19 October 2015

it ain't over 'til the tanzanian ladies sing.

Life and work have been very busy for the past couple of months, both for things expected and unexpected. In particular, I recently completed another month of business training for young mothers, teaching them entrepreneurship and how to choose, start and run a business. Following this, I was asked by another organization to plan and facilitate three weeks of business training for women in vulnerable living situations, often with children who have run away and are living on the streets.

young mother, felister, smiles during a recent training on entrepreneurship and group enterprise.

Facilitating seminars and leading trainings on business is the most wonderful and most challenging aspect of my ministry here in Tanzania. It is an activity fraught with language, cultural and learning barriers, but also filled with tremendous hope and possibility.

While a decent portion of my time “at work” is spent sitting in an office preparing for seminars, writing proposals, and tracking results, I most especially enjoy the personal interaction with the girls and young women, be it through a business training, saving and loaning group meeting, or a home visit with their family.

home visit of a young mother in our hisa saving and loaning group.

This past Friday, we at Education for Better Living Organization (EBLI) celebrated yet another graduation ceremony with young mothers who successfully completed five months of computer literacy and business skills training. Despite the challenges I face in my teaching, the graduation is always such a joyous occasion, and it is evident in the eyes, smiles and laughter of the young mothers. For while you and I may receive numerous degrees and diplomas in our life, for the majority of these young women this is the only certificate they will ever receive, and they are so happy to have earned it.

Each graduation ceremony is planned and run entirely by the young mothers themselves, and in case you missed the last one I attended, it is a colorful event filled with singing, dancing and even a fashion show.

choir of young mothers singing an originally-written graduation song.

Each song performed by the young mothers was an original piece that they wrote, and below is a sample of one of the verses:

Michael mtanashati, mchapakazi makini,
Katufundisha bajeti, biashara umakini,
Anatupenda thabiti, twampenda,
Mungu awabariki, watu wote.

Michael is well-dressed, a diligent worker,
Who taught us how to budget, run a serious business,
Who genuinely loves us, and we love him,
May God bless you, everyone.

While teaching each batch of young mothers, it can be difficult to ascertain what they make of me, a white guy from a world away, with his funny accent and strange pronunciation of the local Swahili language. But at some point during my time with them, often near the end, the young mothers make known their appreciation and gratitude for the education they have received, and for our time together. And I have to say, it makes the arduous journey worth the while.

guest of honor, michael, giving a speech to the young mothers and their family and friends in attendance. 

Towards the end of this graduation ceremony and before I gave my speech (somehow I was asked once again to be the guest of honor), the young mothers read a statement they had prepared, a sort of reflection on their time with us. In part of their statement, they mentioned the benefits they received as a result of the education at EBLI. One paragraph in particular struck me:

"Tumepata heshima kubwa kwa jamii inayo tuzunguka kwani tulipokatisha masomo yetu kwa ajili ya ujauzito jamii ilitutenga, kutudharau na kutuona hatuna thamani tena lakini sasa tunafurahi na kushukuru sana kwa sababu hatudharauliki tena kwa ajili ya wetu tulioupata haha EBLI."

"We have obtained great respect in the surrounding community, for when we were cut off from continuing our school lessons due to pregnancy, the community dismissed us, despised us and saw us as never having value again, but now we are happy and so thankful because we will not be scorned again as a result of what we have obtained here at EBLI."

michael posing with a selection of the graduating young mothers in their festive custom-made wardrobe.

When going through a difficult time, it can be hard to remain hopeful and believe that things will turn around for the better. Surely when these Tanzanian girls became pregnant in secondary school, they felt as if their life was ending: not only would they not complete their education and consequently descend further into material poverty, but also the community around looked down upon them and stripped them of their worth and human dignity.

Many days in my teaching and facilitating I feel as though perhaps the locals do not value the education I am trying to impart or my time with them, and I begin to question my place, my role and what the fudge-o-mania I am doing 8,000 miles from home. But just as these young mothers are given renewed hope and sense of purpose through computer literacy and business skills training, I too am rejuvenated and encouraged by the loving grace they always show to me in the end, and by the unfading smile of hope on their faces.

It’s not always easy - in fact most of the time it’s pretty damn hard - being a missioner. But still there are those moments when I am overwhelmingly happy to be right where I am. Here’s to being patient and remembering the good gifts as much as (if not more so than) the times of struggle.

part of the ebli team: bernard (executive director), lucy (accountant and business instructor), michael (business instructor)

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