Children are the future of the nation, every nation. Last week, we started a new project at IYR. We are now broadening our work to educate children on their rights, and on how to protect them, to protect themselves and each others.
The two last Saturdays we went to two different schools to teach the children about their rights.
Lengajape orphanage – The first school was actually not a school, but an orphanage. Lengajape orphanage is one of those very basic ‘centers’ with two simple buildings. The main one, and the largest, is the church. Church is quite central in Tanzania (or religion in general) – as it is the gathering place of the communities. Sunday’s mess is a truly a big thing here, and people tend to ask you ‘why aren’t you going to church on Sunday?’. Anyway, I am drifting from the subject. Church is also used for other- non-religious – reunions. The second one is the kitchen. At Lengajape, the church is also where the children of the surrounding villages are gathered for identification purposes, for educational purposes and for entertainment. However, everything here always starts with a prayer to thank the Lord.
Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by the leaders of the community – the village leader, the director of the orphanage and the directrice* of activities (*I know, this word does not exist in English, as only directors are acknowledged, but I want to make a feminist point here). Everyone introduced themselves, and I was truly amazed about those men and women who dedicate their life for the good of the community. The children rushed in the room shortly after. It was a very wide group of about thirty-five kids, with children from the age of 3 years old to teenagers of about 17 years old. The training went well, most of the kids were positively responsive to it – the eagerness to learn and the wonderful curiosity of a child. We were at Lengajape with another NGO, ACE Africa – that works to fight against female genital mutilation (FGM). The subject was introduced during the training, and I have been extremely surprised by the children’s reaction. It was a positive surprise. A group of children asked if the others could leave the room so they could talk freely, and everyone respected their wish. They wanted to know how to stop FGM, and it was the boys that were raising the greater concern on the topic. They wanted to know how to protect those younger girls that were forced to it. One of the boys was truly enraged by this tradition, still rampant in the Maasai society. Witnessing those young boys and girls taking their lives between their hands, against the weight of their society and culture was astounding.
Arusha Modern School. – The second school was a different scene. Arusha Modern School is a private boarding school registered under the Ministry of Education and affiliated to the Cambridge Board of Examination London. The students there were obviously more privileged than the children of the orphanage and had access to a high level of education. All the students speak perfect English (while in Lengajape the trainings had to be done in Kimaasai, because some of the kids did not understand Kiswahili). However, not all of them are coming from a privileged background. Richard is now delegate of the students and has an important status within the school. He came from an orphanage, managed to get an education and join AMS thanks to sponsorship. He was one of the highlights of my day as he explained to me that he realized how lucky he was to receive an education, coming from where he came, and that he was planning to go to medicine school. But before that, he wishes to give back to the community and set an orphanage that will provide education and set sponsorship for the children to have the possibility of getting an education, just like he did.
The students were all very enthusiastic about our session. We were expecting about 26 students of around the age of twenty, and we ended up having a full room, with about 50 or more students, from 5 years old to 21. There was a lot of interaction – I had the pleasure to do part of the training myself since it was in English this time, and the kids were truly amazing. They new more about their rights than one would expect, especially given the very young age of some of them (Freedom of expression was mentioned by a 7 years old boy!). They were also concerned on how to implement these rights (Tanzania has a good legal system on the paper, but the practice is a different thing), and the answer came from one of them: talk about it to your friends, your families, the people around you. Bring awareness on these rights, and on the fact that you can protect them. Let people know that they will not be alone in the fight, that their community will support them, as well as other organizations such as IYR.
Meeting those children, those students, from different backgrounds, different cultures was wonderful. The hope for the future of Tanzania is shining in their eyes, and it is a bright, sharp and strong sparkle.
We came to train them, and they gave us way more than what we could ever give them in return: faith.
African lesson n°7: The future of a Nation is between the hands of its Children.