Posted by Margaret & Riyaz Adat

Sometimes a trip to another country is just the start of a longer and much richer journey.

In 2007, Riyaz and Margaret Adat, (members of the Rotary Club of Willowdale) along with their two sons Anil and Seth, took a trip to Northern Tanzania to go on safari. In addition to having an exotic vacation, Riyaz wanted to show his family the country in which he had grown up. While the family of four was awed by the natural beauty of the National Parks they toured, they also became increasingly aware of the many children they encountered each day walking to and from school – all without shoes, lunches or textbooks. This reality became a topic of conversation over their evening meals. “After much discussion, we decided that we wanted to focus on helping to improve the lives of local students,” Riyaz explains. “Since we were unsure of how to proceed, we asked our tour guide/driver, David Laizer, to source a suitable school. Two days later he drove us to J.K. Nyerere Primary School in Arusha.”.......

The visit was unannounced.  The school’s head, Stella Makundi, was skeptical of the Adat’s unexpected appearance and their intentions. “She told David in animated Swahili that ‘nobody wants to help without getting something in return’ and initially didn’t want to let us past the gates of the school,” Margaret recalls. “Eventually Riyaz persuaded her to let us in, but Mrs. Makundi insisted we take a tour of the school before discussing how we could help.”

What the Adats saw on their school tour was sobering – leaky rooves and broken windows with mold visible on the crumbling cement walls, no electricity or lighting, and no chalk for the faded blackboards or paper and implements for writing. Children sat on the floor to learn, with only three textbooks allocated to each classroom. The kitchen facilities were non-existent as there was no food to serve the 700 students during the day.

The students in the school were from the poorest areas of Arusha. The teachers were underpaid, and the school was desperately underfunded, receiving the equivalent of USD 100 per quarter. Riyaz, who had been educated in Tanzanian private schools, was shocked by what he saw. The whole family was moved to tears.

Despite these grim realities, the children smiled and greeted the school’s head and her guests with respect. When the Adats again asked how they could help, they were surprised to receive the answer, “We need desks.” They had expected to be asked for funds to help feed the students. The best the family could do was leave a gift of cash to allow the staff to purchase as many desks as possible, which David (their tour guide/driver) helped get made locally. When they presented the signed travellers’ cheques, Mrs. Makundi called the school together and all work stopped – the Adats found themselves surrounded by smiling faces. Margaret recalls remarking to Riyaz, “That’s our receipt.”

The Adats took those smiles with them when they returned home to Sharon, Ontario at the end of their trip. Their experience at J.K. Nyerere Primary School was life-changing – for them and the students at the school. “Riyaz and I knew that our contributions had to continue. We remained in touch with the school, finding new ways to help.” Margaret explains. “But we quickly realized that the need was overwhelming and that we could not fill it alone.” The Adats began to share their story and “can do” altruistic attitude as widely as possible, causing others to join their fundraising efforts. Following the purchase of the desks, further contributions included providing school supplies and bringing potable water to the school.

The Adats’ fundraising campaign really took off when Margaret was introduced to the Rotary Club of Willowdale (in District 7070 in the northern part of Toronto, Ontario, Canada) . Initially she connected with Laurie and Howard Back, who invited her to make a presentation to a small gathering of Rotary members. They were impressed with the Adats’ results and supported Margaret in making additional presentations, this time to all members of the Club. When the time came for the group to decide on whether or not to proceed, the Club members voted unanimously to support this worthy cause!

That was 2013. Since that time, the Rotary Club of Willowdale has raised over $100,000 to support J.K. Nyerere Primary School. Contributions by the Club have included a new serviceable washroom building, a secure wall to keep the staff and students safe, improvements to an outdoor kitchen, textbook donations and, in 2020, 60 school uniforms for orphaned children (uniforms are a requirement to attend school). Additional donations have included two new classrooms, with a third presently under construction. A recent generous donation to the Club has supported the purchase of 2500 textbooks for every standard and grade, meaning for the first time ever each student has a personal copy. Future plans include addressing the needs of special needs students at the school.

In recognition of these contributions, the Rotary Club of Willowdale received the Doug Dempsey Award for a Project that Supports Literacy from District 7070. In turn, the Willowdale Club honoured David Laizer, now the Project Manager for coordinating local initiatives in Arusha, Tanzania, by making him a Paul Harris Fellow.

Ultimately, however, what speaks most strongly to the success of this project is the resulting scholastic achievements. “When we first visited the school in 2007, only approximately 20% of students passed the Standard 7 final exam. In the most recent year, that figure had soared to 99% of students who wrote the exam,” Riyaz shares. In addition, the school’s ranking in the District of Arusha has increased from 69th in 2007 to 36th in 2020, in turn leading to increased funding by the Ministry of Education.

Despite all of these incredible improvements, much work remains. Mrs. Makundi’s dream of feeding the children regularly has yet to be realized. As an interim measure, the Rotary Club of Willowdale is funding the provision of meals to students starting one month before the writing of the Standard 4 and Standard 7 exams, but a sustainable solution has yet to be found.

The journey that began with a family trip in 2007 continues. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Riyaz and Margaret Adat, along with the members of the Rotary Club of Willowdale, the road ahead looks hopeful and paved with endless possibilities for continued success.


Article written by Marina Bee ..... July 6, 2021