Growing up in Tanzania has greatly shaped the person I am today. Tanzanian culture is based on a significant mix of different traditional values and customs, but despite the diversity there is much to appreciate that holds our country together in peace and harmony. From the colorfully clothed Maasai tribe found in northern Tanzania, to the strong family-united Chagga tribe found at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro, to my very own brave Hehe-speaking tribe that led the fight for our country’s independence, we Tanzanians pride ourselves on our cultural heritage. However, there is one common side of Tanzanian tribal culture that troubles me: a culture of silence that exists underneath the beauty of Tanzania’s 120 unique ethnic groups which limits the future potential of girls and young women like myself.
My current stage of maturity has made me understand that I was a victim of my society’s definition of being a girl—”to be seen, but not heard”. Obedience is always expected, and respect is mandatory for women, who must too often be silent in the presence of men. I have come to understand that this lack of a voice amongst women is the cause of many of today’s problems in my country. Some of the results are forced child marriages, a declining rate of girls graduating from school, and an increase in teenage pregnancies.
Unfortunately, this culture of women being silent is reinforced in the many all-girls’ secondary schools in Tanzania. Even in the most prestigious O’ Level girls’ school that I attended, we were required to be silent nearly all the time during school hours—in the dormitories, in church, and even in the classroom. The asking of questions and the voicing of one’s opinion was rarely allowed; my school thus reinforced the societal expectation of girls being seen but not heard. Fortunately for me, a chance to be liberated from a silent voice occurred when I was awarded a full scholarship to attend one of the most prestigious international schools in Tanzania, Haven of Peace Academy (HOPAC).
It was at HOPAC that my silence was finally broken. I was actually encouraged to use my voice and I became exposed to various ways to develop my self-confidence. I learnt, for example, the importance of participating in class discussions. Though initially this concept was difficult for me to grasp, I eventually grew to enjoy and embrace it. I was not only required to listen to what my teachers taught me, as in my previous school, but now I was able to also boldly express my ideas in class and ask questions—all of which deepened my understanding of what was being taught. Now in my senior year, I feel that my voice is something I can proudly use as a tool in making a positive difference for others, as well as myself.
Engaging in service and leadership through volunteering strengthened my self-confidence even more. I was fortunate to be given many such opportunities through HOPAC’s community outreach programs. Throughout the school year, I volunteered, teaching young children living in an underprivileged community who were unable to attend school. I learnt to lead them as a teacher, educating them about science through storytelling. At first it took a lot of courage for me to go outside my comfort zone, breaking the habit of silence that was instilled in me, but through empowerment, I grew able to find and use my voice.
With nearly 50% of Tanzanians being under the age of 14, and with only 25% of the girls ever attending secondary school, there are indeed many voices that should be heard in my country. I look to be a future role model to empower girls to become a voice for each other through their education, leadership, and social involvement. I long to see a Tanzania someday with many strong girls united with a single voice for a brighter future.