Next Stop Tanzania

Adventures travelling and volunteering in Tanzania

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Every Day I Wake Up, Same Thing For Breakfast

This post is from my new blog about living and volunteering in Jamaica: http://yearofjamaica.wordpress.com

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“Why Jamaica?”

It’s usually asked with astonishment, accompanied by either eyes widening in alarm or head nodding in appreciation. And my standard answer is a flippant: “Why not?” From now on when I’m asked why I would choose to live in Jamaica for a year maybe I will direct people to this video instead. I mean, c’mon, who wouldn’t want to be intoxicated with hibiscus?

But the real reason is probably something much closer to the misheard lyrics of one of the best known Jamaican songs ever, Israelite by Desmond Dekker & The Aces (who knew the actual words were “Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir”? Then again, I highly doubt that will be the last time I totally mishear something due to a thick Jamaican accent.) To oversimplify things completely, I don’t want to wake up every morning and have the same thing for breakfast.

It’s scarily easy to get stuck in a rut, doing the same thing day in and day out, week in week out, year in year out. We start to forget not only all the incredible places and people and things that exist beyond our own little bubble, but also the incredible things that we ourselves are capable of, if only we can gather the courage to step out of our comfort zone.

No one wants to look back and realise they have simply lived a blur of groundhog days, each so monotonous they cannot be separated from the day before. Because that is not really living at all. I think Diane Ackerman said it best: “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”

So, in an effort to live the width of my own life, I’m going to volunteer in a remote village in Jamaica for a year, with no running water and sporadic electricity. I leave Sydney in three days and right now it feels like I’m not just stepping out of my comfort zone, but taking a running leap off the edge of it and crossing my fingers as I free fall. And along with all the other hundreds of unanswered questions, I have absolutely no idea what I will be eating for breakfast.

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Rise Up: The KCC Exhibition

It is a little over two weeks until the Gallery Project launches the ‘Rise Up’ exhibition of photos and stories from the incredible people at the Kigamboni Community Centre. So, I thought I’d share a sneak peek with the story of someone we were lucky enough to meet during our time in Tanzania: the very inspiring and very charismatic Jackson.

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There was a time when 16-year-old Jackson thought he may never get an education. He lost his father when he was just a baby and soon after his mother become feeble with illness. At eight years old he went to live with his brother and sister-in-law. Though he was enrolled in school, he missed many of his classes and quickly fell behind as his sister-in-law felt that Jackson’s time would be better spent selling soaps at the local market. For three years he taught himself what he could using borrowed textbooks and reading the notes his friends had taken in class. When he was 12 years old his aunty moved him from Arusha to live with her in Dar Es Salaam where an administrative error again prevented him from attending school. Eventually his aunt heard about the Drop Out School program at KCC and after just one year Jackson was able to pass the entry exams and start mainstream school, where he quickly became top of his class. He still returns to the centre every day after school to attend drama and English classes and spend time with his friends, who he calls his “KCC family”.

The Kigamboni Community Centre was founded by a small group of Tanzanian  youth who had faced the issues of homelessness, poverty, family conflict and lack of education. Their dream was to allow every child to share their unique talents with the world in order to make a better life for themselves. The first step was to ensure access to education for children who had dropped out of formal schooling. Run entirely by volunteers, KCC’s ‘Drop Out School’ offered hundreds of students the opportunity to study math, Swahili, and English in order to re-enter formal schools. While this primary education program was running, they had a near 100% success rate of placing the students back into mainstream schools.In 2011 the Tanzanian government informed KCC they could no longer continue their Drop Out School program as they did not have qualified teachers. The program was moved to a different area and qualified teachers took over. However, the government has announced that in January 2013 this program will end. With the cost of employing formally trained teachers out of KCC’s reach, hundreds of children will be left without a means to re-enter school.

According to the 2011 Millennium Development Goals report, Tanzania has almost achieved its goal of universally accessible primary education. The budget for national education in Tanzania has tripled in the last  decade, with trillions of dollars being poured into building new classrooms and employing more teachers. As a result of these measures, school enrollment has increased drastically to around 95%. However, a recent Uwezo study of education in Tanzania indicates that the increases in enrolment do not necessarily equate to increased learning and academic success. Although school itself is free, the cost of uniforms, textbooks and transport is still too much for many families and most Tanzanian children still struggle to get an education. The grim reality is that students regularly miss classes so they can look after sick relatives or work and make money for their family. The study found that after two years of primary school, the majority of children cannot read basic Swahili or English or even do basic mathematics.

For now, KCC continues to provide English lessons, social education, preschool classes, acrobatics, traditional and modern dance, drama, Netball, soccer, computers and health. Perhaps most importantly, the centre also gives children a sense of confidence, belonging and hope for the future. Nassoro, one of the original founders and the acrobatics teacher, says, “KCC gives children a big chance because it is bringing everyone together to share what they know and what they can do.” Jackson certainly believes that without KCC his life would have been very different. He imagines he would never have gotten an education and may even have ended up on the street. Now when he talks about the future a wide smile spreads over his face, “I feel strong now. I know who I am and what I want to do. At KCC I met people with bigger problems than me and realised anyone has the power to build their own life.”

The Gallery Project aims to raise enough money to pay two qualified teachers to work at the centre and ensure all the students have the opportunity to get an education. For more information on the Gallery Project, please go here: www.galleryproject.info.

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.

Soweto shootings, 1976

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.

Photo courtesy of Mark Tipple

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.”

The Motivation to Give

Some say it is our soul, some say it is our ego. Some believe in selfless good deeds but most are willing to admit that when they give (time, materials, money) it is because they get far more out of it than anyone they might be giving to. International volunteers here are Kigamboni say they can be more creative, more useful, more appreciated, more innovative than they ever were in paid jobs back home. The experience and knowledge they are gaining is far more valuable than money. Everyone I have spoken to so far – both locals and foreigners – agrees that Tanzanians generally do not have much motivation to volunteer. Understandably, their main priority is to ensure they get money to eat and provide for the families. And yet, at the Kigamboni Community Centre there are nearly thirty people volunteering their time, energy and skills. Many of them are at KCC seven days a week, often turning down paid work to fulfil their responsibilities at the centre. This means relying on friends, family or sponsorship for their basic needs.

Since I have been in Kigamboni, the most common words I have heard apart from “Mambo” (hello) is “Karibu sana”, meaning you are very welcome. The local people have welcomed me into their classrooms and their homes. I have met their families and been offered food and drink. They have readily shared their struggles and their hopes for a different future. In short, they do not hesitate to give of themselves in every way, to anyone that may need it -whether they are a homeless local child or a Western tourist. Everyone is welcome and everyone has something to contribute. So if volunteering is unusual here, what is it exactly that motivates this unwavering dedication to giving?

Sakina, one of the local volunteer teachers at KCC tells me “you must have volunteering in your heart, otherwise you will not live your life in the right way.” Although she is a full time volunteer with no paid income for herself, she dreams of opening a house for street children to live. For Nassoro, the Entertainment & Activities Director and one of the founding members of KCC, giving is about leaving a legacy worth being remembered by.  He says he could have used his acrobatic skills to make money for himself, but he prefers to dedicate his talents to the centre because it is the only way he will feel satisfied at the end of his life. “I could have ten cars and ten houses, but when I die no one will cry for me,” he explained. However, “If I do good things for my community, even when I am no longer alive it will be like I left a part of my body behind, because many people will remember me and the great things I did.”

The Business Director and handicrafts teacher, Fanuel, has a very different take on why it is worth giving his time and energy to volunteer at KCC. He believes that if they all continue to work hard for a good cause, they will eventually be recognised with wealth and fame because that is the way it should be. He spoke with such passion that it seemed perhaps he could make his vision come to be purely by his unwavering certainty that it would. For now, however, he says “We are okay without money. We are struggling but we are happy. We help each other, we share, and we live through friendship.”

Although their specific motivations and expected outcomes may be somewhat different, all of these volunteers possess the same unwavering dedication to continue giving no matter what. So it presents the age-old question: Does it matter what our motivations are, as long as the end result is a positive one? I’m not sure what my personal answer would be, but for most people at KCC it seems the only thing that matters is working hard, collaborating with one another and believing. With these three ingredients, they are sure KCC can only get bigger and better, and with so many passionate individuals giving so wholeheartedly, it would be difficult to doubt it.

By: Cat Wright

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