“WOY is an organization that should be proud and awarded. It came from so many people around Moshi … all of these people got their experience from WOY since it has been around a long time. It’s still there…local people started it and it is still struggling until now.” – John Mbando, pictured above
White Orange Youth (WOY) is an organization that was founded in 1998. Its 18 years of existence have aimed to educate the community, particularly youth, through in school and out of school outreach efforts, covering topics such as life skills, HIV/AIDs and sexual and reproductive health, entrepreneurship skills, and LGBTQ awareness. I have been working with John Kessy and Gama Mbalase, the founders of WOY, for the past four months.
These past few weeks John asked me to meet with some of WOY’s past volunteers to gain feedback and insight on how the organization can improve. As I listened to them tell their stories, I began to understand the kind of family WOY has created, and I began to feel more like a part of this family.
WOY not only has a great impact on the community it serves, but also has an empowering effect on those involved. Many interviewees expressed their gratitude for having mentors like John and Gama, and for their teamwork in working together. I feel the same; the passion and perseverance they put into their work is contagious.
John Mbando grew up down the street from John Kessy, WOY’s founder. He has been a part of WOY since he was in secondary school, and he was the first person I interviewed. He told me about the one day John Kessy said to him, “I think I need to do something. Let’s work with the kids and youth.” Those simple words stated eighteen years ago put into perspective how much hard work has gone into the organization since that decision to take action.
His answer to my question, “What did you learn from volunteering with WOY? What knowledge and skills did you develop?” capitalized on an important theme of these interviews and articulated a value of my own: a volunteerism spirit. Among practical skills in facilitation and group work, John focused on loving his community and understanding the importance of supporting other people as one of the most valuable.
Many of the interviewees mentioned this kind of spirit in their interviews. Many of them told me, similar to many mindsets elsewhere, that in Moshi everyone expects to get paid – to give your time to an organization for free is almost unheard of. As John continued to tell me about some of WOY’s first outreach efforts, it was clear to me just how above and beyond these volunteers were going for their community. John described it as “volunteering to the maximum,” explaining how they walked 15-20 kilometers to go to schools in rural areas at a time before WOY had funds for transportation.
“At that time HIV/AIDS was really high. There was no one to go up into the rural areas to talk about HIV. People were really shy.” But John explained how they “changed the lives of a lot of different people by going and knocking on their doors.”
Since then, White Orange Youth, as a registered Tanzanian NGO, has been able to reach a wide span of people in the community, funded mostly through grants from international donors. Common methods of outreach include community events, with music and dramas designed to educate people in a fun and engaging way, going to schools, night clubs, and even putting on radio programs.
Gordad, pictured above, is a former WOY peer educator. WOY trained him so that he could train his peers in the community, a process called TOT (training of trainers). Gordad told me how he went to night clubs, talked to sex workers, and conducted group discussions in the streets to make people aware of HIV/AIDS.
Gordad has just finished university and is looking to start a career in finance. On top of that, he impressed me with a list of about 10 organizations he has been involved in since his time with WOY, with roles ranging from intern to peer educator to program coordinator.
“A lot of volunteers have established their own CBOs (community based organizations) or NGOs (non-governmental organizations); those are the fruits of WOY, there’s a lot of fruit spread around…you feel proud knowing these are the fruits of White Orange.” – John Mbando
Everyone I interviewed has continued his or her involvement in the community after WOY, whether that means starting their own nursery (which two of them have), continuing to volunteer, or taking their spirit for volunteering and spreading it around them. What struck me was that no matter where their lives had taken them, there was an indelible trace of awareness and compassion for others.
John Mbando runs a tour business, but he gives some of the proceeds to schools so they can improve hygiene in their bathrooms. He also told me an incredible story about a woman who lost her home, and how he took the initiative to rally people in the community to raise money for her to build a new one.
James, pictured below, worked with WOY on a project called Simama Mara, which taught children about life skills. James enthusiastically told me about the music classes, drawing games, and life skills classes he did with the children. His excitement made it clear how much fun he has working with kids and made me want to go work with him!
James says WOY has been a big part of his life – it helped him to see the differences in life and the struggles of others, as well as fuel his passion for working with children. His explanation of how he took these experiences “to his life” resonated with me as I continue to admire how much those involved with WOY have devoted to their community.
Although the interviewees have moved on to different stages in their lives, whether that is to university, to start a career, or to start a family, they all expressed gratitude to WOY and its founders, and explained the positive influence WOY had on their path in life.
“I will never forget them. I will never leave them whenever they have a problem,” says Victoria, one of the interviewees.
Victoria explained to me how WOY helped her to build confidence to express herself and made her more excited to work with people, not just on a group level but on an individual level as well. This shows through in Victoria’s personality – I was so engaged in our conversation the day of the interview that I forgot to take her picture. Luckily Victoria welcomed me to her circle of friends and Rotary Club meetings, where I saw her continue to work enthusiastically for the betterment of her community. The picture below was taken after hours of conversation and laughter, after which I felt like I could approach Victoria at any time and she would welcome me with open arms.
The skills Victoria gained through WOY led her to an HIV/AIDS conference in Washington D.C; she now runs her own nursery school and is a member of the Moshi Rotary Club. Victoria spoke earnestly of her desire for WOY to remain a part of the community and maintain its ability to serve as an “umbrella for the youth to sit together and share.”
When I asked each of the interviewees about the weaknesses they saw in WOY and how the organization could improve, they each mentioned something about the need for sustainable income. Writing proposals for grants is a long process, and there is no guarantee that the organization will receive the money. The time it takes to write those grants and wait for funds can take time away from involvement in the community.
“When donations are finished, they are stuck, and they cannot finish their work. … WOY needs to think long-term, to think for the future.” – Victoria
“One weakness is that they are dependent on donors. Once donors stop providing funds, WOY stops providing services. …Maybe they can think of continuing with support for the community by not just looking for donors but thinking about having their own source of income.” – Gordad
In hearing these responses and how much they aligned with the project I am working on with WOY, I knew that we were in the right place at the right time. The farm is designed to do exactly that, and listening to the need for this project first hand from a group people who have been a part of WOY for many years is evidence of how much impact this farm will have.
With the three acres of land we were able to purchase with the funds you have helped me raise so far, WOY will be able to incorporate not only pigs (our first project), but also chickens, honeybees, fish, fruits, and vegetables in the future. This farm will not only plant literal seeds, but it will “implement the seed to other youth to keep on with service,” as Victoria explains. The investment is not only in a farm that will provide income for WOY and food for the community, but it is also an investment in the long-term vision of WOY, in its future as a powerful organization, and in the future of the youth it serves.
To donate and learn more, please visit http://www.classy.org/marisatanzania.