Independent, liberated, resilient

Written by Charmaine Felix

Independent… liberated… resilient… These are my first thoughts when I reflect on the children in Tanzania. It was really remarkable to see how different they were. In comparison to what I have been exposed to during my lifetime, I definitely learned some valuable lessons from these delightful youngsters and I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity.

I was placed in the city of Mwanza for my volunteer program with YCI. Mwanza is a mid-sized port city on the southern shores of Lake Victoria in northwestern Tanzania. With a population of over 700,000, it is Tanzania’s second largest city, following Dar es Salaam. In this town, I worked with a partner organization called Mwanza Youth and Children Network, located in the Ghana Ilemela district. Also known as MYCN, this organization is a youth led NGO specifically established for serving youth and children in Tanzania.

During my brief time there, I met some really wonderful people. Apart from the seven staff, whom I worked very close with, and other incredibly interesting folks, there were a number of children I got to know throughout my two weeks. It was my second day in Tanzania on a Monday afternoon; I arrived at the hotel where the children were participating in a program for Young Reporters’ Network. The network is currently in collaboration with Metro FM, Barmedas TV and Mwanza Youth and Children Network to produce a TV and radio programme called ‘Sayari ya Watoto’, which translates to Planet of the Child. The young reporters can be heard and seen every Saturday from 0900 – 1000 hrs Eastern African Time. I thought this was quite neat, considering I have not heard of such an idea before.

That Monday afternoon, as I entered the hall where the children were, I was quickly mesmerized with the behaviour. They were attentive towards the facilitator, who was very engaging about the lecture, and participated cheerfully in the activities. I met a couple of them over the lunch break, outside at the hotel patio, where they freely sat on my table and thoughtfully introduced themselves – Monica, Sabina and Highness, to name a few. Their personalities were infectious. They like to chat and ask a lot of questions. Although their native tongue is Swahili, some know a generous amount of English and understood the conversation – which was impressive to me. They were knowledgeable and extroverted at a young age.

Working in the MYCN office, I had the benefit to spend some time with the children after school hours. They came here to utilize the computer and printer and prepared for their upcoming radio program. The organization held discussions with the group and even though I did not fully understand what they were talking about, I sensed how passionate the children were about the topic at hand. I am glad I was able to experience a live show one Saturday morning in Mwanza.

As the days went on, the shy ones were not so shy anymore because they saw me almost every day. They called me “auntie” and I thought this was so polite. They greeted me “shikamoo” which is a Swahili word used to respectfully say “hello” to an elder, and even other kids that I passed on the streets addressed me – how humble of them. Moreover, there were other kids that I saw routinely playing outside that did not attend school – much younger than the group. They were known as the unprivileged kids. Although they were seen this way, I was still very much amazed at how self-sufficient and intelligent they were. They used anything as toys that were available at their disposal, such as the telephone cord as skipping rope, or a torn up box as a car, and these kids were content with what they had. I even witnessed a little girl, probably aged two, who was walking by herself to go home without help at her side. Another young boy, probably aged five, was walking with a plastic bag of fruits and vegetables, which he was perhaps bringing home to his parents. I am not used to seeing this daily and so, I was extremely captivated with the children I got to know in Tanzania – independent, liberated and resilient.

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