African youth fight poverty through education

“I believe that this young, brave and educated generation can make change in society and make the world a better place,” says Tanzanian Eric Lucas, 17.

ARUSHA – We know traditional methods of aid-based development don’t work. We know we can’t throw money at problems in developing and conflict-affected countries, or go in and lecture to communities how the future ought to look, and expect socioeconomic improvement.  We know we need to work toward building capacities.

The School of St. Jude, a small charity-run institution in the small Tanzanian suburb of Moshono, has been working for thirteen years to demonstrate this fact, and Lucas is one of the young men and women whose inspiring lives serve as evidence.

Eric Lucas, St. Jude's student and founder of AfricaMoja Youth Society.

Eric Lucas, St. Jude’s student and founder of AfricaMoja Youth Society.

Last year Lucas founded the Africamoja Youth Society, a youth-led organization that works to empower kids throughout East Africa and beyond to pursue education opportunities and become active in their communities to effect positive change. With nearly one hundred members including eighty-six in Arusha, their  motto is “with youth we can change the world”.

“I see some of the benefits we have already achieved. I’ve got a lot of youth and they have also realized themselves that they can make changes,” Lucas says.

“The youth have also come to a solution where they can think positively about their lives, toward their family, toward their country, and the activities they can do to help their society to solve health problems and education problems.”

Lucas is just one of many inspiring success stories to come out of St. Jude’s. Established in 2002, they painstakingly select the most deeply impoverished kids from the local community who demonstrate a strong will and aptitude to learn, and have strongly committed families who can support their children to make the best of the opportunities the school offers.

It all started with a young Australian idealist named Gemma Sisia, who set out for Uganda after she finished university to teach at a private school. She says it was a wonderful and transformative experience, but she was frustrated by its exclusivity.

“When you’re young and you’re under twenty-five you think you’re infallible and you know it all, and everything is going to be alright,” Sisia says.

“I thought, why wasn’t there a good quality private school that’s free of charge? Why do you always have to have a lot of money to send your kids there?”

She married a Tanzanian, whose father, the village elder, suggested she bring her skills as an educator to bear in their local community of Moshono. He offered her several acres of land to get started, and she began fundraising back home to start buying bricks.

She started the school with just one volunteer to help teach, and a big obstacle – how to choose which kids to give the gift of education, with extremely limited resources.

“When I first got here I, like most people, got off the plane and just wanted to help poor peoples. Then you go, croiky, everyone looks poor…  we have a duty to our sponsors and donors that we use the precious donations that they send to us in the best way possible, and in the most efficient and fair way possible,” says Sisia.

“They have to be poor, but they have to actually want an education”.

Over the months and years she developed a rigorous process to evaluate not just potential students, but also their families. They do random checks of family homes throughout the school year to ensure that not only the kids learning at St. Jude’s are maintaining academic commitment, but that their families are as well.

Eric Lucas attributes every one of his achievements and the entirety of his future potential to the life skills he learned at St. Jude’s, where he enrolled at age seven.

“If I hadn’t gone to St. Jude’s I think my life would be mess. I would not be here, I would not be speaking to you today. St. Jude’s has helped me a lot with my personal issues, my community issues, my family issues. St. Jude’s has prepared me to stand, and I think in the future it will prepare many Tanzanians who will bring changes.”

He’ll graduate to tertiary education in two years, and is excited to go to university to study accounting. No matter what he does in the future, he plans to continue developing Africa Moja and improving the lives of his fellow Tanzanian youth.

Since the School of St. Jude began they’ve educated 1,676 students, sixty-one of which will be part of St. Jude’s first graduating class next year, a major milestone for Gemma.

The youngest kids at St. Jude’s show as much excitement and hope for the future as those about to graduate – they understand what a great opportunity they’ve been given, and the responsibilities that come with it in a country where everyone supports their family as much as they support themselves.

“Thank you very much. Our life, for sure is very difficult. But now when we grow up we will become someone, and we will help our families,” says Magreth Joshua, an eleven year-old student.

“I would not have been able to get an education without St. Jude’s,” says Joshua Blasio, an eight-year old boy at St. Jude’s.

They both say they want to become engineers after they complete their education at St. Jude’s, and beam optimism.

The motto at the School of St. Jude is “Fighting Poverty Through Education”. If young rising stars of community activism like Eric Lucas are any indication, it’s a winning battle.

St. Jude's Campus

First published for Speak Magazine.

Advertisements

Diving to new depths of human rights

ZANZIBAR – Working for human rights is not the exclusive domain of the 30 per cent of our world that is dry land. In the remote beach community of Nungwi, a handful of pioneers dedicate their lives to protecting life and fighting discrimination at sea.

Khamis and Juma Ame are just two of the many young men who have found a life’s purpose, a livelihood to support themselves and their families, and a means to positively impact their community and support human rights… through diving with self-contained underwater breathing apparatuses, better known as SCUBA.

Khamis, 31, is a father of two and a diving instructor at Scuba Doo, on Kendwa beach near Nungwi. He’s also a rescue diver, who participated in operation.

Khamis

“It was very difficult. It was as after the Spice Isle ferry disaster last summer, among many other rescue missions.

“It was after midnight. We took a long time to look for them. The other boats gave up and went back, but we stayed all morning,” Khamis says.

They finally found a large group of survivors with their night-diving torchlights. “We saved so many people. But we found so many more dead ones. Finally, I ended up crying. It’s not a normal thing to see hundreds of people dying at the same time. Especially women and children,” he remembers, obviously struggling with the retelling. “There were other people collecting stuff, they don’t care about peoples’ lives. Collecting mattresses, televisions, they don’t care about the people.”

He came to the organization as a boat captain who didn’t know how to swim.

Founder Christian Moorhouse-Chilcott came to Zanzibar thirteen years ago, and founded Scuba Doo with intentions of positively affecting the local communities – but it took five years for anyone to work for him. “There’s a lot of boys that come into the tourism industry, and they basically get destroyed,” Moorhouse-Chilcott says. “They get sucked into becoming womanizers, or materialists, and you’ve got two sides to tourism.” He says nowadays the village elders routinely bring youth to him, to help them improve both the community and their own futures.

And there’s more work to be done above the surface.

The Panji project is a locally run NGO working with the local life guarding organizations, as well as Scuba Doo because of their rescue work. Their studies show that in even in the whole of Tanzania, more people die of drowning than malaria. They organize training, and determine who needs training. But Moorhouse-Chilcott says members of the local organization, and members of the community, often operate on traditional Muslim values. Many don’t think young women should, or need to learn how to swim.

Moorhouse-Chilcott was recently out on a rescue diving mission with one of his diving instructors, Hamisi, helping after a boating disaster. It made this issue of gender discrimination really hit home for him.

“Their boat was full of survivors that they’d picked up, and we were taking them to the other ferry,” he said. “

“There were a bunch of ladies floating on a mattress, and we just didn’t have room to take them. We went and took them to the boat, and came back, but by the time we came back they’d drowned, because they couldn’t swim. So when someone says ‘no, women don’t need to learn to swim’, it hurts even more. Because people like that didn’t need to die, if they even knew the basics.”

Moorhouse-Chilcott is optimistic, however, that these attitudes are beginning to change. He and his wife Tammy Holter have, largely through the training and empowerment of local community members, done their share to work against it as well. Moorhouse-Chilcott proudly reports training Muslim women to scuba dive, strapping the gear over their burkhas.

Four local Muslim clerics all refused to go on record. They uniformly expressed regret at the lost lives of their spiritual sisters, but remained adamant that upholding their religious beliefs and cultural traditions are paramount.

Juma AmaIt’s the next generation that people like Moorhouse-Chilcott are pinning hopes to, like the young Juma Ame, 20. In Spring 2012 he didn’t know how to swim. By Autumn 2013 he completed his hundredth dive, well on the way to becoming an instructor, and working on becoming a rescue diver.

“I feel at peace down there,” says Ama. He’s already begun sharing his love of the ocean with his fellow community members.

“Now he can be the one to help train local people to swim, so that if there is a problem at sea people don’t lose their lives,” says Holter of Ama’s progress. Along the way she’s helped him become a hyperbaric chamber operator and a lifeguard instructor, spurred on by tragedies like the Spice Isle disaster.

Ama, Khamisi, Holter, Moorhouse-Chilcott and the rest of their organization say they will continue their efforts against any obstacles that may come, to support local development and ensure against future, preventable disasters.