We all have a talent to share, sometimes we just might need an extra nudge to be able to allow others to experience it with us.

I stand in front of the mic, at a loss for words despite them being written down in front of me. I struggle to calm my nerves, even though all I can see is the homemade sound booth of bed sheets and blazers. This is all new to me, every ounce of this day. A different bus to get here, a different community (this one seeming to have been built atop a sand dune), a different house with concrete floors, concrete walls, bars on the windows. I try to regroup, coming back to the moment. I remember why I am here, why I have become a part of this.

A few months ago, on a cool August evening I attended a poetry night with some friends. There were musicians, rappers, poets, each one of them pouring their hearts into their performances. I could feel it in the air, in the goosebumps on my arms, how much they enjoyed what they were doing. I was reminded of the many open mic nights at my previous workplace, where I stood behind the bar, envious of the students courageous enough to perform in front of an audience, longing to have the guts, the strength, to do the same.

But here I am, stuck in a negative mindset, thinking about how foreign my own voice sounds when recorded. I close my eyes and think back to that poetry night. The final performance of the night struck a chord with me, more than all the others. The lines of the poem caught my attention, the smooth effortless guitar playing made my heart sing. The performance was by a group of people around my age, who explained before they began that the poem was written by a young girl at secondary school who was sharing her new-gained knowledge and making use of the confidence she found through this group. They run a project called Sanzuka Pamoja, which translates roughly to “moving forward together”. It’s a group of young people who go to schools to empower youth and teach them about sexual health, reproductive rights, and leadership through art and performance.

At the end of that night I approached the group, eager to learn more, and excited to offer my help if needed. I knew a little bit about fundraising, was passionate about empowering kids, and felt like my life in Tanzania needed a little more direction. So here I am, in front of a mic. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but yet, I agreed to it. With my eyes closed, I remind myself that Sanzuka is about building confidence and inspiring one another. How can I say I am a part of this team if I can’t express myself in an empty room, let alone in front of an audience? I open my eyes, focused on the bigger picture, and start talking.

And you know what? It felt so amazing. I got it out of my head that my voice sounded strange, and instead listened to the words I said. The meaning, the power, the strength in them. Those words will have an impact on each individual that hears them. Those words will inspire young girls and boys to share their own words, to ask for help, to empower their peers.

This all happened a few weeks back, and the confidence I gained in that makeshift recording studio empowered me to say yes to being the one on stage at the next poetry night. I spent the time leading up to our performance in a daze. The chatty audience, flashing lights, constant handshakes as I met new friends. Everything was a blur until the emcee was saying our name, Sanzuka Poets. No blazers or bedsheets to hide behind this time. Just a crowd full of talented artists and rowdy admirers of art. Once I got up on stage and the music started, I was thrown back to that cool August evening with the smooth guitars and the goosebumps. That feeling of euphoria carried me through our performance, allowing me to smoothly recite a poem while keeping eye contact with the audience and groove with the catchy chorus we sang.

I walked away from the evening with even more passion to influence those boys and girls. Maybe if I had someone young that I could relate to come to my school and perform with me as a young girl, it wouldn’t have taken me 23 years to get up on stage. We all have a talent to share, sometimes we just might need an extra nudge to be able to allow others to experience it with us.

Rebekah Howse