20 July 2015

games, cake and a whole lotta dancing.

Before Michael and I took off to Europe, we at the LULU Project were running around like crazy people, putting on three days’ worth of our LULU Graduation. It’s an incredibly fun and exciting time yet the work is daunting, so I’m thankful we only put it on twice a year.

You might already have a decent idea of what LULU is all about, but I’d like to highlight our graduation, accompanied by some photography!

Our first graduation activity is to have an afternoon dedicated to playing netball, or mpira, as the locals say. Netball is a mix of soccer and basketball in my eyes and is played by girls. (Soccer is played by boys. I’m not sure if this is the standard throughout East Africa or only Tanzania.) Netball is played outdoors on a makeshift field, with two basketball-like hoops on either end. Girls run up and down the field, throwing the ball to one another, trying to get the ball through the hoop.

Each of our LULU group forms a team of girls, who compete against one another in our biannual LULU Netball Tournament. And yes, to my amazement every time, most of these girls wear skirts and dresses as they play!

I love our Netball Day because our LULU members get the rare opportunity to act like young girls. So often, we see that their lives are dominated by someone else - their mother, father, or boyfriend. Many grow up too fast. Almost half of our young women have a child and their average age at childbirth was 17! So you can imagine, we love seeing them let go of their cares for a few hours and have fun.

One of the pillars of LULU is cooperation, or ushirikiano, and that’s also a big part of our Netball Day. We urge the girls to cheer one another on and play well together, although it’s not without competition. (The winners get candy and a ball at the end of the day, so how could you not be competitive?)

Next up is Cake Day! Graduation is such a large event that we put together a small committee of young women, most of whom are our lesson facilitators during the year, to help in the responsibilities. Part of their reward is getting to attend Cake Day. They learn how to bake cakes using a method that they could replicate at home. (Indoor stove ovens, like those typically used in the United States and Europe, are not used by Tanzanians.) Instead, we “bake” the cakes over charcoal, using a layer of hot sand in between the cake and the charcoal to diffuse the heat.

This year, we baked 17 cakes! Not bad for one day’s work. And yes, we always bake one cake for us to eat that day, a nice reward at the end of a hot and sweaty day cooking over charcoal. The rest of the cakes get stored away for frosting and eating the next day, when we hold the LULU Graduation Ceremony.

In June, almost 50 young women graduated from the LULU Project. They finished a year’s worth of lessons in life skills, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, health, and relationships as well as had the opportunity to attend workshops on different handcrafts. More than that, we hope they’ve made new friends, have grown in self-confidence, and have a clear vision for what they want for their future.

The graduation day itself is busy, but fun. The hall of our local parish is decorated to host the event and a DJ comes to provide the day’s music and entertainment. Parents, sisters, a few local government leaders, and the LULU members come to celebrate alongside the graduates. Usually, each LULU group contributes to the day, by performing a play, a dance, or a song of their own invention. Their creativity, another one of our LULU pillars, is clearly on display.

At the end of the ceremony, the graduates dance out of the hall, back to their homes and families. Some stay with the LULU Project, becoming facilitators and teaching the next generation of LULU members. Some remain a part of their small savings and loaning group, known as Hisa. And others we’ll run into from time to time, in their neighborhoods and streets, starting small businesses with a big smile on their face, hopefully always getting closer to a better future.

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