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Empowering Change: My Safe School Journey

by emmanuel shoo




Embarking on a journey of change requires patience, perseverance, and time. 


The aim of our Safe School Movement is to cultivate a safe and inclusive environment for all young people across 16 Tanzanian schools. Our aspiration is to witness a future where students and teachers coexist joyfully in environments where everyone can thrive, free from the constraints of unhealthy, unspoken norms.


During my interactions with students in Kagera, one concern resonated deeply: what if our envisioned changes fail to materialise? This apprehension stems from a longstanding, unspoken rule ingrained in the Tanzanian community, stating that


"girls should not challenge authority." 


This rule has left many of the young girls we interact with feeling marginalised and vulnerable, stifling their ability to voice legitimate concerns. It has also led some of them to fear that what we are doing will create misunderstanding in the community, making them feel judged and leading to internal conflict. This could result in emotional distress for the girls, and a sense of not belonging.


The fear of conflict arising between our young change makers and those who choose to follow the status quo looms over our project Indeed, changing deeply entrenched societal thoughts, beliefs and behaviors is no easy feat. My colleague Raphael and I sought to reassure the students by emphasising that change is a gradual process, requiring resilience and understanding. The Safe School movement serves as a catalyst for this transformation, aiming to empower students to become leaders that can help the rest of their school community to unlearn detrimental, negative norms and embrace new, positive ones. Rather than imposing general mandates, the movement fosters open dialogue and encourages individuals to recognise the influence of unwritten rules in their lives. By shedding light on these unwritten rules, we hope to inspire introspection and informed decision-making. Through Co-Initiating sessions and Training of Trainers, participants are equipped with the skills and knowledge to facilitate these vital conversations.


Despite some initial concerns, witnessing the students' willingness to engage in the change process fills me with optimism. I am confident that the Safe School movement will not only revolutionise Tanzania's education system but also foster broader social change. I have also noticed that many schools are welcoming the introduction of the Safe School project, recognising its crucial role in improving safeguarding practices in schools. However, school systems are primarily focused on curriculum-based, academic activities, often neglecting extra-curricular ones that promote psychosocial development. This situation persists because the link between emotional well-being and other aspects of life is often not fully understood. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that through the Safe School movement, schools will begin to understand the connection between emotional well-being and academic performance. 


In sharing this experience, I hope to underscore the importance of patience, perseverance, and the transformative power of education in shaping a safer and more inclusive future for all.

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