From the Field: Life at the Umoja Centre

By: Natalie Daley

I’m happy to say that I’ve been in Tanzania for just over one month, and although it’s gone by far too fast, it has been an incredible experience. As soon as I left the Kilimanjaro Airport and began heading west to Arusha, my eyes were busy taking everything in, though not nearly big enough to capture everything that there is to see! There’s an underlying sense that everything here feels very alive. There are always many people walking and chatting, children playing and heading to and from school. Men lounging on motorbikes and women elegantly balancing bowls and bags of food on their heads. Herds of livestock constantly moving throughout neighbourhoods, and in the countryside, cows and goats happily moving along. The landscape is stunning and vibrant, with Mt. Meru in the background and beautiful jacaranda trees with purple flowers hanging over the streets.

Arusha landscapes

Arusha landscapes

Shireen and myself are the two newest YCI Youth Ambassadors in Arusha. We are staying together in the same home-stay, and are grateful to have been welcomed into such an enthusiastic and warm family. Our ‘Mama’ works for the Lutheran Church organization in Arusha where she speaks to pastors and Sunday school teachers about how to incorporate HIV/AIDS education within the church and to children. She often visits and monitors projects outside of the country and has spoken to us quite a bit about perspectives on HIV/AIDS and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) in various African countries. I really enjoy speaking to her because I learn a lot about prevalent issues in this area of the world. She is very animated when she speaks which makes her all the more lovable! I am working on my Kiswahili, but am able to greet people politely (in at least 4 different ways; I could likely learn a new way to say hello each day!) as well as saying thank you’s, have-a-nice-day’s, dinner-was-delicous, etc!

I have been volunteering at The Umoja Centre, located just outside of Arusha in an area known as Njiro. The Centre is very warm and welcoming and offers a lot to the youth attending through a holistic curriculum. The property is deceivingly large – when you first walk in you see the main office building and schools but there are three other buildings; two classrooms and a library. As part of our community development project, we will work with the students to improve the educational environment of the Centre, building upon a previous YCI volunteer’s work with the students to create a mural and brighten up the Centre. We want to repaint some of the classroom walls so they are a bit brighter and more inviting for the students, enabling their learning to be heightened and contributing to the warmth of the classrooms.

The Umoja Centre

The Umoja Centre

The students are split into Beginner and Intermediate groups depending on their level of English comprehension and previous schooling. Tanzanians don’t learn English until they reach secondary school and oftentimes families cannot afford to send their children there. All public primary school education is free, but the youth are often prevented from attending school as a result of family circumstances, lack of money, isolated communities, etc. I am mostly helping teach the Life Skills classes with a fellow YCI volunteer, where students identify their personal attributes and skills, and set goals and create a plan for the future. Since I have been here we have been working with the students on their resumes, which is interesting for me as I recently revamped my own resume in my careers class from my post-graduate program I completed in May. I know how difficult it can be, and I ended up seeking the advice of a career advisor many times to help fine tune my resume. While the beginners can be challenging to teach because of the language barrier, the students are very responsive and I hope that they have felt empowered and gained confidence by acknowledging their skills, and seeing the final product of a CV and cover letter. My favourite part of assisting with life skills classes is getting to know the students’ career ambitions individually, even if its briefly when I’m offering suggestions for their resumes and cover letters and learning more about what they hope to pursue in their future.

Natalie with students at the Umoja Centre

Natalie with students at the Umoja Centre

I have taken on an additional task while I am here; to increase the number of marketing and communications materials for Umoja. I really enjoy taking photos, so each day I have been watching the students interact and try to capture moments that really show the students’ personality – because they have a lot of it! I have been updating powerpoints for fundraising purposes, and using my creativity to make new communications materials for donors, sponsorships and any other uses. Hopefully these new materials will make it easier for Umoja to fund-raise and spread the word to people about how essential it is for these students to be sponsored and receive donations. They are truly very intelligent and motivated, with enormous potential to succeed given the opportunity. Sponsoring a student for a year of post-secondary education is minimal compared to what we pay in North America. Simply raising $1000 at a school in Canada and asking a local business to match the donation would go so far for these students. They have so much potential and drive to succeed and create a more sustainable life for themselves and their families.

Students during dance club

Students during dance club

I’ve been trying to get to know the students as much as possible, and they all have a different and unique story that brought them where they are today. It’s easy to get attached quickly, as they are all warm and very friendly. A couple of weeks ago some of the students who normally work as leaders for a program called ‘YES! Tanzania’ led sports games for the students and volunteers, which was a great way to get to know the other students outside of the class. I’ve also gone with the students twice now to Global Cycle Solutions, a local organization that offers workshops to the students to teach them about innovative products and ignite their imagination to create efficient and affordable agriculture and energy products. It’s great to see the students interact together and see some students become so much more engaged when they can express themselves in their native language of Kiswahili.

A student asking questions during UN day events

A student asking questions during UN day events

This past Friday we hosted an event for UN day to celebrate the accomplishments and mandate of The United Nations. We asked the beginner students to prepare a presentation of research on a UN member country. The intermediates were given two separate debate topics related to the MDGs. We were fortunate to have a guest speaker from the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, located here in Arusha. The students enjoyed learning more about history, law and the career path of the prosecutor who presented. She was great in telling them to follow their dreams, no matter how difficult it may seem to achieve at the moment. I have no doubt that the students here at Umoja will do incredible things in their bright futures.

Natalie Daley is a YCI Youth Ambassador currently working in Arusha, Tanzania. To get involved in YCI’s Ambassador programs in Ghana, Tanzania or Costa Rica, check out our program calendar.

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