Laying the Ground Work...
The initial concept for Umoja was to offer free vocational and employment skills training to vulnerable youth. Extensive research revealed, however, that the majority of youth in Arusha did not have the opportunities or access to information about career options to make informed decisions about their futures. They also lacked access to libraries, computers and information about their health, rights and welfare. Armed with this knowledge we created our unique Foundation Programme, filling a gap in the system for young people who have left formal education.
Disadvantaged youth (aged 14-18) join the Foundation Programme after a rigorous selection process based on age, need, motivation and a lack of alternative opportunities. These teenagers are highly vulnerable, often at-risk, young men and women (gender ratio 50:50) who have left education due to reasons including low quality education, poverty and family trauma. Tanzanian youth learn about the recruitment drives through flyers, national radio advertising, social welfare departments and partner organisation referrals. We sell application forms to prospective applicants for a nominal fee of 5,000 TZS (approximately $2.50). At Umoja we value motivation and long term commitment and feel that every applicant can raise this amount given several months’ notice. Once selected to join Umoja, our youth enjoy free services throughout.
Interviews are conducted over three days and include written exams, group activities and face to face interviews. Written tests in both English and Swahili assess basic literary and ensure that we recruit the correct numbers for our two classes (Level 1 and Level 2). The group activities and the face–to-face interviews ascertain individual motivation, and need, as well as the ability of Umoja to assist.
The Foundation Programme runs from January to December with three terms. The Foundation youth attend the centre on a full-time basis from 8.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday. We provide two nutritious meals, breakfast and lunch, to ensure our youth are fully able to make the most out of the opportunity provided. For many this is the only food in the day.
The core curriculum consists of English, Mathematics, IT, Global Studies and Life Skills. Extracurricular activities include the arts, sports and after-school clubs where our youth develop new skills and knowledge, and build confidence. These extra-curricular activities also encourage responsibility, independence and creative thinking. English is a strong component of the Foundation Programme as all of the next steps for the youths require a good grasp of the English language.
Social, Emotional and Medical Support
At Umoja we have a very strong focus on Life Skills and social welfare support. While participants experience the same vulnerabilities as many other teenagers, theirs are compounded by poverty and lack of social safety nets.
Our unique Life Skills curriculum is an essential part of the Foundation Programme, providing skills and knowledge for youth to use in the daily lives, whether at home, with their communities or negotiating through college and employment. Topics covered in our curriculum include; building self-confidence, choosing positive values, stress and emotions, surviving tough times, active listening, honesty, the human body, time management, team work, leadership and gender studies.
After obtaining important life skills, Umoja youth are able to improve their wellbeing and cope with challenges. Our course creates critical thinking, better decision making and self-awareness, enabling our youth to create educational success and a pathway to an independent and meaningful life.
A final component of the Foundation Programme is our health and counselling services. Each youth is assessed by a qualified social worker, so that we can better understand the physical and emotional health of each participants and identify any issues that need to be dealt with by external mental health or medical services.
The Foundation Programme creates positive change in the young people both emotionally and academically, arming them with the tools needed to succeed with subsequent programmes and negotiate a safe path into adulthood.