Tanzanian law currently requires that she immediately be expelled...quite literally chased from the school. And worse, the law states that never again will she be permitted to attend a government (public) school. Many will return to their villages and their marriage will be quickly arranged...usually to a much older man of the father's choosing. Hopes and dreams are quickly dashed.
To avoid the forced return home, many will resort to dangerous means of abortion. Some will commit suicide in desperation. None have, until recently, had any place to turn for counsel and support as they face all of this.
This is what I learned during my first visit, as girls eventually came to trust and talk with me about their situation. And that was when I knew why I had found myself here...my calling of sorts would be to work to find a way to help make supports available to these girls...to find a way to restore their hope and allow them to continue with their education after giving birth.
Working with a Canadian based charity – Sauti Moja, and with the local Community Based Organization – LOOCIP, the Girl-Mothers project, http://www.sautimoja.org/ChildMothersTanz.pdf, was begun. The plan – to offer short-term emergency housing, counseling, pre- and post-natal care, birth control and HIV/AIDS education, mediation with the families such that the marriages would not be forced, and eventually advocacy and efforts directed toward changing the current laws.
Recently, on my return to the village, a surprise party was held in my honor. It was a thank-you from the first 5 girls to come through our program. They came to LOOCIP with their beautiful babies, and with their parents, to say thank you and tell me how life-changing the very existence of the program has been. It was an incredibly emotional meeting...so many tears.
I also learned that LOOCIP staff have made huge steps toward changes in the law. A delegation will travel to Dodoma in November, invited to make their third presentation to Parliamentary Committees, and sponsored by the woman who heads the Committee for Women and Children. We are so optimistic that change is within our reach...far sooner than we had hoped. At an earlier meeting in Dodoma, it was determined that our Girl-Mother project was in fact the 'best' of all major initiatives currently being undertaken throughout the entire Arusha region. What validation for the great job that the LOOCIP staff have done in implementing the program!
At the outset I made a commitment to personally provide or otherwise generate a minimum of $10,000 Cdn annually, specifically earmarked for this program. Through the first year, I've been reluctant to put out a broad appeal for assistance in raising that money. I needed to know first, that the idea was a sound one...that any funds I solicited from others would be well placed. Today, I can tell you with no doubt. The program is a good one. It is fully supported by the community. It changes lives, and deserves a chance to thrive and expand. Our first 5 girls will be ready to return to school in January. Until the law changes, they must attend private secondary schools where the fees will be substantially higher than government schools. We are hoping that several organizations which provide scholarships to Maasai girls, will agree to fund our girls. If not, it is critical that we find the funds to do so ourselves, as we MUST show the community that our promise to find ways to keep the girls in school is sincere. We expect to assist far more girls in the future, as the problem is widespread throughout our region. But undoubtedly, some are waiting to see if and how the program works, which is why it is vital that this pilot group succeeds.
And so, though it never comes very easy for me to ask for help, I am asking on behalf of the young women of my adopted Maasai community...Can you help, please?
Tax-deductible donations can be made to Sauti Moja, www.sautimoja.org , a registered Canadian charity of which I am a Board member. Credit card donations are processed at www.canadahelps.org . Alternatively you can send a cheque or a series of post-dated cheques to: Sauti Moja, 22 Dill Street, Kitchener, ON N2G 1L2
Receipts are normally provided at year-end.
Whichever way you give, please indicate clearly that your donation is being made in support of the Girl-Mothers of Tanzania Project, via Joanne Allgoewer, such that your assistance will be credited to my annual funding commitment to this specific project. If possible, send me a quick email at joallgo AT gmail.com to let me know you've joined our group of supporters.
I know that many of you support other worthy causes and totally understand if you cannot assist us at this time. Perhaps you could pass along this appeal to others who might be in a position to help. Every donation, large or small, will help ensure that this program can continue and grow.
And perhaps someday, you will be able to come here to the village of Longido, and experience what I have felt, and receive the warmest Maasai thank you – Ashe Naleng' – that you will ever know.