In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than four out of five children in extreme poverty live in rural areas and yet agriculture is the largest employment sector in the region. Targeting farming communities and involving them in rural development processes is critical to driving change and making rural areas a place where children, farmers and families can thrive.
In Tanzania, TAWLAE (the Tanzanian Association of Women Leaders in Agriculture and Environment) has been doing exactly this to bring about sustainable and locally owned solutions. We spoke with Mary Liwa, programme director at TAWLAE, with whom ECLT has worked for the last 10 years about the crucial work that the association does to build capacity in areas of farming and child protection, and where she draws her inspiration from.
“The projects that we do empower women technologically and environmentally and support families to become food secure. The women in TAWLAE are busy, wherever they are they are making a difference to other rural women from childhood to adulthood”
With over 600 members, TAWLAE connects small-holder farmers with wider social change for the better at district, regional and national levels. Projects focus on environmentally friendly farming, and training rural communities on new methods and technologies to embrace eco-diversity whilst also increasing their incomes.
“The forests are not only for cutting firewood, but they can also be used for beekeeping, or mushroom growing for example. For the families who live by the ocean, we have also been training adults in seaweed farming.”
Improving rural livelihoods is just one piece of the puzzle in rural development for Mary Liwa. Raising awareness and tackling issues relating to child labour amongst remote villages and local authorities can drive change from the ground up in terms of better child protection.
“Our biggest mission at TAWLAE is child labour and child protection”
The association supports children from class one, supplying them with school uniforms and supplies up to class seven, from there they are helped by TAWLAE to pass they O’Levels, A’Levels, and in some situations even go to University. Mary added that TAWLAE has in fact employed many of the young women who were part of the programme when they were children and supported many others to access new and exciting decent work opportunities.
“We support them where they need to begin their own careers”
Committed to the critical work the organisation does, Mary most often referred to as Mama Liwa by her friends and colleagues, shared with us that she took in 7 girls who were in the programme herself. She believes her passion and drive to protect children and provide them with the opportunities for a brighter future came from her own upbringing.
“My family was one of the poorest, a peasant family, dependent on the food we farmed ourselves. We had a difficult time going to school, at that time girls were not allowed to go to school as they were expected to get married young”
Mary grew up in the rural highlands of southern Tanzania, one of 14 children. Mary’s parents also took in other children who were malnourished and provided them with warm meals and a bed. Thanks to his connections through missionaries in the area, Mary’s father was able to send all the girls, and boys, in the family to school.
An A* student with a passion for agriculture, Mary went on to study at the University of Reading gaining a master’s degree in agricultural extension. Working as a tutor, and with the support of her Professors, Mary funded her own way through her studies.
For Mary, a key takeaway in her career has been that in order to push progress for child labour we need people who are committed and you need the support of the local, district and national Government.
“We need to advocate for child to be kept safe and go beyond the individual level”
Insisting on the important role of a systems approach, and advocacy at every level, Mary gave the example of Rebeca Gyumi who, in 2016, challenged the Tanzanian Marriage Act which allowed girls as young as 14 to be married with their parents’ consent and won. The High Court in Tanzania said in a landmark ruling that the Marriage Act of 1971 was unconstitutional and discriminatory towards girls and raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls.
Mary insists that advocating for change in rural areas can bring concrete and real change for millions of children, making farming communities a place where families can thrive.