Walking through the doors of Faraja Trust Fund (FTF) feels like you’ve entered a community centre or a clinic rather than an NGO office. The small, inviting garden leads to two buildings with half a dozen office rooms, with hardly enough room to accommodate the line-up of people sitting and waiting to talk to someone. On any given day, the visitors may range from rural women seeking help on starting up a small household business; a group of secondary school girls seeking information about HIV and STI infections; teachers from Faraja’s two schools designated for street children designing their lesson plans, or an elderly couple seeking legal aid to contest a land dispute.
“Faraja”, I’m told, translates from Kiswahili as carer and supporter. For over twenty years, the FTF has stood in this role for the people of Morogoro. On any given day, I might encounter a dozen different people around town curious as to what brings me to Morogoro. Almost always, as soon as I mention my placement with Faraja, a knowing “aha” follows. This is the power of a well-established grassroots, locally run community NGO. Faraja’s resources might be sparse, but its heart is spread wide, and this does not go unnoticed. Outreach committees around Malaria, HIV, child protection and microfinance set out to help Morogoro’s most vulnerable. Visits and trainings take up the calendar year, and as is the norm with NGOs reliant on donor funding, the other half is taken up by writing reports.
This highlights one of the realities of Faraja’s work – it does not exist in a vacuum where grassroots initiatives are safe from the shrinking hands of foreign aid. In fact, many of Faraja’s projects are dependent on external funding, and if the funding is not there, the delivery mechanism is weakened. Faraja tries everything in its means to keep things running. The Home-Based Care centre, one of the first in the community, is in a dire state. Fewer patients arrive as there are fewer drugs and specialists to assist, and newer HBC Centres compete for limited resources. Despite this, a monthly play day – one of the only outlets for HIV-affected young people and children to play, run, laugh, feel loved and be fed nutritious food – is organized at the centre. It’s a vital day for these youth, one of the few times they feel truly free, yet for three months this spring they were forced to do without this meeting place. On the play day arranged after this long hiatus, the children run to each other, holding each other and catching up. It’s an important peer group that provides a form of support, and it’s a small splinter from the many arms that Faraja has on offer. Even when the funds run dry, the work keeps running.
I’m seeing the real plays of grassroots work here, sometimes not as idealistic as my academic training had me imagine. The reality of foreign development, shrinking aid budgets and fickle development agendas threaten the existence of truly locally-driven initiatives. But as long as Faraja runs like a true community – the work won’t stop. Faraja was founded based on the simple principle of helping those most in need. Faraja’s founder, Dr. Lucy Nkeya, doing her Masters research in the early nineties discovered how much misinformation existed about the spread of HIV/AIDS, especially among vulnerable communities. Through this discovery and the commitment to do something to help the community – a spark helped deliver Faraja in the world. The NGO is not without its battles, and I have quickly learned the flexibility needed to adapt to working in an environment where things run day-to-day. And I have learned a lot. As I approach my departure, I wonder about Faraja’s coming daily battles. What will be the new challenges? Who will fund its new projects? Will the family stay the same, or will new faces come and go? I know things will evolve, but most of all I’m hopeful the staff and everyone involved can keep the flame going strong for at least another twenty years to come.
-Sana Malik, Health Outreach Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Tanzania 2012