DINKA - Kimberly and Eriq made their dream come true

[August 13, 2015]
After finishing her Social Pedagogy education Kimberly Zandvliet, from Holland, worked one year as a volunteer in orphanages in and near Arusha, North Tanzania. Her experiences during that year brought her a dream of starting a new school, in Tanzania, herself. In Tanzania she met Eriq, born and raised in Tanzania, but he had been living in The Netherlands for eight years and got a degree in Photo-Journalism. Together they made their dream come true: in 2013 their brand new school opened its doors. At the end of July 2015 GoTanzania visited Kimberly and Eriq at their school, half an hour by car from the centre of Arusha.

Arusha is a very busy town, but in just a ten minutes drive out of town on the Old Moshi Road the tarmac track ends and you’re back in rural Africa. It’s lush, green and it’s fertile. An intimate landscape. Small fields, with maize, beans, rice, scattered little farmhouses and mudhouses, big trees.
And then, all of a sudden, a collection of brand new white buildings with clean blue ironed roofs. We wait before a big fence until the guards open up. We get official visitor-necklaces. That’s the first sign of the virtue and professionality of what we’re about to experience at the DINKA school. Properties of the organisation that are in sharp contrast with the appearance of Kimberly. She could just still be the orphanage volunteer she was, 8 years back, when she was just 18 years old: young, blonde, receptive glance in her eyes.

Just about 50 metres from where our driver parks our car we already spot about 60 children standing in line, three rows, the bigger ones on the last row. They wear red and blue uniforms, the boys with trousers, the girls skirts. And they’re already singing: “Welcome to our school, you are welcome to our school”. In choir they sang three different songs for us. Later Kimberly told us it were brand new songs. She was proud the children sang it without any hesitation. The DINKA school only gets visitors from abroad about once every three months.

We also shake hands with the whole teaching staff. The buildings, the staff, the gardens, everything looks very clean and neat. I get the feeling this organisation represents a relatively high degree of wealth. How do they succeed in that? After all it’s a private initiative of just one woman and her spouse.

During the conversation we first have in one of the big school class rooms, with sweet tea, we hear all about how the DINKA school developed. DINKA stands for ‘Dutch Initiative Kimberly Africa’. Kimbery, only 19 years old by then, had the luck to find a businessman from Wassenaar, the Dutch town where she grew up, who responded on an advertisement she had published in a local newspaper. He donated about 2000 euros to her project. In the advertisement she asked people to financially support her for building a school in Tanzania. Kimberly filled a big sea container with all kinds of stuff and shipped it to Arusha. Later on she went by all kinds of factories and shops in Wassenaar, Holland, and just by coincidence she found the best connection you can imagine: the chairman of the ‘Run for Rio’-foundation. This foundation funds money, every year, by organising a run through the dunes close to Wassenaar, near the North Sea beach. A major Dutch government supported foundation doubled the returns from the run sponsoring. And so Kimberly was on her way. When the train was on the track and started rolling, Kimberly found more funding sources. Still Kimberly on a yearly basis spends two weeks in Holland to take good care of her sponsors and to find new ones.

It’s almost incredible to see, what a fantastic complex she has built up here in rural Tanzania. The DINKA school houses about 60 children right now. Some of the children are also financially sponsored by their own parents. Those parents know their children get much better education than they would get in the much cheaper public schools. But most of the children don’t have parents at all. They come from orphanages. They don’t pay at all. The DINKA school grows every year by the yearly flow of the children that are already there. New young ones come in every year. Still two big buildings are yet to come.

Later on Kimberly and Eriq, who also joined us, show us around the complex. Kimberly and Eriq have a 3 year old daughter and their second child will be born some six months from now. All class rooms are very big, well equipped and ‘children friendly’. I’ve seen much schools in Tanzania but not ever one as clean, neat and shiny as this one. I often thought, experiencing school climates in Tanzania: this is the total opposite of inspiring. But here I can only think: going to school is the biggest fun you can think of!

In one class room we meet two high school students from Holland. They come from a school with which DINKA and Kimberly have a lasting relationship. Every year students from that school come over to the DINKA school for a periode of just several weeks to do some creative side projects with the children. Kimberly very much welcomes volunteers who want to come over for at least 2 or 3 months to help the teachers. Definately: not to replace them!, Kimberly emphasises. But right now there are no other volunteers presents at the DINKA school. DINKA always has room for 3 to 5 volunteers, depending on the wishes of the moment and also of the skills of the volunteer. We also get to see the accommodation for the volunteers. That’s a fine place to live for a couple of months, a very cozy place.

On the website of the DINKA school Kimberly tells about how she screens the potential volunteers. You have to write your own letter of recommendation. What is your expertise? What aims do you have? What do you think the children could learn from you? The knife cuts both sides. The volunteer has to show what he (or she) wants to achieve, to learn himself. And Kimberly on the other hand can find out how the volunteers aim can match with a development focus of the DINKA school.

To come back on the specific contrast between the appearance of Kimberly and the level of professionality of this organisation: what I got to experience during this very inspiring visit of the DINKA school is a very special and charismatic personality. It really are unique people who put on this big shoes and show enough perseverance and enthousiasm to build up a project like the DINKA school.

Justification of ethics (correct volunteering) and costs
Kimberly emphasises that volunteers who want to contribute to the DINKA school only pay for the accommodation and the food. In some cases volunteers pay a relatively small amount of money to an intermediary, but when you get in contact with the DINKA school without an intermediary, there is no added costs at all.
Volunteers pay €500 per month for accommodation and three meals per day. Transport to the city of Arusha on a regular basis is also included, just by coming along with the school bus.  

The goals and mission of DINKA is clearly formulated on the DINKA website:
The goal of the Dinka Foundation is to provide better education to children of all origins. We will specifically focus ourselves on street children, orphans and children from poor families from the slums and the countryside. We will provide the children with a broader education in order to grant them a better perspective on their future. The school will provide care and accommodation to those children who are in need of it. We will operate as a boarding school. We will not be an orphanage of any kind and will always try our best to reunify children with their families in their hometown or birthplaces.
Kimberly and Eriq have experienced how things are dealt with by many of the government commissioned schools in Tanzania. They believe that children have a right for better education and thus a better future. Eriq and Kim would like to contribute to the development of Tanzania by initially building a primary school and accommodation. After graduation, the children will have the opportunity to continue their education via a course and will eventually be able to work independently in the Tanzanian society.
The long-term goal is to provide the children who have it in them with further and continuing education. Through personal sponsorship, students can continue an education in Tanzania.
Children will feel safe at the Dinka School and will hopefully witness how important education is and how fun it is to learn.

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