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KWETU-Street Girls project in Mbagala.

Just a few years ago street kids were an unknown phenomenon in Dar es Salaam but the city today like many other cities in East Africa, - has also been hit by the consequences of globalisation and the structural adjustment programmes negative impact in the rural areas. This, together with the AIDS epidemic, has resulted in the collapse of the traditional social security network and consequently to the migration to the cities of both adults and unaccompanied children.

There are no official statistics of the total population of Dar es Salaam today, but an unofficial guess says about 3 million people. The problem with the increasing number of street kids has resulted in many organisations attempting to alleviate the more serious consequences of this fact, but the interventions implemented so far are mainly aimed at the street boys.
There is, for instance, the Dogodogo Drop-In Centre with the extension Kigogo Boys Home, and Kuleana, an organisation which is very active in Mwanza, the second largest town in Tanzania. The reason for this higher focus on the boys is probably that they are more "visible" - by trying to survive by committing crimes like pickpocketing, harassing people in the streets and stealing from cars, etc.

A local NGO, Salvation Army, has through its work with adult female prostitutes discovered that street girls are just as widespread as street boys in Dar es Salaam. The girls are either children of prostitutes, spending time in the street when "guests" are being entertained at home, or girls from the rural areas coming to the city looking for a way to survive.
When the SA workers carry out their "reaching-out" street work in the night and meet these girls in their helpless situation, they refer them to an outreach centre where they are given food, care and counselling. However, the next night the same girls can be found at the bus or railway station, where they try to survive by offering sexual services in exchange for food.

The first move towards a life away from the street is often difficult, it may involve giving up drugs, begging or prostitution.

The answer to this situation is a shelter, a home where trained staff together with the children can live in a safe settled environment and over a longer period of time the staff can look into the children's background, their visions and future possibilities. Street children are no different from other young people in their immediate physical and emotional needs. The children should be encouraged to return to school or undertake vocational training. At this stage the kids may start to look towards their future - a reunion with their family, or supported living within their community. In six of the areas in Tanzania, where we have learned that the majority of the girls originate, offices will be established to facilitate the resocialisation efforts.

DANTAN has been working together with the local partner SA for the last 2 years on an intervention which should alleviate some of the problems and, being a pilot-project, likely to secure sustainability and greater impact. This has resulted in a concrete partnership agreement between DANTAN and SA about the construction and operation of KWETU (Swahili for "our place").

The buildings, accommodating 30 girls at a time and a staff of 6 persons, will be adapted to the climate to ensure cross ventilation, water harvesting from the roofs and gutters, solar panels for the supply of power for the whole centre. In order to further strengthen self reliance a large vegetable garden and plant nursery will be established together with the purchase of 300 chickens to make sure that operation and maintenance costs will be kept to a sustainable minimum.

When the buildings are constructed and the staff employed and trained, then referring of girls from the Drop-In centre at the harbour and by the social workers at the bus- and train stations will commence.

It is a necessary and very important task the KWETU intervention is committed to. The childrens way of life has resulted in both physical and mental damage, which has to be kept in mind when working with street kids. That is why it is important to make sure that committed Tanzanian professionals are actively represented on the KWETU Advisory Board.

At present we are working on the initial practical aspects in connection with implementation. The plot of 6 acres at Mbagala south of Dar es Salaam is now secured and both surveyor and architect have completed their part of the work. This means buildings, staff and Advisory Board should be in place by early next year.

The first 2 1/2 years are financed by Danida and during this period establishing support groups, both in and outside Tanzania will be carried out to secure the future of the operation. A quarterly Newsletter will be produced together with other information materials to inform as well as to maintain necessary long-term public support.

Jesper Kirknæs, November 1999




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