real life

TRAVEL: Child's play in Tanzania

Two long ropes orbit the boy, making that familiar “tsk tsk tsk” sound on the asphalt. Boys wielding the ropes at each end, double-dutch style, watch the jumper in awe. They’re probably hoping they’ll be as good as him in a year. One second he’s on his hands, his long, ebony-hued legs skyward, jumping upside down as the sisal ropes fly underneath. The next, he’s launched into a plank, hands and feet in sync as bounces horizontally off the ground, allowing the ropes to skim the ground without missing a beat. He exits the ropes and reenters with a full body flip. Out again. Ropes keep swinging. Repeat full body flip. This kid should be on YouTube. He probably is on YouTube.

I’m watching this impromptu performance in the most unlikely of places: Tanzania, East Africa. It’s Saturday in Amani Children’s Home, Moshi, and instead of playing Xbox or getting dragged through Bunnings, about 20 boys are practising jump-rope tricks on the basketball court. A few metres away more teenagers tear up the soccer field, playing against white men twice their size. They locals are winning.

Good news story…

The happy scene is a far cry from almost everything you read or hear about Africa. It’s almost always bad news: drought, poverty, malaria, war, pirates. All very important issues, but not the whole picture. There’s good stuff happening here in Tanzania. Founded in 2001, social workers from Amani Children’s Home rescue willing street kids and orphans from Moshi and nearby Arusha – known as the gateway to tourist hotspots Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, from where I’ve come. The kids are vaccinated, given medical attention (HIV children are not excluded), schooled, given vocational training such as carpentry and tailoring, and taught life skills.

“The children help prepare meals, they do their own dishes, wash their own clothes and help each other,” explains database manager, Salma Kathibu, who’s playing tour guide today. Their parents are offered support and micro-credit loans, she adds, before “reunification” is attempted. Most importantly, all 80 students are loved.

From rags to jump-rope …

Chatting to Amani’s primary care services coordinator Rogasian Massue, the picture becomes even brighter. The jump-rope prodigy is Zawadi, 16, and in July he and four other East African jumpers competed in the US – where the sport enjoys a cult following. Two years ago, jump-rope world champion Mike Fry launched the One World One Rope campaign in Tanzania and Kenya, which uses jump-rope as “a means to foster teamwork, confidence and leadership”. Brandishing 100 ropes, Mike spent five days at Amani – it means “peace” in Swahili – teaching the children stunts that would render The X Factor judges speechless.

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Today, Zawadi boasts medals from the first annual East Africa jump rope competition and camp in Kenya (the next one is scheduled for December), and has clocked up more frequent flyer points than K-Rudd. On the US tour, he joined more than 350 jumpers from 13 countries in Washington DC, Cleveland and Seattle. Zawadi leads daily jump-rope practice at Amani, teaching the other children tricks just as Mike taught him. And he’s about to graduate from primary school. Winning.

An Angelina moment …

Zawadi excuses himself in a polite but typically teenage, too-cool-for-school way: he has to get back to training. He tag-teams a pint-sized boy who wants to show off his acrobatic skills. Cherubic face beaming, the little guy walks on his hands, does somersaults, flips and runs around to the back of my camera to check his work. Or, possibly, mine. More kids scramble to have their picture taken.

Eventually I meet Amani’s only six girls – the youngest is five. (According to Salma, sadly, it’s more difficult to find homeless, abused or orphaned girls as they’re often behind closed doors, working as prostitutes or domestic servants.) Dressed in long hand-me-down skirts, the girls stand demurely in the shade, a minority among sporty and raucous boys.

The next few minutes fly and while showing the girls how to take happy snaps with an SLR – a lot easier than jumping rope – I realise my fellow travellers have disappeared. Shit. The bus is leaving. The sun is shining but not oppressively hot, I can see imposing Mt Kilimanjaro to the north and the Amani kids are infectious. I don’t want to leave. If I were Angelina Jolie I’d just take a couple with me, I guess.

Definitely good stuff happening in Tanzania.

Hanna visited Amani Children’s Home on Intrepid Travel’s classic Road to Zanzibar tour. Support Amani by visiting the website ; all donations will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Intrepid Foundation. One World One Rope is fundraising for the second annual East Africa jump rope competition; if you’d like to help out, click here.