St Mary’s Mazinde Juu

Tucked away in the Usambara Mountains near Lushoto, in the tiny village of Mazinde Juu, is St Mary’s Secondary School, an impressive educational success story. The school was founded in 1989 by a Benedictine missionary, based on the idea that Tanzania’s long-term development can only be achieved through the education and empowerment of the country’s women. The area around Mazinde Juu, long neglected and lagging behind much of the rest of the region economically, was an ideal place to put this belief into practice. Most local families made (and continue to make) their living from small-scale farming, and education for girls, especially secondary education, was traditionally perceived as an unattainable or unnecessary luxury.

Initially, the school had only basic resources and just 42 girls. Today, it has over 500 students and is ranked among the top secondary schools countrywide. Its reputation has spread well beyond the Usambaras, with girls from all over Tanzania competing in entrance exams. However, true to its original mission, the school reserves 50% of its seats for applicants from the Lushoto–Mazinde Juu area.

While St Mary’s is still dependent on outside contributions to make ends meet, strong emphasis is placed on achieving sustainability. The principal and all of the teachers are Tanzanians, and most are women. Students are taught ecologically sound farming methods and help out on the school farm, which supplies most of the compound’s food needs. The school grows timber for use in the construction of new buildings, raises livestock and maintains fruit trees as cash crops.

There is tangible proof of St Mary's success: several former students now teach at the school and at other schools in the area. Others are pursuing further professional training, and some are studying at university level.

Greetings in Kisambaa

As you’re hiking in the Usambaras, you’ll likely hear more of the local Sambaa language spoken than Swahili. The following are a few phrases in Kisambaa to get you started:

  • Onga maundo Good morning
  • Onga mshee Good afternoon
  • Niwedi I’m fine (in response to Onga maundo or Onga mshee)
  • Hongea (sana) Thank you (very much)