Headlines (Campus Updates)
MSW student Renee Ritter reflects on her experiences in Tanzania
Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing
When master of social work student Renee Ritter flew to Tanzania, Africa for a three-month internship last August, 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, more than two months after returning home, 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. Her activities at Mkombozi met CIDA’s objectives of enhancing self-governance through public-sector capacity building and promoting human rights.
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.”
During her internship, Ritter drew on her previous experience working with children in child welfare, education and counselling. She was able to communicate in English to the older residents and staff, but relied on non-verbal communication, creativity and her limited knowledge of Swahili to connect with the younger children.
She also learned how to be productive while adapting to a different workflow.
“The pace of life is a lot slower,” says Ritter. “There are little things we take for granted, like having a functioning computer all day. There, if we had a day when the computers were only down for two hours, that was a good day.”
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 Mkombozi’s programs.
Ritter conducted a needs assessment at ACTT, revealing that staff members needed to learn more about the backgrounds of their apprentices, and that apprentices needed to learn life skills and vocational preparation.
“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 a series of 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.
While Ritter left Mkombozi with development tools to use, she also brought something back for herself.
“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.”
After fulfilling her dream of visiting Africa, Ritter says she’ll stay a little bit closer to home for now.
“If I were to venture out again I would tie it to my professional goals (individual and group counselling) and go to Western Canada or maybe England.”
Lori Chalmers Morrison, Public Affairs