Giving children the chance to choose


It’s dark but still hot when we land at Mwanza Airport. A short drive through sloping neon-lit streets takes us to our city-centre hotel. It’s been a long Sunday so it’s straight to bed: tomorrow morning I’ll be visiting one of four primary schools currently benefiting directly from the support of Derry-based Apex Housing. It’s so uplifting to think that Derry generosity is making such a difference to so many people some 5,000 miles from home, and I’m excited to see it.

In 1965, Derry Housing Association was established with the goal of addressing chronic housing problems in our city. In the 54 years since it has had a transformative impact for our city and people in it, and continues to do so. Known now as Apex Housing, it is one of the biggest providers of housing stock in Ireland, north and south. It’s also one of Children in Crossfire’s best allies as we tackle deprivation and injustice in Tanzania.

Our partnership with Apex has grown from strength to strength over more than 18 years. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been raised and invested in life-changing projects for some of the world’s most vulnerable children. Safe, clean water, toilet facilities, solar panels, classrooms, health and clinical care projects, women’s empowerment initiatives, Early Childhood Development centres: the list of Apex’s achievements is long and growing.

Our shared focus now is in the Misungwi District of the Mwanza Region, in the north of the country on the shores of Lake Victoria. Over the next four years, we will build 13 new classrooms in four schools located in deeply deprived communities, as well as establishing 20 new Community Micro-Finance Groups to support as many as 300 vulnerable women. Work is well underway delivering that real, sustainable and long-lasting change.

I’ve my alarm set for 6am but I won’t need it. As day breaks I’m startled awake by the Call to Prayer booming out from a local mosque, although it takes me a couple of minutes to figure that out. We’re too early for breakfast at our hotel so we grab some fresh fruit and taxi our way to the offices of TAHEA Mwanza, our grassroots partners in this region. TAHEA (Tanzania Home Economic Association) and Children in Crossfire have worked together for a long time, and it’s clear as we meet and greet that it’s a very positive and purposeful shared relationship.

Once our full entourage is assembled, we jump in their jeep and head for Bukumbi Primary School. Of all the schools this trip takes me to, this one has the most picturesque setting. As I sit in the headmaster’s office looking out through the window, it would be easy to forget that children here are among the most impoverished in all of Tanzania. Of all 132 districts in Tanzania, Misungwi sits unenviably in the top ten for malnutrition among children under five. Our focus is on the three most impoverished wards in the district, channelling as much help as we can to where it is most needed.

Mamaye Primary School is next. An Apex school. In searing heat, here I stand in the middle of classrooms being built with their support. These classrooms and the accompanying toilet facilities appear so basic, and they are, but they are much more too. Within these walls, children will get the start in life that every child deserves.

Miriam from TAHEA translates as I speak to a parent and a grandparent of children in our pre-school programme here. They are so grateful for what we are doing and so graceful in how they engage. Before we leave we’re treated to fresh boiled eggs, which we peel and dip in a little salt. These proud little gestures of gratitude mean a great deal when you see the poverty that surrounds them.

Then, we’re away. A short visit with a lasting impact. I’m looking forward to telling the Apex team that they are making a profound difference for the children I’ve just left behind. 840 of them will have new purpose-built, well-equipped classrooms with suitable toilet facilities over the next four years.

Back in Mwanza and it’s time for a quick lunch of fish with ugali, a corn-based food reminiscent of mashed potatoes. We board the ferry to Ukerewe Island for the final leg of my trip. As we leave the harbour, in front of me is a whole new adventure on this incredible journey. Behind me is an unforgettable morning that reminds me just how kind-hearted people are in the community I proudly call home; a community with its own social and economic challenges but an unrivalled sense of solidarity and justice.

Thank you Apex – long may we work together.







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We are a registered charity in Northern Ireland (NIC101412) and The Republic of Ireland (CHY 20045517). Children in Crossfire is now also a registered 'Not For Profit' in the USA and is recognised as tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (EIN 46-2267122). We are developing Advisory Groups in Chicago and Boston to assist with a fundraising programme.
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