Mwanza, TANZANIA—Bilali dropped out of school because he failed a high school entrance exam. He knew that formal education wasn't for him. Instead, he wanted to go to a vocational school and become a mechanic.
His family, however, didn't have enough money to send him to school. His father had abandoned Bilali and his family in 2009, and his mother was unemployed.
Bilali and his family joined the SOS Children's Villages (SOS) family-strengthening program in Mwanza, Tanzania, in 2010. It was then that Bilali made his career plans clear to the SOS team.
"I spoke out and expressed my love for mechanics," Bilali said in a recent interview with SOS in Mwanza. "I asked the [family-strengthening] team to let me join a technical college. I told them that some people excel in academics and others in their talent. Performing poorly in a formal education does not mean you will not be successful in life. I insisted so many times for so many days until my wish was granted," he says.
With financial support from SOS, Bilali was able to enroll in a beginner's class at a local vocational school. This past February, Bilali successfully completed a more advanced, one-year course at the same vocational school. He plans on continuing to Level 3 for more advanced training.
"I have made a network of friends in the public transportation sector. They know I am a professional mechanic so they call me whenever they have car problems. I have been able to save $130 in the last four months," Bilali said. "I am gaining experience in my career while at the same time contributing to family expenses. I am so proud of myself and this is just the beginning."
Bilali's mother, Tatu, also participates in the SOS family-strengthening program in Mwanza. Through the program, she was able to develop her skills in tailoring and embroidery, two of her hobbies. With her new skills and after a course in business management, Tatu established a new business that enables her to provide for Bilali and her other three children.
Bilali, 21, helps his mother, Tatu, sew a tablecloth.
"My life has drastically changed since my family enlisted with [the SOS family-strengthening program]," Tatu said. "I am able to properly care for my children's nutritional and educational needs. I can also afford to take them to hospital when they fall sick. I feel like a real mother now."
When he is not in school or fixing cars, Bilali helps his mother with her embroidery business. He says this is his way of spending quality time with her. And although his friends keep laughing at him for doing what they consider a woman's job, he is not bothered.
"My mother means everything to me. Her work is my work. I am also benefiting in the process because I am learning a new skill. It is an important bonding moment and also a time to talk about family issues," he says.
SOS Children's Villages has been active in Tanzania since 1991, when the first SOS village was built in Zanzibar at the request of the former president, Ali Hassan Mwinyi. There are currently three SOS Villages in the country, where 351 children—in 39 SOS families—are growing up under the care of a loving and trained SOS mother. An additional SOS Village in Mwanza is under construction. SOS also operates three schools that serve about 1,600 children—from kindergarten to high school—and is in the process of constructing two more. SOS also provides job training, food support and other social services to about 860 at-risk families across country.