Mbeya. Unfashionable from an outsider’s view, the inside is a cooking pot of talent that bubbles with joyful girls.
Ilemi Club, on the outskirts of Mbeya, is part of Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (Ela) project run by an international non-governmental organisation, Brac Tanzania, to offer teenage girls from disadvantaged backgrounds mentorship, life skills training and microfinance.
The project launched in 2013 is part of efforts to ensure girls, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, get a fighting chance.
It provides spaces for them to socialise, and receive mentoring and life skills training, which is combined with financial literacy training and customised micro-loans.
In all the club’s 30 members, aged 10-24, the common denominator is their hunger for success, the burning ambition to make good of their second chance at life.
The older girls have been enrolled in the nearby Grace and Kiumbe colleges, where they are studying tailoring, food production, hotel management, decoration, and salon and micro-entrepreneurship skills, according to preference.
However, a majority of them seem destined for micro-entrepreneurship.
They have already set up small businesses, with some even forming groups of three to pool resources.
One group bakes cakes and supplies to surrounding supermarkets. The market has so far responded well to their cakes, which motivates them to up their game.
“We are fortunate because we supply to the local supermarkets. Our focus is now on improving quality and quantity,” says Ms Rachel Charles, a group member.
Another group excels in preparation of baobab bites. Their challenge, however, is the wherewithal to modernise their trade with better packaging and product branding.
Still, they remain hopeful that someday they can afford their business the transformation they desire.
“If we had the capacity to package and brand our products, it would open many doors. We are working hard on this aspect,” says Ms Upendo Adam, a group member.
Ms Victoria Ngewe confidently deals in necklaces solo, but her biggest challenge is marketing due to cash constraints.
So she hawks her necklaces in the streets a day at a time.
“Although I only started recently, I am hopeful things will improve. So far the business has been good, but it could have been better if I had access to a bigger market,” she says.
For Victoria, this is a story that can only end well with time, passion and commitment; qualities that she possesses in abundance.
Ela Area supervisor Mwila Nyalwale sees a bright future for these girls. “They are hardworking and committed.
We therefore want to build confidence and instill a sense of self-worth in these girls, and encourage positive behavioural changes to improve their quality of life. This helps to prevent early marriages and leads to a more stable future,” she says.
The Ela Project manager at Brac Tanzania, Ms Nancy Kataraihya, says these facilities socially and financially empower adolescent girls.
“It starts with ‘safe spaces’ close to the home, where teens can discuss problems with their peers in small groups and build their social networks, away from the pressures of family.
We want to improve the quality of life of adolescents, especially vulnerable girls through social education.
We increase their awareness and knowledge, and develop skills on reproductive health, unwanted pregnancy, early marriage and HIV/Aids,” says Ms Kataraihya.
“We promote awareness on gender discrimination, abuse and all forms of violence, and encourage meaningful participation in decision making. We also create income generating opportunities for the girls.”