a christian perspective on the world today

Little blue shed

In 2007, born-and-bred Sydneysider Tanja Curcic took a three-month holiday to Africa to visit her sponsor child. What she thought would be “just another trip” fulfilling her nomadic, travel cravings turned into something much larger. Six years later Tanja started calling Africa home and to this day she is impacting many people’s lives through a social enterprise called Little Blue Shed.

It was almost instant love with this place known as “the pearl of Africa”. Despite having its share of poverty and suffering, Uganda has been ranked the friendliest place on earth and Tanja could see why. She fell in love with the people and the community-driven spirit, with the way they’d yell “Karibu!” as they welcomed her to sit or eat with them multiple times a day. She fell in love with the beautiful landscapes, the fertile earth and the sunsets over the rich red soil.

Still, her heart broke for the struggles Ugandans lived with and she constantly found herself asking, “Why do I get to live a certain way when the people here don’t?”

A restless soul

When she returned from her holiday to her 9–5 corporate job in the city, she couldn’t focus. The job that once fulfilled her now seemed empty of purpose and joy. She spent the next few years completing a language course with a plan to return to Africa and offer free English lessons. But when she arrived in Africa, she met a man who asked her to visit his village where many females needed help.

“I was thinking I’d find something I could pour into and then leave,” she said. “Little did I know I would be starting my own project and staying for the long haul.”

Tanja spotted a little blue shed at the man’s village and thought, ‘That’s cute’. Inside, a woman was sitting at her sewing machine. The woman asked if Tanja could buy more sewing machines for the other women in the village to use. So Tanja used her money to provide more machines and give the shed a fresh coat of paint.

Finding God in the bush

For the next few years, this was the extent of what happened in the little blue shed. Although Tanja desired to do more, she first had to go on a journey herself. She describes these first few years of living in Africa as “the most difficult but transforming time of my life”. Before visiting Africa, Tanja did not have faith and, having grown up with a communist background, had a limited understanding of who God was. She had explored Buddhism and New Age philosophies and had become heavily dependent on drugs and alcohol to mask the pain she had experienced in her own life. But then, one day, she encountered God in the bush near Byron Bay, Australia. She committed her life to following Him and one month later took a leap of faith and headed to Africa with a one-way ticket, $A1000 and a small suitcase. Things didn’t go quite as she’d expected for those first few years in Uganda and she spent that time mainly dealing with her addictions, healing her pain and getting to know the God of the Bible.

“I was in a place where I knew nobody,” she said. “I didn’t understand the language and was in a completely different environment. But God was preparing me and healing me so I could help the people around me.”

Throughout this time, Tanja nearly packed up and went home to Australia. Things weren’t going according to plan. But she now believes God had His hand on her during this time and brought people into her life to show her hospitality and kindness—because the next thing that happened was the development of Little Blue Shed.

A safe place

Tanja could see that the women in Uganda faced much adversity. On top of poverty, many are forced into early marriages, prostitution, trafficking and other dangerous things to survive—mainly due to a lack of education, skills and opportunities. So Tanja set out to make the shed a place where vulnerable girls could come to learn and create. A place girls could learn physical skills (tailoring, shoe making, soap making, baking); business skills (budgeting, bookkeeping, marketing); and a place where they are reminded of their worth.

“I believe every female should be valued and protected no matter what part of the world she lives in. Our programs are based on identifying each girl’s gifts and talents and providing skills training and employment opportunities,” Tanja said. “Girls now know there is a place for them to come rather than the streets.”

Over the years, Little Blue Shed has grown to help more and more girls in Uganda. One philosophy Tanja imparts is that everyone has gifts they can use to serve others. Girls are taught a range of skills and then encouraged to focus on the ones they are best at and most enjoy. From this, unique, one-off products are made from local materials and sold online. With the primary goal of the enterprise being sustainability, the girls are also taught leadership, entrepreneurship, budgeting and planning skills.

“One thing I can say is that God has and is using all my childhood experiences as a female for me to relate to the African girls,” Tanja said. “I fell into drugs and alcohol for 20 years and now I’m doing addiction therapy in Africa. Everything I’ve suffered through, God is now using to help others.”

Recently the enterprise has purchased 1.2 hectares of land from the money earned from their business and extra donations. Instead of doing their activities under a tree or in an old blue shed, they plan to build bigger and better “empowerment sheds”. This will include a new blue shed for women, a separate shed for men and another shed for young people. The property will also have a drop-in centre for women seeking refuge from domestic violence, a counselling centre, clean toilet amenties, kitchens, childcare, a prayer room, and classrooms for teaching numeracy and literacy skills, among other things.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Little Blue Shed is more than just a safe place—it is a place where men and women can come to learn and grow mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and educationally. It is a place they can be mentored and mentor, a place they can use their gifts to give back to others.

Zanita Fletcher is an assistant editor for Signs of the Times. She writes from the Gold Coast, Queensland.

If you would like to learn more about Little Blue Shed visit littleblueshed.info

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