Being a CHES girl is rigorous and demanding. Free time is at a premium and even when it is available, is often used for extra study.
In Tanzania, Irene Peter, who has just turned 17, is in Form IV at Katesh Secondary. She is a boarder at the Sara Williams Hostel as her home with her mother, a seamstress, is 80 km from Katesh. From the hostel she has a 10-minute walk to her school.
On a typical Monday, Irene’s schedule is approximately as follows:
5:00: The timekeeper wakes the 24 girls in her dorm. Irene follows others to the bathroom to wash, then returns to dress and make her bed. Next she heads to the dining hall for a bowl of porridge before walking to school with Rabia, her best friend.
8:00: Classes begin. Each class is more than an hour long. Irene is in a class along with 52 other boys and girls. After Biology and English there is a 30-minute break when all students are given maize (corn) porridge. Students with spending money can enhance their diet with tea, cassava or buns from the school canteen.
11:00: Literature, Math and Civics classes follow the morning break.
2:20: There is a longer break for lunch. The menu is generally makande (porridge with beans) although rice is served once a week.
3:30 – 4:30: This post-lesson period varies by day. Starting with Monday, there is general cleaning of the school campus and classrooms (custodians don’t exist here). On Tuesdays, group work is designed to encourage students to work together to resolve material they did not understand in the classroom. There are sports on Wednesday, although Irene prefers to head to the library to read. On Thursdays there is what in Canada would be known as counselling; students talk through issues and problems with each other or, if necessary, with teachers. The week ends with debating on Fridays.
5:00: Irene walks back to the hostel to then deal with obligatory chores such as laundry, shoe cleaning and shamba (garden) work as assigned by Madam Raheli, the ever-vigilant hostel matron.
6:30: Dinner is served in the hostel dining room that becomes the study hall as soon as the meal is over. Students supply and wash their own dishes. Depending on the day, the meal will consist of ugali (corn porridge), makande, or rice.
7:15: Students settle down to homework, some of which is assigned but much of which involves going over notes, reading texts or extracting clearer explanations from fellow students. Students can work as long as they wish for no one tells them when to go to bed. Few leave the room before 10 p.m. and Irene admits that she is almost never in bed before 11.
CHES students are not permitted phones, and any interaction with boys occurs only during school hours. Nor are the girls tempted by TV or video games as such items are luxuries in Katesh. In any case, the power supply is so unreliable that even residents with TVs can seldom enjoy watching a show all the way through at this time of year.
Irene admits that school terms are busy but she enjoys her life as a CHES girl and looks forward to many more years of study before reaching her goal of becoming a lawyer.