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The ''Gangsta Rapper'' and the Children - 10 December 2015

 

Moses never planned a life that would involve hordes of children following him everywhere and trying to imitate him. He wanted to be a Rapper who leaned towards gangster themes. How his life took its own path is an interesting story. We first met Moses on the streets of Moshi where he did work known as ''flycatching''. He would try to peddle paintings and trinkets to tourists to eke out a meager living. But his real love was music and he long hoped to use his talent to become a rap artist and eventually even did produce his own CD. He is now 28 years old and comes from Mwanza. His origins are humble. His father died when he was 12 years old and his mother makes her living selling small fish. He staggered through school finishing Form Four and by his own admission "I did not study. I did not know how important it was." He came to Moshi originally to work in the Serengeti Beer Factory and then paid his dues on Kilimanjaro by working on the mountain for five years. Realizing that the difficult life of surviving on mountain wages had little future, he turned to selling in the streets which is where we met him. Recognizing the value of English he has polished these skills over the years.

 

In his neighborhood in Pasua live too many small children to count. Moses has a natural way with children and they are drawn to him as a father figure, something that is lacking in much of Africa. The idea to begin a preschool was not exactly altruistic. He found that such a connection would enhance his abilities to sell his wares on the street. But like many ideas in life that we have in passing, the ideas gain lives of their own. Soon he found himself at the center of the universe of 30 children who had no other planet to orbit. And his natural liking of children turned into something of a consuming passion. I got to witness his initial efforts and they were comical as much as they were saddening. He found a building that looked as though it had just been shelled in some war conflict and began giving the children formal lessons in English, Math and Kiswahili that would enable them to at least have a chance to go to school. Here in Tanzania you must have some basic skill or you are not even allowed into first grade. The children would sit on the floor and do rote lessons since teaching materials were non existent. A make shift blackboard was used to illustrate points of knowledge. That was how we found his school when we first visited shortly after its establishment in 2013.

His structure has grown as have those who assist him. Presently he has a man who functions as the head teacher and two assistants, one a lovely young albino woman whom I just met recently. Around 10 AM a volunteer cook feeds the children their uji (a nutritious porridge like material that all children here eat). All of these people are involved because of their love for and commitment to the children. Moses and his helpers realized that more was needed to fix the many ills in their neighborhood. They began making regular visits to the homes of the children they serve trying to understand better the needs of their community. His activities have not gone unnoticed and neighbors have asked him to help with some needed community projects such as bringing water to their neighborhood. We have jokingly begun to call him the ''mayor' of his area.

 

Recognizing that schooling alone was not enough to fill the void of time of the masses of children who spend much of their days on the streets, Moses began to organize sports events. For the boys this means soccer and for the girls net ball. Daniel and I attended one of these events last Sunday. The area of play is an abandoned maize field with makeshift boundaries and actual poles that mark the goals. We are used to stones for goals where we usually play! The girls' area was less illustrious as they lacked a net to really play net ball. The soccer competition was fierce, but gentlemanly. It was amazing to watch the clear discipline that these boys have learned by associating with Moses and his assistants. They played as hard as they could, but there was no fighting or bickering. Daniel functioned as the referee while I was relegated to water boy since I have a strained groin muscle. At the end of play everybody came together to talk about what was good and what could be improved. We ended the session with a universal prayer acceptable to all of the Islamic and Christian children present. We found the day exhilarating.

 

Moses still has his dreams of being a rap star with his gansta music, but I have some suspicion that his life might go in other directions. We are honored to have made his acquaintance and to have a chance to help him do some of the neighborhood work that has become his cross and his passion at the same time. I believe there is a life lesson for all of us in his story.

 

Greg Higgins

 

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