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In Tanzania, 'the Government Takes First'

06/12/2013 05:18 EDT | Updated 08/12/2013 05:12 EDT

Ready? Set. Goat!

Little hooves unearth grass under the radiating sun of a Tanzanian afternoon. A block of goats run in tight formation as they curve the corner of the track for the finish line at Dar es Salaam's annual charity fundraiser.

The Dar es Salaam Charity Goat Races is a headlining event for the local non-profit community, particularly smaller scale organizations. Funds raised are directed to a diverse group of NGOs working to address a magnitude of socio-economic barriers for those living at the margins of society.

Although Tanzania is held in relative regard as a stable model of an African nation state, it is not completely dissimilar from its neighbours. Cultural gender practices resulting in inequalities, extreme wealth disparity and the proliferation of HIV/AIDS are among the shared issues.

Since 1983, when the first three cases of HIV/AIDS were officially reported by the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, the numbers rapidly reached epidemic status, with resulting orphan crisis. According to the Tanzania Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS), several contextual factors contributed to the epidemic, such as "poverty and transactional sex with increasing numbers of commercial sex workers", "men's irresponsible sexual behaviour due to cultural patterns of virility", as well as "social, economic and political gender inequalities including violence against women." At the end of 1999, health facilities across the country had more than 118,000 documented cases. Recent statistics from UNAIDS estimate that in the year 2011 approximately 1.6 million Tanzanians were living with HIV, 760,000 were women (age 15+) and 1.3 million children/youth (babies to age 17) had been orphaned due to AIDS.

Add to this a complex composition of cultures: indigenous African tribes and external influencers derived from historical trade routes via the Indian Sea such as India and the former Arabian/Persian empires. The urban topography is speckled with Hindu temples and mosques, and in certain areas curries and spices permeate the air, cutting through the haze of dust, diesel and sweat. Within the cultural landscape there is a clear class structure, revealing the "haves" from the "have-nots." And where there is mass poverty, there is great need.

Addressing such all encompassing issues is no small undertaking. Many government agencies and non-government organizations have taken a stake and are making progress, slowly but surely. Anecdotal numbers clock more than 300 operating NGOs in Dar es Salaam alone and millions of aid dollars funneling into the country on an annual basis. There is a full spectrum across the non-profit sector, from internationally recognized U.N.-backed agencies to grassroots start-ups. The goat races generate funding for the minority of in-community operations.

Among the recipients of the goat race fundraiser was Africa's Children-Africa's Future (AC-AF). AC-AF's approach is to strengthen communities through educating, empowering and enabling orphaned children, mainly in Sinza and Ubungo of Dar es Salaam, the commercial epicenter of Tanzania. One innovative program is their micro-credit lending initiative provided primarily to youth below 18 years of age -- the only program of its kind to date. The loans go to support a child's quality of living, including education and nutritional needs. Through a professional placement program, the child or youth repays the loan to a community fund and not the organization itself. This creates a localized micro-finance vehicle for further lending and repayment, engendering an orphaned generation with financial literacy and alternative possibilities.

Tanzania has all the trappings of a developing nation struggling to achieve developed nation status. In 2011, the country reported a historically high GDP of nearly $24 billion U.S. to the World Bank. Despite the economic growth, the same issues continue to persist. There is a local Swahili saying that translates loosely as "the government takes first," essentially leaving the people to fend for themselves. And so it is not totally unexpected that NGOs are perceived as profit-making schemes. One could easily understand the interpretation, since the non-profit sector and the tourism industry are over-represented by "muzungu," here to spend money, albeit for different purposes.

The country's dominant political party has been in office since the declaration of independence in 1961. As the nation forges ahead, it will be telling to see who partakes and who is left behind.

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