A PCV Remembers and Returns (Tanzania)

Thanks to a ‘Heads Up’ from Alana DeJoseph (Mali 1992–94) Producer & Director  –  “A Towering Task” I received this following letter from Susan Garrett Rickert.

Dear Peace Corps,

From 1964-66 I taught a secondary all-girls school in Kidugala, Tanzania. It was a life transforming experience.

In the year 2000, I decided to return to Tanzania and see if it still called my name. At the end of two weeks of in-country travel, I visited a primary school in Karatu that was badly in need of help. I and my group of 12 travelers then decided to donate money to repair the roofs of 3 classrooms.

Susan with Justine Basso, the principal of Bashay Primary

I returned to Karatu the following year to see the results. I have been returning every year since. I continue to help three primary schools, and in 2005 I helped found a secondary school in the same village where there was no secondary school. Now, over 500 secondary school age students attend Banjika and I remain involved in the life of the school and students.

In May 2018, I plan to celebrate my 80th birthday on my 19th trip in Tanzania.
It is my second home and I continue to help students with their education by finding them sponsors. This is the most meaningful service I have ever done since my formative years with the Peace Corps as a Volunteer.

Thank you, Peace Corps, for giving me an opportunity to serve, which changed my life.

Susan Garrett Rickert

Susan, a former primary school teacher, lives with  her husband in San Francisco. They have 5 children and 10 grandchildren. When I received her note addressed to the Peace Corps, I asked if I might publish it, and also asked if she would send me more details about her service and Peace Corps experiences over the years in Tanzania. I am pleased to publish what she wrote me. 

In 1964 – 1966, I was stationed in Kidugala, Tanzania where I was sent to teach at the Kidugala Girls Upper Primary School, built by the Swedish Lutheran Fins but handed over to the all African staff of teachers before I arrived. The village was so remote that there was no public transportation available and I relied on the Peace Corps sending a Land Rover and driver to visit me once every three weeks with some supplies and to take me to the nearest small town of Njombe which had about two stores at the time.

There I could stock up on more supplies and food for the month and stay with a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer for the weekend to recharge my batteries and compare experiences.

The area I lived in was so beautiful with the Livingstone Mountain Range in sight and the village was so peaceful. There was a nearby compound with missionaries from Finland and the church was the center of the village life on Sunday with the African girls from the school and the local adults singing in beautiful harmony.

The girls traveled from all over Tanzania to attend one of the few girls upper primary schools in the country. They were very smart, well behaved and eager to perform academically in grades 6, 7 and 8. Most excelled passing their national exams with high marks, which enabled them to proceed with their education elsewhere in the country.

Several years ago, I had an emotional reunion with Martha Mlagala, after 55 years, in Dar es Salaam, where she had founded another excellent primary school. Martha was the Headmistress of the Kidugala Girls Upper Primary School where I taught. We remembered the former days, our students, and the bond of affection and respect we had for each other in the 1960s. Martha died last year so I am so pleased that I got to see her again and tell her what those days meant to me.

Returning to Tanzania in 2000 was like going to a home I once loved and still do. I have taken many friends and family members to introduce them to Tanzania and especially to the projects, schools and students, I have been helping. Many of them have become involved on their own upon returning.


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