A Journey to School: Sylvia

A Journey Begins

Sylvia*, 8, lives in the hamlet of Videnge in Tanzania. Her mother, Marium, remarried after her husband died when Sylvia was very young. But when Marium and her new husband started a new family, Sylvia’s new father saw her as a burden on the family since she wished to get an education.

Sylvia wanted to go to school, but as the family is very poor, they cannot afford to provide her with basic shoes for the walk to school or a good uniform.

Despite the difficulties, Sylvia began attending school with the little money their family could spend on her education. She attends a school over 4 miles from her home. She must make this walk alone every day, often facing difficult terrain, challenging weather, and difficult environmental conditions. She leaves her house in the center of the farming land, far from the nearest road. As she walks through the fields to get to the road, the terrain becomes denser and turns into shrub land that cuts and scratches her legs and feet. She has to find a safe route avoiding snakes and other hidden dangers.

She walks this route in her flip flops, which offer no real protection in such terrain. Her family cannot afford to buy her shoes, and once the flip flops wear out, she will have to walk barefoot. When Sylvia makes it to the road she continues her one and a half hour walk to the school.

In the searing heat of the dry season, choking clouds of dust caused by passing heavy vehicles and cattle engulf her. In the wet season, the road becomes almost impassable and the traffic covers Sylvia in showers of mud. She must wade through deep water that collects in the road due to the lack of drainage and the rising water table.

If her uniform becomes too dirty, she is unable to attend school; she only has one threadbare shirt and skirt, so she has to be extra careful to keep them clean.

Alternate Routes

If Sylvia wants to avoid dangerous traffic on the roads, she can walk the railway line towards her school, but this has its own dangers. Trains often run down the line and she is far more secluded on the railway. In these secluded areas, children are often approached by people offering lifts to school. In fact, the child is taken and sold for organ donations on the black market. As she gets older, these areas become more dangerous; girls aged between 14 and 18 are at risk of sexual violence.

Sylvia’s only other option is to walk the old paths off the road, but this puts her near the prison workers at one of the biggest prisons in the area. The inmates work in the fields near the school when they are three months from release.

Once Sylvia has passed these dangers, she eventually turns off and heads down a tree-lined road to her school. Her long and difficult journey comes to an end, at least until the afternoon, where she must do it all again in order to get home.

Determined to Be Educated

“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.

Sylvia sometimes does the walk to school with her 11-year-old friend Riziki and this makes her feel safer. But this is only when Riziki isn’t at school; she attends a school over 4 miles in the opposite direction.

“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,” Riziki says.

Plan supports the school Sylvia attends. She is now regularly monitored by Plan staff in the area to ensure her safety and teachers and school workers are making positive changes where possible to ensure that all children attending the school have a safer journey.

 *Sylvia's name has been changed to protect her identity