This week, we welcomed the first 15 children at our new shelter in Rau District, at the edge of Moshi Town.

It has been some 8 months since we purchased the new plot and renovated all three properties on the site. There have been some impromptu stops along the way as we ran out of money, but we finally got there.

Compared to our existing shelter, this is pure luxury. The floors are tiled, the walls have plaster on them that is not peeling off and the showers have hot water. It’s also a more pleasant environment, slightly rural, with lots of greenery around.

The new children are all orphans, who completed their Standard 7 (end of primary school) examinations last week. Over the the next 2 months they will attend a Pre-Form 1 course to prepare them for the radical transition from learning in Swahili to learning in English as is the policy in secondary school.

We received over 90 applications for the Pre-Form 1 course, of which 86 met the criteria. But with only 20 places, it was impossible to choose. I’m somewhat ashamed to say, but in the end, we literally whittled down the number by randomly selected children from the list. Except Jumanne. He has a cool name. “Jumanne” literally means “Tuesday”. Presumably because he was born on a Tuesday. How cool is that?

At the end of the course, 6 of the children will be chosen for full sponsorship at Kijana Kwanza from the beginning to the end of secondary school (Forms 1 to 4). Unfortunately, the remainder will have to return to their guardians in their home villages, with no support through the next stage of their education. As before, we will need to choose – but this time will be different. Unlike during recruitment when we simply scrolled down a list of unknown names, we will know their stories and personalities, which will make the selection process more uncomfortable. I am glad that I will not be responsible for making those difficult decisions.

It’s been a real culture shock for most of the children, who come from very rural areas, from across 7 different regions of Tanzania. Most of them had never before left their home villages, and all of them displayed the telltale signs of wear and tear, brought on my poverty and a harsh childhood. The first thing that our staff noticed when they arrived was that they had come with only the clothes they were wearing. Imagine, none of the children had a change of underwear! The day after their arrival, we went straight to the market to buy a few basics, although we’ve just received some amazing news that a donor has offered to buy a new pair of clothes for each of the children.

There have also been some immediate challenges because the children are simply not accustomed to the facilities we have. We have had to teach them basic life skills such as how to brush their teeth, wash their clothes and take daily showers. One of the girls freaked when she opened the tap in the shower and realised that the water drops from above!

Some donors argue that what I refer to as “life skills training” is potentially dangerous because we are detaching the children from the simplicity of their home life and creating expectations that may never be fulfilled. I share that concern in part, but also recognise that what we are offering are essentials, expectations that they should have. Otherwise, we perpetuate a docile mentality that does not aspire or set goals for the future. There is of course a danger that the children may struggle to reintegrate into their communities when they return, but that is something that we can prepare them for, by reminding them of their origins and nurturing an appreciation of what they have now, and the potential that it may not last forever. Like everything it is a delicate balancing act and people will respond in different ways. But the risk of limiting their life experiences may be just as dangerous.

For now, the children are attending formal classes in English, Maths and Science every morning from 8:00am to 1:00pm with additional revision sessions during the evening. Which ones will remain at the end of the course, has yet to be seen.