Vulnerable Children Speak Out
In an effort to develop effective programming for the most vulnerable children (MVC) in Tanzania’s Northern Zone, Bantwana’s Pamoja Tuwalee program (“Together We Nurture the Children”) gathered 15 vulnerable youth for a focus group discussion. This activity was designed to gain insight into the needs and challenges of vulnerable children and hear their experiences with programs designed for their benefit.
The focus group began with a series of playful “icebreakers” designed to put children at ease. After the games, seven girls and eight boys, aged nine to 17, talked about what their lives are like. The group was aware of the range of programs developed to help them grow and thrive, such as Children’s Clubs in schools (considered a hallmark of psychosocial support)—where together children identify and address issues affecting their lives, such as HIV, child protection, academic challenges, etc.—and school feeding programs. However, the children agreed that these programs are not always easy to access.
According to the focus group participants, the clubs benefit only those children who can make the required financial contributions. Teachers do not or can not include children who are unable to pay. As one 15-year-old girl explained, “We are sometimes left out of Children’s Clubs because we are poor and not able to contribute.”
The group said that school costs were the biggest concern among their peers, and that countless students have had to leave—some just as national exams approached—because they were unable to pay their fees. Some participants, in tears, said the inability to cover school-related costs “created the street-children population” that is growing in Northern Tanzania.
The children talked about other challenges, including malnutrition (many MVC survive on only one meal a day—what is provided at school), and the misuse of profits by caregivers who participate in income-generation activities. Overall, the discussion provided insight into the many struggles that these children face every day.
The focus group was Pamoja Tuwalee’s first step in creating Child Advisory Committees, where children will be selected by communities as committee members to provide input and feedback about programs. Where appropriate, committee members will participate in and lead discussions around key issues in communities and with government officials charged with supporting MVC services at the community level.
Pamoja Tuwalee is a PEPFAR/USAID-funded program designed to support vulnerable children and their caregivers through expanded comprehensive, community-based services. Working through a range of Tanzanian-led organizations and in concert with local government authorities, Pamoja Tuwalee will help build Most Vulnerable Children Committees (MVCCs) that will oversee MVC care and support at the community level. These committees will strengthen and expand services in child protection, psychosocial support, nutrition, and livelihoods that directly support vulnerable children and families.