Featuring African Youth in a Positive Light
The first time I traveled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2016, I befriended a group of young Tanzanians who opened my eyes to a world of innovative activities, from hip hop music to street art and spoken word poetry. They were employing these creative outlets in ways which were generating change for Tanzanian youth and allowing them to take ownership of their own futures. I was surprised to find this in an area where the concerns of rapid urban growth, lack of industry, and growing unemployment rates seemed to give rise to a local discourse which portrayed Dar as a city of difficulties. While these difficulties are surely not to be ignored, I became interested in the seemingly growing interest of young people to create change through unique methods, improving upon their own lives without waiting around for other people to do it for them.
This brought me to Tai.
Three years ago, I met Tai in a small, unfurnished office and spoke with them about their new project, called Jali, which intended to provide menstrual health education and resources to young women and girls. The physical office space was mediocre, but the people involved impressed me with their big ideas and brilliant intentions.
Fast forward to 2019 and I have returned to Dar es Salaam to complete my PhD dissertation research. I find Tai has grown – not only physically, to a more professional office space with rooms, desks, chairs, and a computer animation studio, but also in their brightness. The Tai team has grown to include a slew of bright, young Tanzanians, all holding that fire that I originally saw but now with even bigger goals. There are now multiple full-time projects being run related to sexual and reproductive health, and working to create social-behavioral change within youth and their communities.
My previous experiences, and my involvement with Tai, has encouraged me to address the issue that the majority of past academic scholarship focuses on urban African youth in a negative light. Most common topics include youth and unemployment, and youth involvement with violence, such as child soldiers (Abbink and van Kessel 2005; Brennan 2006; Christiansen 2006; Sommers 2015). More recently, these persistent negative representations of urban African youths have been challenged through some research exposing African youth’s involvement in alternative and critical social engagements, such as hip-hop music and other artistic avenues (Perullo 2005, Uimonen 2012). While few, these studies challenge the often expressed historical notion of urban African youth as “hooligans.” In Dar es Salaam in particular, youth involvement in the hip-hop music scene is argued to “give voice to many youth, often labeled as marginal, violent, or lost. And while these labels have meaning in certain contexts, the labels creative, empowered, and socially conscious are important to comprehend the state of contemporary youth in Africa” (Perullo 2005, 97).
Which again brings me back to Tai.
Empowered and socially conscious are traits that Tai has possessed from the beginning. Now, with the implementation of the Darubini project, Tai is forging ahead into new territory, ripe with possibilities, through the creative avenue of edutainment. Edutainment combines education with entertainment as a method to disseminate information in a more relatable and engaging manner. With their episodic series, Harakati za Lucy, Tai incorporates the method of storytelling with 3D animation to deliver sexual and reproductive health education to boys and girls in secondary schools in the region.
Why are Tai and their unique methods of storytelling and animation important?
They are important because of the rapidly growing youth population in Dar es Salaam and the growing acknowledgement of the important roles that youth will be playing in the future of Tanzania. The National Youth Development Policy (2007) states that the proportion of youths in the population is growing and urbanizing rapidly, with close to half (43%) of the total urban population aged 15-35 years old. Females make up more than half of these youths (United Republic of Tanzania and UNDP 2014; United Republic of Tanzania 2015). The rapidly growing visibility of youth populations is recognized today by scholars, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) alike as vital to the successful future of African societies (Brennan 2006; Burgess 2005; Burton and Charton-Bigot 2010; Diouf 2003; Durham 2000a; Durham 2000b; Perullo 2005; Sommers 2010; Suriano 2007; Tranberg Hansen and Dalsgaard 2008; Weiss 2009).
Tai is an on-going example of innovation and creativity, led by and for the young people of Tanzania. In today’s Africa, youth are said to be engaged in “the radical questioning of the nationalist discourse, of its imaginary and the totality of its texts…embrac[ing] irregular ways and adopted dissident and unconventional practices that transport them towards worlds where Africa is either absent or ignored” (Burton and Charton-Bigot 2010, 5). The shining light of Tai will help to ensure that these youth are not ignored, but rather are acknowledged for their innovation and become beacons for other organizations as models of success.
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