Discovering how Liaison Amani has helped to transform young lives in Tanzania
My Tanzanian journey began a couple of weeks before leaving the UK when I visited the travel nurse who put the fear of God into me while discussing some of the potential illnesses I could contract during my visit; yellow fever and malaria to name but a few. She then told me to ensure I had the sufficient travel insurance to cover the costs of returning my body… in a worst-case scenario of course. Fabulous.
Two weeks of mild panic soon passed and the day of departure was upon me. I woke up earlier than usual, packed my final bits, said goodbye to the family and jumped in the car to drive to Heathrow. While driving to the airport I realised that this would be the longest period away from my family since the birth of my children. I felt immediately sick and concerned, but knew I had to get on with the task in hand.
The total journey time to Arusha (the nearest airport to my final destination) is in excess of 15 hours with a stopover in Nairobi. An additional hour of journey time was added thanks to the amount of paperwork I needed to complete to obtain my obligatory visa. But this meant there were no queues or waiting for my bags, as by the time I got through there was not a soul in sight and just two bags on the carousel… mine of course. I grabbed the bags and made my way to customs where I was greeted with a demand for multiple exemption certificates relating to the items I was bringing into the country. This of course would take a lot of time for me and the staff to process and complete. However, an offer of $60 was made by the customs officers in return for this little “inconvenience” to go away. I somehow found myself bartering with them (when in Rome!?) and we came to an agreed a price of $30.
I jumped into a taxi and was only 15 minutes into my journey when we came across two men, armed with AK47s, standing in the road ahead. Naturally, we stopped. The driver jumped out to greet them and I found myself sitting in the back of the car thinking, “Are they going to kidnap us or kill us? Which is worse?” However, the driver soon got back into the car and on we went. I asked what the reason was for stopping us and he nonchalantly responded, “Oh they are the police and they need their breakfast money as it is going to be a long night.” I was speechless. I had no words to logically question that bizarre statement, so I responded with the most British of responses, “Oh, yes, I see”, sat back and hoped for no more disruptions. It had been a long day.
I woke up to beautiful sunshine in Moshi, feeling refreshed after an amazing night’s sleep. I was picked up shortly after breakfast and made my way to the Amani satellite centre. Upon arriving, I met with Meindert (Executive Director, Amani) and the team members there. My initial reaction was that of shock, simply regarding the size of the facility and in turn the size of the operation that was needed to handle the issues they faced out here.
I met the children who were staying there at the time and what better way to break the ice than with a good old game of rounders! They loved it and didn’t want to stop playing when the time came to end the game. I left feeling confident that the rounders set I gave them would be well used after I left.
Today I was taken into Moshi town and shown some of the typical areas where children are found. These included; bus stops, scrap yards, mechanical workshops, markets and shops. Some of the children resort to stealing and begging, while others endeavour to earn what little money they can and then sustain their street life for as long as possible. This was a real wake-up call, especially having children of my own.
In the afternoon, we headed back to the Amani centre and attended the ‘starters’ class which is split into two groups (advanced and beginners) with many of the children struggling to read and write. The pupils’ ages ranged between nine and 16 years, all with different abilities depending on their prior circumstances and age being no reflection.
The day started with a drive to Singida and the first creature we saw was a 10ft long Black Mamba slithering across the road. This reminded me that the animals here can kill me… it’s not like England, in any way shape or form. Shortly after this encounter we had a puncture which was not ideal having just seen a snake almost twice the length of me and, if it bit me, could kill me within 20 minutes. However, we got it changed and replaced at a local village – this time seeing a hippo in the river there. Welcome to Africa!
Upon arriving at the Singida centre I was overwhelmed with emotion seeing the children welcoming us with singing and dancing. The joy and happiness in their eyes was clearly evident. They had nothing in principle, but the Amani centre had given them everything. Health, education and a new start. That is all anyone needs to make their way in life.
We took a walk into town and both the children and adults recognised the Amani team. It was clear they were admired and respected within the community. We found two children on our travels, both living rough, and convinced them to come back with us to the centre. Meeting the children and educating them on what the centre offers can take multiple attempts to build their trust. This was my first experience of changing lives out there, and it felt like nothing else. Amazing.
After a night’s stay in, shall we say, a less than lavish hotel I headed to the centre and helped set up a performance whereby the children dressed in certain professions (doctor, dancer, chef, teacher etc.) and acted out their roles. This was great for their creativity and to raise awareness of roles that are available to them once educated. Afterwards, we celebrated with some cake which they had decorated themselves with a welcome message to me. This was when we exchanged gifts, but the children were desperate to play rounders again. I obliged and we headed down to Lake Kandai which had a beach on it – perfect for rounders.
In the afternoon, the team and I carried out home visits to families where the centre had reunited the children. One of the most distressing visits was to a home where the mother of two children was clearly ill and the household was being supported by the grandmother. We found out shortly after that the mother had been diagnosed with HIV. The trip had been an ongoing cultural shock since landing at Arusha airport, however circumstances such as these just make you want to seek comfort with your family and loved ones. I was missing them.
We headed to the centre to say our goodbyes. Although I had only been there for a few days I really felt as though I had got to know each and every one of them and I can’t thank them enough for how they welcomed me in. After a couple of amazing days, it was time to get back in the car for an eight-hour journey back to Moshi. We had two children with us on the return leg, taking them back to the main Amani centre as there was nothing more that could be done for them at Singida. We arrived back at the hotel at around 19:30 and even though we hadn’t done anything that day, but travel, I was shattered. I think everything was finally catching up with me.
This morning I had a slow start and enjoyed a chilled few hours before heading back over to the main Amani centre to say a proper goodbye to the children and play a few games with them. I spent some quality time with Meindert in the evening to find out more about what Amani was doing out there and how it was growing as an organisation. It was so nice to run through the highlights of my trip and to express my sincere thanks for having me.
My final day in Tanzania arrived, and I couldn’t believe it was time to leave. 18 hours later, I was grateful to be home and welcomed by my gorgeous family with a ‘welcome home’ sign painted by my three-year-old son, Ben.
The trip was a huge eye opener for me and I felt hugely privileged that I was invited to visit the Amani sites, representing Liaison Amani. The experience provided a great deal of perspective on life in general. Thank you Liaison Amani, thank you Amani, and thank you Tanzania. See you again soon.
Please enjoy the slideshow of photos I took below.
Liaison Amani Trustee & Senior Regional Manager
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