Helen Shepard has been at Railway Children for six years and visited East Africa recently to see the impact of our projects.
She was moved and inspired by the seven-day trip that took her across the country to visit our children’s centres and into the homes of families we’re working with.
“Arriving in Dar es Salaam came as a shock. I left a cold, wet Manchester behind and hit the muggy heat of rush hour in Dar and could see the deprivation and poverty of Tanzania immediately. But despite the chaos, the city was vibrant and full of life as these amazingly resourceful people found ways to make a living. The streets were packed with people selling food and crowds gathering to buy vegetables. Everywhere we looked there were children wandering around, often bare foot.
I was particularly keen to see the Railway Children projects in Mwanza that have been so successful we’ve been asked to develop the work and help partner organisations replicate it across another six cities in Tanzania. This means we’ll be able to reach thousands more children in desperate need.
Seeing firsthand the difference we're making to children's lives was a special experience.
After visiting a boys’ home we’re just starting to work with in Dar we flew to Mwanza and had an early start, taking to the streets before dawn to explore the city as it woke.
All around us we saw children sleeping rough – often in groups for safety, and with just scraps of clothing to wear.
The outreach worker who came with us was on alert and spotted a young boy being approached by an older man. It turned out to be his uncle, but it was just an example of how quickly and easily children on the streets with no-one to protect them can end up in danger, and how our teams are constantly aware of the risks.
Informal teaching and a safe place to learn
The street walk ended at Railway Children’s Kivuko school – an informal learning environment for children the outreach workers have met on the streets. When we arrived there were already around 20 children inside – all boys. Some were lying on the floor catching up on missed sleep while others were making use of the pencils, papers and books available.
Many of these children have never been to school, they can’t read or write, so the teaching they get at the centre is a lifeline to them.
The team there is amazing – staff have to be social workers, teachers, councillors and friends to these children. And it pays off. It’s obvious that the children, many of whom have been through so much, find the environment safe and nurturing.
I also went out with our team of family therapy workers who visit people in their homes to try and resolve the issues that have led to children running away. They use games to teach family members how to communicate and about the importance of things like making eye contact. It is great to see it in action when the whole family is engaged, laughing and working together to resolve their problems.
Coming home after seeing the impact our projects are having in East Africa my own children have had to put up with me reminding them how lucky they are.
It was incredible to see the difference we are making to children’s lives in East Africa and I’m very proud to be a part of that.