At Large in Ballard
“What is the plan for tomorrow?” Michael Banobi asked an elder of Bushasha, his childhood village in the northwest corner of Tanzania.
“What do you mean by tomorrow Michael?” the elder replied. “The village is struggling today.”
Banobi could see it for himself. Many children weren’t in school. Others were practicing their letters using sticks in the dirt; the overcrowded school did not have journals for them. The primary school had further deteriorated with 100 students per classroom. Almost four decades earlier Banobi had left the village so that he could get an education. He cooked and cleaned for uncles who had left the village to find work in order to provide for their families. Education would be a byproduct.
The story of Banobi’s path to even higher education in the United States, along with his family and career in the United States is an almost unbelievable story. It’s also a love story that put his wife Jeanette as a fellow teacher at a secondary school in a city in Tanzania, after she had been in the Peace Corps and sought an overseas placement and he had a position there. However every path began with the possibility of education and that is now calling the Banobis back to Bushasha, in order to create an opportunity for its children now.
Michael and Jeanette Banobi formed the non-profit CORE Tanzania with the modest goal of building an English-speaking primary school in Bushasha. Along with a dedicated Board they have already raised enough through house parties and private gifts to be able to start building in May 2019. As Ballard parents they have reached out to friend circles dating back to PEPS groups. Another soccer parent is going to oversee the construction of the primary school. The overall goal is $500,000, which will be enough to build the school, housing for teachers, and operating costs for three years. Perhaps because of Amazon in our hometown this seems modest. (According to BusinessInsider.com that’s $4m less than Jeff Bezos makes per hour).
At house party presentations on the need and very specific plans Banobi struggles with how to make the story shorter. Of course I love the long version, especially the beginning. He was passed between uncles, without a seeming plan. Until the Sunday one uncle told him to go see the pastor. Suddenly there was a test he could take, if someone else didn’t show. Then a spot for him at school in a faraway city, but only if another student didn’t show. Then the near miracle happened and there was the opening. Banobi realized he could not pay his way there; three days of boat and then train travel, not to mention school fees. Then his uncle showed him the only item he had possibly ever purchased new. It was a trunk for his nephew, and with it enough money to get to the school closer to the coast, and money for his return at the end of the school year. The next step of Banobi’s path to his international shipping career and present life had begun.
The subsequent years have been less kind to his village, just seven miles south of the border with Uganda. Overfishing in Lake Victoria has destroyed livelihoods, tea plantations have been abandoned, and the coffee crop is not of the type preferred by outside consumers. Education is still the only real hope.
The Banobis are every inch the Ballard family, with children who went to Whittier, Whitman and then Ballard High School. In complete contract Bushasha in Tanzania is remote, not easily accessible. When the whole family visited for the first time in 2007 the Banobis began wondering about how best to help the village where his family still lives. Why weren’t the children in school? Why was the village going backwards? When Michael visited alone in 2015 he learned it had been years since a student went on to secondary school. “This is what is causing us to go forward with this crazy idea,” Banobi says.
The Banobis know there is competition for so many funding needs, locally and nationally. So why help build a school in remote Tanzania? For the family and their dedicated Board the answer is both personal and philosophical. Michael Banobi had opportunities because of an uncle. Yet he is forever of his village. For those not directly connected I feel that it has to do with our role as Americans. What are we modeling for our children? How can we show our neighbors, here and worldwide that Americans do care about the citizens of other nations? In the midst of so much need, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be part of one concrete good?
Creating Opportunity through Rural Education (CORE) Tanzania’s goal is simply an English-curriculum K-7 school for this village of some two thousand with volunteer opportunities for Americans. Michael and Jeanette Banobi, and their own children, see the hunger for education in the faces of these children. Twegashe Primary School will lift the existing one in the village, as well as future prospects for the entire village. I want to be part of that plan for tomorrow, don’t you?
Learn more plus many ways to contribute at coretanzania.org or on their Facebook page. Enjoy building, hosting a party, spreading the word to others? You can also send a contribution directly to CORE Tanzania, 6709 Earl Avenue NW, Seattle 98117