In Search of Livelihoods: My Trek around Tanzania

“In life, you never know what is going to happen. You cannot always control it.  But you must always remember to laugh.”

This is what my trusted sidekick-slash-translator-slash-tour guide-slash-body guard  Michael Gombe says to me as we stood on the side of a busy, dusty street just outside of Arusha city.  We were searching for an organization that provides a safe home and skills training to young girls who are out of school.

We were lost.

Michael and I had just met; earlier we had gone over our itinerary for the week, and now we were carrying around a list of 10 potential organizations to meet within 4 days.  I was lucky to have his kind assistance, and already he was sharing with me his wise, yet funny, musings on life.

My task before me was altogether daunting and exciting, but after my first week in Mwanza, scurrying around to meet with health and youth development organizations, I had some practice already.  I also was well-rehearsed for the “hurry up and wait” syndrome that comes with working in the field.

Kristy and Michael Gombe at the Arushavolunteer's debrief dinner

Kristy and Michael Gombe at the Arusha volunteer’s debrief dinner

My assignment, as a YCI Innovator-slash-programming assistant, was to identify and consult with major stakeholders who provide services to local youth, including employment, training, financial, and health services.  I was searching for local clues about the current situation of youth livelihoods and health in Tanzania, while at the same time identifying possible linkages with organizations, government ministries, and private companies.  I was also leading and facilitating participatory youth focus groups wherein local youth themselves could provide a perspective and voice within our research.   All of this information is hoped to better inform YCI’s proposal writing and program design under the next funding cycle.

My assignment was very unique.  Not only did I get to travel around Tanzania to almost every program area YCI works in (Mwanza, Arusha, Zanzibar), but I also met with several organizations that were as equally passionate about youth development as we at YCI are.  My interviews, in some ways, were more like conversations – spanning from topics like the Tanzanian education system and how ill-equipped it is to produce graduates with practical skills, to corruption and fraud and nepotism in the government structures, to the mindset of youth themselves and how they live in a culture of dependency on parents and other adults.  But there were also many stories: Stories of urgency and need, but also stories of hope.

It is well recognized in Canada and all over the world that there is a youth ‘bubble’, and that this bubble has formed during a worldwide economic crisis.  Our youth population is booming, while the youth unemployment rate is reaching record numbers. This has resulted, at least in Tanzania, to many youth who are idle, bored, frustrated, and even hopeless. Many have turned to the informal sector, or self-employment because it seems to be one of the few places where they have a chance, where they can fit into the labour market.

Kristy facilitating afocus group in Mwanza

Kristy facilitating a focus group in Mwanza

“We need a facilitative environment for youth to become self-reliant”, said one representative from the Grassroots Youth Development Organization in Arusha. “Over 60% of the workforce in Tanzania is made up of youth, and we can help them contribute to society if we encourage them and build their skills.”

This theme was echoed throughout many of my interviews and conversations with youth-serving organizations.  Youth need to be able to stand on their own, be self-reliant, have confidence, stretch their capacities, experiment with their creativity and imagination, and be leaders. In many cases they just need a safe, supportive environment to do so.

And standing right beside me, on that busy, dusty road, was a case in point.  A recent graduate of the Umoja Centre, an education centre for Primary School leavers, and local ‘superstar’ volunteer for YCI, Michael has great dreams ahead of him.  He most recently applied to go to Secondary School, so he can “be a good brother and supporter to my family.”  While his passions are poetry, literature, and philosophy, he wishes some day to open his own business, improve his English skills, and learn to play the guitar.

I told him he was already well on his way.

– Kristy Tomkinson, Youth Innovator and Program Assistant, Tanzania 2013

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