09 February 2015

ashley's got a new gig.

Before the last year was out, I mentioned briefly that I started a new job in Mwanza, called Lulu Project. I promised more to come in the new year and I’m fulfilling my end of the bargain.

Well, here it is! The three pillars of Lulu are cooperation (ushirikiano), self-confidence (uthubutu) and creativity (ubunifu). But what is it really about? And what is that hand holding? Keep reading to find out.

What is Lulu Project?

Lulu Project is a program dedicated to enabling Tanzanian young women to depend on themselves, emotionally, mentally, and financially, and to build a network of young women to support one another. Through a year’s worth of lessons focusing on financial literacy, health, entrepreneurship, and life skills, we hope that the girls will discover their talents, plan their futures, and start small businesses.
lulu facilitator, mwana, presenting to a group of young tanzanian women.

The members of Lulu are young women between the ages of 15 and 20 who haven’t been able to finish their education or have become pregnant at a young age. We have Lulu groups in eight areas of Mwanza, each one consisting of about 20 members.

Where does the name, Lulu, come from?

Lulu means “pearl” in Kiswahili, so one of the foundational pieces of the program is teaching Lulu members that they are pearls in their communities - precious and valued. Unfortunately, the life of a young woman in Tanzania is usually quite harsh. They are used as domestic workers, often in their own homes, and are told what to do most of their day. Often, a girl will pass the national exams to go on to finish secondary school or college, but the tuition needed for her education is used instead for one of her brothers.
lulu girls playing netball in mabatini as part of a pre-graduation celebration.

What happens in a Lulu Year?

We welcome new Lulu members twice a year, so in every group, there’s always a good mix of members who’ve been around for awhile, who’ve created friendships with each other, and who understand the Lulu program, and new girls just entering. We hold Stakeholders’ Meetings, inviting parents, caretakers, and street leaders to come and get a taste of Lulu. This helps build support for Lulu in the local community and helps to ensure the Lulu members will keep up with the program. From the beginning of February until the posting of this blog, the Stakeholders’ Meetings have been a big priority for us!

We also hold Facilitators’ Workshops four times a year, which are meant to build the skills and capacities of our peer facilitators. Lulu is a peer-led program, meaning that all of the lessons are taught by Lulu graduates of the program. In addition, there are four wakuu, or main leaders of the program, who are also Lulu graduates. Every year, the program hands over more responsibilities to the leaders and the facilitators, with the hope that the Lulu program will be completely Tanzanian-led in the future.
lulu girls doing a drama during facilitators' workshop.

Outside of the lessons, handcrafts make up a significant piece of the Lulu program. By teaching girls simple skills of sewing, crocheting, knitting, and making cards, they are able to get a small income and hopefully, become more financially independent and/or start their own small business. Handcrafts’ Workshops happen twice a year, usually as a lead-up to our big showing in the Mwanza Craft Fair. Lulu members can also form and join small savings and loan groups, called Hisa Groups. This is another means of creating small amounts of capital for Lulu members and generating income for themselves.
a selection of batik fabrics made by the lulu girls.

So, what exactly am I doing with Lulu?

Corine, the founder of the Lulu program, and Katie, a fellow Maryknoll Lay Missioner, invited me to be a part of the program last fall, when I was struggling with where I wanted to work full-time in Tanzania. I attended many events and lessons in November and December and was hooked! The Lulu program and I will mutually benefit from one another - I can use my skill set to serve its needs and in return, I’m learning more about Kiswahili and Tanzanian culture than I could at any other job.

In these first months of becoming involved, one of my main goals has been helping each of our eight Lulu Groups attract and retain new members. I’ve been going door-to-door with our Lulu facilitators and leaders, meeting young girls and telling them about our amazing program! I kind of know now how traveling salesmen feel!

ashley with two of the lulu girls: sara (left) and teddy (right)
As I become more familiar with the program, I will focus more on Monitoring and Evaluation of the project as a whole, from what our members know (and don’t know) when they enter the program, what they learn, and how we can rectify gaps in their understanding. Some of this will be accomplished through formal evaluations while other parts will be less formal. Each week, I will be visiting four Lulu groups to assess the group’s health and to demonstrate our support for the facilitators and leaders.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this work! As many know, I’ve struggled to find meaningful, full-time work since we left language school in April of last year. Although I’ve found many things I’ve enjoyed, nothing has hit the nail on the head like Lulu Project. I hope to share more about my work throughout the year, but if you’d like to keep up with us even more, feel free to visit the official Lulu Project page on Facebook.

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