. Her flip-flops don’t provide much protection, but her family cannot afford to buy her shoes, and once the flip-flops wear out, she will have to walk barefoot.
On the road
Finally, Sylvia makes it to the road and continues her trek. In the searing heat of the dry season, clouds of dust caused by passing vehicles and cattle engulf her. In the wet season, the road becomes almost impassable and the traffic covers Sylvia in showers of mud. She tries her best to keep her worn-out school uniform clean and dry.
To avoid dangerous traffic on the roads, Sylvia often walks along the railway line, but this presents its own dangers. Trains come racing down the railway tracks and she is far more secluded on the railway, leaving her vulnerable to exploitation. Sometimes, she walks with her friend Riziki, which makes her feel safer.
Once Sylvia has passed these dangers, she eventually turns off and heads down a tree-lined road to her school. She can breathe a sigh of relief because her long journey has come to an end, at least until the afternoon, when she must turn around and do it all over again to get home.
Whatever it takes
“Even though I don’t enjoy the journey, and sometimes find it very scary, I am willing to do whatever it takes for me to get a good education,” says Sylvia.
Riziki adds, “We understand the need for a better education so that when we grow up, we will be able to support ourselves and our families and not face a life of poverty and hardship that we are currently used to.”
Luckily, her school is supported by Plan, so when we were made aware of Sylvia’s daily commute to and from school, staff at school were able to help keep Sylvia safe. Now, teachers and staff members monitor the area regularly and have made other changes where possible to ensure that Sylvia and all children attending the school have a safer journey.
*This name has been changed
(Photo credit: James Stone)