The sky is slate grey, there is an intermittent drizzle and I have bid a fond farewell to my, second ever in my life, house mate (husband, son and Muttley don’t count).
The view from my window could be England, if you ignore the palm tree, thriving Strelitzia and Baba’s safari jeep! Ok so to be realistic, the view from my window is closer to Spain perhaps. The 9am temperature of around 20° Celsius is certainly more familiar to my Spanish readers and friends than my English. It is June 13th, Friday the 13th actually, but that is of no consequence here. Life in Moshi, Tanzania is tough every day for the average guy working the land so they don’t need superstition to cloud any particular day.
June, even in England I would expect a little blue sky and sight of the sun, in Spain I would be in full swing of summer dresses, bronzed skin and lazing by the pool. It is so completely weird for me to be experiencing feeling cold in June. OK I know I said 20° but for me, the evenings and the early mornings (remember I rise with the sun at 6am every day) are chilly and I am wondering why I do not have one fleece in my extensive western, brought from home wardrobe. Dumb eh?
Of all that I am experiencing during my Tanzanian Adventure, this mismatch of the weather is affecting me most! Oh yeah, that and having sweet, juicy mandarins in my fruit bowl! Is it Christmas already?
I digress, I want to set the scene to introduce my new project and have no idea how my waxing lyrical about the weather could be deemed as relevant but, hey ho as I have said many times on these pages, it’s my blog (read this humming strains of it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to or click the you tube link if you are too young to remember that one).
The new project I am working with is very different to my wonderful months at Amani. However, there is a core personal principle running through my decision to volunteer at both, the children.
I came to Tanzania to finish writing my novel whilst working to “make a difference” to as many individual children affected by poverty, children’s rights issues and a lack of access to education, as I could.
The new project is all about three mamas who care and I hope to introduce you to these wonderful ladies shortly. One of the many community support projects the mamas provide is schooling to kids whose guardians cannot or will not provide access to secondary education. This is a massive undertaking with massive implications and difficulties but despite all that, schooling for 26 children is what I am proud to be a part of.
Who are the kids? They are what this is all about.
These are the kids that are prime targets for the streets. From what I have seen and from helping the mamas collate student profiles, I believe the mamas provide an alternative safe haven to life on the streets. Most failed standard 7 primary education and they are aged between 13 and 19 with an average age of 15. What is very important for me is the high proportion of girls, 72%.
I think I have portrayed street life enough over the past months. I think you have an image of sleeping on stadium steps, under bridges or huddled in a ball in a shop doorway sniffing glue. Remember, the girls don’t usually end up here, their fate is often worse.
Why do kids end up on the streets? There are many answers and it is a subject too big and too far-reaching to cover today and so I will be simplistic, for the purpose of today’s rambling, I will present my observation that the underlying common denominator here in Tanzania would appear to be poverty.
- 68% of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day – €0.93cents – £0.75pence – 7.5NOK
With that image of poverty in mind, let us focus on why my introduction above talked about guardians instead of parents. Tanzania has a population of approximately 48 million people with an estimated 3 million orphans. 1 out of every 16 people in Tanzania is an orphaned child – 6.25%. Go on, look at your Facebook friend list or your e-mail contacts or your good old-fashioned telephone address book, count the first 16 people and figure it out. Remember those 16 you are looking at won’t all be classified as a child (for the purpose of these stats a child is defined as less than 17 years old).
I was 48 years old when I became an orphan, not in my teens or younger.
Very quickly looking at the stats the student profiles provide me with regarding my kids (yep, I claim some responsibility for them) shows:
- 8 out of 25 live with their parents – 32%
- 7 out of 25 live with one parent – 28%
- 10 out of 25 are orphans – 40%
Clearly there is a disparity between life at my project and Unicef’s 2008 – 2012 stats re orphans (1 in 16 or 6.25%).
To summarise, I believe the project I am now working with provides a tangible and working alternative to the streets for the vulnerable children within the project’s community and I take my hat off to the mamas for a damned good job.
Finally and to end on a positive, upbeat note I would like to tell you that I am endeavouring to encourage creative writing amongst the kids and so far I have learned that three of my students can run faster than lions, elephants and sharks and most don’t know what the ocean looks like. Clearly we need to work on the difference between running and swimming but given their comprehension of the ocean being the blue stuff on the map, again I say hey ho! Their enthusiasm, effort and hard work bring tears of joy when I mark their stories. When I see them every day, laughing, playing and smiling, seemingly without a care in the world despite the facts of above, I know why I am proud and happy to be here.
Have a wonderful weekend my friends and please let me have your comments, opinions and questions. Help me to provide the information and stories you want to hear.
With love and happiness to you all.