Now that my kids have been back to school for a few weeks life is developing a rhythm. Get the kids out the door, make a latte, procrastinate reading emails- then finally settle down to some work. By late afternoon I am eager to see my kids and curious about their day. Today in a quiet moment I had time to wonder about a little girl named Tatu I met this summer in Tanzania,. I wonder if she’s attending school and wonder if anyone is there to greet her as I greet my children at the end of the day.
As some of you know I was in Tanzania this summer taking photos for a nonprofit called New Course (www.anewcourse.org). I was lucky enough to be able to travel to several remote villages in the Usambara Mountains where New Course is launching a new program. My job was to tell the story of life in the villages in images. In the process of doing so and while trying to get acclimated to working in a very foreign environment I noticed Tatu.
Tatu is probably about six years old, shy but naturally curious – and once I started to notice her she seemed to be everywhere – peeking out from a doorway, or around the laundry hanging out to dry. Once she captured my attention, my heart followed quickly behind, and I found myself seeking her out, looking for her as I wandered the red dirt road of her village, hoping not to be disappointed, hoping she wouldn’t tire of our game and wander off. She didn’t – becoming increasingly less shy she skipped and hid and ran, but always reappeared just as I feared that this time she wouldn’t. In a laughing group of kids she would be in the back – questioning me with liquid brown eyes, ever alert and always engaging. Tatu seemed as curious about me as I was about her.
The village where Tatu lives in Tanzania is called Kazita. It is several days walk on a dirt road to the nearest town and it is miles, days, and centuries away from the modern world. The villagers of Kazita are primarily subsistence farmers – scraping a living from the hard land. There is no running water, no electricity, no plumbing, no cable tv, no doctor or dentist. What there is, is a landscape of incredible beauty, lush forests, diverse plant and animal life. What there is, is worth saving.
For the girls and women of Kazita, like rural women in developing countries worldwide, most hours of the day, every single day, are spent collecting water and firewood, farming, and preparing food – ensuring the survival of their families. Nevertheless, with life as hard as it is, there is joy and laughter and the same desire for the things in life that we desire for ourselves, and our children. What is lacking is the opportunity for girls like Tatu to live life to their full potential.
So, that is what I was doing in Tanzania this summer. Using my camera to take photographs, to share stories, so that maybe there will be a face for you to attach to the news coming to you from so far away. Maybe this September, like me, you put your own kids on the bus to school, and you know what it is like to desperately want the very best for a child and to hope and dream their dreams along with them.
Tatu doesn’t have parents to send her off to school on the bus. She doesn’t have a mother waiting for her at the end of the day, or a father waving her down the road. She has a grandmother doing the very best she can to keep food on the table for her grandkids while mourning the loss of her own daughter. Tatu doesn’t have a lunch box, new back to school clothes, or a Hello Kitty backpack. If she has a book to read at the end of the day she reads by the dim light of a small kerosene lantern.
The village of Kazita does have a school, and I’m working with New Course to see that girls like Tatu can stay in school, so they can get an education, postpone marriage and childbirth, and increase their choices in life. I am working with New Course so that girls like Tatu will remain healthy enough to raise their own children to adulthood; so that families will have a choice as too how many, if and when to have children, and be better able to provide for those they do have.
Because what Tatu has, like all little girls everywhere, is a dream for her life. I know I can’t simply make that dream come true, but I can share her story and let her know that her dream matters. And that is what I was doing so far off the beaten path this summer in the Eastern Usambara Mountains of Tanzania, letting a six year old girl named Tatu know, that to me, she matters.