It’s been 16 years, I have lived twice as many years without her than I have with her, and nothing can change that. Losing my mother in the boat accident on Lake Victoria has left a deep scar on my life. However, I have been very careful not to speak about it publicly before. For me it was mine and my family’s pain and nobody else’s business. I've always tried to keep it a closed subject.
However, what I've learned as my life has taken a turn and taken me from Tanzania to the runways of New York, London and Paris, is that sharing my experience does have its advantages. Talking about the tragedy doesn’t make the pain go away but it does make it easier to bear. For several years now I have wanted to transform this pain and loss into something more meaningful, which is why I launched the Flaviana Matata Foundation (FMF). For me this was not only a way for me to give back to my community but more importantly a way to pay tribute to my mother who was one of the most generous women I have ever known.
She used to pay school fees of several children who were not her own and was always ready to lend a helping hand. So my foundation’s first objective is to help children, and in particular young girls, by sponsoring their education. However I felt that even though I never made her passing public, I had to eventually let people know how much my mother meant and still means to me and what my foundation is really about.
So this year I decided to do something directly connected to the MV Bukoba boat tragedy and to the memory of my mother. I personally got in touch with a manufacturer of life vests and ordered 500 life vests which I had shipped to Tanzania and delivered, in Mwanza city on the shores of Lake Victoria where numerous boats leave the port to other destinations including Bukoba where my mother had boarded 16 years ago. I delivered the life vests to the government agency - the Marine Services Limited. They operate boats at low rates and their vessels are used by most Tanzanians as they are affordable. It was this agency that also operated MV Bukoba 16 years ago. The agency management was very grateful and gave us a wonderful reception. The handover was also symbolic as it was done at the unmarked cemetery for the victims of MV Bukoba. Other people who lost their loved ones also joined us there. It was a very painful and yet very special day.
I wish I could have said all that I wanted to say that day but my emotions got the better of me, however I am truly grateful to everyone who stood by me and supported me on this beautiful journey, with special thanks to Maria Sarungi Tsehai and her entire team at Compass Communication, Shamim Mwasha (8020fashions blog) and JF International. I believe that my donation will inspire others to consider contributing to the safety of our people. I also hope that despite the economic hardships and challenges the government of Tanzania faces, it will finally give priority to marine transportation as well and improve the safety of the people.
I am now looking forward to every future May 21st with a different perspective. No longer is my heart heavy and no more do I think of it in dread, but I look forward to making every May 21st meaningful not only to me but to the people of Tanzania and to future passengers.