The Experience of Being a Child in Unga Limited Ward, Arusha, Tanzania

Hannah McCandless
Caucus for Children’s Rights


The Landscape: Unga Ltd. Ward, Arusha, Tanzania

Unga Ltd. Ward is an urban unplanned neighborhood in Arusha city that is infamous for extreme poverty and lack of adequate social services. Like many urban unplanned neighborhoods throughout the world, Unga Ltd. has experienced rapid population growth. This is contributing to challenges associated with a predominance of single female-headed households, limited opportunities for formal employment, and a burgeoning problem with drug and alcohol abuse.

The situation for children in Unga Ltd. is particularly dire. In a study assessing risk factors in Unga Ltd. conducted by Mkombozi, citizens identified the following as risk factors for children living there: prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse, poor infrastructure resulting in contaminated water resources and play areas, dangerous road conditions and traffic, unmonitored areas that foster sexual abuse and/or rape, and lack of adequate safety measures on the school compound. For example, children have to leave the school compound to access a toilet. Seventy-five percent of children surveyed in Arusha, where Unga Ltd. is but one neighborhood, reported never feeling protected from violence and never accessing child protection services. Furthermore, only 59% of respondents in this same study felt that non-government services protected children from abuse.

Overwhelmed by the number of sexual abuse cases occurring in Unga, the Ward Executive Officer approached Caucus for Children’s Rights (CCR) in early 2013 to seek support. CCR facilitated a process with local officials, representatives from the city community development office, the police, Mkombozi, and Action for Children to identify the barriers to protecting children, to consider solutions, and try out ideas for acting on abuse.

In order to deepen its understanding of the complex childhood experience in Unga Ltd., CCR conducted a study with 24 students in classes 6 and 7 at Unga Ltd. Primary School. The study aimed to use a strengths-based approach to explore and describe children’s perceptions of childhood in Unga Ltd. We conduct research with children in order to understand how individual children narrate and make meaning of their experience. This serves as a transformative intervention so that children start to understand themselves as social actors differently.

In seeking data to answer the question, “What is it like to be a child in Unga Ltd.?,” CCR held a day of workshop activities and storytelling in February of 2015. Through a series of hands-on, discussion-based activities, children provided insight into how they make sense of their experiences. The transcripts and stories were qualitatively coded using grounded theory to produce the following findings.


Children expressed that they are punished by adults, but also, in turn, abuse other children. Children in Unga Ltd do not always live with their parents, often as a result of drunkenness, drug abuse, divorce, or death. Children demonstrated the ability to self-reflect and self-improve. Children empathize with their peers and want to help friends who may be struggling. Finally, many children cited having been inspired by their participation in the children’s rights club at their school.

The Child’s Voice

The following are a handful of the stories collected during this study (presented here in the children’s voice, with only minor edits to ensure readability). The stories demonstrate the diversity and complexity of children’s understandings of their experience and illustrate the findings discussed above. (Note: A number of children refer to “CARC,” which is the children’s rights club at their school.)

“We all have equal rights, be it boys or girls”
My name is Joyce, I am standard 6 student at Unga Ltd. primary school. One day, the school announced the availability of new school t-shirts. When I got home, I told Mom and Dad that they should buy one for me and they said that they would the next day. When morning came, Dad took my younger brother to school to get him a t-shirt. My mom urged him to also buy me one as I am the one who asked for it in the first place. When we got to school, my dad bought one t-shirt for my little brother and not for me. He told me that I didn’t deserve one and that girls shouldn’t go to school, only boys should. My story teaches us that we all have equal rights, be it boys or girls.

Witnessing abuse and neglect
In Unga Ltd., there are lots of things but in my story only one thing dazzled me. A husband and wife were blessed with a child. The wife was a really bad and cruel person; she occasionally hid the child under the couch. One day, a friend of hers came to visit and to her astonishment she heard a baby crying. The visiting friend was shocked. Before she had visited, she had [heard] rumors that her host had had a baby recently and nobody knew where the baby was. After the visit, she left her friend’s house and went to visit this other woman, where she explained all [her] suspicions. The other woman asked her if she was certain about what she was saying. After being satisfied with her certainty, she told her . . . she would visit the couple with some law enforcement officers. The woman went to the couple’s house with law enforcement officers at 11:00 at night. When they knocked on the door, the wife asked, “Who is it?” and they answered, “Just open the door.” And she did not open the door for them. The law officers proceeded [to break down] the door and entered into the house. They went straight in and looked under the couch, where they found the child asleep. They asked her why she is doing what she was doing, keeping an innocent creature of God under a couch, and so she was taken to the police station.

Dangerous environments pose risks
I am a pupil at Unga Ltd. primary school. When I was 4 years old, I loved school very much. I asked my parents to take me to school and they agreed to enlist me with a nursery class for two years. When I turned 6, I was enrolled [at] Unga Ltd. primary to begin standard 1. It is there that I met with my dear friend, who was in standard 2. One day when I was heading off to school, he advised me not to go and that we should skip school and keep on playing. I couldn’t say no to him because I believed, trusted, and looked up to him. We were playing with water [near a well]. [At] 3 p.m., it started raining heavily; I [was] soaked wet and felt ill. My friend was still playing in the water; he accidentally slipped, fell into the well, and lost consciousness. There was no one to help him, as the rain was too [heavy]. After some time, someone showed up and helped us; we were taken to the hospital. My mom was so angry with me and she told me never to repeat what I did again. . . . I have not been with my friend again, and I can’t play next to water.

Advocating for the right to education
One day [when] I left early from school, I saw a child being abused by being denied his right to education. I sought to make the mother understand, as I was educated and enlightened by CARC. She understood me and up to this day that child is attending school.

Demonstrating empathy for other children
My name is Samson and I am in standard 7 at Unga Ltd. primary school. My mom works as a vegetable vendor and my dad is a butcher. I was very happy [with] my parents, relatives, sisters, and brothers. One day as I was going to Shangwe’s at a certain street, I saw a 14-year-old child being forced into an arranged marriage and being denied her right to go to school. Her dad was a drunk that doesn’t listen to nor value . . . his family nor his children. I pitied her so much. I left and went to my friend Shangwe’s house. I found [Shangwe] playing football happily and I joined in. After playing football, I left and went back home; on my way, I saw a child being caned. I asked what he had done and this other child told me that he had lost a pair of new flip-flops. I felt sorry for him.

Overcoming internal and external conflict
My name is Ramazani Jastin; I am in standard 7. [When] I was young, I had the habit of stealing. I loved tea with chapati and I was very naughty; I used to bully my friends and tell lies about them. One day as I was cooking, I burnt my whole body with boiling cooking oil. I was taken to the hospital and, God willing, I recovered. I was enrolled into school as I didn’t know how to read and write. My grandfather used to cane me a lot. At one time, thieves came and took all our livestock and that was the reason why [my] grandpa turned into a drunk. When he comes back home, he beats us, throws us out of the house, and later on takes us back in. This is still going on. I have reached standard 7B. After joining CARC, I knew my rights and those of other children.

“I met a Good Samaritan . . .”
One day I woke up to go to school, my parents handed me money for two school t-shirts; one for me and one for my little sibling. One t-shirt was 10,000; at this time, I was 8 years old and in standard 2. As I was heading to school, I looked back and realized that there was a man tailing me. When I looked at him, he pretended that he was going along with his business. I kept on with my journey to school. I reached a part of the road that was kind of between trees and bushes and there weren’t that many people passing by this part and the guy that was tailing me spoke to me, asking me to stop. At the moment, I still had the 10,000 TSH that my dad gave me for the t-shirt. He asked what I was holding in my arms and before I could even reply he threw me to the ground and took the money with him. I screamed and shouted but nobody heard me. But I met a Good Samaritan whom I told the story to; he felt sorry for me and gave me 10,000 to replace that which I had lost. I was so grateful for what he had done.


Children in Unga Ltd. live at the mercy of the adults in their life, and childhood can often be a struggle. While hardship is common, children can transcend these obstacles and protect one another; they may experience protection by adults, and love from parents who work hard to help their children to succeed. Dichotomy characterizes many children’s lives. While the context in which they reside challenges them, children demonstrate behaviors that CCR is trying to catalyze. They protect their peers, they reflect, they empathize, and they attempt to self-improve. Perhaps the most encouraging finding that emerged from this study was the power of the children’s rights club at Unga Ltd. Primary School. Started by teachers at the school, the club has empowered children to advocate for their own rights and the rights of others. The children spoke of understanding their rights and the rights of other children better, of changing their behavior after joining the club, and, importantly, of taking action to protect other children as a result of what they had learned through their participation in the club. Since conducting this study, CCR launched a pilot program of similar groups in two schools in Arusha. Based on initial success, they will continue the intervention and scale it throughout Arusha.

Advocates for children. Citizens for change. Partners with purpose. Join our community.