Next Stop Tanzania

Adventures travelling and volunteering in Tanzania

Archive for the tag “Tanzania”

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:


White People Really Can’t Dance (And Other Things I Learned in Tanzania)

1. Some things transcend language – like Uno. And Celine Dion.

2. The true embodiment of self belief is a four-year-old doing triple back-flips over a rock.

3. You can be completely outside your comfort zone and still feel like you are exactly where you are meant to be.

4. “Right now” can mean in an hour or a week (but probably no less than that).

5. You don’t need to have anything in order to give everything.

6. White people really can’t dance.

7. Happiness is a choice. No matter how much heartache in your past or how much uncertainty your future, you can still smile in the present – and mean it.

8. If sweeping was an Olympic sport, Tanzania would surely take gold.

9. Education is a gift not everyone receives, and should be treasured accordingly.

10. The key to transforming a dream into reality is simply an unwavering belief that it will happen – sometime, somehow.

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Cat Wright

This is Life in Tanzania

Photo courtesy of Mark Tipple

There were around thirty women sitting on both sides of the narrow hallway on colourful woven mats. All were dressed in mtandio, traditional Muslim headdress, and long flowing dresses. Sometimes the door to a bedroom would open and two women would whisper urgently back and forth in Swahili before the door was swiftly closed again. I felt the gaze of two young girls watching me closely from beside their mother, perhaps unsure what to make of a strange munzungo (white person) in amongst the familiar faces. They did not return my hesitant smile. From somewhere outside floated the muffled sounds of Arabic prayer, a sudden burst of cheering, a baby crying and being shushed.

Arriving at the wedding, I had been asked by one of the groom’s relatives to respect the “traditional way”, which meant men only participating in the ceremony while the women -including the bride – waited inside. My “bodyguards”, three of the students from Kigamboni Community Centre, had urged me to stay with them, but I wanted to be respectful, and to at least try to fit in. An hour and a half later, I started to question this decision. I felt sweat trickle down my back, shifted position on the floor in the hallway. In broken Swahili I attempted to ask Mata, my designated carer, when we would be allowed outside. The answer was “ci jewi” (I don’t know) – it was difficult to tell whether it was a response to my question or my terrible Kiswahili.

There was another eruption of cheering and singing, followed by a long silence. Mata nodded at me and got to her feet, “We go there now.” We walked out to the front of the house where a large group of men were sitting underneath a tarpaulin, a sea of white kunzu robes and golden hats. One of them stood in the very centre with a microphone, one arm outstretched toward the groom who nodded gravely as he spoke. I still had not laid eyes on the bride, who was to remain in her room until the very end of the ceremony. My friend, a photographer, was constantly directed this way and that, inside and outside, from guest to groom to child to grandmother, with the command “Make photo!”

After several more songs, speeches and prayers, the husband and a small group of the men disappeared inside. The loudest cheer of all arose from the bride’s room and eventually she appeared in the doorway, her gaze downward, her face emotionless. Her dress was a dazzling turquoise, covered in delicately threaded sequins that glinted in the fading sunlight. I turned as someone offered me a plate of wali (rice) and when I looked back the bride and groom had slipped into a white car that was already halfway down the street. The wedding guests slowly meandered behind them to the spot where buses usually stop. When a bus failed to appear after ten minutes, they spontaneously broke out into a dance circle in the middle of the road. This involved jumping forwards and backwards around the drummers in time to the beat, stirring up clouds of dust. I was dragged into the circle by my “body guards” who showed me the steps and laughed and cheered at my attempts to imitate them.

Eventually the bus arrived and everyone travelled to the groom’s home where there was a huge crowd of neighbours and friends packed into his front garden. I squashed into the front row along with the KCC crew and watched our acrobats, dancers, and a stilt walker who was challenged to a dance-off by an elderly woman in the crowd. She pointed a crooked finger up at him before lying down on the ground, groaning and rolling back and forth. While the rest of the crowd found it hugely amusing, the humour was completely lost on me.

Just as the speeches were beginning, our bjaji driver yelled for us to “Go, go!” and hurriedly ushered us out of the crowd and into the bjaji. Then we were careening around the narrow dirt roads in the darkness, thumping over rocks and potholes in order to make the fast ferry back to Kigamboni. It had been a crazy and brilliant day. Like most days, it was full of contradictions. The joyful dancing wedding guests and the still and silent bride. The formality and seriousness of the ceremony followed by the absurdity and fun of the performances. I had felt like an outsider in every sense of the word. I could not communicate with most of the guests, could not understand the rules and customs, and yet somehow simply taking part in it all, amongst my new KCC friends, made me feel deeply connected to the community.

As yellow car headlights blurred past us on the streets of Dar, I leaned forward and shouted over the roar of traffic for our bjaji driver to go more pole pole (slowly). He laughed and he began to sing at the top of his lungs in a mixture of Kiswahili and English. I couldn’t make out most of the words, but every now and then I heard: “This is life in Tanzania!” Indeed.

Photo courtesy of Mark Tipple

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

How To Be An Explorer

By: Cat Wright

So, it is exactly three weeks today until I set off from Sydney bound for Dar es Salaam. My brief for this project is essentially to tell the story of the Kigamboni Community Centre and everyone in it – the young students, the volunteers, the four founders, the past achievements and the future hopes and dreams…  It’s a little bit daunting and a big bit exciting. In the last few days I’ve been thinking about how I need to ‘be’ in order to capture these stories authentically. I think this may be a helpful place to start:

Sometime, Somehow: The Simple Yet Profound Philosophy of KCC

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 in action.

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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To find out more about our campaign, check out our website:

Thinking Like a World Citizen

When I was eleven years old, I was lucky enough to take three months off school to go travelling with my parents. My Mum told me quite matter-of-factly, “You will learn more through travel than you ever will at school.” She is a teacher. And she was right. I learned about the power of dream catchers in California, the beauty of dolphins in Hawaii, the mystery of sea monsters in Scotland and just how green grass could be in England. My mind expanded a little more with each country we visited and I began to see myself as being connected to something much bigger than just my neighbourhood or even my country.

The place that probably held the most learning for me – a young, sheltered girl from Sydney – was Africa. I had never witnessed such extremes of the human condition. There was overwhelming poverty and desperation, and in the same heartbeat a pure joyfulness and unity I had not experienced anywhere else. Visiting small villages, we would be greeted with dazzling smiles and spontaneous singing and people willing to share whatever they had. When I got home I was thankful for clean running water, proper toilets and the opportunity to go back to school because I knew not every child in the world could. My eleven year old self just could not comprehend why all the countries of the world weren’t working together to make sure that every child had access to things like food, clean water, a safe place to live and an education.

The thing is, my twenty-seven year old self still can’t comprehend it. So when I see a group of dedicated and passionate volunteers trying to help their own community in Tanzania with little to no outside support, there is no question that if I can help, I will. The volunteers at Kigamboni Community Centre are working incredibly hard simply to allow the children in their community access to things we take completely for granted in Australia – shelter, food, education, good health and a sense of belonging. They have a near 100% success rate at getting children back into the education system. My friend Nikki and I want to volunteer our time and skills to help them continue to do this amazing work. (Nikki will be talking more about the practical details of our project in the next post.)

My naive eleven year old self thought all countries could all work together to change the world. Now I believe that small groups of people can work together to make change community by community. We have the opportunity to make a positive difference to the children of Kigamboni, so let’s take it. As Woodrow Wilson put it, we are all world citizens, and that means we can all do something to “enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

By: Cat Wright

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