Chris Harker and his wife Catriona began what he calls their love affair with Tanzania in 1969.
That was when he was contracted by the Canadian government to go there to teach. Catriona had just received her qualifications as a teacher, and was in the country as well.
It was his time in Tanzania that inspired Harker to write three books. His third, the recently-published The Call of Katesh is like a sequel to his first book, White Necklace.
“We had a great three years there. Our daughter was born there and then in 1972 we came back here and I worked for the Saanich school board for close to 30 years,” he told the PNR at his home in Sidney.
Retiring in 2000, the couple, still fairly young, wondered what they would do with their spare time.
“We wanted to go back to Tanzania but we didn’t want to just sort of hang around and be tourists.”
Hanging around was the last thing they did. The two formed a safari company, becoming guides. Since 2001, they have taken around 500 people there and back.
They have also become involved with an organization called the Canadian Harambee Education Society (CHES), a non-profit organization based in Surrey, which operates scholarship programs in Tanzania and Kenya, providing the funding for girls to go to secondary school.
“Everybody goes to elementary school. If you want to go to secondary school, you have to pay for it and quite often if families don’t have the money, they will send the boy but they won’t send the girl,” he said.
Harker said the programs, based in a town called Katesh, offer girls four years of education. They reach close to 700 girls in both Tanzania and Kenya.
In going to the small town, the Harkers made a lot of friends and have had interesting experiences.
“When something interesting happens, I tend to write it up,” he said.
The chapters of the book are titles of the experiences he’s had there, from the kids he’s reached and the people they’ve worked with, to a special tree named after his wife.
Harker remembers those experiences, writing about each one. The stories in his book are accompanied by images captured by either him or his wife.
The first and last of his books are all about the CHES program. Proceeds from the sale of the books go directly towards the organization.
The second book is more a personal recollection of events that happened to them when in Tanzania on safari, while teaching in a school there, to having a child in the middle of nowhere.
When asked what his initial reaction was to Tanzania, Harker said the teaching was a great experience.
“I think it was probably the best teaching situation a teacher could possibly imagine — because the kids were very highly motivated. They knew that their life was going to be dramatically changed for the better if they got an education.”
He said he even got called back into the classroom as the bell went off, as the students were wanting their homework
“I taught for years in Canada. That never happened,” he said with a smile.
Harker said there is a universality in writing and the children just understood it, memorizing lines of poetry, eager to always learn.
“I had to restrict the number of pages for essays whereas in Canada I would get ‘two pages? Can I double space?’”
Harker is selling his latest book, completed just last week, for $20. All of the money will go towards CHES. The Call of Katesh can be purchased through him directly at email@example.com or by calling 250-656-9229.
He and his wife will be taking a safari group back to Tanzania in October of next year.