Laying the Ground Work...
The initial mission for Umoja was to offer free vocational and employment skills training to disadvantaged, vulnerable youth. After conducting an extensive field study in the City of Arusha, we learnt that the majority of young people lacked career opportunities and information and access to libraries and computers. There was minimal knowledge shown about their health, rights, and overall welfare. Armed with this understanding, we created our unique Foundation Programme, filling a gap in the system for young people who prematurely left formal education.
Disadvantaged youth (aged 15-22) join the Foundation Programme after a rigorous selection process based on need, motivation, and lack of alternative opportunities. Candidates for the programme are highly vulnerable, often at-risk, young men and women who have left the traditional school system due to reasons including low quality education, poverty and trauma. Tanzanian youth learn about the recruitment drives through flyers, word of mouth, national radio advertising, social welfare departments, and partner organisation referrals.
Interviews are conducted over multiple days and include written exams, group activities, face to face interviews, and home visits. This process allows us to ascertain a candidate’s individual motivation and need, as well as the ability of Umoja to assist. Parents or guardians become involved in the second round of face to face interviews as well as during home visits.
The Foundation youth attend the centre on a full-time basis from January to December. We provide two nutritious meals, breakfast and lunch, to ensure our youth are fully able to make the most out of the opportunities provided. For many, this is the only food they will have in a day.
The core curriculum consists of English, mathematics, global studies, sciences and life skills. Most youth come to the programme with varying levels of English proficiency and academic achievement, therefore intensive English language instruction is incorporated into all aspects of the programme. Extra-curricular activities include arts, sports, career and leadership workshops and after-school clubs where our youth develop new skills and knowledge while building their confidence. These extra-curricular activities also build upon the life skills curriculum that is taught by a certified social worker at the centre.
Because we focus on all aspects of youth development, we provide extensive life skills and social welfare support. Our unique life skills curriculum is an essential part of the Foundations Programme, providing regular opportunities for youth to build their skills and knowledge in a safe and supported environment. After obtaining these important life skills, such as managing stress and emotions, active listening, time management, and team work - to name a few - youth are able to improve their overall wellbeing and cope better with challenges in their daily lives – at home, in their communities, or while navigating through college and employment.
A final component of the Foundation Programme is our health and counselling services. Each youth is assessed by one of our qualified social workers so that we can better understand the physical and emotional health of each participant. If issues arise that require attention from external mental health or medical services, we provide support, guidance, and establish connection between the family and the appropriate external professionals.
While Umoja youth experience similar vulnerabilities similar to many of their peers, theirs is often compounded by poverty and lack of social safety nets. As a result, more interventions and targeted attention is given to youth while attending the Foundation Programme and beyond. The Foundation Programme helps our youth to create positive change for themselves academically and emotionally, arming them with the tools needed to succeed in subsequent programmes and navigate a safe path into adulthood. In other words, we encourage critical thinking, better decision making, and self-awareness, enabling our youth to (re)create a pathway to an independent and meaningful life.