What place should fun have in a community development project? Probably quite prominent if you want it to be successful, nevertheless, I suspect most communities and development organizations do not set out to have fun. But it was clear last week when teams from the two primary schools in Mtakuja met to challenge each other at a range of sports and games how having some fun together is both a sign of harmony and a means to create it. The sillier the challenge the greater to harmony. Tanzanians have always struck me as enjoying a little schadenfreude, and it was on full display with the failures of participants, who, granted, were often set up to fail. Yes, the winners were cheered, but those who fell, stumbled, dropped what they shouldn’t drop or didn’t catch what they should have caught were cheered louder!
From the hundred meter dash to “mandazi biting” (a localized version of the Dutch “Koek Happen”), sack-races and a run with a bottle on one’s head, the students took their challenges serious, but relished being at the center of attention for the duration of their races.
The day was largely organized by the newly formed youth group, who also performed a number of short plays and songs “with a message” in between the various sporting events. Their goal is to use performing art as a way to share messages and information about health and other issues affecting their peers. They clearly understand the value of entertainment and the need to appeal to their audience. The theme was health (“afya”) and this was emphasized throughout the day, the winners of each challenge were given a prize: first prize was a tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush!
Having only just returned to Mtakuja recently, after having been away for two years, it was truly quite remarkable to see and sense the community spirit, here in Mtakuja, a village that was widely know around here for being internally divided and split between north and south. I do not doubt that challenges remain, and distrust has not been dealt with completely, surely, but the sense is that the atmosphere has indeed changed in the village, there is more energy and do I dare to say it, more local initiative. This is no more obvious than at the irrigation farm where there is always activity, villagers are working the fields, planning irrigation cycles, getting ready to harvest. But it was also apparent at the Bonanza, and that was a wonderful thing to experience.