STORIES OF THE UAACC
In the summer of 2012 my partner and I ventured to Tanzania. We had seen a documentary about Peter O’Neal in the States and were curious about him, so we asked around in Arusha and went looking for him. We rented a car and hired a driver, and with our friend Antoine in the passenger seat, the four of us set out on a quest to find Peter.
Sway and Mama C.
We drove through the hills and up rough dirt roads outside of Arusha, stopping to talk with goat herders and other locals to ask if they knew of the man. Each person we encountered would say something in Kiswahili and point up the road, and we would drive on to ask the next person.
After hours of searching, the people led us to the gates of the United African Alliance Community Center. We exited the car and followed a young man through the property, past beautiful, unique artwork and diverse buildings, to a covered outdoor area where we sat and waited quietly. We could hear chickens and a horse somewhere nearby.
The young man came back after a few moments and led us to a small house with a screen door and about 20 pairs of children’s shoes on the doorstep. We entered a small room where the owners of these shoes sat on the floor watching themselves on the television, a video of their first trip to the sea. They were engrossed in the film, but when we appeared, they turned their attention shyly to us.
A long man with thick, graying dredlocks stretched his body across a sofa at the back of the room. “Hello, I’m Peter. Who are you?” My partner began to explain that as an educator and a man of peace, he was interested in Peter’s journey, in understanding more about community, and to find out why the UAACC had so much draw for us. We had come a very long way to learn from Peter, but we weren’t sure what it was we were there to learn.
I sat quietly and let the curious children on the floor slowly warm up to me and approach me, touching my hair and eventually pulling on my hands playfully. We laughed and had no need for language. My partner and Peter talked about the purpose of the UAACC, how it came into being, and what the hopes and needs of the Center were in the immediate and distant future.
After some time and some gained trust, Peter invited us to stay for dinner. Because our driver had to return to Arusha, we were unable to stay but promised to return the following day. He offered a place to stay if we wished.
We felt full and intentional when we left that evening. We drove back to town quietly, had a night of sleep at our hotel,and returned with our belongings the following day. My partner played music with some of the people in the community, and we made friends with Peter, Mama C, and other artists who came through.
Everyone we encountered showed us respect and love and taught us so much about justice and about the true meaning of community, lessons we have brought
back and shared with our people at home. A group of American students who were studying and teaching at the UAACC performed traditional African dances they had learned with some people from a neighboring village. We spent a lot of time just peacefully walking around the grounds, taking in the art at every turn, and having
pleasant conversations with Mzee Pete and Mama C.
We had intended to stay one night and make our way back across the country so we could visit Zanzibar for a few days, but we were so happy and comfortable at the UAACC, we skipped the beach and stayed three days and nights at the Center. It was the best decision we made the whole trip.
When it was finally time to return to Dar Es Salaam for our flight back to the States, we left a mosquito net behind as a gift and took many memories with us. A year or more later, wanting to repay their kindness, I raised over $500 through a charity swim and donated it to the UAACC. My partner and I also hosted Mama C while she traveled through Texas on a poetry and speaking tour. We will always consider them family and cherish their generosity of spirit and wisdom. We are better for our experience there.
I have had the privilege of staying at the UAACC a number of times now. The first time I visited was in 2010 while on a study abroad program with Stony Brook University. The trip changed my life and the UAACC was a major part of that. The watoto were still tiny then but somehow managed to fit all of their love, kindness, ambition, and talent into those little bodies. I remember the night I arrived there. It was my first night in Tanzania and it was raining and it smelled like fresh grass and rain and all of the smells of summer. We had been driving for about an hour when we finally reached the brightly colored gate. We were greeted by ngoma dancers and the children and staff from the center. Some people were wearing masks and holding torches. I was enthralled from the first second. The friends I met on this trip from my school, and Tanzania I will call friends for the rest of my life. We spent countless hours laughing and they share something with me that no one else can fully understand.
The next few times I came out were trips on my own. I came to volunteer with the English and computer
classes and to visit my friends. I cannot talk enough about my time there and the friends and second
family I have made. I talk so much about it that I got three of my friends from home to come on my last few
visits. The UAACC has become a home away from home. Pete and Charlotte both bring amazing lessons
to the students and watoto of the UAACC through their life experience, tremendous artistic talent, wisdom,
and have created a truly wonderful place that exemplifies acceptance, brotherhood, and uhuru. There is
an immediate sense of ease and belonging when you pass through those gates.
Tanzania itself is amazingly beautiful and the sense of community not only at the UAACC, but throughout
Tanzania inspired me and made me long for that at home. I miss my UAACC family and life at the center
every day. It is my hope to one day create a place of my own in Tanzania with the image of the UAACC in
mind and take with me all that Mzee Pete and Mama C have taught me as well as the lessons the children have taught me which never cease to amaze.
I love you all!
Ndege, Jaki, and Elia.
I am doing very well at the center and everyone there is very good. I volunteer at the
center and make music here. I love Mama C and Mzee Peter they're good people.
I would love to stay here forever but one day I have to start my life somewhere else.
But I love the center so much and all of the people here.
Ema Maasai on the namelo and Mama C on the nyatiti.
In September of 2013 I had the opportunity to travel with my best friend (Ndege) to Tanzania. We stayed for three weeks at the United African Alliance Community Center, founded by Pete and Charlotte O'Neal. Words can't express the flood of acceptance and kindness I experienced upon my arrival to the center. Everyone called us dada (sister) and was incredibly friendly and helpful. Pete and Charlotte were so warm and welcoming. A group of children surrounded Pete underneath the Red Onion, the main hub of the center. They were part of the Leaders of Tomorrow Children's home attached to the UAACC. From that very first moment it was evident on Pete's face that these children were his pride and joy, his purpose in life. My time there only strengthened this belief.
The children, a mix of boys and girls of varying ages, would gather each night in Mzee Pete's room to complete their homework and spend time with him. Their smiles were bright and their souls full of life and love. The watoto (children) never left without giving us a hug and saying goodnight. Mzee taught the kids to sing the song "lean on me" by Bill Withers. It was a show that would put a smile on anyone's face.
The center itself was a wonderful place with brightly colored murals painted on the walls and buildings. I discovered a quote painted on one of the walls that has become a part of me. It states "when the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." This is an
Gabby and LOTCH Watoto
ultimate truth in my opinion. An avocado tree stood firmly next to the Red Onion as a focal point of the grounds. At the entrance to the community center there was a water spout. I learned that Mzee had this installed in order to provide the people of Imbaseni village with their only source of potable drinking water. Many times my friend and I would walk the dirt paths outside of the community center as well. Often we were accompanied by goats and chickens wandering about. Vibrantly colored flowers adorned the paths. One day, on our way to a snake farm we reached clearing and had an unobstructed view of the beautiful Mt. Meru in a cloudless bright blue sky. It was a view that will forever remain in my memory.
During our stay my friend and I were able to volunteer teaching English to some of the people of the village who would come to the community center each day to further their education. Through the help of volunteers the students learn English, art, music and computers. Max, the art teacher, taught me how to create art using batik, a technique involving fabric, dyes and wax. Music was a huge part of life there as well. They even have their own recording studio! I found out that Mama C was a talented musician and a group of us were able to see her perform with the Warriors from the East at a fundraiser event. There was one night when we were able to listen to her and some others from the center playing instruments and practicing songs. It was so much fun listening to them jamming to the music.
One day we were invited to go with everyone to harvest and husk corn from the shamba that is part of the center. I learned that this is the first step in the process of making ugali, a staple inTanzanian cuisine. It was very interesting to observe the entire process from husking the corn to separating the kernels and grinding them down into a powder. Although I must say that getting to eat the ugali was definitely one of my favorite parts. Towards the end of our trip Mzee Pete was gracious enough to help my friend and I set up a safari to Tarangire National Park. It was amazing. We saw so many different types of animals including elephants, zebra, giraffes, wildebeest, baboons, cheetahs, warthogs and more. It was so peaceful watching the animals. One of my favorite sights was seeing two zebra hugging each other, a lovely picture indeed.
My time in Tanzania was a beautiful, raw and humbling experience. I definitely learned so much from all of the people I met. I would love to go back again one day. It was a trip filled with community, music, art and beauty but most of all love. Asanteni sana Mzee Pete and Mama C!