Upendo Daima gives new perspectives to street children in Mwanza

[Februari 29, 2016]
Mwanza is the second biggest city in Tanzania. Cities in Tanzania are expanding rapidly: the population of Mwanza, on the south shores of Lake Victorai, has doubled in the last 15 years. Mwanza is now inhabited by 600.000 people. The city is known by the name of 'Rock City'. The hills are covered with eroded rocks, you sometimes get the feeling giants have been building and playing with those rocks.
Marga van Barschot, Dutch, came to Mwanza in 1999, sent by a missionary organisation called SMA (Society for African Missions). Some catholic nuns were running a street childrens project and asked Marga to take over. She was already over 50 years old but built a whole new life in Tanzania.
Together with her husband Hoja, who grew up near Mwanza, she has been running the Upendo Daima street childrens project for 15 years now. I have invited myself, have visited Marga and her project for almost a week at the end of January. Marga has welcomed me in her house and after only a couple of days this felt as a home to me. The aim of my visit: to get to know the Upendo Daima organisation and to write my story about it.

The work of Upendo Daima can be devided in two specific parts that both have their own location: the 'Back Home House' where street children (Upendo Daima only works with boys) have a temporary shelter. In this Back Home House the focus is on trying to reunite the children with their families. The other location is the socalled 'Malimbe Family House'. Children for whom it appears not to be possible to bring them back to their families can build on their future in Malimbe Family House. Upendo Daima works with 22 local employees. These dedicated people cover a variety of tasks assisting the children. Some focus on individual counseling to prepare chidren for reunion with their families, some are working on the streets in Mwanza to get to know the street children, some others take care of the gardens, the caring for the children, the preparation of food, etc. etc.

Street workers
The process starts with the street workers. Twice per week the street workers go on the streets in Mwanza, where they find lots of street children. Most of these children come from villages far away from the city. They all have their own reasons for having run away from home. In most cases they have just been sent away, they are being neglected and mistreated. Very often they have become traumatised and they use primitive drugs, like sniffing gasoline or glue.

Of course they are not going to school at all. They just wander  around, begging and stealing. In many cases they are not eager to come along with the street workers. They feel "free", so to say.
The street workers try to make contact and they try to convince them to change their lives, also by coming with them to Upendo Daima's Back Home House in the suburb of Mwanza.

When children come to the Back Home House, the phase of counseling starts. The children enter therapeutic sessions in which they get attention in a very creative way, especially by drawing and visualisations. In this way the counsellors try to find out about the backgrounds and trauma's of the children. The Upendo Daima (which means 'endless love' in Swahili) organisation tries to find the families of the children and arrange sessions in which they find out if there's possibilities to focus on reunion.

In January 2016 about 30 children were staying in the Back Home house. Children can stay in the Back Home House for 3 months. That is the maximum amount of time.
When I arrived in the Back Home House the children were just on their long weekly walk upon the hills surrounding Mwanza. One hour later the groups came through the entrance gate, singing and shouting. They all shook hands with me, greeting me with 'shikamoo', and then they all took a bucketshower on the muddy playing field. After that they all sat at the long table eating their 'ugali' (maize porridge). The boys are all between 7 and 12 years old.

Malimbe Family House
To bring the children back together with their families is the primary target. But in lots of cases this is an unattainable goal. In those cases Upendo Daima arranges shelter for the children in the Malimbe Family House. This is not really a 'house'. It's a spacious terrain with community buildings, a semi-covered space in which the children have their meals, kitchens, offices, class rooms, a library and different buildings in which the children sleep in bunk beds. In January 2016 there were 45 children (maximum capacity is 55). There is also a soccer field, some playground equipment and a big garden with maize, banana trees, cabbage, beans and spinach.
Chicken walk around the buildings.

The Malimbe Family House is located about 10 miles south of Mwanza and Marga and Hoja's house, where I have a small appartment for mysef, is just next to Malimbe Family House.

The children live in safe surrounding buth without luxury. Of course in the end they still have to fit in their own social environment. They attend the local primary school and are offered some extra tuition from the Upendo Daima education officers. It's important the children get possibilities to learn to speak and read English and learn how to work with computers.  

One afternoon I make a lang walk with 8 of the Malimbe Family House children. We climb upon the remarkable rockeries and they also show me their school.

Throughout the week I have long talks with Marga. She feels at home in Tanzania. She puts out to me her work is very rewarding, but she keeps everything just within perspective: 'I know I can't change the world, but it feels good to know that some children get a better future'.

Sponsoring from Holland offers opportunities to give the children better education.

Volunteers from Europe and America are welcome. Marga says she's very carefull with volunteering assitance: unskilled volunteers are a risk for the organisation. Language and working circumstances can be problematic. When you don't have any experience and specific affinity with development countries, a volunteer possibly can do more harm than good.

Marga and Hoja have splendid lodging facilities just next to their house and get volunteers, mainly form Holland, every now and then.
The volunteering activities are customized. In close consulation with Marga the volunteer tasks can be arranged, especially according to the specific expertise and experience of each volunteer.

During my stay at Malimbe Family House, almost a week, a have seen with my own eyes the splendid and rewarding work that Upendo Daima is doing. This is a beautiful small scale project, showing continuity, dedication and commitment. 

Niko Winkel, February 4, 2016

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