First thing required is a spot of orientation on best practice for filling the forms which contain something like 50 data fields. There’s lots of information to gather from each child, and it needs to be documented accurately.
Once briefed, we pile in to a combination of bench-seated SUV and a pick up truck for the brief journey across the main highway, past the Mbeya airstrip and up the gentle hill towards the Airport Church and our first batch of secondary age kids. There’s a glimpse of the hills surrounding Mbeya, but as we stop we’re surrounded by children of all ages excitedly chattering, waving, offering High Fives and asking, “What is your name?”.
We enter the church building and meet some of the local team, but it’s not long before jobs are allocated. We’ve got 200+ children to document, so several interview areas are set out, alongside height/weight measuring and photographs.
Quickly the church benches fill up with our interviewees, and the first few come over. I’m with Stanley who expertly translates, making up for my stilted queries. Some questions are understood in English , and after a while some of the answers in Swahili become apparent to me as I warm up to the job in hand. The youngsters themselves are deferential, polite and softly spoken. Stanley invites some of them closer and encourages them to use their English as Secondary age lessons are taught in our language. Sometimes they don’t offer much eye contact, often it takes some digging to obtain the real answer, but eventually each form is satisfied and we finish by offering to pray. Around us the benches are still filling up, the line for photos gets longer and as soon as one form is finished the seat is promptly taken by the head of the queue.
The middle of the day is broken up with a visit to the Airport feeding programme, just up the road. I’ve missed a ride in the Land Cruiser so one of our local interview students walks me up there. On the way I manage a few conversational questions about school, and its not long before we are hailed in English by some of the children we pass. By the time we arrive there’s four of them hanging off my hands and we finish with High Fives all round. I’m in the yard of a building surrounded by lines of children, some singing, all expectant. Round the back a couple of large bowls and some water are present for hand washing. The kids take to it with gusto as we pour water over dusty fingers, then they join the line for food. These are a younger age group, some become rather timid as they approach, but most accept the food happily and run off to eat. I can see why hand washing is required – when I look up as the end of the queue passes, I see they’re eating the rice, beans and banana with fingers, scooping the food up and filling every corner of the large yard.
We head back to the church to continue interviews. Eventually the benches start to empty as we work our way through the children. Once the forms are done I wander outside. There’s a bunch of younger children hanging around, so I get the opportunity to learn how to count to five in Swahili (gonna need more than one day for that to stick), exchange greetings as they ask my name, and attempt to master the spinning top fashioned from an old battery and half a stick with a strip of material hanging off. (Tip here: wind the material the right way and make sure the battery centre doesn’t drop out – it took a good 10 goes and lots of
We leave Airport location walking down past kiosks selling vegetables, charcoal and SIM cards, chugging motorbikes and tuk-tuks. The sun is setting over the town, but after an evening meal and refreshment, work continues collating forms, inputting the data and organising digital images. We’ve seen less than a tenth of our students, so roll on tomorrow and sunrise over the next few hundred eager faces