Our Head of Fundraising, Ronan McCay shares his experience of a recent trip to Tanzania to visit our international office and see first hand, the importance of the work Children in Crossfire carry out.
Dar es Salaam bustles. The Children in Crossfire jeep jostles with vans, lorries, motorbikes, three-wheel taxis (rickshaws with engines, essentially) pedestrians and street vendors as we stop-start our way from airport to hotel. There is Coca-Cola branding everywhere, donning nearly every shop front and dominating huge overhead billboards. More on that shortly. It’s a long drive and there’s a deep, dead city heat that we Irish endure far more than we enjoy: “I like it warm but this is too warm”.
I’ve been awake since the day before yesterday – it takes more than 24 hours to get from Derry to Dar via Dublin and Dubai – so it’s a quick dinner and an early night. Next morning, Joseph from our Tanzania team picks me up and we’re ready to start my trip proper. I’m here to witness first-hand Children in Crossfire’s projects, to take in the difference we’re making in schools across this vast country. Having seen hundreds of photos and videos of previous visits Richard Moore and others have been on, I’m sure I’m ready for what I’ll soon see. I’ll soon be proven wrong.
We swing by our office to collect Chris, the photographer who will be with us throughout, and Chiku, our communications and advocacy officer. Chiku is well-known and respected in Tanzania having served 15 years reading the news on national television – a huge asset as we engage with the national government on the importance of Early Childhood Development. Early years’ intervention is a relatively new concept in Tanzania and Children in Crossfire are pathfinders in this vital work.
We’re on our way to an inner-city nursery school in Dar’s Tandale district. Within minutes we turn off the main road, down a dry clay side-street and into another world. So many people, so much poverty. Real lives and raw injustice. Children in Crossfire doesn’t currently have an urban programme but we’re researching the feasibility of launching one, subject to raising sufficient funds.
There’s no doubting the need as we walk down the street and into the nursery school. Greeted warmly by Emma, the teacher and driving force here, we enter a rusty, rickety tin hut where she cares for and educates 55 little children every day. She leads them in learning through songs, dances and games but she has next to nothing to work with inside the school and virtually no support from outside it. Yet she commands their attention and they’re clearly enjoying school. They get fed here, which for some will likely be their only meal of the day. Parents pay Emma what little they can whenever they can; she needs and deserves support.
While we’re inside the skies open, although there are no windows so the rain splashes in on us. When it finally eases, we dash for the jeep, but the street outside has completely flooded in just a few minutes. We have to edge our way, ankle deep in muck, trying not to fall. I smell sewage.
As I leave Tandale my eyes are wide open to the challenges these communities face. Dar sprawls. Nearly 6.4 million people live there, and my colleagues estimate that upwards on 70% of them face similar conditions to those I saw when meeting Emma and her pupils. I hope Children in Crossfire will be able to do something for the children I met, and the many thousands like them. They need us to.
Ten minutes later we’re in Pizza Hut having lunch. This is a lovely shopping centre, as good as any in Derry. An under-vehicle security check on the way into the car park is a throwback to the Northern Ireland of my childhood and a reminder of the world we live in today. As we eat I ask Chiku and Chris if any of the kids we’ve just left ever get to Pizza Hut. Their faces say everything before their mouths are even open. A matter of minutes and a million miles away at the same time. As I mentioned with Coca-Cola, you will find all the Western brands here. Apple, Sony, Subway, Disney. All so flashy while down the street children are living amidst squalid poverty. I am grateful that I have seen the real Dar es Salaam but I’m also gutted by it.
We leave the melee of Dar behind us as we make our way to Morogoro Region, a good four hour drive. Arrow-straight roads through flatlands as far as the eye can see eventually give way to awe-inspiring mountain landscapes. Tomorrow we will visit a primary school in the Mvomero District to see our early years and pre-school programme in action, but tonight I can’t get Tandale out of my mind. This is a deeply unfair world.