Here it is, the sole purpose of my trip to Tanzania: The Pamoja Tunaweza Boys and Girls Club. ‘Pamoja Tunaweza’ directly translates as ‘together we can’, a slogan that resembles the unified groups and organisations that came together as one.
The Hard Life Art Club was at the basis of the organisation. A group of street children themselves living at a local residential center, many of whom are now club leaders at the Boys and Girls club, decided to use Art as a way of getting children off of the streets. They established a safe haven for street children to create art and support one another as well as generate an income from selling the art work they produce.
World’s Collide is an initiative set up by Heather Haynes, a Canadian artist, after a trip to Africa that, like many, left an imprint on her heart. Heather met and worked with the Hard Life Artists to help expand their horizons and support their progression as both artists and individuals.
1Ndoto, which in Swahili translates as ‘one dream’, is a non-profit organisation ran by two Canadian women who were taken by Tanzania’s magic in a volunteering trip in 2011. In December of 2013, all groups collaborated and from that the Boys and Girls Club became 1Ndoto’s flagship program, with further support from the Pamoja Tunaweza Women’s Center.
Background Information aside, the Boys and Girls Club was spectacular. I was so thankful to have found such an amazing center to become a part of for 8 wonderful weeks. The initial feelings I had are almost indescribable. In an unfamiliar far-off place I felt as if I had come home. There is truly something amazing about Moshi. Or maybe it’s Tanzania. Heck, I think it’s just Africa. It is a place of hospitality, good will and happiness. Everyone you meet goes out of their way to help you, to make you feel at home and to make you smile.
My First Week
On my first day I was welcomed with open arms. The leaders themselves, all members of the club who have overcome living on the streets, took me in under their wing and made me feel at home. The first week was purely an introduction on how the club operates. I found myself painting, gardening, making jewelery, teaching English, watching sport. I was accepted as one of the members, a teacher turned student, learning and absorbing as much as I could.
The day to day running of the club was organised. Each week a new timetable would be drawn up to keep productivity at a high and laziness to a minimum. In my first week, the mornings were filled with Volleyball practice or Football training. Being a not so sporty girl myself and never taking an interest in either of the sports, I soon found passion in watching the children play and improve their skills. Being a volleyball spectator became a Swahili lesson as you soon learnt how to count from the friendly bickering of what the running score was. Football was usually played at a nearby pitch, collaborating with a small football school ran by a good friend of the leaders. Watching matches in reality soon led to watching Premier games in our spare time with a beer in hand amongst the locals cheering on their favourite teams. Football really does unite people from all over the world regardless of their race, age or gender.
After a long morning of sports, around 11:30AM we began the eye-opening task of preparing lunch. Ugali and Mchicha was on the menu each day, a traditional Tanzanian dish that is filling and very cheap to make. Ugali is a stiff porridge made from maize-flour and water cooked into a thick paste that requires patience and a strong arm to continuously. Mchicha is a type of spinach, grown in the Club’s very own garden, freshly picked and chopped on a day-by-day basis. The mchicha, once picked in its vast amounts, is wilted down and fried off with onions and tomatoes. Traditionally the dish is eaten with your hands. The ugali is rolled into small balls and dipped into the mchicha mix. However, as a newcomer to the Tanzanian way of life, I was given a spoon!
After lunch, early afternoons saw more creativity from the older children in their business groups and further tutoring for the younger children who came to the club after school had ended for the day. Other afternoons consisted of Hip Hop dance rehearsals, Women’s Group meetings and classes taught by volunteers: in my case Photography and Card Making. Late Afternoons consisted of maintaining the garden, planting new seeds and harvesting what we had already grown. It was incredible to see small seedlings grow into tall plants in the matter of a few weeks.
In my first week of volunteering I was learning more than I was teaching. I was being taught the basics of Swahili, taught how to cook like a true Tanzanian, to plant and harvest Tanzanian vegetables, and most importantly how to paint like a local. I can safely say that the learning experience never ceased as the trip progressed. The children taught me so much about myself as a person as well as how to embrace and utilise my talents. They made me grow as an artist, as a teacher and as a young woman. They are truly an inspiration and will never cease to find a place in my heart.