When Laurier master of social work student Renee Ritter flew to Tanzania, Africa for a three-month internship, she didn’t know where she would be staying, she brought too much luggage, and she admits to being a little nervous.
But as things tend to do, everything fell into place. Today, Ritter chooses her words carefully to give justice to the significance of her experience with youth at the Mkombozi Residential Centre.
“In a way, I’m still making meaning from my experiences. I’m still thinking and reflecting,” says Ritter. “Life here is normal, but I’m changed.”
Ritter’s internship was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) Students for Development program.
The centre provides shelter and basic needs for vulnerable former street children (ages 10 to young adults) in Tanzania. Each child in the centre has a unique history – some have encountered family violence, human trafficking for work purposes, or lack access to basic needs and education.
“The kids are very resilient, and the centre becomes like a brotherhood to them,” says Ritter. “They laugh, play, learn and realize their own potential.”
Of her many internship roles while in Tanzania, Ritter considers the most successful component the Affordable Computer Technology for Tanzania (ACTT) program. The program provides affordable, refurbished computers to Tanzanians at the business, personal and school levels. Mkombozi youth are apprentices and ACTT is an income generator for the Mkombozi’s programs.
“The work at ACTT is very technical, but the youth working there are from emotionally vulnerable backgrounds,” says Ritter. “The life skills were missing for the youth who are transitioning to independence.”
Ritter developed workshops on goal setting, self-identity, communication skills, stress and anger management, problem solving and assertiveness and conflict resolution. They were adopted by staff and integrated into the apprenticeship program.
“Operating as an outsider (in Tanzania), I came to appreciate how people coming to our multi-cultural society must reconcile their former self with their current self,” says Ritter. “I also have a genuine respect for different ways of being raised in different contexts and cultures."