In the 1950s, after an outbreak of leprosy, people with the condition moved to a place called Kindwitwi.
Leprosy is a chronic, topical infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, according to the World Health Organization.
Wanting to help these people and show them how leprosy can be cured, a man named Father Robin Lamburn, “retired” to live in Kindwitwi in the ‘60s.
Father Robin was a pharmacologist and was entrusted with trialing new multi-drug therapies, with tremendous success. He encouraged the villagers to become self-sufficient farmers, which also was a victory.
For the remainder of his life, he served the people of the village and the surrounding district.
“Father Robin’s mission was to help eradicate leprosy in Kindwitwi and the surrounding region and to help develop the village from what was essentially a dumping ground for people found to have leprosy into an active and self-supporting community,” said Nick Bowley, a High School Principal at the International School of Tanganyika (IST) from 1984 to 89 and a Secondary Headmaster.
IST’s Connection to Kindwitwi
The connection between Kindwitwi and IST was initiated when Ernest Polack - the first Secondary Headmaster - and IST Head of School Mike Maybury braved the long trek to the village.
“We [were hoping] to investigate the possibilities that exist for our Secondary School pupils to offer help,” Maybury said in A Very Special School by Graham Mercer.
Both Polack and Maybury developed close relationships with Father Robin, with Polack being the main inspiration behind the Kindwitwi connection.
Polack - and many others in the IST community - was inspired by Father Robin’s mission and was eager to lend a helping hand.
The students and faculty at IST started working away to build a dispensary to house a doctor’s office, examination and dressing rooms, a large laboratory and a secure drug-storage room.
“The purpose was to help eradicate leprosy in Kindwitwi and the Rufiji District through a number of community service projects in the village,” Bowley said. “Just as important was the learning and self-knowledge that the students developed in the course of their involvement.”
Bowley added that an immensely important by-product of the school’s participation in these initiatives was the drastic reduction of the stigma that leprosy patients endure.
“If families allow their children to stay in Kindwitwi, then leprosy cannot be such a contagious disease after all,” Bowley said. “That is an important message about the truth of the disease: it is difficult to catch and easy to cure.”
The Rufiji people noticed these frequent visits, and it mattered.
From the moment he started at IST, Bowley knew this was a project he wanted to get involved with. He saw how significant an impact it had on both the people in Kindwitwi and on the IST students.
“Can you imagine? Driving south to Rufiji along deeply rutted tracks, crossing the river in dug-out canoes (being careful to skirt the crocodiles) sitting around campfires listening to the grunting of hippos in the nearby lake – and learning so much about life, ourselves and others,” Bowley said. “Who could not want to get involved?”
The dispensary, with the help of IST students and faculty, opened in 1986 and still stands strong to this day. It was named after Ernest Polack to reflect the long, important, relationship with IST.
And the work didn’t stop there. Since then, IST has helped build bridges, established a rainwater harvest scheme and helped with the construction of a guest house for visitors to the village.
“Hundreds of students have visited Kindwitwi, much to the benefit of the villagers and themselves,” Bowley said.
According to Bowley, the best part of being involved with such an influential project was the camaraderie amongst the IST community and the people of Kindwitwi.
“[The best part was] the collegiality among those who traveled there for weekend visits, and the admiration we had for the marginalized people who live there and have made the most of their difficult circumstances.”
Since the ‘50s, Kindwitwi has developed exponentially.
“The incidence of leprosy is now falling and the village is thriving,” Bowley said. “It has been a success story, but the work of the villagers and those who try to help will continue.”
IST has an extensive history of service learning working with groups such as The Rufuji Leprosy Project, Mother Theresa's Orphanage and Roots and Shoots, just to name a few.
It also has an interesting backstory of how it came to be and has had many interesting people walk through the halls of the school! Did you attend or work at IST and want to connect with fellow alumni? You are not alone! Want to join the network? Click here.