A New African State

It seems like a long time ago that Kijana Kwanza was a peaceful oasis anidst the hustle and bustle of Moshi Town. With only 6 children and a couple of staff in a house of 7 rooms, you could always retreat to a quiet corner to appreciate the green landscape around the railway or gaze at Mount Kilimanjaro’s majestic and looming presence over the light blue walls that surround the house.

But last night we served dinner for 34 people. Children just seem to be popping out of every corner at all times of the day and night! Over the past couple of months our numbers have blossomed: there are 11 boys and girls who have just completed Standard 7 and are undertaking a Pre-Form 1 course in preparation for the start of secondary school next year; Yassin who is staying with us for 1 year whilst he completes Form 6; 3 girls from Dar es Salaam who are here for a couple of months whilst they resit their Form 4 exams, Hussein and Unju who are completing their diploma in electrical installation, Ramsey who is a sponsored day student and an enlarged team of staff and volunteers (not all of whom joined us for dinner). The only safe space is the smelly poultry house, where every step is a minefield of chicken poo.

(On that note, there is still something I find quite puzzling – the poultry farm provides more than enough space for our chickens to roam freely as is their organic right, but why must we keep the gate open so that they can wander around the compound, lay eggs on the bookshelf and poo in the classroom. But hey, I’m learning to pick my battles.)

We’ve had to make some changes to accommodate all our new residents. A new shower has been installed, Idrisa’s room has been converted into a storage space, classroom desks now serve as dinner tables and we’ve replaced the small gas cooker with a mega sized firewood cooker. Mama Latifa, who is heavily pregnant, has been struggling to lift the oversized saucepans of rice and ugali so Mama Ummy – our new Student Support Worker for the girls house – assists her. The only consolation is that dinner is now served promptly. Everyone rushes to their allocated table on time to claim our limited supply of chairs; if you’re late you must sit on an overturned bucket. Time-management is no longer an issue in our mini African state.

What is less known is that aside from Kijana Kwanza’s resident students, our numbers swell during the daytime as young people from the local area come to use our premises to chill, study and, as we say in African English “refresh the mind”.

Keeping order has led Robin – Student Support Worker for the boys house – to introduce a new set of House Rules, with every line starting with with the ominous words “Do not…”. Within a week they were forgotten, but there is something reassuring about that. Our mini African state is not a dictatorship and we have no army barracks. Children should play and misbehave, so that they can learn the consequences of their mistakes. Even if it means no pocket money at the end of the month.

Looking back at our plans for Kijana Kwanza some 10 months ago, we could never have imagined this is where we would be. But by some accident of fate, this is who we are – and I’m glad of it. We are not an orphanage or youth hostel. We’re just another crazy family with a new drama everyday, but nothing that can’t be resolved with tolerance and understanding.

The challenge for me now is to sustain these achievements. Our work is cut out as we struggle to grow our network of donors and supporters – and also initiate new ways of become self-reliant and generating our own income. But that is our 5 year goal. For now, I must find sponsors for each of our children and raise enough money to put food on the table. At £1/$1.3 per day, per person, that’s over £1,000/$1,300 per month. And that doesn’t include the money we save from our poultry farm and kitchen garden where Idrisa plants spinach and green leaf vegetables. Damn, I always end up begging for money (which is why my friends never pick up my phone). But it’s always at the back of my mind. Remember the rule, if you can’t give, share our story and find someone who can. I need your help to introduce Kijana Kwanza to your networks.