Justa "Mama J" Mwaituka and her co-founders created Kiota Women's Health and Development as a safe “nest” for vulnerable Tanzanian youth.
In 1998, witnessing the effect of violence and poverty in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Justa Mwaituka and a group of her fellow nurses and social workers founded Kiota Women's Health and Development (KIWOHEDE) in Tanzania. Their goal was to help get vulnerable girls off the street. They envisioned a place where adolescent girls would be safe, naming the organization Kiota, or Swahili for “nest” to connote the security and growth they wanted to create for their beneficiaries.
Fast forward two decades, and KIWOHEDE has rehabilitated an estimated 40,000 young people, expanded to nearly 22 districts in eight regions across Tanzania, and become an internationally recognized expert in fighting against child abuse and exploitation. For Justa Mwaituka, or “Mama J” as the girls have christened her, the focus of the organization has remained the same: envisioning a society where children, youth and women are free from all forms of abuse, sexual violence and exploitation.
Based in Dar es Salaam, KIWOHEDE is committed to work with some of the most low-resource communities in Tanzania to promote, children, youth, women's dignity and rights. Many of the girls they serve, from ages 10 to 24, have stopped school (due to lack of funds or an inability to attend).
Mwaituka notes that some of the girls were trafficked, forced into prostitution, experienced family upheaval or difficult home situations, live in extreme poverty or are being abused as domestic workers. At the center, they receive counseling, support and care.
Fatuma H., 18, came to the center after a peer educator identified her as at-risk for exploitation. The eldest of seven children, she had to drop out of school due to lack of fees and to help support her family. Through KIWOHEDE, she has received counseling and training on tailoring, printing, baking and bead-making. She is grateful that she can help provide some food for her family and credits the counseling and life skills training she received to contribute to her behavior change and outlook.
Leila, 18, noted that she’s been coming to the center for three months for vocational training in sewing. “Every day we have discussions about our concerns. Once you get here you forget all of your problems.”
KIWOHEDE also provides youth-oriented training and skills enhancements, such as remedial education, tailoring, baking, carpentry, radio production and other valuable vocational skills. Importantly, the curriculum includes an emphasis on life skills, including reproductive health and family planning, violence prevention and an understanding and awareness of HIV/AIDS prevention.
Although KIWOHEDE used to recruit girls on the street, they have now become well known in local communities and by the national government. Many of their beneficiaries are referred from police gender desks, social welfare offices and schools. Other beneficiaries are brought by peer educators and current beneficiaries.
Several girls mentioned Kiwohede as a safe, secure place with a sense of community and camaraderie. S., 16, shared that after coming to Kiwohede her goal for the future “is to be a counsellor for other girls.”
“One successful case makes you feel good,” said Mwaituka. “If you can identify and help one girl, through her success she’ll bring you ten more.”
Merina F. is 22 years old. She is the primary breadwinner for her struggling family, and is often concerned about providing for her mother and siblings. She found out about the center through peer educators in her neighborhood. They told her to come to the center, where she received counseling, reproductive health education and economic empowerment training. Because she doesn’t have access to sewing tools at home, she commutes to the center every day to use the equipment for her small tailoring business. Typically, the only meal she has all day is the food she receives at the center.
KIWOHEDE now works with vulnerable young men and women across several different initiatives. They also liaise directly with the Ministry of Education to help re-integrate young people in school.
Although many challenges remain, for many of the young people they serve, KIWOHEDE has accomplished its goal of creating a safe “nest” for vulnerable young people.
“Life is peaceful at KIWOHEDE,” said one fourteen year-old beneficiary. “It is a place full of love.”
This story was created as part of the Together for Girl’s partnership’s trip to Tanzania. Special thanks to the Impact and Innovation Development Centre (IIDC).
Every October 11, we celebrate International Day of the Girl to recognize the achievements, opportunities and challenges impacting girls and young women everywhere.
Together for Girls released a new case study highlighting groundbreaking country-led action to end violence against children and youth from a decade of the partnership’s collective work in Tanzania.
To commemorate International Day of the Girl, Together for Girls co-hosted a high-level event at the Embassy of Canada, “Data to Action: Breaking the Cycle of Violence Against Girls”.