Every once in a while in Rotary, you come across someone who is truly inspiring. This happened to Haddenham & District Rotary at the turn of the century when we met Mr Bartholomew Meena in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Since then, we were privileged to work with him many times.
Mr Meena was well known in the Machame and Moshi districts of Tanzania before our work started. He was a science teacher at the Lambo primary school. He had numerous practical experiments including a scale model of Kilimanjaro demonstrating the receding ice cap and a ‘working’ volcano. He had tree seedlings – two for each new entry child, one for the school grounds and one for the child to take home. This science room was an exciting place to be, so much to look at and ‘play’ with – so unlike most of the teaching, as we were to discover. With the quotation ‘Knowledge is Power’ over the door and his enthusiasm for teaching children the importance of looking after the environment it was clear that Mr Meena was a force of nature.
From this he established environmental clubs in many other schools, writing and publishing over 30 textbooks covering many aspects of environmental science, including the impact of climate change on Kilimanjaro. His Science Talent Corner, near his own home, offered additional lessons to anyone who wanted to learn and he was extremely proud that local adults came to him for help in how to care and protect their environment.
In 2005, as Haddenham & District Rotary became more directly involved in Tanzania, initially working with Msandaka School for the Deaf, Mr Meena was an invaluable ally in designing and planning improvements to the school’s physical buildings and teaching capacity. Water harvesting, new kitchen, an equipped wood working area, an equipped sewing area, storage in the dormitories, private areas for night staff, a chicken house, a play area, a laundry area, security fencing, benches, desks, dining tables. Mr Meena helped with sourcing materials and dealing with the local men who worked alongside the Rotarians – translating between English and Swahili.
This first project has led to Rotary undertaking similar refurbishment and building projects across other schools in the area over the next fifteen years. On each visit, Bartholomew Meena made himself available to assist the Rotarians, engage local people and enthuse the school children. Between visits he was the project manager, accounting for every penny, reporting to progress to Rotary both locally and internationally
Soon after his retirement from formal teaching, Mr Meena was awarded the Paul Harris Fellowship in 2011. It was a grand occasion at one of the schools, with many local dignitaries in attendance. He couldn’t have been more surprised or more honoured, so humble in his acceptance of the well-deserved award. On all our subsequent trips, he would be wearing it with pride.
With the help of a local farmer, he was utilising a small hut as a classroom and had gathered a throng of pre-school children for three mornings each week. They all trooped off into the forest to ‘discover’ birds, bugs, plants and trees. Then returning to the ‘Forest School’ where they learnt wonderful songs. Their smiles and laughter were a joy.
Bartholomew A. Meena passed away on 7 February 2021 after a short illness. His family sent us a moving tribute to our partnership with him. We have lost a dear friend, a truly wonderful teacher, a humble, generous, energetic and gentle man. Haddenham & District Rotary will continue to work in Tanzania in his memory.