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Urban gardening for Tanzania's street children

A boy at 'Child in the Sun' Centre in Dar es Salaam tends the gardens. The boys in the programme also learn to tend animals such as cows, goats, ducks, rabbits and turkeys (Caroline Keenan)
A boy at 'Child in the Sun' Centre in Dar es Salaam tends the gardens. The boys in the programme also learn to tend animals such as cows, goats, ducks, rabbits and turkeys
Caroline Keenan

Dar es Salaam, East Africa's fastest growing city and home to more than a quarter of Tanzania's population, is facing a crisis. Named a 'haven of peace', the city is home to some 10,000 street children and a growing problem of youth gang crime, violence, drugs and sexual exploitation. For any child growing up in Dar, rising poverty and unemployment, changing family patterns and deteriorating environmental and health conditions are daily realities. For street children, it is far worse. Diseased, malnourished, scorned by police and the general public, they are left to their own devices to generate income or find food through legal or illegal means.

For some of Dar's children, however, urban agriculture is providing an answer to that struggle, thanks to the work of two residential centres. At the Kwetu Mbagala Girls Home and the Child in the Sun Centre (CIS) for boys, around ninety former street children are learning to tend gardens and care for livestock, as well as learning cooking and cleaning skills, and having regular school classes. The girls also learn to sew, and the boys gain business skills by selling eggs and milk to the public. Children are expected to stay in the centre for one year, but many stay for much longer. After a year, efforts are made to reunite them with their families or release them to a suitable guardian. Some of the boys go to live and work at a CIS-owned farm in a nearby village.

Benefits of gardening

Girls at Kweta Mbagala Girls Home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, take part in a focus group discussion as part of research into the effects of urban gardening on street youth (Caroline Keenan)
Girls at Kweta Mbagala Girls Home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, take part in a focus group discussion as part of research into the effects of urban gardening on street youth
Caroline Keenan

According to Caroline Keenan, Manager of Education for Development at UNICEF Canada, who studied the two centres during her Master's degree, the benefits of engaging the children in agriculture include a strengthened sense of empowerment, improved social inclusion and the ability to offer their families practical support in growing food. "Children relate their increased self-esteem to a new found sense of independence and self-reliance," says Keenan. "They do not feel that petty theft or begging are their only options." As well as growing food for their families and sharing what they have learned with friends and relatives, some children leaving the centres are reported to have set up farming businesses.

The centres, says Keenan, do a very good job of ensuring departing children are settled into appropriate homes, with a few keeping in touch through letters. However, she would like to see more long-term follow up of how children are faring. "I think children currently staying in the centres would benefit from hearing their good news and success stories," she says. More publicity for the benefits that the children have gained from learning agricultural skills would also help to shatter negative stereotypes of street children that are held by the general public, government officials and community leaders. Keenan believes the children would also benefit from a greater focus on business skills, to increase their chances of earning a steady income using the farming skills they have learned. She says this is especially important for girls, as it is women who do most of the home business management.

Allocating urban land to agriculture

Raising rabbits at one of the urban centres (Caroline Keenan)
Raising rabbits at one of the urban centres
Caroline Keenan

While urban agriculture is embraced in policy documents and recognised, in theory, as an important contribution to urban food security in Tanzania, Keenan notes "In practice, commercial development is given precedence in terms of land use priorities. Issues of land tenure and land rights, selective enforcement of regulations, and a belief in farming as backward and a strictly rural pursuit persist." She would like to see the national government broaden the focus of its training programmes, which, she believes, will lead to greater support for street children agriculture programmes. On a positive note, a number of other youth centres in Dar, having received land donations, have made enquiries as to how they might begin gardening and livestock-tending programmes for their children.

Written by: Treena Hein

Date published: July 2007

 

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