African Child Day, KCC Style
At Kigamboni Community Centre, Tanzania, as in many places around Africa, the Day of the African Child is one of the most important days of the year. And rightfully so – the day is held on June 16th in honour of hundreds of children who were killed during an uprising in Soweto, South Africa on the same day in 1976. They took to the streets to demand their right to equal education and to be taught in their own language. Security forces under the apartheid regime responded with tear gas and bullets, killing close to 200 children and injuring hundreds more.
In 2012, the Day of the African Child not only commemorates those children but also draws into sharp focus the many issues still faced by African children today. According to the UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2011, young Africans still face high levels of poverty, hunger, child and maternal mortality, inability to access education, gender inequality and homelessness. With the powerful UN spotlight fixed on these issues, progress has undeniably been made, but reports suggest there is much more work to do. While many more children are living past the age of five, the rate of mother’s dying in childbirth is still high meaning they are growing up without adequate parental care. And while the percentage of children enrolled in primary school has jumped significantly, recent studies have found this does not correlate with increased learning. Many children are still completing primary school without being able to read Swahili, English or do basic mathematics (UWEZO Tanzania Key Findings 2010).
At the Kigamboni Community Centre students and volunteers alike have stories of days without food, years without a home and lives without parents. The centre was set up by local volunteers who wanted to help children overcome these challenges that they themselves had faced in their youth. And yet, on the Day of the African Child, the dusty air swirls with nothing but pure joy and excitement as hundreds of local children take to the streets of Kigamboni. It is a scene of chaotic exuberance, with clowns and stilt walkers leading the group of young Tanzanians as they dance, sing songs of ‘watoto’ (children) and pound drums as strong and steady as a collective human heartbeat.
After the march, the KCC children flood into the centre to watch their acrobats, dancers, actors and singers put on a show. The KCC children perform proudly and fearlessly, whether launching themselves into a triple back flip or a theatrical exploration of the moral dilemmas faced by youth today. This is nothing out of the ordinary – they have the opportunity to practice their talents with skilled teachers six days a week at KCC, as well as attending English classes, academic tuition and for the younger children, nursery education. Jackson, a local 16-year-old, is one of the stars of the show. A few days previously he told me of his childhood spent on the streets and unable to afford school. He is now top of his class and hopes to be a professional actor.
While the Day of the African child reminds us of a dark time in African history, and highlights the many challenges that African children still face, stories like Jackson’s serve as a testament to the overwhelming positivity and resilience of African children. He explains that despite what he experienced as a child, “I know I am strong … I believe I will have a good life. I will be able to help my family if they are struggling, and that makes me very happy.”