Monday, 31 August 2015

50 years under CCM rule poverty have increased in Tanzania

Zainab Salehe Abu at 10 years old  
Zainab Salehe Abu: ‘When I grow up I want to be a teacher so that I can help all the kids who don’t have the opportunity to go to school and get an education.’ 

Zainab Salehe Abu, now a shy and slight 10-year-old, has three dreams. If she could, she would eat chicken and rice as often as she liked, see the lions, zebras and elephants in a national park, and, one day, become a teacher.         
But she is not too young to recognise the distance between those dreams and the reality of her daily existence. For now, her horizons stretch no further than the poor district of Tabata Kisiwani on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, where home is a rough and badly patched tumble of concrete and corrugated iron rooms, and life is punctuated by regular bouts of hunger and malaria.
Although her mother, father and grandmother do what they can to provide for Zainab, her elder brother Richard and younger sisters Zahara and Razia, there is simply not enough money to cover the basics.
“My father is a builder; he gets money when there is work,” Zainab says. “But most of the time there isn’t any work, which means we don’t have money to pay my school fees or buy food. Sometimes the situation is very bad. Last month, I had very bad malaria and I had to miss school and stay at home for a week. I felt lightheaded, my head ached and my stomach was painful, too. I was very scared because I felt as if I was dying.”
The adults in the household tend to eat only one meal a day to ensure that the children get a bit more. Their diet is unvaried – ugali (maize porridge), vegetables and perhaps some fish. Rice is a luxury, meat a rarity. Water, when it flows, comes from a nearby pipe. To ride out the shortages, the family use dozens of buckets to draw and store enough to see them through each month.
While her mother, Rehema, looks after the children, Zainab’s father, Salehe, takes whatever building work he can and earns $80 (£52) in a good month. From that he must pay for food, school uniforms, text and exercise books, and exam entry fees.
Zainab as a baby with her mother, Rehema. Zainab Salehe Abu at the age of five.
Zainab loves going to school, where maths is her strong point – she got 90% in her last exam – and English is a bit of a weakness (29%). Although primary school attendance is free and Tanzania raised enrolment levels from 54.2% in 1990 to 95.4% in 2010, classroom conditions are basic and stretched.
As there are 108 children in Zainab’s class, everything is in short supply. “There aren’t enough desks, so most of us sit on the floor,” she says. “There aren’t enough books, either: we share one book between five, which isn’t very good, because we spend most of our time fighting over them. Everyone tries to pull the book over to their side. And we don’t have enough toilets, so when we go out to relieve ourselves, we stand in one long queue.”

Still, adds Zainab, at least she gets to go to school – a privilege beyond the reach of some of her friends in Tabata Kisiwani.
Away from the classroom, which is a 15-minute walk from home, Zainab enjoys playing football, like her heroes in the Simba Sports Club and Manchester United. Although she admits she isn’t the best striker in the neighbourhood, she did manage to score a hat-trick recently. When she isn’t helping her mother with the washing-up or the family’s laundry, she likes reading and listening to the music that comes from her neighbours’ TVs and radios – especially the local singer Diamond Platnumz.
“I like stories about people and animals,” Zainab says. “My three favourite animals are elephants, zebras and lions. Since I was born, I have never been to the centre of the city and I have never been outside this neighbourhood. I would like to go to Mikumi national park to see the lions, elephants and zebras.”
Zainab’s parents are acutely aware of their poverty and desperate to give their children opportunities that extend beyond Tabata Kisiwani, where their eldest daughter shares a tatty bed with her grandmother, the poorly screened hole-in-the-ground-toilet is used by 20 people, and chickens and children race around the dirty, labyrinthine alleyways. How they will do it is another matter.
Bringing up the subject of the millennium development goals in their tiny bedroom, with its dirt floor and buckets stacked all the way to the low ceiling, feels almost as abstract as discussing fluctuations in the FTSE 100.
Zainab at the age of five with her father, Salehe, and mother, Rehema. Her family and two more relatives slept in this small room in Dar es Salaam. Photograph: Hiroki Gomi  for the Guardian
Things, Salehe says, haven’t changed that much since the Guardian’s last visit five years ago. “As far as healthcare goes, the government doesn’t give free services, so, if you don’t have money, you’ll die if you get sick. Most kids are allowed to go to school now, but we still pay school fees and, if you don’t have money, your child is sent home.”
He and Rehema are thrilled that their children go to school but are almost at their wits’ end trying to pay for it all. “We want them to get the best education they can but, unfortunately, we can’t help them,” Rehema says as she feeds 14-month-old Razia. “We will have to go out and ask good samaritans to help our kids to achieve their dreams.”
Salehe says: “We understand that life is very hard.” But maybe when they grow up, he adds, Richard, Zainab, Zahara and Razia will manage to do what he has never managed: to lift the family out of poverty. For now and the foreseeable future, their four children are the best – their only – hope.
Zainab, who forgets a little of her shyness whenever the talk turns to books or school, is ready to do her bit. “When I grow up I want to be a teacher so that I can help all the kids who don’t have the opportunity to go to school and get an education,” she says. “Education is the key to success. And I want to help others to become successful.”

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