Tanzania

Children today, adults tomorrow: Making a difference now!

Von Thabisani Ncube / terre des hommes schweiz

The article is set in Nshamba Township; located in Muleba District in the Kagera Region of Tanzania. Nshamba is a small trading centre with about 8 000 inhabitants and a population total of 18’000 people inclusive of surrounding villages. The article will profile the work of orphans and vulnerable children supported by Humuliza Organisation, a local Non Governmental Organisation based and operating in Nshamba and surrounding villages whose psychosocial support interventions target children known as (Rafiki Mdogo)in Swahili and youth (Vijana Simama Imara [VSI]) infected or affected by HIV and AIDS.

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Humuliza Organisation is a partner organisation supported by terre des hommes schweiz which has also come to strengthen the capacity of its psychosocial support interventions by integrating the Solution Focused Approach methodology whose impact and key principles will be highlighted in the article through the added value or difference it has brought to bear on the status and lives of children in Nshamba community.

The author of the article is merely consolidating the significant narrative, impressions, value judgments, hopes and aspirations of the principal actors, that is the children of Nshamba whose voices are present in this text through life interviews obtained. Assent of the children and consent of their guardians and parents was sought before production of this article. The story line is also a recollection of the authors’ impressions on travels into the region on work assignment. It is my earnest hope and belief that the article will present a true picture of children taking small steps that will ultimately lead to big changes and inspire a selfless spirit to live for others and keep making a difference regardless of your social status, age, sex and material disposition in the journey of life.

Our hands, Our minds, Our destiny! Young people utilise platforms convened by Humuliza to brainstorm and exchange ideas on how they can contribute to the health and well being of the community.

In the African context and typically in our traditional and rural village set up, children are seen and not heard. As children we do not have a voice on issues of importance regarding our own welfare, rights, interests, privileges and concerns. We are passive recipients of decisions passed on our behalf and for our own good through the tried and tested, vastly experienced and well intentioned goodwill of our parents or guardians whose sole existence and sustenance our lives and livelihoods depend. This largely owes to our traditional African society’s norms and beliefs that attach reverence to maturity which is associated with age and rites of passage into adulthood which are attained when one gets married. This in itself limits our voices being heard or taken seriously and therefore our active and meaningful participation in making decisions that guarantee or consider our views, interests, concerns and rights is placed lower down the family and community agenda. The adverse effects of the HIV and AIDS pandemic which has witnessed a growing number of households being left orphaned and child headed has in itself presented a challenge to this conservative traditional school of thought and demands that children be heard. HIV and AIDS has torn the traditional fabric of a sense of community where it was clearly spelt out in principle and practice, that it takes a village to raise a child.

Child headed and orphaned households due to the effects of HIV and AIDS have become even more impoverished with a bleak  future in an already grim, survival of the fittest type of environment where everyone is either infected or affected and cannot escape from the firm grip of the vicious cycle of poverty, food insecurity, loss of disposable income, shelter, hope and vision for a better future, desperation for a possible cure which leads to children being sexually abused as a potent remedy to rid the infected of the virus as prescribed by greedy, clueless traditional healers, an outburst of domestic violence and dispossession of inheritance perpetrated against vulnerable child headed households without a protector by opportunist relatives and guardians who want to reap where they have not sown and the loss or absence of role models to set good examples of morals and reignite our aspirations to think of the unthinkable and do the impossible as our dreams and imagination remain our only enclave of refuge in these difficult circumstances.

Stigma and discrimination

Moreover, this environment is punctuated by myths and misconceptions about the transmission of the virus and therefore the continued incidence of HIV is as a result of poor personal risk perception as discussions surrounding sex and sexuality are still considered a taboo. This environment is also breeding  rife stigma and discrimination practices where there is no open communication about one’s status due to fear of being blamed for loose morals or irresponsible sexual behaviour coupled by poor health seeking behaviour as healthy facilities and access fees are beyond the reach of many families who are already struggling to make ends meet. Most children are forced to drop out of school to fend for their bed ridden parents and also risk infection due to unhygienic conditions of palliative home based care and this has also contributed to stigma and discrimination of affected households for fear of spreading the virus when they engage other children during play. Lack of adequate knowledge and the knowledge not translating into action to realise behaviour change through reduction of harmful traditional and religious practices such as girl child pledging and promotion of responsible sexual behaviour is still an unfortunate reality that dogs our rural landscape. 

The work of Humuliza Organisation has over the years given impetus to the winds of change blowing over our rural landscape through the availing of platforms where young people meet to exchange and debate on critical issues regarding child centred community development with the support of community leaders who command a large sphere of influence not only as change makers but as role models and advocates to create an enabling environment and platform for children to take an active part in meaningful community development not only for their present benefit but for posterity. The constant dialogue amongst ourselves and with community leaders has over the years pushed our interests, concerns, rights and expectations higher up the community agenda. We are now not only being seen but heard with a collective voice as we make our communities that in as much as we are children today, we will become adults tomorrow and therefore there is need to invest  in us now as tomorrow’s leaders in the making today. Young people are now actively taking part in resuscitating good values of community by assisting in the identification and provision material support to most vulnerable households. 

Given our seemingly problem saturated environment it has become convincingly clear to us as young children that we do not only have rights but responsibilities in ensuring the best outcomes for an improved quality of life and wellbeing for other children and the community at large. To the outside world that is not familiar without context, it may seem as if our rights are being violated, which to some extent they are, however given what we aspire to become and the change that we envision for our community, we are sacrificing some of our childhood privileges to make a positive difference as tomorrow’s leaders in this lifetime. Social and economic circumstances within our community have stripped child play of our hands and created space for children to take up responsibilities that match or surpass those of the adult community members as a survival strategy in this jungle of uncertainties. As young people we have chosen to live and not merely exist; stand up and be counted without forgetting to take a step back and reclaim our childhood because all play and no work makes as dull participants. Let it be categorically stated that we are not challenging any traditional systems or addressing any imbalances, we have simply reclaimed our small spot as important community players who not only learn today, but live the experiences to share for the benefit of future generations who should know that age discrimination was overhauled in our community by the sheer will power of children who took up spaces to actively and meaningfully participate in community development initiatives.

Meet one of the young women club leaders in Ihangiro village whose exemplary leadership qualities have transformed the status of children and young women as able and important community players through the work of their club (seen in pictures above). She is really passionate about her work and cycles to support home visits to her peers as well as to call for club meetings or visit the Humuliza office. Thanks to the support of Humuliza Organisation, young people are taking up spaces to make a positive difference in community development. Indeed small steps can lead to big change!

Meet one of the young women club leaders in Ihangiro village whose exemplary leadership qualities have transformed the status of children and young women as able and important community players through the work of their club (seen in picture above). She is really passionate about her work and cycles to support home visits to her peers as well as to call for club meetings or visit the Humuliza office. Thanks to the support of Humuliza Organisation, young people are taking up spaces to make a positive difference in community development. Indeed small steps can lead to big change!

Children as experts

The orientation trainings on the solution focused approach methodology which has strengthened the visibility and impact of our work in children’s clubs facilitated by Humuliza organisation has given a huge boost to how we perceive our life circumstances not as victims, instead as experts because no one knows our life story better than us as the authors. The approach facilitated new thinking on focusing more on the solutions to presenting problems than analysing our problem saturated context. On first impressions the methodology was perceived as more of a fantasy or fairytale approach far divorced from the reality and complexities of our day to day living environment. Clearly we could not wish away our problems by way of a new way thinking as they were even older than us. Resilience for us simply meant bearing hardships that everyday life throws at us, without any hope in sight that the situation could ever improve. Humuliza as an organisation as well was virtually challenged on how to build upon or maintain the successes they had registered and as if God sent, this approach became a breath of fresh air to inspire life and strengthen the organisation’s existing approaches in reaching out to children and the community as a whole.

The central theme for the methodology as we learned is: The client is the Expert.

Referring to children as experts was pretty much inconceivable in our community as we still have a long way to travel the journey of life and pick up valuable and enriching life experiences to be effectively acknowledged as experts of our own lives. At first impressions it sounded like too much to ask however, the trainings were packaged in a very simple way where we were made to reflect on the strengths and resources we possess which we could use to find solutions to presenting problems. As this was an unusual question to be asked about you strengths we found it difficult to list at least three things we are good at or what we consider as essential resources in our lives. The facilitators proceeded to ask what others would say we are good at and this opened up possibilities to list our strengths even more confidently. It was also humbling to hear peers mentioning a strength which I considered unimportant but helped them see me in a different and positive light.

Sharing experiences with peers in a solution focused way makes us feel as if a burden has been lifted off our young shoulders as the focus is on what is working and doing more of what works and receiving compliments that drive you to want to make a difference. We further realised that with the solution focused approach is not dismissive of the problems that arise from the complexities and turbulence that people experience, instead is much more interested in processes that help people achieve the preferred futures they hope for. As ongoing learning we are beginning to appreciate that although we stay in problem saturated contexts, no problem happens all the time, there are times when things are going a tiny bit better, and focusing on these exceptional moments brings out underutilised strengths or resources that can be applied to find solutions to these challenges.

One of the lessons to be drawn from this approach stemming from the movement that we are witnessing being led by children in our community is the approach’s emphasis on focusing on a doing level. Continuous exercises to put into practice what we have learnt has given rise to children taking an active role in helping peers in difficult circumstances to also find meaningful solutions to presenting problems. We are becoming the change that we want to see in the community and as change agents and we are beginning to see that the community has a renewed energy to do more of what works and to keep making a difference in the lives of the less fortunate and empower them with this manner of thinking that improves the quality of interventions, relationships and community well being. Our message to our community is clear; we may be children now and adults tomorrow, however making a difference begins now! and that is our investment for the future with the belief that someone will say I am sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.   

* Thabisani Ncube is the Regional Youth Coordinator for East and Southern Africa of  terre des hommes schweiz, in charge of the  Youth2Youth Programm Focusing on Solutions. Contact: thabisanincube@gmail.com / youth.africa@terredeshommes.ch