In our last post of 2017, we bring you the story of a young man in Tanzania who inspired Unbound staff with his talent, determination and wisdom. We thought his story might also inspire you, our readers, and give you encouragement as you start the new year.
The meeting was in full swing as staff from Unbound programs in four East African countries packed a hotel conference room in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Some jotted notes from a presentation that just wrapped up, while most milled about talking with colleagues before the start of the next session.
The din in the room was silenced, abruptly, by the raspy sounds of a musical instrument, a saxophone emitting a familiar tune, the American pop song “I Will Always Love You,” written by Dolly Parton and recorded by Dolly and by Whitney Houston, among others.
The young man playing the tune at a podium up front was Donald, a 21-year-old arts student from the Dar es Salaam area. His rendition, though imperfect, was soulful and captivated the room.
Staff from Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar and Tanzania were at the conference last July to learn from each other’s successes and challenges working with children, young adults, families and elders in Unbound’s programs. Representatives from the U.S. staff were also on hand.
The Dar es Salaam team invited Donald to perform as a way to introduce their colleagues to one of the talented, hardworking, determined young people pursuing their dreams with support from sponsors and the local program. Based on the enthusiastic applause Donald got, his performance was a hit.
To say that Donald loves the saxophone doesn’t do justice to his passion for it.
“If a day passes without playing this instrument, I don’t feel normal,” he said. “I feel sickness.”
Donald is pursuing his dream of becoming a music teacher and performer with the help of his sponsors, Ed and Marguerite from New Jersey, and an Unbound scholarship. He studies music, dance and drama at an arts college in Dar es Salaam.
Donald first heard the saxophone played live when he was about 12, and his passion grew from there.
“I said, ‘One day I’ll blow the sax.’”
He rents the instrument he plays now, and even though it’s not in great working order, it’s the best he can do.
Donald’s long-term goal is to play sax like his idol, American saxophonist Kenny G. He knows it’ll take a lot of hard work to get there.
“I have to do more,” he said. “I have to practice more. I have to fight and pray more.”
Donald has a lot of fight in him, though his broad smile and easy laugh don’t give that away. His father, Juma, died in 2007, leaving his mother, Anna, a vegetable vendor, to care for him and two younger sisters. He was sponsored a short time later.
Through the years, sponsorship has helped with needs such as school fees, uniforms, food and shelter. His scholarship helps with college costs.
Still, it hasn’t been easy. When his mother fell ill and couldn’t work for two months, Donald stopped going to school and took over her work.
“Because I was the first born I have to stand for Mom, after my father died,” he said.
Donald earns extra money now by playing the saxophone at events such as church functions, and his mother still helps him out. He wants sponsors to know how much their contributions mean to their sponsored friends, materially and in terms of encouragement.
“They give for the people who need to reach their goals,” Donald said. “Through them, we can reach our goals.”
Playing the saxophone is hard and physically demanding. But Donald keeps the faith that one day he’ll get to the level he envisions.
“I feel the tears on my face,” he said, referring to times when he’s frustrated, weary or hurting from practicing. “One thing I know is you have to pay the cost in everything you want. I say, ‘OK, I’ll wait.’”
Bertha Kagunila, a social worker with the Dar es Salaam program, said Donald, with his strength, determination and patience, sets a good example for other youth.
“They say, ‘Look, Donald is like this. Maybe I also can do something for myself,’” Bertha said.
Despite his limitations playing a rented instrument that’s not fully functional, Donald chooses to look at what’s possible instead of what he doesn’t have.
“You don’t know where God will open doors for you,” he said. “You have to believe in what you do and do better.”
For Donald, success is all about effort.
“There is effort,” he said. “I always wish to be better.”