Working with faith-based organizations in Tanzania to promote youth development

Tanzania's strategy for reducing HIV/AIDS infection informed research on the benefits of collaborating with faith-based organizations when rehabilitating and improving resilience in street children.

By Nubra Elaine Floyd, PhD

Dr. Floyd recently spent seven months as a Fulbright Scholar in Arusha, Tanzania where she lectured at Mount Meru University and conducted community psychology research on methods for rehabilitating and improving resilience in “street children,” as well as the potential benefits of collaborating with local faith-based organizations to address these issues.

HIV/AIDS prevention in Tanzania and the U.S.

When the World Health Organization (WHO) set the goal of providing HIV/AIDS treatment to three million people in Africa by the end of 2005, there was an emphasis on improving access to youth-friendly health services. At the time, Tanzania faced one of the largest HIV epidemics in the world with a 10% infection rate.1 Young women showed higher rates along with orphans and other vulnerable children, and the average life expectancy for females was said to be 46 years. During this time, the rate of infection for the United States as a whole was one-sixth of 1%. However, prevalence of HIV among Blacks was ten times greater than among Whites; African Americans constituted about an eighth of the population, but accounted for more than half of the 40,000 newly infected children and adults, and HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death for women between the ages of 25 and 34.

In 2009, WHO reported that the number of people worldwide as newly infected with HIV had peaked in 1996 and was showing a general decline by 2007. This decline was due in part to a steady lowering of the rate of new infection in Sub-Saharan Africa, with Tanzania as a model.2 By contrast, an April 2009 Wall Street Journal article said the Center for Disease Control reported an alarming increase in the number of newly infected Americans each year. Though HIV/AIDS prevalence had declined in Tanzania and other African countries, infection in the United States was still a particularly serious health threat for African Americans.3

Discovering the methods that have been successful for reducing HIV/AIDS infection in Tanzania can inform efforts to reduce the rates of HIV/AIDS infection in the United States, especially among African American populations. One notable commonality between African and African American cultures is the strong role that religion plays in both. In June of 2009, Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete launched his Health Sector Strategic Plan calling for collaboration between religious and private sector groups to address health issues. U.S. scholars and their Tanzanian counterparts could benefit from researching the positive effects that faith-based organizations have on psychological factors like resilience and rehabilitation, and how collaborating with such organizations can improve health.

Dr. Floyd (front center) with Mt. Meru University divinity students and the Street Youth in Transition Project Coordinator, Spring 2012  Participants in the Arusha Street Youth in Transition Project Meeting outside Bamboo Restaurant, Spring 2012

Listening to former street children

The term “street children” refers to children who primarily reside in the streets and public spaces of a city (typically in a developing country) without adult supervision or care. My first real contact with street children came while visiting South Africa in 2000 and engaging in personal exchanges with young kids living on the streets of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

When American civil rights leader Andrew Young helped convene The National Summit on Africa that February, I was part of California’s delegation to Washington, D.C. and participated in drafting a working paper on education and culture that emphasized the need for collaboration between United States professionals interested in promoting youth development and their counterparts in Africa nations.4 A few years later, my participation in a Global Health Care Justice Symposium held at Hiram College in Ohio led more specifically to an interest in the health challenges confronting these youth and building partnerships to address them. The keynote speaker was an Anglican Priest from Tanzania who had himself been rescued from the streets as a child and hoped to educate health professionals about the developmental needs of street children.5 Informal exchanges with educators and youth workers during three subsequent visits to that country, as well as interactions with street vendors who had been street kids, yielded three areas of focus for my research: resources, resilience, and rehabilitation.

Identifying sociocultural resources

Travel to northern Tanzania in 2008 and 2009 for developing global service learning sites allowed first hand observation of a fledgling organization called CHISWEA that was then providing more than 50 young people with food, shelter and educational access. With limited staff and occasional participation by international volunteers, a relatively small scale agency was providing individual case management and offering continuity of support.6 A larger organization called Mkombozi was at the same time helping hundreds of dislocated youth survive on the streets, prepare for placement in residential schools or return to their families.7 Conversations with these Arusha area youth workers provided glimpses of an intricate support system that included small businesses, market vendors, street vendors, and local law enforcement agencies. A return visit to Dar es Salaam in 2010 offered further interaction with Anglican clergy engaged in rehabilitative work with street children, who were developing interfaith global partnerships.8 Such visits provided the starting point for identifying social supports associated with developmental success for street children.

Looking at resilient street children

Interviews conducted between December 2011 and February 2012 with former street youth who became successful adults yielded three preliminary case studies with each reporting very different pathways to educational attainment and developmental success. All were male, about 30 years of age and born in Tanzania. Each had spent a significant part of his childhood living on the streets in one or more of the country’s major cities and showed signs of constitutional resilience but had also benefited from various sources of social and cultural support. Most notably, all had experienced religious conversion as part of rehabilitation and still acknowledged the importance of religion and spirituality in their lives. The following areas emerged for further inquiry: early family life; community supports; educational attainment; and developmental status.

Pathways to rehabilitation

When a vocational development project for 18 Arusha area youth in transition from homelessness was undertaken during spring 2012, it included a workshop at Christ Anglican Church where three participants in their early 20s shared similar stories to those of former street children we interviewed. Two said they went to the streets after losing their mothers through divorce and remarriage, and the other went after his mother died. One had rented his first room with money from Mkombozi, and another said a local security guard vouched for him and other street kids to rent their first house. A Chinese visitor had recently paid one youth’s room rent for six months, and another young man sold selvage materials to earn the money. All of our project participants were several months behind on rent prior to earning payments by helping Mt. Meru University recycle plastics. One young man had previously enrolled in high school, but most had no education. What distinguished them from our interview sample was their lack of educational access, and they also showed no signs of religious involvement. Though these results warrant further research, the preliminary case studies appear to support the value of collaboration with both religious and educational institutions when working with street children.


1 World Health Organization. (2003). The world health report 2003—shaping the future. Retrieved from

World Health Organization (2009). Millennium development goals—Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases. Retrieved from of work/hiv_training/en/

McKay, B. (2009, Apr 8). US News. Wall Street Journal (Eastern edit.), p. A3.

National Summit on Africa (2012) Retrieved from

Mabula, M. (2006). Retrieved from

Ink and Beans. (2010) Retrieved from

7 Mkombozi Annual Report. (2011). Retrieved from

8 Anglicans Working Together on AIDS. ACNS Retrieved from