On a Practical Note: How Amani Works

Cooking ” mamas” in action at Amani.

Karibuni to another blog post by the somewhat shadowy ‘B’ (from the ‘K&B’ duo)! This post has been in the works for awhile now as I thought you might like to know more about how Amani works and how it is run. Here we go…

In our first few weeks on the job, Salma, our volunteer coordinator, had arranged for an extensive 2-week orientation which gave us an (insightful) look “behind the scenes” and helped us gain an understanding of how Amani carries out its mission of ‘rescuing children, restoring hope and transforming lives’. Amani’s growth in the past 10 years has been phenomenal; transformed from a two-bedroom makeshift center to a large purpose-built home, Amani can now cater to up to 90 children at the home, while supporting hundreds more on the outside. Amani as an organization has come a long way, but even more importantly it has helped hundreds of kids to leave a hopeless street life behind and forge a much brighter future. This might sound schmaltzy, but it’s the truth: we saw the reality of street life ourselves during our visit last week (more on it here) and it is devoid of a future, at least one that comes even close to fulfilling the potential of each child. Much remains to be done though as the causes that drive kids to the streets (sadly) won’t just disappear over night.

Amani is an admirably well-oiled machine with dedicated and professionally run departments for education, social work, communications, accounting, human resources, and essential services. The Center’s Director has oversight of all departments and liaises with an external Board of Trustees, made up of unpaid individuals with qualifications in various relevant fields. The Amani team itself consists of 45 permanent staff, of which 42 are locals, including three lovely cooks that prepare 100+ kilos of rice every week (!) and a team of night and weekend caregivers.

The Education Department arranges and pays for primary and secondary school for (former) street children who have either been reunified with a family member or live at the center but go to government schools, whilst running an in-house primary school program for all the kids that need to catch up on their education before they can be placed externally (most street children have missed out on months, if not years of schooling). Thanks to Amani’s dedicated teachers, the quality of the in-house programs is really high (the pass rate has been 100% in the past years) and allows many of the kids to eventually reintegrate into the public school system and in some cases go on to secondary school and even university (1 former street kid just started started studying at the University of Dodoma and one is in teacher training college). Depending on the children’s interests and skill-sets, Amani will try to gear some of its pupils towards vocational training, where they can learn skills and trades like tailoring, carpentry, or mechanics. The challenge lies in finding the best route for every child: whereas one child may be reunited with his/her family, another may be best off in a boarding school, and yet another may flourish in a vocational center.

The Social Work Department consists of eight people including four street educators who spend most of their time on the streets of Arusha (the region’s biggest city) in search of children in need. As we described in an earlier blog entry, this is a tough and often dangerous job, particularly at night. They focus on building relationships with the children they encounter, in the hope that the established trust will lead them to turn their back on street life and take advantage of what Amani can offer. The social workers also operate a little drop-in center (where street kids can shower, get some food and a bit of counseling) and take care of the family reunification process. However, as Japhary, the department’s head, points out: “You cannot attempt reunification if there is nothing at home.” To counter the challenge that ingrained poverty present in many of these families, Amani – In addition to paying for school fees for kids that have been reunified – supports some families by contributing food, taking care of (minor) house construction work, and even giving small microloans for entrepreneurially minded parents. The next step is to build Youth Transition Houses nearby, allowing some of Amani’s older kids to learn how to live independently before finally leaving the center. Although kids at the center are incredibly resilient, most – at least initially – struggle with the responsibilities of adulthood; a Youth Transition Center would allow them to learn and get used to this gradually and under staff supervision and guidance. The aim, after all, is to help vulnerable kids live out their potential and grow into responsible and capable adults.

The Human Resource and Accounting Departments work like they do in any mid-size company in our neck of the woods. Employees are recruited with a high level of care (most of the social workers, for example, are university graduates – not a given in a country where a tiny percentage have had the privilege to study past secondary school), regularly take part in a variety of workshops, appraisal rounds, etc. In terms of finances, each department determines its budget every half year and has to justify its requests to the Director and the Board. Abduel, the accountant, collects receipts for each expense and prepares the books for the yearly external audit, ensuring that all expenditures (and donations) are openly and transparently accounted for. Amani is mainly funded by private, individual donors and monthly sponsors, as well as a handful of businesses and tour companies. Over the last year it has also been able to set up ‘Friends of Amani’-groups in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, and Australia. These groups are vital for Amani’s survival and continuously organize events that spread the word and help raise funds.

While the Essential Services Department takes care of the center’s practical concerns (including health, food, security, night-caregivers, a supply store, etc.), the Communications Department (featuring Kaisa!) focuses on outreach and fundraising activities that spread the word about Amani to a wider audience.

What’s remarkable about Amani is exactly this: it has grown from a small, almost makeshift project, to an organized, professional and still very warm and caring organization: the 80 kids that are currently at Amani are fed, educated, challenged and loved, making life in an institution (surely never the first choice for a child) a viable and hope-filled alternative to extreme poverty and hopelessness on the streets.

Thanks for tuning in; look out for more on Amani and our first weeks here in the coming days…

– K&B

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