Participating in the walking challenge my lovely colleagues back in the south of Holland (Chiropractie LaFlamme) organizes annually has brought me some new experiences. Apart from being in the top ten on the leaderboard, which is no small feat considering the heat and the hills here, I’ve had a variety of talks and encounters while walking.
Yesterday, my landlady and I took the two boy dogs out for a walk and picked up another Mzungu on our way. Instead of the usual staring at us for our state of Mzungu-ness, people scuffled away from us, as they are evidently terrified of dogs. A fairly welcome change, as one’s presence here does not go unnoticed; it ranges from Mambo?/Habari?/how-are-you to fairly neutral over somewhat icy stares and me having to jump from sidewalk onto road as there’s no sharing sidewalk with this mzungu to the singular episode today of a man in town loudly yelling ‘Hey! Hey! Madam fuck you!’ Perhaps he was simply displaying the only English he knew?
The third mzungu on yesterday’s walk used to work in an orphanage here and is currently training to be able to teach English as a foreign language. The babies they would receive would mostly be left in public places, markets and near busy roads, wrapped carefully, where the babies would be found fairly quickly. But sometimes babies were found in less advantageous situations, as in: too late, and the woman recounted a story where babies had been found floating in a septic tank. Life seems a less precious commodity here; women get raped by random strangers or forced to sleep with their husbands; the mothers are desperate to feed the mouths they have already. Puts a bit of verbal abuse into perspective, doesn’t it…
Today I walked the two boy dogs, individually, on account of training them to walk nice on the leash (they performed wonderfully without the distraction of the other). I of course then walked into town, because of the aforementioned walking challenge, and met up with a very kind and determined gentleman from the Africa School Assistance Project – ASAP! It’s an international NGO, based in Colorado, providing especially girls and especially in rural areas of Tanzania with safe access to education. Join me in this story: You are a girl, you live in a village deep in the interior. You don’t have a school there, so you walk to the nearest one and back every day – that’s 3 hours gone already. On the way you might get attacked and raped. In school, there is often little or no chairs, no desks, no books or supplies, the teacher barely gets paid, there may be bad or simply no bathrooms. Then when and if you make it home, you’re supposed to help you mother with chores and farm work, mothering your smaller siblings. You have no electricity so when the suns down, it’s hard to study for tomorrow. Oh, and by the way, once you’re pregnant, you are out of school and not allowed back.
The following are not my words but those of the brilliant Swedish statistician Hans Rosling: This is not sustainable for the planet. High mortality rate results in population growth – for every child that dies they make at least one more. If people have 7 babies and 2 die, you still have a massive growth per generation, every generation. The best ways to bring down population growth is to reduce child mortality so to have the children survive, to get out of poverty so that the children are not needed to work in the fields or on fisher boats, to educate girls and have them join the labour force and have access to family planning. All religions are capable of this, as shown by Hans’ stat compilations. I encourage you to check out Roslings TEDtalks on YouTube.
The director of ASAP I spoke with today echoed Hans Rosling’s work. He explained: “All studies point to that when girls get educated, they have fewer children themselves; they become business owners and have a voice, they give back to their home communities and their country.” So what do they do in this organisation? They have built a boarding school of sorts: they have 5 primary schools surrounding one secondary school; the most vulnerable but also the most talented are picked to go to secondary school. They are housed and fed in this boarding school, they have electricity, they have books and supplies, they live next to the school. Kinda sounds like my upbringing and likely many of my friends’ and colleagues’. They are safe, cared for, being empowered to have a voice and healthier so they can focus on their studies. All is measured and backed up by data. Please find ASAP on Instagram and Facebook.
That will absolutely be a game changer – within a generation – for these girls and subsequently their families etc. ASAP is working together with the government and local communities to meet their particular needs and instil a sense of ownership so that the schools can continue when and if ASAP moves on to a different region. They currently have 14 schools in Mwanza and Arusha like this.
Now that is pretty darn cool. I’m obviously totally offering my services to see if we can fine tune the future of Mwanza to an even higher level, and I’ll be visiting in a few weeks when the back-to-school frenzy has calmed down. Statistics and facts aside. I can’t begin to fathom the depths of despair that the girls and women here must have gone through already. Time to give back to these sisters.
A big thank you to my new sister Sarah from my NGO, Global Peace Network, who introduced me to ASAP. She has selflessly and out of her own pocket supported many street children over the years with a variety of outcomes. Through ASAP she has finally found the most accountable way of supporting these children. I hope some of you will do the same. And keep walking for your own health’s sake!