We first met Sumayi James when we visited Lukungu School near Grumeti in 2006 and the projects the Africa Foundation were undertaking there. Sumayi was the Maths teacher, and we couldn’t help being impressed with this fine young woman. She was already a Local Champion who, in addition to her teaching duties, was reaching out to AIDS victims in the community and continues to look after AIDS orphans in her own home.
So, when the opportunity arose, the Africa Foundation were pleased to sponsor Sumayi to attend a two-year Diploma course in Early Learning at the Tanzanian College of Early Learning in Korogwe, so that she could take these extra skills back into her community.
As a result, Sumayi gave up her teaching job at Lukungu, left her three young children at home and – with the blessing of her very supportive husband and the community – took her place at the College to gain her Diploma.
My husband, Robin is the Chairman of Africa Foundation UK and we had promised Sumayi we would attend her Graduation, so, on 4th June 2010 we travelled out to Tanzania and were met at Kilimanjaro Airport early in the morning by Ernest Mgonho from &Beyond Foundation, and Jeremiah, Sumayi’s husband, who had come up from Lamadi near Mwanza on Lake Victoria.
We set off for the four hour journey to Korogwe, following the road to Dar es Salaam about 100 kms inland, through flat arid land, with the dramatic Usambara range of mountains running alongside us, then through extensive sisal farms, and climbing through the lush, almost tropical, foothills to reach Korogwe.
On the morning of the graduation, we gathered at the entrance to the College, established by Norwegians in 2001, and situated outside Korogwe with a beautiful view over the hills. Students, teachers and graduates, resplendent in their robes, had begun to sing and dance as the band played. Then, at a signal from the Principal, the band led the happy procession singing and swaying up the drive to the College and into the beautifully decorated main hall, open on all sides to the cooling breeze, packed with dignitaries, students from the College and from the Primary and Secondary schools associated with the college.
There was a full programme of events – performances from the school children from Hill View Primary and Hill View Secondary Schools, including poetry, a fashion show, recitals, dancing and singing and a particularly moving solo from a teenage AIDS orphan who had composed the hauntingly beautiful song himself, and which brought tears to many eyes. The graduates each gave a dissertation on a certain person in history who had made a significant contribution to early child care/education – Sumayi chose Maria Montessori as her subject.
The dignitaries, who comprised the Principal of the College, Chairman of the Governors, representatives from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Administration of Children’s Rights, Law and Constitution, the Ruling CCM Party, the Water Board, and the District Doctor who attended to the students needs, all spoke eloquently and at length and then Robin and I were both called on to address the assembled crowd. Then the Principal awarded each Graduate their certificate, and their family and friends draped their candidate with brightly coloured garlands while everyone clapped and laughed.
So much preparation and forethought had gone into ensuring the success of this happy occasion and afterwards we were treated to lunch set out in the large dining hall, also open on all sides to take advantage of any cool air during the intense heat of the day.
That evening Sumayi had organised a special dinner at a local restaurant in Korogwe which was a joyous event, to thank the Africa Foundation as sponsors, to say goodbye to some of the graduates and teachers who had become her friends and to celebrate a tremendous achievement. There were more speeches, although this time one of the teachers acted as interpreter from Swahili to English, and the other way round when it was Robin and my turn to say our thanks. We congratulated Sumayi on a superb effort to achieve second place overall for the year, and we thanked her husband , Jeremiah, and the rest of her family for their amazing support which made it possible for her to spend two years so far away.
The Tanzanian Government is encouraging all Primary Schools to build a separate Pre-school and the Africa Foundation have raised funds to construct a Pre-school and OVC day-care centre next to the Lukungu Primary School – of which Sumayi will be the Principal. We hope that this Pre-school will become a centre of excellence for the surrounding areas, and that Sumayi will be able to use her qualifications to train local teachers wanting to specialise in Early Learning and to advise on the setting up of other Pre-Schools in the area and beyond.
It is with extremely heavy hearts that we convey the passing of Robin James, Chairman of Africa Foundation (UK) and trustee of Africa Foundation South Africa. Rob’s incredible legacy of uplifting the rural communities of Africa began 25 years ago, when he was a part of the visionary team that founded Africa Foundation. Back then, Rob had provided the organisation’s initial seed funding and was instrumental in charting its course to present day.
A truly dedicated and passionate individual, Rob’s steadfast commitment to empowering people through access to education, health and economic opportunities meant that he had an extraordinary impact on the lives of thousands of people. His daily dedication was unwavering and his years of service to the cause was unparalleled by any other. Our gratitude and words will never suffice. His wisdom and selfless contribution will truly be missed.
From all at Africa Foundation – we thank you Rob.
Rob is survived by his wife Judy and his children Stuart and Richard – our thoughts are with you all.
Photo from left: the late Lance Japhet, former Chairman of Africa Foundation; Africa Foundation Patron Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and the late Robin James, Chairman of Africa Foundation (UK)