My name is Danielle and I am back in Africa for my third time but this is my second time in Tanzania with Youth Challenge International. I arrived in July and will be here until March 2015! Once again I am working at the most amazing youth centre, the Umoja Centre, in Arusha. I have many roles at the centre including teacher, dance club instructor, sponsorship coordinator and fundraising innovator!
I have another wonderful group of young adults who are at our centre because they want to further their education and improve their futures but they do not h ave the means to do it on their own. As the sponsorship coordinator and careers teacher it is my responsibility over the next few months to advise our students on their options upon graduation from the centre and to ensure that each student has a sponsor that will be able to support their chosen path.
Currently, we have 10 out of 40 students sponsored and able to further their education in January. Unfortunately, without the support of sponsors, our students will not be able to continue their education after graduating even though they have the skills and potential to succeed. I have partnered with a few schools back in Canada who have chosen Umoja to be their development project. Each school will sponsor a student and conduct fundraisers to raise the fees. This will hopefully encourage individual families to also support Umoja and potentially sponsor a student themselves. My current general fundraising campaign are 50/50 draws in the workplace in support of Umoja. Tickets are sold for $2 and at the end of the work week one ticket is drawn from the bunch. Half of the proceeds go to the winning ticket and the other half go to support the Umoja Centre. We hope people will participate because a) they have the potential to win money and b) they are supporting a good cause.
In Careers, students have been identifying their interests, strengths, skills and attributes in order to select a suitable career path. To assist with their search, I have been organizing Careers Days twice a month in which a professional comes to the Umoja Centre to talk to the students about his/her career. In September Adam Bemma, a Canadian journalist from Farm Radio International, came to speak to the students about his work in international journalism. The following week, I took a group of interested students on a field trip to visit Farm Radio and see what Adam does.
Through my connection with Farm Radio I was also able to connect with their mental health program through the Guidance, Counseling and Youth Development Centre for Africa. This organization is trying to raise awareness in secondary schools about youth issues affecting boys and girls in Africa such as mental health problems, HIV & AIDS, adolescent sexual reproductive health, alcohol and drug abuse. Their program will begin at the Umoja Centre in January and provides our centre with a full mental health curriculum, weekly workshops, training for our social worker, peer education training for our students and mental health support services for our staff and students. This program will greatly benefit our students as many of them are from backgrounds of extreme poverty, stress and disadvantage. This program will provide them with the necessary support to succeed and the tools for resiliency.
In October, the Umoja social worker and I will be attending a ‘Woman’s Career Day’ hosted by AfricAid in which successful Tanzanian women share their stories of how they made it in a male dominant work force and the challenges they experienced. We are hoping to meet with some of these women and ask them to come speak to our young girls at the Umoja Centre. The workforce is not a friendly place for many of our young female students and they often deal with issues such as discrimination, transactional sex and overall gender inequality. I hope that hearing some of these women’s stories will inspire them to push through and know that they have people on their side.
As a final note, I would also like to share a section from my personal blog. One of my early careers classes really impacted me and reminded me why I’m here helping these amazing students.
September 15, 2014: This week in my careers course we were talking about the challenges we all face in achieving our goals. As part of the lesson, I thought it would be a good idea to have the students share their stories with the class and tell us how they arrived at the Umoja Centre. In that class, I heard some of the most inspirational stories and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with these students and hopefully improve their lives. In this post, I thought I would share some of their stories in the hopes that you would want to help improve their lives as well.
The first student, he’s 19. He grew up in an abusive home where his dad beat his mom, siblings, and himself. His mom left and took her children with her. They lived on the streets barely making it by. None of the children went to school because his mother was afraid that the father would find them. This student stopped going to school after grade 3. He lived on the streets for 7 years helping his mom with odd jobs to make a little money. Over the years, he made friends with kids who were in school and would borrow their books so he could try to learn. He heard about Umoja through a family friend. He is now studying in his second year at Umoja because when he arrived last year his education was extremely low. But he is quite motivated and is continuously improving his skills. Next year he plans to continue school to either be a tour guide or an IT technician.
The second student is 23. He grew up in a Masai village and did not attend school. His parents wanted him to stay home and help with the farming. He always wanted to go to school but couldn’t because of his parents and the 4 hour walk to school. At age 11, he was finally old enough to make the journey to school on his own and asked to enroll. The school denied him because they didn’t want an 11 year old starting primary school (grade 1). He persisted for days until the commissioner of that area was contacted and ultimately let him attend school. He studied hard and was at the top of his class. At 17 he was ready to start secondary school – which is grade 8. He worked hard to save his money and convinced his parents to sell a cow to send him to school. His parents agreed but on one condition – if he failed once, that was it. The first 3 years he did well and passed, but in the 4th year he studied hard but failed. That was it for his schooling. He stayed at home for one year, working on the farm while his family tried to set him up with a wife. But he knew that this was not the life for him, he wanted more education. One day, he received a call from a friend who told him about the Umoja Centre. His friend had just finished his year at Umoja and told him that they were having interviews the next day for the class of 2014. He was hours away from Arusha and had no money to get to the city. So he went to the nearest shop in his village and sold his phone to get enough money to make it to Arusha. He made it to the interview and was accepted into Umoja. He is now doing well and plans to pass form 4 (which is in secondary school) and become a doctor.
The third student is 14. He came to Umoja last year to interview to be a student. He failed the interview and did not get in. After that, he sat outside the gate of the school from 8-4 every day waiting and asking to be able to come to school. The teachers kept saying no and told him to go home. However, once the director heard about this stubborn boy sitting outside she knew she had to talk to him. He had so much motivation and determination that she had to let him in. After a while of being at Umoja, the teachers realized that he was a broken kid who was getting severely beaten by his step father. Everyone could see he was a great kid with a lot of potential, but his home life would not allow for him to succeed. The director referred him to live at a local children’s home called House of Happiness where he now lives. He has flourished and become the happy kid everyone knew he could be. He is in his second year at Umoja, since he lied about his age the previous year to get in. He is thriving at school and will go to secondary school in January. His plan is to be a journalist.
These are just three of the stories of the many students that Umoja helps. It is heartbreaking to hear their stories, but they all realize that education is important and they want to succeed. If helping these youth is something you are interested in, please consider visiting the Umoja Centre website www.umoja.com.au or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Danielle is a Youth Innovator currently working with YCI at the Umoja Centre in Tanzania. To learn more about YCI’s Innovator positions and how to apply, click here!