From Arizona to Africa
A teacher gives up a salary for smiles, and is hooked.

Courtesy of the Giraffe Heroes Project

Teacher Anne Kenney had always traveled the world, bringing back firsthand reports and photos for her classes in geography, multiculturalism, and global studies at a Tucson public school. When on such a learning journey to Africa, she came across a parochial boarding school for girls in Bagamayo, Tanzania. The school was primitive, the girls survivors of female mutilation. Taught only by priests and male teachers, the girls' hair was shorn, they were rarely allowed to see their families, and they could not send or receive mail. Anne decided the girls needed a new teacher...and that she would be that teacher.

Moving halfway around the world, alone, at age 50, was only the tip of the iceberg. Anne knew that taking on the job would mean jeopardizing her career, risking her health, and working without pay. She loved her teaching job in Tucson, had not recovered from double hip replacements, and didn't have the personal resources to live without a salary. She decided to go anyway. She sold her furniture and rented out her home, using the cash to purchase books and clothing for the Tanzanian girls and to finance her new life in Africa.

Living in a Tanzanian hut with no plumbing, electricity, or clean water, she began the work of teaching the girls about the world at large and about their ability to take their place in it. Fighting long traditions, both tribal and cultural, she championed changes in the rules and regulations that governed the treatment of females. She encouraged the girls to take pride in their heritage and in themselves, and to consider careers.

With assistance from teachers in the States, she brought in obsolete U.S. library equipment that works fine in Bagamayo. She set up a school library, trained the girls to run it, and opened it to the entire village. Made head mistress of the school, she petitioned the archdiocese and the administration about the girls' strict treatment, with little success.

After an outbreak of embassy bombings and threats of anti-American terrorism, friends urged her to return home; Kenney never considered leaving. But when her parents fell ill, she took a leave of absence and came home to see them through their final illnesses. Now she's returning to Bagamayo, back to the primitive hut and the job that only pays in the smiles of the students.

"At my age, people don't usually do such things," Anne Kenney says. "But if you can do it, go! Africa needs you desperately, and you get more than you give."

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