Letter from Dodoma: Dave Stewart SJ

 Dodoma, the political capital, lies in the centre of Tanzania. The drive from Dar is about six hours along a road that is excellent in places, rather narrow nd bumpy in others. This is an international highway that would take you on into Zambia, down to Zimbabwe and eventually all the way to the Cape itself. Heavy smoky lorries bear the licence-plates of these and other African neighbours. Much of the hot countryside is bone-dry these days; the rains have not yet come, and the rainy season is nearly over. Crops do not look healthy. Masai herdsmen, whose home region is thousands of kilometres to the orth, have driven their cattle this far south in search of water and grazing. Where there is more dry scrubland, and not so much open space, baboon families are a common sight. The mountain and giant boulder formations on either side are stunning in their beauty. The Jesuits are one of several religious orders ministering in Dodoma. Here we have a busy, active parish, known locally as the Airport Parish. There is ndeed an airstrip not far away, used only by the President when he visits the country's Parliament, a building of exciting design now nearing completion years late and vastly over-budget, which, of course, delights your Scots correspondent. Our Jesuits minister to a parish of about 30,000 souls and oversee a complex range of works; not only the large parish church with room for 1,000 worshippers, but also a sewing school, a computer school and the English-medium primary school, which is what I most want to see. St Ignatius is an ambitious project to bring education to the poor children of this area who would not otherwise have the opportunity. It lies at the far end of the town (a pleasant, relaxed, clean and tidy place) from all the Government buildings and apparatus. About half the school buildings are already complete. Funding has come from overseas supporters who saw the value of this work. The design is attractive. Instead of the more traditional African mission-school comprising a long, low single building, St Ignatius has a campus, where each Form or Year has its own smaller building and where teachers have separate office space as well as a staff-room in the central admin block. There will be a computer-room, practically designed with power supply and windows that keep out the red African dust. So far, there is not the funding to equip this small computer suite, nor to install an internet link so I promise to think of ways of finding such help when I get back to Britain. I am here for two purposes. First, I am to lead a day's training workshop for the lay teachers of St Ignatius, leading them into the Ignatian educational tradition and sharing with them some of the insights of Jesuit pedagogy. Then, I am working with our men here to see if it's possible for our XVP volunteers to come here to work with these teachers. The East African Jesuits have been supported by many donors from overseas but are just as interested in forming friendships with us rather than simply receiving. They are delighted to learn something of our schools in Britain and of how they are now in a family of over 2,000 Jesuit educational institutions around the world. It looks good as we discuss possibilities. The teachers like the idea and we make sure that we would never take a job away from a local person; we'd be going there to help. There is a house, a little way away from the campus, where our volunteers would be comfortable. The children, to my disappointment, have been given the day off to allow this training day to happen, although I'll be able to get over there in the morning to meet some of them and I am promised a special performance by the school choir. This will be a treat!

Share this story