Hadia Baruti Wimbi was only six years old when she left her parents’ home, eventually leading to her spending much of her childhood without any schooling. “An elderly member of my family came to see my parents, asking if she could take me away. She promised my parents that she would enrol me at school. When she became my guardian, she enrolled her own children, but not me,” Wimbi explained.

For a long time, it seemed the youngster would go the same way as so many of her peers in Zanzibar, Tanzania, where many lack skills sought by the job market. Thankfully, Wimbi was thrown a lifeline by her uncle and a project supported by the African Development Fund.

“I was 13; he came to get me and entrusted me to a teacher,” she said. But it was far from easy.

“It took me a year to persuade her to go to school. She didn’t want to go, because she felt too old,” said Fatima Rashid Ali, the teacher who took her in. “I told her that a traditional school would not suit her, but I knew of a center that offered an alternative way of learning.”

As fate would have it, Wimbi became one of the beneficiaries of the Alternative Learning and Skills Development Project, which received a $32.7 million grant from the African Development Fund to build two vocational training centers. One such center is the Raha Leo Alternative Learning Center, where Wimbi gained the opportunity to believe in a brighter future.

But she was way behind in her learning, and far older than the other students in her class.

“If I hadn’t come to this center, I would have spent my life doing domestic work. Now, I can read and write. I’m sure that once I’ve finished my studies, I’ll be able to set up my own business. I’m so glad to have studied here,” she said.

Wimbi is one of hundreds who have benefited from the Alternative Learning and Skills Development Project, which is helping the government of Tanzania make strides in addressing the skills challenge.

Starting with around a dozen boarders at first, the centers have grown and now have more than 2,000 students gaining a basic education.

“We had just 32 students in the Raha Leo Alternative Learning Center when we opened in 2006. Every one of them had dropped out of school. Nearly 95% of them had become separated from their families. Today, we try to get close to them, to show them our affection and teach them things,” said Kazija Salmin Ufuzo, a teacher of Swahili and mathematics at the center.

She said the aim was to teach students to read, write and master basic numeracy. But students need other skills too: “We have launched programs such as homecraft, computer maintenance, agriculture, carpentry, electrical installation, cookery and sewing,” Ufuzo said.

According to Madina Mjaka Mwinyi, principal assistant at the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training in Zanzibar, 85% of the young people who have been trained in the different vocational centers have set up a business.

Today, Tanzania boasts around a dozen learning and training centers, making a difference in the lives of young people who may have otherwise missed out on education altogether.

The African Development Fund’s support has provided more than 6,000 interest-free micro-loans to students in Tanzania, over 70% of them women, to start businesses.
Source African Development Bank Group

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