What if you had to go to school everyday without basic school supplies such as a pencil or notebook because your family couldn’t afford it? Would you have been able to retain all of the information without being able to go back and review the lessons? What if you had to walk two-hours each way barefoot? Along the way you must look over your shoulder and around every tree or bush for a predator whether it be an animal or a human. What if after finally arriving, the classroom had no basic amenities, no electricity or water and the building wasn’t structurally sound enough to shield you from nature’s elements or disease carrying insects? Now imagine having to endure all of these obstacles as an 8 year-old girl. Would you still go? But if you didn’t go where would you be today? While merely a hypothetical for many it is a heart breaking reality for millions of children in rural areas around the world today.
To help combat this problem in her homeland of Tanzania, beauty queen and fashion model Flaviana Matata started a philanthropic initiative, a non-profit organization that provides underprivileged girls with the dignity, pride and self-esteem of receiving an education. “Nothing comes easy” Matata explains as she takes a moment to talk with BASTARD fanzine about the struggles of starting a foundation in her own name but she is driven by the belief that education is “the first step toward empowerment.”
Written by The BASTARD Child
additional images provided by Slide Visuals
“It’s not about taking me anywhere it’s about taking these kids somewhere.”
Growing up in a middle class family, Matata was fortunate to graduate college with a degree in electrical engineering while in Arusha, Tanzania. Upon graduating, Matata was faced with two options: to continue her studies toward a master’s degree or to embark in a career in modeling. It was in the face of these options that made her think about the lack of educational opportunities for so many young girls in her home country. She decided to pursue a modeling career in hopes of using her platform to give back to the children of Tanzania, a practice that she credits her father and late mother with instilling in her at a young age. After entering a contest that lead her to win the title of Miss Tanzania 2007, she would go on to be the first to represent her country with pride in the Miss Universe pageant and boldly the first contestant to enter the pageant with a shaved head placing sixth overall. To defy beauty standards in such a global showcase is a true testament to the loveliness that radiates from her soul. Over the years she has appeared in campaigns for Diesel and Topshop and graced the pages of magazines like Dazed & Confused and Wonderland. With her trademark endearing eyes and that contagious smile she is currently a face for Kiko Cosmetics. Her agency, Wilhelmina Models, keeps her steadily working, she has been busy planning her recent nuptials and yet she still manages to find the time to spearhead the Flaviana Matata Foundation.
Matata recalls a conversation with a friend who questioned her by saying “Why are you doing this? Just focus on your modeling career. This isn’t going to take you anywhere.” Matata’s reply was “It’s not about taking me anywhere it’s about taking these kids somewhere. These are girls who want to go to school. In rural areas people do not understand the importance of education. In some parts of Tanzania they don’t believe that a girl is supposed to get an education.” Appalled by the facts Matata began working with local schools and the children’s guardians, while also reviewing exams to insure the scholarship recipients are indeed those who excel in their studies, but simply can’t afford the cost. She ended up selecting 10 girls and launched the foundation in 2010. She has since added 5 more girls to the roster.
Every January, at the beginning of the school year in Tanzania, Matata returns home to personally check in with the 15 girls making sure they are keeping up with their studies and attending school regularly. She explains that the cost of an education in Tanzania is $700 annually per student each year from primary to middle school. The price tag increases to $1200 per student once they enter high school. With the rising costs Matata, being the primary source of financial support, must work even harder in order to continue to put these girls through school.
“They call it a school, but there is no classroom.”
“Getting to school is only part of the problem. They call it a school, but there is no classroom. They just put the bricks down and a blackboard and that is how they are learning…under a tree. Most students cannot afford basic school supplies. I’ve seen kids with bare feet knowing they have walked miles to get there next to other kids in the same class, they have no pen or pencil, they just sit there and listen to the teacher and I ask myself how are they going to learn? How are they going to revise what the teacher told them?”
Not content with her previous achievements she felt the need to do more for the educational development of these underprivileged children. In 2013 she launched the FMF Stationery Project, an initiative that allows supporters to purchase a $25 backpack full of school supplies to be donated to children in need. Among her travels 3000 have been handed out to date. She explains that not only does the purchase of a stationery pack provide a child with the much needed school supplies, but it also helps to pay school fees and other costs associated with provisions of quality education under the foundation.
“The payoff is seeing these girls go on to high school next year.”
While the generosity from Music Mogul, Russell Simmons annual donation which is “much needed and greatly appreciated”, the foundation has received little corporate sponsorship thus far leaving her to rely heavily on individual donors, but even then she says “I know a lot of models who are doing really well, but sometimes we can be full of ourselves. If you want to help children, or women empowerment, HIV or whatever just join the cause or donate because starting your own foundation is a lot of work.” A quick glance at the FMF website and you would think that it is a well staffed organization, but Matata clarifies that it is with the help of her sister and a friend that she maintains the daily operations, communications, and fundraising efforts of the foundation.
With 24 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa who can’t afford to go school, Matata’s goal is to sponsor even more students through FMF and the FMF Stationeries project so they, too, can have the opportunity to improve their livlihood. Despite her struggles and frustrations with running a foundation in her own name she is proud to say “The payoff is seeing these girls go on to high school next year.”
Join Flaviana Matata by Being Accomplished at Selfless Tasks And Righteous Deeds