Diary of a Skillful Parenting employee in Tanzania

Pia van den Boom, ICS employee on Skillful Parenting, kept a diary during her trip to Tanzania. Pia: "I’m impressed by the facilitator, a young man who encourages parents to express their opinions." The question "who is most important in the family" triggers an intense discussion amongst the parents. 

Pia WEB.jpgMonday January 12
- After a travel of 20 hours and a "warm welcome" of the Tanzanian immigration officers, I've arrived in Shinyanga, a rural town in Tanzania. A town where you will find one of the two ICS offices in Tanzania. Together with Christine Omitto, the Kenyan Child a Protection Officer, I'll be visiting Shinyanga to prepare the kick-off of a new exciting project in Tanzania. In this project ICS will collaborate with the University of Oxford and the National Institute of Medical Research to evaluate the impact of skillful parenting on prevention of child maltreatment. This project is funded by UBS Optimus Foundation. It is my first visit to Tanzania so I'm really looking forward to meet the team and learn more about our program. 

Tuesday January 13 - My visits starts with an introduction of the team: the Child Protection Coordinator, Sokoine, and the Skillful Parenting trainers, Samwel and Sabrina. After some coffee and a traditional snack we meet with 5 new facilitators. They are local farmers and parents themselves. This is important as they can easily identify with the parents in our program and speak the local language. In the afternoon we visit a group of parents that have participated in Skillful Parenting 5 months ago. I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of fathers in this group as well as the location of the session: a primary school. Parents always choose the location of sessions themselves so you could say that these parents choose to go back to school to learn more about parenting.... Samwel facilitates a 2-hour session to reflect on the way their parenting has changed since Skillful Parenting. Parents mostly refer to changes in roles and family relations: fathers are less dominant and started to involve their wives and children in decision-making. Interestingly, some parents decided to send their daughter(s) to school. This is followed by a critical remark of a teacher who urges parents to send their children to school at a younger age. After some more discussion and reflection, Samwel finalizes the session and we thank the parents for their time and input. Satisfied we travel back to the office. 

From left to right: Sokoine, Samwel, Christine and Sabrina

Wednesday January 14 - We use the full morning to go through the planning and budget for the upcoming year. After a traditional, tasteful lunch, Ugali and fish, we leave to visit a local partner organization: Agape. Agape works with victims of child marriages and pregnancies and supports them to finish their education. ICS supports Agape to work with these girls on skillful parenting. It is bitter, but these young girls (age 12-16) have become mothers and have to assume the accompanying responsibilities. We attend a session of the Agape facilitator with one of the teen parent groups. It is really confronting to see such young girls expecting a baby. During the session they talk about family relations and the facilitator uses a story that is familiar for the girls: a 12 year old girl that marries a man of 45 years old. They talk about the girl's family who have made this decision and the new family that the girl is joining as a fifth wife. A sad story, but unfortunately a reality for many girls in the room. It is fascinating to see how this facilitator is adapting the Skillful Parenting program to this specific target group. After a group photo and lots of giggling by the girls, we say goodbye and travel back. 

Thursday 15 January – 8.30 am: our journey begins to attend a skillful parenting session of a facilitator of Mwandu Intinje, a local CBO, in Meatu district. This is a 3-4 hour drive through the green country side of Tanzania passing enormous baobab trees and rock formations. At 12.00 we arrive in the village where the facilitator and a group of parents are waiting for us. During this first session the parents will discuss about family relations. I’m impressed by the facilitator, a young man who encourages parents to express their opinions and uses some songs of local family rituals. You can clearly see that he is enjoying his role; positive energy he conveys to parent group. The question “Who is most important in the family” triggers an intense discussion amongst the parents. Is it the mother? Children? Or are all family members equally important? Clearly there is no one answer to this question, but it helps parents to consider the value of each family member and the importance of positive family relations. After 2 hours we have to say goodbye. The way back takes a bit longer because of a flat tire, but eventually we arrive well in Shinyanga. It has been a long travel to attend a 2-hour session, but this is inevitable when working in rural areas.


Friday 16 January – I conclude my trip to Tanzania with a visit to the National Institute of Medical Research; the research institute that will be involved in the study of the Skillful Parenting program. We meet with John, the director, and Joyce and Nnko. All three experienced researchers who are well aware of the local context and issues around parenting. We are very much looking forward to work with them in the coming year.

Would you like to know more on the training skillful parenting? Read all about it on the project page.