Whenever I tell people that I’m going to Tanzania, the usual response is something along the lines of: “Oh, but it’s alright there, isn’t it?”, insinuating something along the lines of the fact that it hasn’t endured as many horrific natural disasters, long-drawn-out conflicts or corrupt leaders as other African nations.

And this is partially true. Since its establishment in 1964 – when Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form one country – Tanzania has faired rather well and avoided many of the catastrophes that have plagued its neighbours. And this can be partially attributed to Tanzania’s first President, Jules Nyerere.

President Nyerere based his social and development policies on the concept of Ujamaa, a KiSwahili word meaning extended family or family-hood. It is most commonly distinguished by the notion that a person becomes a person through the people or the community. Nyerere emphasised the need for an African model of development in his blueprint, the Arusha Declaration, published in 1967. It reads much like the Constitution of the United States or France’s Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, and is today known as Tanzania’s most prominent declaration of African socialism.

“It is stupid to rely on money as the major instrument of development when we know only too well that our country is poor. It is equally stupid, indeed it is even more stupid, for us to imagine that we shall rid ourselves of our poverty through financial assistance rather than our own financial resources… Firstly, we shall not get the money. There is no country in the world which is prepared to give us gifts or loans, or establish industries, to the extent that we would be able to achieve all our development targets… And even if all the prosperous nations were willing to help the needy countries, the assistance would still not suffice.”

Nyerere was a popular President and his leadership attracted worldwide respect for his consistent emphasis upon ethical principles as the basis of practical policies. And Tanzania made great strides in vital areas of social development under his governance:

  • Infant mortality decreased from 138 per 1000 live births in 1965, to 110 in 1985
  • Life expectancy at birth rose from 37 in 1960 to 52 in 1984
  • Primary school enrolment was raised from 25% in 1960 to 72% in 1985, despite the rapidly increasing population
  • Adult literacy rose from 17% in 1960 to 63% by 1975, and continued to rise.

But like all political policies, Ujamaa was not perfect and cracks began to form. The oil crisis of the 1970s, the collapse of export commodity prices and the onset of war with Uganda in 1978 to overcome dictator Idi Amin all starved Tanzania of valuable resources, leading to two consecutive droughts.  By 1985, after failing to lift Tanzania out of its poor economic state, President Nyerere resigned voluntarily.

And today, while Tanzania may seem peaceful, luscious and bountiful, social and economic figures identify a nation in desperate need of development and growth. According to the UN:

  • Life expectancy average 58.25 years
  • There are 11 hospital beds per 10,000 people
  • 82.4% of the population live on less than a dollar a day
  • At the last count in 2002, there were an estimated 822 physicians across the entire country. As of 2009, there are 43.7 million people living in Tanzania. That’s roughly one doctor to over 53,000 people, give or take.

Fortunately, Tanzania is one of those countries that completely captures your heart and there are dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of organisations and social entrepreneurs working tirelessly to turn these figures around.

Forever Angels Baby Home is located in Bwiru, near Mwanza airport on the outskirts of the city. It was set up by British ex-pat, Amy Hathaway, and provides a loving and safe home for children under the age of five who were abandoned or whose parents cannot look after them. Forever Angels aims to reunite the children with their parents or close relatives or find suitable adoptive families.

The Mwanza Rural Housing Programme (MRHP) trains people from all over the region to make high-quality bricks out of agricultural residues, such as rice husks. These bricks are then used to built sturdy, permanent homes in an area where most families must re-build their houses of mud and sticks every year. After the initial training and support given by MRHP, most brick-makers go on to establish their own independent brick-making enterprises.

And lastly, Tanzaid, established by Victoria Randell, manages Kuleana Street Children Centre, a transitional home for children coming off the streets. The centre has a team of social workers providing regular counselling to each child before they return to their communities. Children are given the time and care to help them deal with traumatic experiences, talk about their family situations and think about their future. Life skills sessions are also provided covering subjects such as rights, responsibilities, behaviour, choices, hygiene, future options, drugs, sexual health and HIV awareness.

When I visit Tanzania in January, as well as spending time with the amazing kids at Upendo Children’s Home, I’m hoping to go out and visit these amazing projects and organisations and others like them. If my internet connection holds out, I’ll report it all back here. Stay tuned.

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