This is a guest post from our friend Richard, who was the person to share the story of Kigamboni Community Centre with us. Originially from the UK, he has been living and volunteering at the KCC in Tanzania for around two years.
By: Richard G
I’ve been working with the guys here at the community centre since I met them by chance in 2010. Prior to meeting them, I spent 9 months travelling around Southern and East Africahoping to find locally-initiated, effective, sustainable, grass-roots social projects (a surprisingly demanding wish-list as it turns out). During this time I was fortunate to meet a lot of wonderful people behind a number of fascinating initiatives: from craft-based enterprise and life-skills projects in the townships aroundCape Town, to a German-born, internationally-renowned Asset Based Community Development expert living in a township on the edge ofWindhoek,Namibia. From a school set up in the depths of the Okovango Delta in Botswana to give kids who had been expelled from the government system a second chance, to a brilliant project in Kenya carving through the seemingly impossibly complex task of trying to provide services to homeless children whilst simultaneously working to unearth and treat the root causes behind their situations. From one project using soccer as a tool of integration for refugees in Uganda, to another providing trauma healing, leadership and entrepreneurship skills for orphaned genocide survivors in Rwanda.
Having been fortunate to meet so many amazing people along the way, I’ve often asked myself why KCC? What was it that stopped me in my tracks and within an hour of walking through the door made me almost beg to be able to stay and work with these guys here in Kigamboni?
Firstly, it was the energy of the place – dozens of kids back-flipping and somersaulting across a giant sandpit whilst others practise traditional dance, art, drama and music in other corners of the yard is a sight one doesn’t see every day. I was also impressed by KCC because despite being incredibly poor they had seen that donor-dependent projects are inherently unsustainable and tend to stifle creativity, ownership and dignity. This meant they were crystal clear that their project would run on self-generated income, even if they had no idea yet how to make that happen. A third factor in me wanting to stay and work at the Centre was the simple yet profound philosophy of the four young founders, two of whom had lived on the streets as children: “We don’t have qualifications, but we all know how to do something. If we come together and share with each other what we do know, that is development.” One of the founders knew acrobatics, one knew art, one knew music, and one wanted to teach. They had unnerving faith: “We don’t know how we will reach where we want to go, but we know we will get there”.
However, the factor that I found most impressive was simply what this group of four young guys had managed to create with only one school-leaving certificate between them, in less than three years and with no funding beyond the odd $20 offered by passers by. Their project had more than twenty local volunteers, and in a community where people earn on average well under $5 per day and volunteering is perceived as a past time for the wealthy, this is a minor miracle. They serve more than 200 children a day, through full-time nursery and primary education programmes, free post-school tuition, a social education programme including community education and free English classes, and a 10-stream talent development programme.
George, co-founder and Education Director, pretty much embodies everything remarkable about KCC. Despite having been forced to drop out of secondary school after year two, when KCC started George was adamant that he wanted to teach. Too many children are unable to complete (or even begin) their education due to financial hardship in their families. Tanzania had signed up to the Millennium Development goals, meaning every child should have access to a free primary education. The small print however is that this only applies to children who enrol by the age of seven. With huge levels of child migration, and an adult population who mostly never attended school themselves, vast numbers of children aren’t enrolled in school in time. They do get a 2nd chance however if they can sit and pass an exam at the end of the 4th year of primary school, which of course is almost impossible if you aren’t receiving an education.
George developed an education programme for children over the age of seven who weren’t in primary school, condensing these first four years into two, after which each child sits the exam. Those who pass go back into mainstream education. Those who don’t simply stay on at KCC until they do pass. This programme has a near-to-100% success rate. Then they saw another problem. Nursery education is not free inTanzania, and where schools are over-subscribed, headmasters prefer to select children who have completed nursery school over those who haven’t. In order to reach a school that will take them, many children who haven’t attended nursery school are therefore forced to travel distances which are too great for either their feet or their family’s financial means. So George started a free nursery programme at KCC. Problem number 3? Children who pass their end-of-primary exams are guaranteed the offer of a place at a government secondary school. Yet the standard of education at most primary schools is so poor that any family who can afford it will send their children for private tuition. George set up a free tuition programme for those whose parents can’t afford it.
George walks 6km from his parents’ home to the Community Centre every morning, arriving by 8am to start the nursery and primary programmes. At 6pm he leaves to walk home again, unless it’s his turn to teach the evening English class, in which case he leaves around 8.30pm. He has been doing this for almost 5 years and has never been paid a penny. He is 29 and still lives with his parents. Until recently it was not uncommon to see him teaching both nursery and primary programmes simultaneously – it’s hard to find other teachers willing to commit to teaching every day for free. The reason that this is no longer a common sight is because the government came a couple of months ago and told him he was no longer allowed to teach the primary programme as he doesn’t hold teaching qualifications. The government moved KCC’s primary education programme to some empty rooms in a local primary school and have provided some temporary, qualified teachers.
Having received little more than a thank you for his efforts, when I found out about George’s effective redundancy, I was expecting him to be devastated. On the contrary, he was characteristically calm and upbeat. “It means I now finally have time to go to teacher training college to get my qualifications”. When I asked him how he would pay for it, true to form, he told me he has no idea, but he knows it’s going to happen sometime, somehow…
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