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When minds are one, what is far comes near

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Athuman Tawakal Rajab

 

In 2009 Athuman Tawakal Rajab became one of the first people in the history of Chole to be accepted for a degree course, setting out on a journey unthinkable for his forebears.  This is his story, in his own words.


“My name is Athuman Tawakal.  I was born 25 years ago in Chole village, Mafia District in Tanzania.  I come from a family of nine children, six boys and three girls and I’m the second last born.  I had lived with my both parents until the age of ten when my mother passed away in 1995.  Soon after my mother’s death, my father moved to Kilwa for work where he lived for seven years.  He left me in [the] care of my older brothers until I completed my primary education at Chole Primary School in 1999.

 

I am Swahili native speaker and I can also speak English.  My hobbies include playing and watching soccer, swimming, traveling, listening to music, and photography.  I am a self-motivated, dynamic and goal oriented person.

 

When I completed primary school, I was not selected to join secondary school under the government system, and my family could not afford to support me financially to go and study in private schools.  I never gave up.  I always wanted to continue with further studies as I was inspired by some people whom I knew that were studying.  But it was never easy for me to achieve this dream.  I had to remain at home for one year after completing primary school.  I had to keep myself busy in learning English language from my friend Didier [de Villiers] and self studies using other sources.

 

In 2001, one of my brothers managed to collect little funds for me to go to Kitomondo Secondary School in Mafia as private candidate.  I studied form one and two for two years, but the two years at Kitomondo had never been easy for me due to frequent funds break down.  I was always sent back home to get fees balance and other money to run my daily life since by then I was staying away from my family, so I had to depend on my own for things like food and transport from home to school.  This was something [that] challenged me most of the time of my study at Kitomondo and only determination and faith made me able to face such challenges and I was able to move on with studies.  I had scored good grades in those two years and that was something that opened doors for me to have an opportunity to get support from Ms Deborah Ash [Note: a biomedical researcher].  While studying I have been involving myself in different projects in which I worked part time as consultant most especially during school break.  In June and July 2001 I worked with Chole Anaemia project as field data collector on house to house data collection.  It involved interviewing people on food systems, documenting local recipes and food habits.  I assisted in project documentary with Yale Masters degree students and participated in Youth Drama Group activities (educational dramas and songs) to mobilise [the] community to take action to reduce serious anaemia, parasitic infection (hookworm) in our community.  This project was conducted by Deborah Ash and this is how I came to know her.

 

So the journey with my sponsor started from there whereby in 2003 I transferred to Jitegemee High School in Dar es Salaam.  I had one successful year of study at Jitegemee and then I took another transfer to Progressive Secondary School in Kampala, Uganda in January 2004 where I completed my ordinary level studies (Form four) in 2005.  When I finished [my] exams I came back to Tanzania waiting for results and that’s when I joined short computer class at University of Dar es Salaam Computing Center (UCC) and completed [a] Microcomputer application program in which I covered introduction to computer, MS-Word, MS-Excel, MS-Access, Internet and emailing.  When the results came out, once again I had scored good grades in the final examination that made me qualify to continue with advanced level studies according to Uganda national standard.

 

In the following year January 2006, I joined Vienna College Namugongo in Kampala, Uganda for advanced level studies in which I took History, Economics, Geography, Kiswahili and General studies until December 2007 when I wrote my final examination.  When I finished examinations I had to come back to Tanzania and wait for the results.  During this time from January until March 2008 I joined English course classes at the British Council Dar es Salaam to improve my English language ability since I had ample time between when the results were out and time to join for university.  As I finished one level, there came a chance to volunteer to work in the British council library in exchange for a free English course in other levels.  I applied for this and I was granted the chance.  I worked for seven months from April to October 2008 in [the] self access centre (library) where I interacted with the public to assist with access to books, language programs, use of computers and use of multimedia resources, and during that time I completed different levels including report writing course and I was awarded certificates of achievement.

 

When [the] results came out I had scored enough qualifications to apply for [a] university degree [course] hence I sent my application to a number of local universities and I got selected by different universities.  But due to the fact that I didn’t have funds I couldn’t get registered.  I didn’t have tuition fees and or enough money to run my daily life while studying and hence I lost both chances.  In our country there is only single intake in a year and so I had to wait until the following academic year 2009, and at the same time I had to continue with part-time work with British Council and at University Research Company/Health Care Improvement (URC/HCI) at least to collect some funds that could help me to continue with studies later on.  However the educational systems in both countries Tanzania and Uganda where I studied are very challenging as there is nothing which moves systematically, and in addition to lack of funds there were other challenges that kept on pulling me back.  It needs determination and focus to get through the system.

 

Later in October 2008 there came another chance to work with the British council again as an invigilator (examination supervisor) for various examinations like Cambridge International examinations, various professional examinations like ACCA for distant learners from different UK universities and other international institutions and also International English Language Testing System (IELST) examinations.  I applied for this and I was selected and currently I work on this part-time (mostly on weekends and during my school holiday).  At the same time from May 2008 to July 2009 I worked with University Research Co. LLC (URC/HCI) in Dar es Salaam as [a] data entry clerk and later assistant data manager on the MaKiLiKa project (funded by NIH/Thrasher Research Fund) [examining the] feasibility of exclusive breastfeeding and flash-heating breast milk.  I also worked on recruitment of mothers at 10 health facilities in Ilala municipality in Dar es Salaam, doing data entry using Epidata, EpiInfo, MS-Access for sets of 26 data forms, maintaining confidentiality of participants data – some are HIV positive.

 

During all that time I was being supported by Deborah Ash, but there was no special agreement that she would support me for the rest of my life.  She was just inspired with my efforts and she could see determination in me and she got to know the challenges I was facing.  Because of that she decided to provide support and to be honest it was really meaningful support to me as it made my studies and my life comfortable since school fees and things like food, transport cost were no longer a problem to me.  She supported me in my studies from form three in 2003 throughout form six in 2007 when it reached a point where she could no longer be in position to continue supporting me financially.  But when the results came out, I had good grades that allowed me to apply for a university degree course at any university.

 

In 2009, I sent my applications again to try my luck for the second time and by then I had someone who wanted to support me and so I was motivated and gained hope [Note: a donor to the Chole Mjini Trust Fund sponsored Athuman from 2009].  Among the places I sent my applications is the Institute of Social Work where I applied for Bachelor degree in Social Work and where I was selected to join the course in the academic year 2009/10.  So far this has been some of [the greatest] success I have ever had since I started studying, and it’s from this background that I got to know [the] number of issues that affect the society and it is something that made me apply for [a] social work course believing that I will be able to attain knowledge that I can use in contributing to bring positive impacts to people’s lives and our country at large.

 

Currently I am pursuing [a] Bachelor degree in Social Work at the Institute of Social Work Dar es Salaam.  This is a 3-year course and I am now on the second year.  Social work is [a] multi-dimensional profession in such a way that it touches each and every aspects of human life.  Social work profession is among [the] newest professions in Tanzania and hence it’s not well known among many Tanzanians.  But it’s one of the important professions which to a large extent can contribute to development, starting from an individual to the national level by addressing and helping the adjustment of different matters affecting individuals and the state as a whole.  Social work does not go in isolation; it collaborates with other professions like law, medicine, economics, research and education to improve society’s welfare.  Social work intends to help people solve their problems in different ways such as building their capacities, helping people realizing their potential, providing meaningful linkages and empowering them through education, mobilisation and different other methods that we learn.

 

This course prepares students with knowledge and skills after completing the three years of study which will be used in dealing with different problems.  The important knowledge we learn includes social work knowledge generally, psychological, sociological knowledge, social welfare and policies and communication skills.  It’s my expectation that when I complete this course I believe that I’ll be well equipped with knowledge and skills that I’ll use in starting the journey to helping people to solve their problems.  Tanzania being a developing country has been facing [a] number of problems that need to be addressed, for example currently there are an increasing number of street children, poverty, diseases like HIV/AIDS, and unemployment in which the society might not be aware of causes and possible ways of eradicating them.  So I can use my knowledge and skills obtained to address issues and eventually bring positive changes which will help individuals to develop and the country at large.  As a social worker I’ll be able to deal with different problems starting from individuals, family level and society at large and help them improving their wellbeing.

 

During my last holiday, in August and September 2010, I got [the] chance to work with Helen Keller International (HKI) based in Dar es Salaam.  I assisted in data management, and also field supervision of the team in Pemba making sure that [the] data collection process was done according to the procedures set by the organisation.  This was a survey conducted by HKI, and data collection was based on house hold interviewing of mothers on issues concerning vitamin A supplementation.

 

However, in pursuing this course, I’m still facing [a] number of challenges and the major one is shortage of funds.  This is been a major challenge, as it is well known that this [ie university] is the most important step in life.  I always try to find the way to get rid of this challenge of trying to find people to support me but always find it hard but I hope at one point in my life I will be able to do something remarkable for my family, village, society and our country as a whole.  By achieving that, I’ll have been benefited as it will bring huge relief to me and my life and I’m really looking forward to achieving that.  By completing this course I am sure I will be half way to realizing my dream come true.

 

I would like to pass my sincere gratitude to Deborah Ash, Anne de Villiers and her family, Keith and his family for both their moral and financial support given to me.  It is really worth it in making to this stage.  I really appreciate it, they have made difference in my life, and I hope we will still be together in one way on another in making sure we share this experience with others.”

 

January 2011