Arusha Project

August 24, 2007, 8:14 am
Filed under: Abroad Program, Uncategorized


The afternoon started off with 23 people in a dala dala, our dala dala. Volunteers and staff sat on top of one another and on the ground as we made our way up a dirt road to the United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC). This excursion was something we have been trying to plan all summer and finally Valerie was able to make it happen, so we all were eager to go. We pulled up to a gate and a graffiti covered wall surrounding the equally colorful encampment built by Mama Charlotte and Pete O’neal, a famous ex-Black Panther who fled to Tanzania to avoid jail time in the 70s. Since then the couple built an entire community center to serve the local population as well as visitors to Arusha.


A dog with dreadlocks hanging from its tail hangs out in the common area and all the walls are tagged with messages like, “Respect the Elders,” “Africa Unite,” and “Blessed be the Panther.” Pete has definitely not lost his outspoken temperament in response to social injustices, but he lives a very peaceful life now.


Pete said hi for a moment but it was Mama Charlotte, decked out in pounds of jewelry, a forhead dot and colorful attire, who showed us around the place. The main projects we saw were a crafts room, a computer room, and a music and recording studio that each housed daily classes, taught for free. The formation of the center is really incredible and seems to have touched almost all of the artists in Arusha, at least everyone we’ve met. Our cooks and our partner artists have all at one point in their live worked at the UAACC or taken classes there, and have used it as a launching point with which to start their own projects.


Mama Charlotte, who came with Pete when she was 18 and clearly fell in love with Africa, has emerged into a musical powerhouse in Arusha, heading up a reggae band called, Warriors of the East, some of the best music that I’ve heard coming out of Arusha. The UAACC students have their own music project as well, and are taught by a prominent member of Warriors of the East. Today, music class was conducted as a practice recital for their upcoming show. The class consisted of mainly of three women guitarists and a drummer, a few male and female vocalists, and an array of other musicians as well. It was a great show of female empowerment through music.


Together, Mama and Pete have created a little haven with a unique atmosphere that breathes peace and love. That sounds straight out of the hippy movement but in reality the moment you walk past the gate, you’re in a different world, unique like no other. Its truly an incredible space constructed to foster creativity and embrace social progress through education and artistic expression.


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