If the last post showed us anything, it’s that T-shirts are more powerful in Zanzibar than you might have imagined. But this power can be used for good as well as ill, and as little as $25 can have a huge impact if spent with a little imagination.
Let me explain.
Last October, students volunteering with Sustainable East Africa (the NGO I run) helped establish an Environment Club at a local charity school, PLCI – the Prospective Learning and Charitable Institution. The student-led club was very enthusiastic, and excited to start new projects.
Christmas was approaching, and I was finding it hard in Muslim Zanzibar to get into the Christmas spirit. Specifically, I was struggling to create the Christmas spirit in my flat, as there was an almost complete absence of anything remotely Christmassy available in the shops.
I had researched techniques of upcycling soda cans, and was inspired by this instructable to get creative. I figured I was probably not the only foreigner in Zanzibar looking for a bit of Christmas spirit, so I showed the idea to a group of artistic volunteers and we came up with some designs for making Christmas decorations from soda cans. Would the PLCI environment club be interested to see if they could raise a few shillings from ‘taka taka’ (trash)? They would indeed!
So now all they needed was a few pairs of heavy duty scissors, some empty soda cans, and their imagination. A $25 donation from the Rotary Club of Zanzibar, Stone Town supplied the scissors, and with guidance from World Unite! volunteers Sabrina, Anne-Sophie and Lucas, the students got started!
And my goodness it was a success! They worked rapidly and enthusiastically, and soon turned out designs. At first they just copied the models the volunteers had made, but once they got the hang of it, they started creating new designs based on traditional henna art patterns. We took them to sell at the Cultural Arts Centre, Zanzibar, another Sustainable East Africa partner (opposite the Hamamni Baths, if you’re in Stone Town) and they sold like hot cakes.
We were by now only a couple of weeks from Christmas – this year we will start earlier – but in that short time, the students managed to raise over 100,000 Tanzanian shillings (around $60) – more than doubling the investment.
Their pride was amazing. These students are almost all living in extreme poverty. The minimum wage was, at the time, 70,000 shillings a month, and that’s if you have a job: unemployment is around 50%. Family size is typically at least five children. Money is scarce, and livelihood options for young people bleak. For them suddenly to have money in their pocket that they had earned for themselves was beyond imagination.
So what did they decide to spend it on? CDs? Sweets? Sodas?
No. Not PLCI. They decided to spend it on buying school T-shirts – their school uniform – for themselves and other students.
These T-shirts were a symbol of achievement, of pride, of hope, and of identity as members of a club that had shown them for the first time that earning themselves a living could be within their reach.
For $25 investment in scissors, this is priceless.