Focus on Family: Tanzania


With 2018 quickly approaching so too is the World Meeting of Families which takes place during August 2018 in Dublin. Between now and August we will share about family life in the 19 countries where the OLA Sisters are present. Today we start with Tanzania. Sr. Donatha Urassa shares her thoughts on family life in Tanzania.

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Sr. Donatha Urassa (2nd from left) pictured with her family.

Tanzania is located in the heart of East Africa. It borders Uganda and Kenya to the north; Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west; and Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia to the south. The Indian Ocean runs to the east of the country. Other significant natural features Mount Kilimanjaro in the north and the Great Lakes to the east.

While Tanzania is a prominently rural country, it continues to experience a significant population surge and an increasing number of families. In 1950 Tanzania had a population of 8 million, rising to 35 million by the year 2000. It has grown by a staggering 21 million in the last 17 years to stand at 56 million today. A June 2017 report by the UN warned that over half of the world’s future population growth will occur in just nine countries. Tanzania is one of the nine. Its population is set to exceed 100 million by 2050.


Map of Tanzania courtesy of


The OLA Sisters arrived in the rural village of Mwamapalala of northern Tanzania in May 1991. Today, the Sisters are also present in Bugisi and Mwanza. The work of the Sisters centres on providing quality education and healthcare in rural areas with limited or no access to such services. Over the last 26 years, thousands have benefitted.

Sr Donatha Urassa joined the ‘OLA Family’ in August 2016, becoming the first OLA Sister from Tanzania.

"I grew up in the countryside, close to the town of Moshi in the Kilimanjaro Region of north-east Tanzania, not far from the border with Kenya. I have five sisters and two brothers. I am the second youngest."

Sr. Donatha explains that Swahili (known locally as Kiswahili) is the official language of Tanzania but that English is also widely spoken.

“Kichaga is our local dialect. The word for family in my language is wanawama/ndugu which literally means ‘relation’ or ‘relative’. Family in my area would be defined as parents, children, grandparents and extended family. The role of grandparents and the elderly is to lead the family by making decisions and help wherever they may needed.”

Sr. Donatha is currently working at the OLA Health Centre, Bugisi in the Shinyanga Region. It is located about 700km or 12 hours by road from her hometown of Moshi, illustrating the vastness of the country.


The 12 hour car journey from Moshi to Bugisi illustrates the vastness of Tanzania. Source: Google Maps.


As well as a vast area which can make life difficult for familes, Sr. Donatha explains that the varied climate in different parts of Tanzania has its benefits.

“Most families in my home town earn an income from farming. The climate and terrain outside of Moshi make for good coffee and banana plantations which benefit from the high altitude. At lower levels in Moshi maize and beans would be the main crops.”

Sr.  Donatha also references the wider family who we share this planet with.

“Tanzania is very much aware of the importance of, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘caring for our common home’. We are blessed with great beauty such as Mount Kilimanjaro. The felling of trees had become a big issue. The greater awareness of environment issues has led to increased planting of trees and prioritising environmental issues. For example, you have to ask the government for permission before cutting a tree - even if it is on your farm.”

A view of the Moshi countryside with Mount Kilamanjaro in the background. Image courtesy of


Other global trends are also leaving an imprint on family life.

“Like elsewhere in the world, the pressures of modern life present a challenge to families in Tanzania. Family life has changed a lot since I was a child. When I was small we played together and ate together, but now people are moving with new technology.”

While technology advances, some traditions continue remain the same.

“The biggest occasions celebrated by Christian families are the birth of children, Christmas, and marriage. During these days, many of these families would be preparing for Christmas. Christmas is a time to come together as family and to celebrate. It is also time to plan for family activities in coming year.”

In a wider sense, the Tanzanian family has remained true to the Christmas message by opened its doors and hearts to their brothers and sisters in neighbouring Burundi. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have arrived in recent years.  According to Sr. Donatha, this is something that Tanzania as a country is ‘proud’ of.