Their energy and optimism is electric
30 young Tanzanian women with different talents and dreams. But every single one wrote the same on their expectations paper as we started the two-day meeting. "I want to make money so that I can help my family to improve their lives".
Everyone's nervous at first, but can sense that it's OK to speak, and an outpouring of shared frustration and passion follows. It feels like my life is over. I worked so hard but everyone seems disappointed in me. I've gone back home and don't know what to do now. I see so many children in my community struggling in the way that I did, and I want to help them.
Fast forward 24 hours, and the energy and optimism is electric.
It's 2005, and you're witnessing the birth of CAMA in Tanzania. If you know Camfed already, you'll understand about the awesomeness of CAMA. If you're lucky enough to have ever met CAMA members in person, then their passion is probably a force of inspiration in your life. Let me take you behind the scenes in this incredible empowerment process.
But first walk in the shoes of one of these young women. Imagine how you've struggled for the first 18 years of your life, and were expecting great riches if you could just get to the end of secondary school. So you pushed yourself through the hardships. Walking many miles every day to an unforgiving school environment. Returning home to farm, collect water and firewood and cook for the family. Studying until late by the light of a small oil wick. You've seen your family go hungry at times to keep you in school.
Then it's all over. And you have no money at all, not even for soap. You don't have the structure and purpose that has driven you through school. Your parents are subsistence farmers and only finished primary school, but you have gone further. The family's hopes are on you, and everyone is looking at you expectantly. Though you're in a rural community, you're surprisingly isolated.
This is where we meet our 30 pioneering young women in Morogoro, Tanzania, coming together for the first time, with permission to talk about their experiences and to dare to dream. Day one was a day of reflection. What challenges did you have to overcome to finish school? Who supported you? What challenges have you faced since leaving school?
Their stories showed the scale of the emotional crash they had faced leaving school. Because I had seen CAMA Zimbabwe, I had faith that now they were together everything was going to be OK. We were with Winnie Farao, founding Cama member from Zimbabwe and Lydia Wilbard, now Director of Camfed Tanzania, but at that time still a student. These young women had already forged the way – setting up businesses, and within a year of completing school themselves, supporting several other children through school. Cama members in Zimbabwe used to say – just because it hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And they had done it.
What would it take to unlock the same power in these young Tanzanian women?
We gathered together for the second day of discussions, starting with a recap: what did you learn from day one? There was a buzz in the air.
"I learnt that everything is within my power, and I can do anything in life!"
"I learnt that I can start a business right now with the skills and the little resources that I have."
“I learnt that failing exams is not failing life."
"We thought it was the end, but it's just the beginning."
"There are so many things that I want to achieve."
I was amazed. This much in one day. The young women gathered in groups to plan the businesses they wanted to start. They left the meeting with £1 for food on the journey, many saying they would use it as their start-up capital.
It was the start of something massive, and I can’t wait to tell you what happened next.