Dancing into the Future

How African Initiatives is beginning to reach some of the most discriminated against girls in Maasai communities

Volunteer, Diana Roberts, explores the progress of the Song and Dance project AI runs in Tanzania with partner The Pastoral Women’s Council

P1020352For me, the song and dance project brings girls education to the forefront of pastoralist communities. Girls face many challenges as they aspire to gain an education: not seen as worthy as boys, traditional cultural practices such as FGM; needed at home to do chores and look after siblings and more often than not, forced into early marriage to men much older than them. Neither my friends nor I had to worry about – or even imagine – practices such as these at the age of 12.

Brilliantly, our partner The Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC) educate children and their parents of the importance of girl’s education via an interactive informative way, using song, dance and acting to highlight the real problems girls face when they do not have any education. And it works. Girls are now in school. In the past year of the project, 40% of girls now pass their end of primary school exam, in comparison to 24%, thus, allowing these girls to now go onto secondary school, so they move closer to their aspirations for the future.

For me however, the part of Song and Dance which stands out the most is the engagement with disabled children and their families. I have several friends living with disabilities. Having witnessed the struggles they have faced within the UK, I was interested to see what PWC were trying to do to combat these struggles within Tanzania.

Disabled people throughout Africa often face stigma and discrimination. Having lived in East Africa, and returning to Tanzania a few years ago, it is clear these perceptions are still in place and the disabled are kept away from the public sphere, and instead kept at home. According to ADD International, ‘fewer than 5% of disabled children go to school’. They are denied education, not because parents are ashamed of them but because they wish to protect them from a potentially cruel world. There are a number of reasons disabled children face discrimination, including a lack of knowledge on disabled children’s rights and traditional myths and legends within their culture.

Prior to the Song and Dance project there was no engagement with disabled children and their families in the Ngorongoro District of Tanzania where PWC work. In the last year there has been a study of 3 communities’ villages by the PWC regarding disabled children and education, and they have also provided information to parents. Incredibly, just through identifying these families and talking to them they have persuaded some parents to take their children to school in the next academic year. These are small steps, however PWC strive for bigger strides forward to ensure disabled children have a future that is outside the walls of their home.