I appreciated my Dad talking to me on skype yesterday. I talked about how we have given the youth the job of making 2500 bricks. The job is in a rural area, so we found a place for them to live out there, and they are to manage themselves until the job is done.
“Dad, it’s exhausting going out there everyday. They are having a hard time managing themselves, and when they have trouble, it normally falls on me to solve it. I’m not the person for that. I don’t really know how Tanzanians think, but it’s especially difficult with youth that have lived on the streets. I don’t know what it’s like to live on the streets. How do they think? What do they care about? What motivates them? How do I solve a disagreement they have? And I just feel that we are so far away from them running the business on their own.”
Dad: “Every bit of that is true, but that’s not what you need to be focusing on.”
Me: “I know. I agree. It’s just on my mind a lot right now. Yeah, let’s talk about what I should focus on.”
Dad: “Okay, explain to me what these boys are trying to do.”
Me: “They’re making 2500 bricks in 3 weeks. It’s too far away from town for them to travel everyday, so they are living there until the job is done. This is normal for brick-makers. They need to be taking more and more of the responsibility each day, but they’re having trouble managing themselves.”
Dad: “I’m kind of impressed.”
Dad: “Let me ask you a question. When was the last time any of these young men had major responsibilities every day?”
Me: “Wow. Um. I guess it’s been years. If… if they have ever had them. Actually, I guess most or all have never had major responsibilities.”
Dad: “Well, I know they have had to work.”
Me: “Sure, they used to steal or collect scrap metal everyday to get food. And at our normal brick site they come, make bricks for a few hours, and then go back to the streets or their home. But to wake up each day and have major responsibilities that take a lot of thought to execute… I guess that’s entirely new to them.”
Dad: “Okay, another question… are these youth used to spending long periods of time doing nothing?”
Me: “Yeah, absolutely. If I go to where they hang out in the middle of the day, they’re always playing cards or this little gambling game with rocks. They do it for hours.”
Dad: “This is a really new thing for them to do. I’m impressed that they are doing it. I’m impressed that they have made it this far.”
Me: “You’re right. I guess I’ve just been comparing their progress with what other brick-makers would be doing. I hadn’t thought to compare their progress with what they’ve been doing everyday for the last five years of their life. It is impressive that they are doing this well.”
They have learned to ask neighbors to get water for them, and keep track of how much everyone brought, so that everyone gets paid correctly. They’ve also learned to write receipts for this.
We now give them the money for water, and we’ve been able to trust them.
We gave them a large amount of money last Sunday (about $45) , to buy flour, a stove, a plastic dish, blankets and mats. They used they money they needed, got receipts for everything, and returned the change. For folks who once lived by stealing, that’s a big step.
They’ve made 1170 bricks, and have stepped up the quality. Here are a few of them.
On Friday, Tanzanians celebrated Eid al-Fitr. On Thursday, four of the five youth came to me saying, “Hey, we’ve made a lot of bricks. We want our pay now, so we can go to town and celebrate Eid. Bring other workers to finish the job.”
I tried to explain that if you agree to do a job, and then stop in the middle, that hurts your reputation. It will be difficult to find work if you do this. They reluctantly agreed, but I went home anxious, worried they would demand more intensely when I returned the next morning- the morning of Eid.
When I arrived at 7:15 the next morning though, there was no mention of Eid or returning to town. They were already awake, watering the bricks, mixing sand, getting neighbors to bring water. I was relieved and asked Yusufu what had happened.
“We talked yesterday, Davis. We agreed that we can’t quit in the middle of our job and go eat Eid. I convinced them to keep working, and to even get up early for work today. But I have one request.”
“It is welcome. Tell me.”
“We want to have own little Eid, out here. We want to use some of our food money to buy spaghetti and sugar tonight, instead of just sweet potatoes. We know it will cost more, but we want to eat Eid like everyone else.”
“That’s a great idea, Yusufu. You can have it for sure. How much does spaghetti cost…
The title means, “It’s a long journey, but we’re moving ahead.”
(Two more pictures, which they asked me to share with you.)