Tanzania feels like a second home to me. It is a place that gave me friends, family and perspective. I have visited Tanzania on two previous occasions, living there for 8 months between June 2019 and January 2020, teaching and delivering entrepreneurship training. This time round, my time was split between working with aspiring communities and local entrepreneurs, and further exploring this spectacular country through its landscapes, national parks, animals and mountains.
It’s hard to think of anything that can surpass the breath-taking beauty of Tanzania’s natural landscape were it not for the hospitality of the people I met along the way. Whether I was visiting Morogoro, Dar Es Salaam, Mwanza or Iringa, I witnessed time and time again how irrespective of their economic situation, my hosts were keen to cook and look after me to the best of their abilities, making me feel included and welcome.
Last year I spent Christmas with the family of a friend and several other neighbouring households who joined in the celebrations. Everyone contributed however they could, bringing food and a good disposition. I fondly remember blending in a crowd of over 40 people, all the while eating together, singing and sharing stories, a favourite Tanzanian pastime.
Given the strong sense of community spirit, the old dictum ‘look after thy neighbour’ is not just a pleasant figure of speech. It is a moral compass. People look out for one another. Even as the vast majority live a precarious existence their sense of moral duty, rooted in strong communitarian ties, means no one is left to struggle alone when misfortune strikes. Whether it’s an actual neighbour, a family member, a distant cousin or a friend, individual tragedy is addressed through collective community effort.
But there is no denying that even tight-knit communities cannot address the country’s broader systemic problems. While in GDP terms Tanzania is increasingly recognised as a middle-income country, in reality economic inequality continues to widen the gap between rich and poor. A potent mix of job scarcity and economic underdevelopment, has left many working families subject to the whims of the informal economy. The stark contrasts between the haves and have-nots turned the daily struggle to secure food and shelter into a common reality shared by so many of the people I met along the way.
In the realm of education and gender rights, girls’ schooling continues to come second to household responsibilities. The situation is further compounded by chronic access to clean water and sanitation facilities, particularly in rural areas. While schools are becoming more inclusive and better resourced, their location, far removed from the nearest village, further deters girls from attending classes.
I vividly recall Josephine, the youngest daughter of a family I stayed with in Mwanza – at the tender age of 15, she made the 8+ mile daily walk to and from school. After school was over, homework had to wait. Instead, she would take over the household duties which included cooking on an open fire for 9 people. Josephine also missed school for 4 days during a funeral when she was assigned the task of looking after the house while elders attended to funeral matters. Among her many daily hardships, Josephine struggles to access basic sanitation facilities as open defecation is still practiced within her community. My deep-rooted concern, grounded in the thought that Josephine’s story is not an isolated case and that countless girls continue to experience similar conditions, solidified as I travelled across Tanzania.
I came to the realisation that the problems faced by girls like Josephine and communities around Tanzania are not standalone. They are systemic, interrelated and multidimensional. Poverty – endemic poverty – is not individualised misfortune; it is instead threaded with social and economic inequality, wealth disparity and unequitable distribution of resources that overwhelmingly disadvantages the most vulnerable in our society.
My own observations were mirrored by the people I encountered through Good Neighbours Tanzania – the shared sense of understanding that trying to tackle individual need in a struggling community is like placing a small band aid on a bleeding artery. It might stem the flow a bit but it will not change the overall outcome.
Achieving sustained and intergenerational community resilience is a difficult if not altogether impossible task, without addressing the root problems of endemic poverty. At any one-time people are facing real problems across all areas of their life which tie them into systemic poverty. From my experience, simply teaching entrepreneurship for example is not enough without access to capital, viable markets and appropriate financial infrastructure.
And yet, there is hope for real, transformative change.
Good Neighbours Tanzania’s approach is unique in this respect. Established in 2005, it currently operates from their head office in Dar es Salaam which is home to 41 of their permanent staff. Tens of members of staff work also in the field, co-partnering and collaborating with communities in Songwe, Mbaya, Dodoma, Mwanza, Kigoma, Zanzibar and Shinyanga. These regions host multiple projects including child sponsorship campaigns; water, sanitation and hygiene operations; maternal health, education projects, refugee emergency responses and livelihoods support.
In order to create the conditions for autonomy and independence, Good Neighbours Tanzania works on multiple fronts simultaneously. The child sponsorship programme is especially comprehensive in its approach as it seeks to address the manifold issues affecting a child in their developmental years. Examples abound: from raising community awareness on the importance of education and enabling education programmes to take place, to the provision of school space, fees and materials; from teaching children about their fundamental rights, to ensuring access to health insurance cards and health facilities which often involves building a dispensary in the child’s local community.
This directly and positively impacts on overall community well-being while also helping generate employment opportunities. In tandem with this, Good Neighbours Tanzania collaborates with communities to secure access to clean water, while also providing hygiene and sanitation training to ensure communities remain vigilant in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a nutshell, when we talk about Child Sponsorship, Good Neighbours Tanzania takes a rights-based approach focusing not just on one issue affecting the child, but overall community well-being. Living in a secure and thriving community environment positively impacts children’s development within that community. In Songwe alone, 7000 children benefit from these programmes.
Yet, there is no denying that the impact of Covid-19 has left an indelible mark on most of the GNTZ projects, affecting their modality of delivery, compromising finances and forcing a shift in regional priorities to protect both project beneficiaries and staff. As a result, GNTZ’s child sponsorship programme has taken a severe hit. What struck me the most is the fact that GNTZ staff truly care about the communities they work in, taking great pride in the work they do, however long or challenging the process of positive change turns out to be.
I urge everyone reading these lines to partake to the outstanding work Good Neighbours are implementing in Tanzania and support their child sponsorship programme. As a Good Neighbours UK trustee who has worked and lived in Tanzania, I am more convinced than ever that a small act of solidarity can be the catalyst needed to empower people and transform communities at home and abroad.