Leaving a Mark on Others’ Lives
Binti Shupavu Scholars, who are adolescent girls from about age 12-16, are some of the most vulnerable members of society in Tanzania. This is the critical point where paths often diverge: some lead to continued education and empowerment while many others lead to marginalization. AfricAid has recently brought a Social Worker, Veronica Kilala, on board to support the Binti Shupavu team. We invited Veronica to share her own story so that AfricAid supporters can see why she is such an excellent fit for the newly created position.
As Social Worker and Community Liaison, Veronica’s main duties are:
- Helping to identify and support Binti Shupavu girls who are at risk of dropping out of our Binti Shupavu Program, or their O Level studies entirely.
- Working closely with the Binti Shupavu Project Managers, Binti Shupavu Staff, School Administrations and Liaison Officers, families and students to help ensure girls are supported to stay in school.
- Working with our Binti Shupavu and She’s the First program team to develop ongoing plans.
- Making decisions regarding the delivery of emergency funding in certain situations and ensuring any funds used by Scholars are accounted for.
Veronica has hit the ground running, making the rounds of the Partner Schools, introducing herself to the Scholars and telling them the kinds of things that she can help them with. According to Asimwe Suedi, Binti Shupavu Project Manager, the Scholars have already started writing Veronica letters, expressing their struggles.
Introducing our New Social Worker, Veronica
My name is Veronica Melchior Kilala, but if you visit my motherland I am called Siza (for scissor as my mother was operated on during my birth). Veronica is my baptism name.
I was born in Iringa, but grew up in Sumbawanga-Rukwa, a southern region of Tanzania. I am the second born of four children in my family (2 girls and 2 boys). Unfortunately, my sister passed away in February, 2017, so we are three now. I was raised in an extended family, so I have a lot of memories of my parents, siblings, aunts and my grandmother since we spent so much time together.
When you talk about resilience and leadership, my mother is the first person who comes to mind. I remember her working so hard since we were children, selling local beers, and later baking doughnuts. When I was in Standard 4, she started a rice business and we witnessed her becoming a large business owner. She was taking care of a big family by then – four children, our 2 aunties, uncles (her siblings), grandparents and my father, who by that time was at adult learning college. She used to tell me “Siza, if you don’t study hard you will be married as soon as finishing your Standard 7 (last year of Primary School). There is no second chance in spending my money as there are other family members who I am also responsible for taking care of.” I am always proud to talk about my Mom because she is number one among strong women I have ever met. Regardless of ups and downs she never stopped hustling and dreaming big.
Educational Background, Memories & Influential Teachers
Primary School (1996-2002): For Standard One to Seven, I was at Chemchem Primary School. The moments I enjoyed most were playing with my friends at school, especially after exams and after school hours when we used to play and sometimes even forget about home. However, my primary school experience was not that good and, aside from my friends, I didn’t enjoy it. I was a slow learner and a shy and quiet girl. I remember our hand writing teacher was so harsh that she used to beat us. There were also kids who lived nearby who used to bully me and tell other students that I sometimes peed in bed. It made me feel so uncomfortable that they were calling me bad names that I sometimes failed to attend school, dodging for even two weeks at a time. I would hide myself in the bush as I couldn’t tell my mother, nor the teachers at school. From Standard 5, things got better and I enjoyed spending time with my fellow Catholic students. After school we would go together to church for holy communion training.
Secondary School (2003-2009): I joined Mazwi Secondary School – Sumbawanga for my Ordinary Level education (Form One through Four). I started business studies as my mother wanted me to be a banker. She viewed bankers as smart people and believed that in the future I could helping her with her book keeping. I had a much better experience because I gained confidence through our sports teacher who used to mentor me. This teacher was a great influence on me to change as she recognized I was a quiet and shy girl. She knew my family and my background because she lived near me. She knew I was quiet at home and how always I spent time alone. She convinced me join the netball team and she taught me to interact with other students playing the sport after school hours. Also, in this secondary school, half the students were old school friends that I knew well since we were young girls. Other students used to call us the “owners of the school.” I now believe “time heals almost everything.”
After I completed my O Level studies was a time when my mother’s business picked up so she decided to shift me and my young brothers to private schools. So, I joined Mukidoma High School in Arusha region for A Level (Form Five and Six). I remember I was so happy as it was my first time to travel far from my region and live in a boarding school. I first studied a business combination (Economics, Commerce and Accounting), but after 3 months I shifted to an arts combination (History, Geography, and Kiswahili) because our Accounting teacher was not friendly, so I did not enjoy the class. I made new friends from different regions and learned new stories, cultures and behaviors.
University (2009-2012): I am a proud graduate of Tumaini University-Iringa where I received a Bachelor Degree of Arts in Community Development (BACD). My male cousin was the one who suggested this course to me as he was a third-year university student and he used to advise me on several issues regarding school. Because my blood sister got pregnant when she was just in Form Two, she didn’t get a chance to continue with school life. This made my father not believe in educating girls.
At University, I gained a lot of life experiences, leadership skills and new friends. I contested for Vice Chairperson for the Tumaini University Student Organization (TUSO-IUCO) and later was a Minister of Gender and Social Welfare for the student organization.
My favorite teacher at university was Madam Agnes Nzali. She taught first through third year social science subjects, but always included real life experiences to make them relevant. At the end of the semester of our Gender and Development course, she gathered all the girls in the class and told us, “We teach you so after you finish your studies you will have the potential to make positive change in your community. We don’t teach you to go and fight with your husbands and community members.” I was so inspired with her speech that ever since then, her words are a motto for my life’s work.
I have almost 6 years’ experience working with local, national and international organizations to deliver grassroots community program targets. I have held different positions such as Project Coordinator, Youth Coordinator and Social Worker/Case Manager and worked with projects funded by USAID, UNHCR, NORAD and SIDA. These projects addressed vulnerable children, child protection in emergencies, sexual reproductive health, HIV and youth and women’s groups. Just before joining AfricAid, I worked as Child Protection Social Worker under Plan International at Mtendeli Refugee Camp Kibondo. I was tasked with mobilizing refugee communities to play an effective role in protecting the rights of children. We aimed to prevent and respond to child protection concerns in the camp.
My proudest moments are when the people and community members I work with and for also enjoy working with me and provide positive feedback. When I was affiliated with Pact Tanzania as a Program Coordinator in rural Songea, I worked with women on economic empowerment issues and they used to love working with me. They wondered how a young girl like me could have the confidence and ability to mentor them in business and life skills issues. They trusted me and sometimes referred their children to me for advice and encouraged their daughters to be like me. I always feel especially proud when I work with young people and children. Sharing my own real life experience makes me enjoy working with them. I like the saying “Leaving a mark on another person’s life is always a payback to why you were born.”
Words of Wisdom
I am so happy to join the team to enlighten girls’ future. I have had many experiences and learned a lot that I can share with our young girls. I always believe in tomorrow. If today doesn’t work well, there is always tomorrow. I have two phrases that I like to share:
“There is no tonic more powerful than the expectation of something tomorrow.”
“Being a lady of standards is a process, so create them now while you still have time.”