[August 19, 2016]
Viva Tanzania (www.-tanzania.com) is a young organisation that combines tourism and volunteering in a responsible and sustanable way. Tizia - from Germany - and her Tanzanian husband founded the organisation. Tizia tells her story on GoTanzania.
I want to share my life with you
I am Tizia, 25 years old and originally from Germany. I want to tell you about my life in Tanzania, how I got here and what I am doing here.
But let's start from the beginning:
In Autumn 2009, half a year before graduation conversations where just about one topic: What should I do after my A-Levels? Working? But what? Studying? But which subject? Or should I do something totally different? In this time two of my friends talked about that they applied for „Weltwärts“ (German, word by word: „towards the world“). A year abroad that's what I wanted to do! But where to? The world is big and “Weltwärts”, the programme from the Federal Ministry of Economic Collaboration and Development offers the work in many countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Eastern Europe. The preselection was easy: I wanted to go to Africa, since I spoke English and France and after 13 years of school and studying I didn't want to learn another foreign language.
No sooner said than done, I checked the Weltwärts website for thrilling projects and organizations, wrote ca. six applications and in January 2010 I was accepted at IN VIA belonging to the Catholic Association for Girls and Women Social Work who invited me to work in a kindergarten in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's biggest city.
In mid August the adventure started. With two suitcases and not too many ideas and expectation together with an another volunteer I moved in a convent of the Sisters of Maria Immaculata.
But a convent in Tanzania is not what you imagine if you know European convents. It was just a normal house with a chapel on the same compound. The other volunteer, let's call her Lena, and I got two rooms. One bed and one living room. We were introduced to the work in the kindergarten and it all started: I got my own class and war supposed to teach. Since I am White I would know what to do. There I was, only 18 years old in front of 20 children in their diapers with a stick in my hand and supposed to teach English. I guess you can imagine how this ended since I am not the only one who made the following experiences.
The children were not able to communicate in their mother tongue Swahili but were supposed to learn English. The children didn't show any respect or gave me attention since I didn't use the stick for beating even a single time. Most of the time the work in the kindergarten was quite frustrating, because the nuns in the kindergarten beat the children and this is not compatible with how I was raised. Handicraft work was broken and thrown away as the parents should not see this and think their children wouldn't learn anything in that kindergarten. We had to fight hard to do painting and handicraft sessions on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Nevertheless there were also many great experiences daily: The work with the children was fun and what I denied in first place, to learn a new language, started to make more and more fun. The relation to the other volunteer was okay, but I have to confess that it's not easy if you don't have privacy for a whole year and not even a meter space between the beds, but I believe that we did quite well. All in all was this year abroad one of the best decisions in my live and influenced my future life 100%. Because in April 2011 the whole future thing started over again: What should I do after this year when I am back in Germany?
One day I met a German student in the bus. We started chatting and after I introduced myself and explained what I am doing here he told me that he studies Cultural Anthropology and is doing a research on soap operas in Tanzanian television. I was blown away: to study and to travel at the same time? Sounded like a dream! At home I informed myself more about this degree programme and my heart started beating fast. That’s it! That's what I wanted to study! This and nothing else! Thereupon I applied for different universities and got accepted in Göttingen (central Germany). During my studies I was obligated to learn a non-European language and they even offered Swahili. What a lucky coincidence. In the 5th semester we got a chance to do a semester abroad. An opportunity I didn't want to miss. Since I participated in the Swahili class it made sense to do the semester abroad in East Africa. The University of Göttingen maintains a partnership with the University of Dar es Salaam, so I went back to my second home. In the beginning I was disappointed, I wanted to see more from the world and not go back to the place, where I already spend a year. But that's how it was.
So I packed my suitcases again and said goodbye to friends and family. From August 2013 I would be in Tanzania for eight months. After one week in Dar es Salaam I went to Arusha for a one month internship with an NGO. Through friends I met Tini, my today's husband. We spent eight awesome months in which I travelled more then I studied and at the end of my eight months it was clear: I will come back.
Another part became very important in my life: The debate about (Africa-) stereotypes and racism. I've always been aware of injustices in the world and these issues affected me particularly. So it was understandable that I wanted to settle my bachelor thesis in this area. I wrote about the Maasai, probably the most known ethnic group in Africa. My thesis had the title: “Who benefits from stereotypes? Depiction of the Maasai in Media and Tourism”. I wanted to continue this work and the fight against stereotypes and racism in Tanzania. I finished my studies within one year and on April 1st 2015 I moved to Tini to Arusha. A really brave step, in hindsight. First of all were we separated for a whole year and secondly I didn't have a job. I had tried to find work while still in Germany but this wasn't easy at all. When I arrived in Arusha I learned that a churchy volunteer organization had a job offer in the field of communication as a Volunteer Coordinator. I did not hesitate, went to the office and promptly got the job. In the six months I've been working for the volunteer organization, I learned a lot of what is very helpful in my current self-employment. Another three months, I spent in Moshi as an Internet Marketing Coordinator, for which I especially revised a well known German travel guide. Nevertheless, both employments were not very satisfactory, work days were long, the salary low and with one job I faced great difficulties to obtain a work permit and a contract. Thus Tini and I only saw one way: Self-Employment.
Since I moved to Arusha, Tini and I rented out rooms in our house. After a short while we launched the Nyumbani Hostel (“Nyumbani” in Swahili means “at home”). From the beginning we not just offered vacation (day trips, safaris and mountain climbing), but also helped interested people in finding projects for volunteering and internships. By the end of 2015 we wanted to become more professional and established our organization for volunteering and internships Viva Tanzania. We founded this organization because we see a great need for intercultural exchange and people who want to help to connect with projects and institutes. On the other hand is the demand for affordable project intermediation and very good in-country support huge. We do everything to ensure this, also because e.g. of my rather poor experience as a volunteer. By now I have more than three years living experience in Tanzania. I know well what it means to live in a totally different culture and environment so I am a good advisor for the volunteers and interns. At the same time we do everything to ensure that the volunteers will have a good time and can participate in meaningful work. Our prices are quite reasonable and the participant's preparation is excellent since we put great emphasis on critical analysis of their own patterns of thought and ideas. We also live together with the volunteers & interns, have common daily dinners, do excursions at the weekends and so much more. We offer placements in the fields of kindergartens, primary schools, women empowerment, health and animal welfare. More projects like the work with street children and HIV-infected and Aids patients will follow soon.
In February 2016 Tini and I got married and I like my life in Tanzania very much. With our three dogs Bella, Takwa and Luna we live together with our guests and I really enjoy the international exchange. Of course, life is not always easy here. Once in a while we don't have electricity and no matter how much you customize yourself, you will always be the foreigner and stranger, because you're already visually seen from a distance as such. Nevertheless, I feel free here, can live with my family and pursue the work that I really enjoy: to show our guests, volunteers and interns the country and the culture in which I live and which I love.
If you also want to become part of the community, whether as a tourist, traveller, for in internship or volunteer works and everything else, then get in touch!
We are excited to get to know you!
[March 14, 2016]
In 2007 Tara Blasco and Lynn Heberstreit from California ended up in the Mara-region, on the eastern shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania. The National Park Serengeti is closeby. The social and health problems in this region are abundant. Tara and Lynn founded their 'Global Resource Alliance’ project (GRA). The goal: trying to improve the health of the people by improving nutrician. GoTanzania visited the project in February 2016 for about a week in Musoma and Kinesi and experienced the impact of GRA on the people in this part of the Mara-region.
At first Tara and Lynn focused on the large amount of orphaned children. Most of them lost their parents to hiv/aids. GRA arranges orphaned children to live in host families and supports them with extra food and school supplies. From this basis GRA developed sustainable support projects on different subjects, like cooking on solar power, varying the food paterns by setting up permaculture gardens, improving health by letting the people use better and natural medicines and drilling for cleaner water from the soil.
GRA is now ten years further in time and is rooted deeply in the town of Musoma and Kinesi, the village on the other side of the water in front of Musoma. GRA's headquarter is in Musoma. I visited the headquarter before heading to the GRA gardens in Kinesi and also when returning to Musoma with the ferry, after spending five days on the gardens in the volunteering house. In the headquarter I had long talks with Paschal, the local manager of GRA. Paschal introduced me to the projects and on my last day it was very instructive to both sides, talking with him, to inform about the experiences I had. Tara and Lynn come to Tanzania only once or twice a year for about a month.
To dive deep in the project activitities of GRA in Kinesi was an enervating adventure. When you arrive in Kinesi, after crossing the water by ferry for one hour, you enter a completely different world.
Two big pieces of land are bought, about seven years ago. What you can see there now are luxuriant permaculture gardens. The basic idea was: the average nutrician people in Tanzania get is insufficient. They don't get too less food, but there is too less variety. They mainly eat 'ugali' which only consists of maize or millet flour. It gives the people a sense of having had enough food, but it doesn't contribute to their health. This is mainly just tradition, so not very easy to change.
When you take a look at the GRA permaculture gardens, it is very hard to imagine that only 7 years ago this was just grassland. What you see here are lush and abudant gardens with mango, papaya and banana trees, avocado's, passion fruit, a wide variety of herbs and vegetables, beans, cabbage, spinach.
GRA also started a reforestation program. That is very useful, because the woods have all disappeared over the last century. The main reason is the way the people prepare their food here. They use deadwood and charcoal, so they cut the trees for fire to cook on.
Besides reforestation also solar cooking is a way to fight this problem. At first the people thought it was witchcraft when they experienced the use of solar energy.
Still women walk for miles and miles to get their buckets filled with water. In most cases this water is polluted. The water supply probably is the biggest of all problems for the people in this faraway region in Tanzania. In many cases the water isn't even boiled before drinking. People suffer diseases many, many times. The average age people get is 45 years. When I told people, it's been 5 years since I last felt sick, they could hardly believe me. Diarrhea, tyfs, cholera: illnesses that are due to hygiene and water, almost everybody suffers from them, from time to time. And then there is also killer number one: malaria.
The GRA gardens also supply ingredients for new, natural ways to fight diseases like malaria. The leaves of the neem tree, originally from India, are very beneficial, especially when you combine the use of them with the artemisia. GRA produces medicines from these plants and offers the use of these to the people.
About four years ago a documentary was made in which all GRA projects are being shown. Tara, Lynn en numerous other involved GRA employees show the magnificent work GRA does. You can watch this documentary online (39 minutes)!
Volunteering at GRA
GRA also works with volunteers, acquires them via their websites (there is an American and a Tanzanian website). In Kinesi I spent four nights in the volunteering house, in the middle of one of the 'shamba's' (gardens) of GRA. The people gave me a hearty welcome and I did not have to pay anything for food and lodging. Mama Gire cooks everyday for all the employees working in the permaculture gardens and the staff of GRA and, of course, also for the volunteers when they are there.
I spent my time in Kinesi together with Ndumbe en Obadia, the two managers of the employees working on the gardens and coordinators of all the project activities for the supported orphans and their host families. I had long talks with them and visited some families, made long walks and helped out in the gardens, weeding and watering. One day we went on the canoe to an island in Lake Victoria and paid a visit to the fishing community over there.
Volunteers come over on a frequent basis, but irregularly. In most cases these volunteers have specific expertise related to permaculture, reforesting or nutrician. But also on the field of community projects there are lots of possibilities for volunteers.
In Kinesi you really feel like you are 'very far away'. From the eastern part of Tanzania, where the international flights arrive, it's a long way. You have to take an local flight to Mwanza, near Lake Victoria, or take a bus that takes a whole day. Local flights are cheap though.
And from Mwanza it's another 4 hours by bus and one hour by ferry. There's also a public bus that goes all the way through the Serengeti National Park.
In the guestbook for volunteers I found great stories about the experiences of previous volunteers that in most cases stayed for a relatively long time (2 until 6 months). They often did internships for their education somewhere in Europe or America.
“Voluntourism” is a concept that you can just forget at GRA's: you live and work with the local people. It's 'the real thing!' Nature is magnificaent, the people are friendly and the atmosphere is very quit and relaxed.
In the volunteering house around 6 volunteers can be housed. With Ndumbe, Obadia, Mma Gire and Justin, the guard, you live in a cosy family-like atmosphere, but at the same time you have lots of privacy and space for yourself. In the village of Kinesi you'll find open bars to grab a beer or a coke.
More information: contact GoTanzania.
Niko Winkel, March 15, 2016
[March 12, 2016]
The Dutch Sengerema Foundation started education and training of disadvantaged youngsters in the small town of Sengerema, 20 kilometers from the southern shores of Lake Victoria, western Tanzania. After one year of training and internship they get, when their results are positive, a microfinance loan from the foundation to start their own business. GoTanzania spent 2 weeks in Sengerema to get insight in how the project runs, visited the young entrepreneurs at their business and had good talks with the local administration, the CBO ('community based organisation').
In The Netherlands I already had a couple of meetings with Jeroen Vegt, member of the board of the Dutch foundation. I agreed with him about my own 'project' while visiting the Sengerema project in Tanzania. My idea was: when I take interviews, make pictures and write stories about it, this will be good marketing information for the foundation. The sponsors in Holland get insight in the results of the projects, get to know the project just by getting to know the young entrepreneurs themselves. So they can have a vision of the results of their funding activitities.
Jeroen thought this to be a good initiative. He arranged everything for me in Tanzania, so I was heartly welcomed by Maico, one of the first supported young entrepreneurs, and his family. I was guest in his house. Within just a few days I felt totally at home with his family. I enjoyed the long walks through the vast fields and shattered villages surrounding the town of Sengerema.
On my first day I had a good conversation with the local board, the so called CBO Sengerema Young Entrepreneurs (SYE), which consists of entrepreneurs that already paid their loans back. So this is really a 'teach the teacher'-program. I told them my mission and in respons they told me everything I needed to know about how the system works.
The main condition for applying for a loan is: being without a job and having no perspectives whatsoever.
Being admitted to the program, the training starts. The first five months the students get education in English, computer skills (Word, Excel, internet), basic bookkeeping and marketing.
After this first phase they start a practical assignment: they get a small amount of money to test their business skills with. If they succeed they enter the next phase: run an internship for 3 months with some existing business. Of course this business is related to their own plans, later on, for what they need their own loan for.
Having done also the internship and still doing good, they are allowed to write a business plan, based on which they get the approval for getting the loan. Normally the loan amount is between 3 and 4 million Tanzanian shillings, so between 1500 and 2000 dollar. They have to pay this loan back in 4 years (48 monthly stages) and also they pay 10% interest.
During this 4 years they get mental and expertise support from the CBO and also board members from Holland visit the project in Sengerema on a regular basis. The Sengerema foundation is not depending on volunteers from abroad. By time volunteers from Holland or other countries visit the project and do splendid work. Volunteers can do custimized tasks helping specific entrepreneurs with their business or can help the local board to improve administration en business assistence. But the project can run on its own, with the dedication of the local board.
For expertise volunteering the organisation does not ask for any project fee. You only have to pay a little money for food and lodging; 100 dollars in a week will do splendidly.
What I found out in Sengerema, while getting to know the entrepreneurs, is that just running the business from day to day is something completely different than really being an entrepreneur. That is where the changes lay: try to enhance their real business skills; skills that are so 'normal' for western people. The mindset of the Tanzanians completely differs from ours. Saving money for later spending is just not in the minds when there is another mouth to feed in the extended family, when a grandfather is sick, or when school fees for a nephew still are a problem. So building up new investment capital álways is a problem.
In five days I visited 13 entrepreneurs, interviewed them and made a lot of pictures. Most of the enterpreneurs are capable of speaking some English, but I could always fall back on Maico, my translator. I also interviewed Maico himself. He is a sofa maker, builds big couches, totally hand made. You would tell by the looks they just come from a factory. I visited a welder, a restaurant owner, a motorbikerepairman, two taylors, two owners of home needs shops, a telephone shop, a fashion shop, the owner of a private nursery school and finally also the owner of a medical laboratory, a place where the people can have malaria and HIV tests.
Of course sometimes the loaning process is not succesful. They don't completely succeed in getting the money for the paying back of the loan. The Sengerema foundation works with sponsorships and donations and is able the take this into account. But most of the loans are returned in the end. The entrepreneurs that I inverviewed are really doing good. Within four years they are the owners of their own business, the feel confident with themselves, really having build up a life in which they can take care of their families.
They all want to move on further, expand their business. But making this next step, like I said before, is so difficult, just because really saving money, for later use, is extremely difficult for them. So most of the loaners are really eager to... getting a new loan. But of course that is not really how it works! While interviewing I often felt like someone who was there to give business consults.
My last interview I had with Ramadan, a 27 year old guy who has a diploma from a medical laboratory education. When he wrote his business plan, he aimed at starting his laboratory in an faraway village on the shores of Lake Victoria. There were no facilities in that village to do medical tests. So now he has build up a kind of monopoly in Kijiweni, that village. He's an important man in the village. He is a real smart business man. Now he also wants to open up his pharmacy, so he doesn't have to send them to another pharmacy after they get the results from his tests. With a twinkle in his eyes he tells me this is just the next step. Later on he wants to build a dispensary out of his growing business and then his big dream will come closer: building his own hospital!
The system in Sengerema has, over the last 10 years, proved to work. The foundation is now working on building up new project locations in Tanzania. In February a new location is started in Misungwi, about 40 kilometers from Sengerema. About 70 proposed young entrepreneurs start their training. Even government official from Dar es Salaam went over (1000 kilometers) to visit the startup festivities.
Right now the foundation is having talks with government banks about supporting funds. The governmental Youth Development Fund is interested in working together with the Sengerema project. The government official, present in Misungwi, told the Sengerema board members that the national project has a lower pay back percentage than Sengerema has!
At this moment the Sengerema foundation is working on a general platform for microfinance projects that makes implementation of the system easier possible on other project locations. You can read some on the website YEP Tanzania (Young Enterpreneurs Program). Although the website is on the air, it's not yet completely filled.
To me it was a great experience to spend a couple of weeks in Sengerema and I already have planned to come back in June.
Niko Winkel, March 12, 2016
Cornel Ngaleku Children Centre (CNCC) - vulnerable (orphaned) children under the wings of the Ursuline sisters
[August 27, 2015]
A totally different perspective on volunteering with children: the ‘voluntourism’ concept was not invented here, that’s for sure. It is a Tanzanian children centre in an environment you could certainly call contemplative,. with people around you to whom the speed of life and the march of civilization are not very important. To whom progress solely means improving the fate of the people that you care of and for. Expectation management is the key subject, when you think of the volunteers-to-be at Ngaleku’s. CNCC offers a hearty, spacious, honest and caring place to work and live for volunteers that want to commit themselves for at least two months. This is an opportunity for real volunteers, not for funvolunteers.
When you look down the slopes, you see Kenya in the far away plains. The border is only a mile away. The view on the other side is the Kilimanjaro massif; we are on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro. The mountain does look very different as compared to what it looks like from the west or the south. Upon arriving here, the peak of the mountain was not visible. There only clouds. But around 6pm the sky suddenly became clear and I immediately recognized the Mawenzi peak: the eastern peak of the Kilimanjaro that consists of three volcanos. The highest one is Uhuru Peak, 5895 meters above sea level. The Mawenzi is the third highest peak of Africa, after Uhuru Peak and Mount Kenya: 5149 meters. Behind Mawenzi we could see Uhuru Peak, but it’s by far not that spectaculair compared to the view from the west or the south.
We came from Moshi, south of Kilimanjaro, with a Noah minibus, a two hour journey along the slopes of the majestic mountain. It is a very green and fertile land. Woods, banana plantations, and every now and then views of the Kenya plains in the distance. Near the small village of Leto, close to the market town called Usseri in the Rombo district, thirteen Tanzanian sisters of the Ursuline order take care of the children of CNCC.
CNCC is founded by the son of Cornel Ngaleku, Michael Shirima. He is the founder and boss of Precision Air, a small East-African airline. He used the land he inherited from his father to build this children centre. Shortly afterwards, the Dutch couple Olga & Pieter de Haas met Michael Shirima, and soon they came to work together. During the first years the Dutch couple spent lots of time at CNCC and they even live on the CNCC compund during European winter. Sister Ritha, the ‘sister in charge,’ tells us they will be back in Tanzania on January 16.
The care of the children in the children centre is the responsibility of the Ursuline sisters. Upon admission there is no distinction based on religious backgrounds or denomination. Sister Ritha, sister Juditha and their driver were waiting for us at the bus stop in Usseri with the big pick-up truck of Ngeleku. After arriving at the children centre sister Ritha showed us the house for volunteers, also for us to use, and then she showed us the whole centre. The dorms for the sisters and for the children, the playing yards, the kitchens, the offices and also the farm that is located on the compound, with cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and goats. The gardens are beautiful and vast, with bananas, mangos, sun flowers and lots of vegetables. She also showed us the machinery that produces the sun flower oil and that grinds the maize for the ugali (maize porridge, the main food in Tanzania). The children centre is selfproviding to a very large extend. Periodically you hear the sisters singing together in the chapel.
We walked off the dirt road to the little shop the centre exploits at the street, and bought ourselves some refreshments. On another part of the terrain some new buildings are being built: CNCC is building its own lodge. It is called Maktau Mountain View Lodge, and occupiesfour separate buildings, for tourists and also for visitors of the children centre. There even is a swimming pool planned. It’s a perfect base for Kilimanjaro climbers. The income from the lodge will be used for the support of the children in the children centre.
We asked sister Ritha if we could join her and the sisters for dinner. The volunteer house has its own kitchen, and the volunteers normally cook for themselves. We were not prepared for that, it’s our only night here, so we were very glad to have the opportunity to have dinner with the sisters. We were joining the long table with the sisters in their grey dresses, as honoured guests. The sisters were having their food from a very big pan containing fried bananas and meat. There was rice with vegetables and chicken for us: most people from the west don’t particularly like the fried bananas.
In Early August there was only one volunteer, a girl from Arusha. Mostly volunteers come from Holland, because of the involvement of Olga & Pieter de Haas and their supporting Dutch foundations (with also a Dutch website).
The volunteer house is a very nice place. It has its own living room, a spacious kitchen, its own private facilities with a warm shower, and three bedrooms. There also is a lovely porch to spend your rest hours on, with view on the gardens and the chapel. Early in the morning you hear the devotional singing of the sisters in the chapel. In my thoughts I compared it with the prayer announcements of the imam in the Mosques in Tanzania every early morning and (although I am not really Christian myself) it came to my mind that I like it much more.
A little later in the morning we visited the children of the Cornel Ngaleku Children Centre. CNCC takes in children from zero to seven years old:Children that cannot be taken care of by their own parents or other family members. In most cases the children are orphaned. Also, most of the time CNCC still takes care of them (financially and also during holidays) after they have left the children centre to go to primary school maybe even secondary school.
The children got their maize porridge for breakfast. The sisters are strict but sweet. We are very surprised to see they’re all quite manageable and precocious. Children tend to be able to walk when they’re only 9 months old. I don’t think that’s the case in Europe & America. also, you don’t see children here that are older than one and a half year and are still wearing dipers.It really made Sister Ritha smile of wonder when we told her about how this differs from the children in Europe and America.
We are quite impressed by the atmosphere and the situation: it is so normal to them, so unfamiliar to us. There are two babies smiling at us. They both just came in last week. Sister Ritha tells us their heartbreaking background story.
There is more to contemplate about CNCC and its specific characteristics; considerations that you will have to take into account, because theywill definitely influence expectation management for the volunteers that want to work with a project like this. You’re part of a social life with all its routines with the catholic sisters, there is no specific mundane adventure to experience (unless you take the bus and take at least a day or two) and last but not least: what are the specific tasks of the volunteer working with the children?
Thirteen Ursuline nuns are working with the thirty-one babies, toddlers and nursery school children. Furthermore, there are the primary school children that go to school in the village, and the children that are Ngaleku-children as well, but that attend a boarding (secondary) school somewhere else and only come home to CNCC during holidays.
It’s very obvious to me that this is a beautiful project all its qualities. This is no made up care situation; lost children get a new perspective, new chances in life. For people who are looking for contemplation, this is really a beautiful place to live and to work. It is totally different from the places, the projects, that I saw before: a very valuable addition to my observations and experiences of and about organisations working with volunteers in Tanzania.
When I came home in Holland I had an extensive telephone conversation with Olga de Haas. Of course we dove deep into the specific situation of the volunteers. Olga emphasizes that volunteers really would do good to come with two or three, because it could tend to be a little bit lonely if you would be here all by yourself. It’s better to be able to share your experiences and your stories together. I think Olga is very much right.
Furthermore, Olga tells me there is an absolute added value of the volunteers. Volunteers normally bring different behaviour than the sisters. The sisters are working with the children on a professional level, but they do that from their own culture and their own orientation on life, being nuns. There is less emphasis on the individual attention and on creative development. The way a volunteer brings a different perspective and a different attitude is really valuable, Olga tells me. But it’s still just additional to the care they get, day by day, from the sisters and never a substitution. CNCC is not depending on volunteers.
Justification of ethics (correct volunteering) and costs
The Cornel Ngaleku Children Centre (CNCC) loves to work with volunteers and has had very good experiences with volunteers in the past. CNCC expects that volunteers commit to work at the centre for at least two months, preferably even longer than that, because it takes some time to get adjusted both ways: the volunteer needs to get used to the children, and the children to the volunteer. Also the cultural differences and the completely other way of life as compared to the western lifestyle focus on the usefullness of an adjustment period.
The very special thing about CNCC is that it is a purely Tanzanian centre, initiated by a Tanzanian family. They finance the daily costs of the centre.
The caring of the children is in the hands of the sisters from the Ursuline order, with whom the owner, Michael Shirima, has signed a contract.
Besides that, people are employed to work in the garden, the machinery, the kitchen, laundrette, school, garage, shop, and of course also in the farm. These are all local people. Some of them live intern at the centre, bus most of them live nearby in the village.
In 2005 the Dutch CNCC foundation started. This foundation takes care of financing and sponsoring other projects in and around the centre. Besides these centre-related projects, there are also projects for the community in the nearby villages, such as the water supply.
Now that this all has been realized, the Dutch foundation is aiming at financing the tuition and living costs for the children that attend primary and secondary boarding schools.
The CNCC is a charity foundation and is to a large extent depending on sponsorships en donorships from Tanzania, The Netherland, Australia, USA and other countries. Also, because life is getting more and more expensive in Tanzania, since 2012 the CNCC has been asking 5 USD per day from the volunteers to pay for the use of the accommodation. Volunteers can take care of their own food. Internet is available on a personal stick, available in town or uploadable via mobile phone.
So you can count on living costs of about 10 euro per day, altogether. But it’s up to the Volunteer how much he or she wants to pay, because there is always need for sponsoring specific projects.
NJW, August 26, 2015
[August 14, 2015]
Sarakasi ya Vijana. That’s the name of the project that is funded by the Dutch foundation called Twiga. Sarakasi y Vijana means ‘young acrobats’. Or, a little more poetic: the acrobatics of youth. I’ve noticed often that Swahili words derive from English words, so good chance ‘sarakasi’ derives from ‘circus’, but I’m not entirely sure about that. It’s about children, that’s for sure. Children in Mto wa Mbu, a little town of about 30.000 inhabitants in the vicinity of the famous Ngorongoro crater in North Tanzania. Mto wa Mbu means ‘mosquito river’. It’s about children that didn’t have much feet to stand on, but can become acrobats. Thanks to Sarakasi ya Vijana.
Machteld Speets, a Dutch woman, started the project in 2004. The complex of buildings on the compound, about 2 miles from the mainroad at the end of a dusty dirt track, was built about 5 years ago. It’s a beautiful location, in the woods, with lots of velvet monkeys in the trees and marabou’s flying over the treetops. A couple of hundred meters further the woods end and you’re viewing at a spectacular and endless savanna with herds of cows with Masaai boys. Far away you can even see the flamingo’s at the shores of Lake Manyara. Mto was Mbu is rural, but it also is a major safari hub. It’s a busy town with it’s back against the Rift Vally escarpment, rising about 500 meters up.
De Twiga-website tells you all about the projects, about the goals, the mission, the staff and about the children. And also about the way the funding is being organised mainly from The Netherlands. And about how the whole project organisation is solely built on volunteers. You can also read lots of enthousiastic information about and from the people that are working with Sarakasi ya Vijana.
So that gives me space to limit my story just to my own experiences during my three day visit of Sarakasi ya Vijana at the end of July 2015.
On the moment of our arrival a little ceremony was going on, with all of the children that attend the Sarakasi ya Vijana nursery school. It was about the farewell of two volunteers and also the chairwoman of the Twiga foundation. They left the following morning. I was very lucky to be able to have a good talk with the chairwoman, Anne Marie van Lanen, about Twiga and Sarakasi just before she left. She is Twiga’s chairwoman already from the start of the project, but this was the first time she visited the project in Tanzania. Now she was able to have a job evaluation conversation with the project coördinator in Tanzania, Elvera, in the flesh. Elvera is doing the job already for almost a year, also being a volunteer of course, and she has just committed herself for another year to come. Anne Marie has just experienced how good the project is running and she’s very happy Elvera wants to stay for another year.
Elvera is assisted by Mieke, who also is present in Mto wa Mbu since about 3 months after having been here in 2013 for half a year. Later on I get to know that in most cases people come back a second time. Sharon, a Flemish Sarakasi-volunteer I meet, just spent the third consecutive summer in Mosquito River.
Can you imagine being chairwoman for so many years and than, finally, experiencing how it’s going on in the fields, see the results! Anne Marie is a very happy woman.
It’s a small and intimate community here at Sarakasi ya Vijana. At the end of the dirt track you stand at the gate and one of the Masaai-guards opens it for you. On the right you see the library building, where also the meetings are held. To the left, a little further behind the playing field with little soccer goals, there is the big building with a gabled roof. In this building you’ll find the kitchen, the nursery class rooms and some playing area. Under the porch there is a big dining table. In front of the big building there is an ‘outdoor’ schoolbuilding, half open.
Behind that building you find a building with an office and accommodation for volunteers. A little gate house with a thatched roof makes an entrance to a different part of the compound in which three “banda’s” are built. Those banda’s are small, round and also thatched cottages. They are used by volunteers and also by guests of Sarakasi ya Vijana. The project doesn’t advertise as a lodge, but welcomes guests heartly. Of course we also stayed in one of those romantic banda’s.
Yes, if you want to go to the big parks for a safari, this is a good place to use as a base!
We meet the Masaai-guards and the ‘mama’s’ that take care of the household and the food. That’s the way they introduce themselves: Mama Carolina, Mama Flora. These names are the names of their children; the own name is no longer used. The common in Tanzania. And we also meet the three teachers. And William, the community worker.
It’s easy to notice that Elvera and Mieke are in control and, thus, to understand why Anne Marie was so happy. That is very important. Just consider this organisation is solely run with volunteers. It’s always a big challenge to accept the organisation dynamics and have just enough continuity built in. So the Dutch foundation not only has to stand for enough funding to get it all done, it also has to take care of the proper operational effort of the staff members out in the fields.
Machteld Speets, the original founder of Sarakais ya Vijana, left the project in 2011, although she still is a member of the board of Twiga. After Machteld there have been several coordinators, also committed for at least a year. And now Elvera, who is staying until July 2016. Sarakasi ya Vijana is doing very good.
So much for the organisation. How about the children? On the Twiga-website you can find information about all of the children. Twiga is supporting about 75 children, of which the majority would not have been able to go to school if it weren’t made possible by Twiga. Twiga supports them throughout their complete educational career. So also vocational training or even university. The support comes in different forms: school fees, uniforms, tutoring, boarding fees, assistance for the elders, transfer costs, etc.
It will remain a small scale project. The Twiga foundation wants it that way. The power is in the personal approach, the intimate character. Sarakasi’s growth is just in the coming in of new young children, brought in via communication with village leaders, church and mosque. Children that otherwise would be in a very deprived situation and not able to go to school.
So the big expenses of the organisation do not all go to the project that you see when you’re visiting Sarakasi ya Vijana, because here you only see the young children going to nursery school (3 to 6 years), plus only the primary school children that come on Saturdays and during holidays for extra tutoring and also for fun. The eldest student right now is 25 years old. Last year the first student graduated as an accountant. There was a big celebration. He’s a good example for the students that come after him.
The staff has three meals a day, always together, at the big table in the veranda. The solidarity feeling is important. And there is another advantage: the Tanzanian people tend to eat the same everyday. That’s not what the mzungu’s (the white people) like very much. You try the ugali (maize porridge) a couple of times and than almost every westerner has had just enough of it.
In Mtwo wa Mbu lots of tuktuk’s are on the road. They’re called ‘bajaji’ in Tanzania. It’s an easy ride to town. But at least for once it’s also nice to walk. It takes an hour but there’s always something going on around you. In Africa you’re always in company.
Sarakasi ya Vijana is on the edge of the savanna. When you walk on the savanna, with its overwhelming vastness, there is also company. The Masaai shepherds can tell you everything, whether they speak English or just Swahili of their own Masaai language. The Sarakasi guards go walking with the four dogs two times a day. It’s a nice trip to walk with them to the other end of the savanna, where huge baobabs are to be found.
Sarakasi also has its own bicycles. They take you to the shops and little restaurants in town in just 15 minutes. A little further in town we found a big tree in the top of which about 10 marabou nests were to be seen. The huge marabou’s were flying off and on with big branches, a spectacular sight.
During our stay of three days very energetic volunteers were working on different projects. Cees, just retired, was busy with improving the water supply from the water tower with a 1000 liter tank. Besides that he helped Cynthia with finding out how to get rid of the bats that found holes in the roof to enter the library. Cynthia’s husband and his sons were busy digging slots for the new waterworks. And Maarten, from Belgium, was working on an new outside stove for the cooking ladies. Cees’ wife was evaluating some teaching methods of the nursery school teachers. Sharon and Jill, two young women, did some creative projects with the nursery school children.
This is the kind of organisation where there is always different kinds of work that need to be done. But you will have to find the right fit. What is it that you want to do and what is being needed on a specific moment? If you want to volunteer you’ll have to have a talk (or mail) with the coördinator. In good consultation the right contribution is easily found. All effort is pointed at working together with the locals. Twiga is taking care of a lot of extra employment already for the people in this town.
Machteld Speets explaines herself on the website: “The motive for continuing this project, is to educate more people, so they can get a good job and become responsible people (also for the environment). That is the beauty of Mto wa Mbu, the combination between nature and people. I think you should be doing this job because you like it, a kind of smart egoism. It is good that you can also help other people by doing this job. This is not only for me, but also for the volunteers who come here. I like the boedhistic way of living, you are responsible for your own hapiness. I think that is how you improve the world.”
That is exactly how I have experienced Sarakasi ya Vijana during my three day visit. It’s a major advantage Mto wa Mbu is just at one of the major connecting roads of Tanzania, very easy to travel to, because I cannot imagine that I’m not gonna come back one of the next years.
Justification of ethics (correct volunteering) and costs
NB: this information just comes from the Twiga-website, but it’s very easy to trust on the reliability.
• It is a small-scale and well-organised program. Incomes consist of gifts from sponsors and donors and are more and more generated from the contributions of volunteers and other visitors who stay in our volunteer house. These incomes are directly used in behalf of the children. Nothing sticks to the fingers.
• The children live at home as far as they have a home. This means that some of the children live with their grandmother, uncle or in a host family. Their caretakers are closely involved to the program by means of activities at the centre and attending the monthly meetings. We expect a small contribution of the caretakers, financial or in kind. Nothing is given for free. Caretakers can get a small loan to build up a subsistence level.
• The foundation has good connections with the Tanzanian government at local, district and regional level. The children program has a board of advisors in which different people are represented, who advice on the daily business of the children program.
• Western volunteers and local people get in touch in a positive way and learn from each other’s culture.
• The children program is located close to Lake Manyara National Park, which makes it special for visitors and volunteers. With the National Park just around the corner we teach the children about the importance of flora and fauna conservation.
• Next to the basic needs and school the children get education in acrobatics, traditional dance, singing, theatre and lifeskills.
Volunteering with Sarakasi ya Vijana
As a volunteer at Sarakasi ya Vijana you are working closely with our Tanzanian teachers, other staff, children and living in a small neighborhood. Some of the subject areas are: assisting the nursery teachers in their daily tasks, assisting in the extra tuition program on Saturdays and during the school holidays (primary and secondary all subjects including computer science), assisting the youth worker, the project coordinator and organizing extra curricular activities.
Over the years volunteers have ameliorated our program enormously by adding their skills and experience to our educational and extra-curricular program (for the nursery kids, primary school and secondary kids). It is wonderful to see that both staff, kids and volunteers have grown tremendously from this intercultural exchange.
Mainly we are seeking volunteers who are enthusiastic, social, serious and respectful. We feel it is more important to relate well from one human being towards the other than being good at a particular skill. All staff and children speak some English, it is advisable however, for you to learn some Swahili before you enter the country. It makes your stay a whole lot nicer if you can communicate directly with the people.
You are living on our Sarakasi compound next to the Lake Manyara wildlife park. It is a beautiful surrounding an excellent place for hiking, cycling and going on safari. You live in a simple but comfortable house (rondavel) next to the educational program. Our compound is about 5 kms from the town. For your stay we ask a small contribution for the food & stay. Short stay: €150 per week; long stay: €500 per month.
NJW, August 14, 2015
[August 13, 2015]
After finishing her Social Pedagogy education Kimberly Zandvliet, from Holland, worked one year as a volunteer in orphanages in and near Arusha, North Tanzania. Her experiences during that year brought her a dream of starting a new school, in Tanzania, herself. In Tanzania she met Eriq, born and raised in Tanzania, but he had been living in The Netherlands for eight years and got a degree in Photo-Journalism. Together they made their dream come true: in 2013 their brand new school opened its doors. At the end of July 2015 GoTanzania visited Kimberly and Eriq at their school, half an hour by car from the centre of Arusha.
Arusha is a very busy town, but in just a ten minutes drive out of town on the Old Moshi Road the tarmac track ends and you’re back in rural Africa. It’s lush, green and it’s fertile. An intimate landscape. Small fields, with maize, beans, rice, scattered little farmhouses and mudhouses, big trees.
And then, all of a sudden, a collection of brand new white buildings with clean blue ironed roofs. We wait before a big fence until the guards open up. We get official visitor-necklaces. That’s the first sign of the virtue and professionality of what we’re about to experience at the DINKA school. Properties of the organisation that are in sharp contrast with the appearance of Kimberly. She could just still be the orphanage volunteer she was, 8 years back, when she was just 18 years old: young, blonde, receptive glance in her eyes.
Just about 50 metres from where our driver parks our car we already spot about 60 children standing in line, three rows, the bigger ones on the last row. They wear red and blue uniforms, the boys with trousers, the girls skirts. And they’re already singing: “Welcome to our school, you are welcome to our school”. In choir they sang three different songs for us. Later Kimberly told us it were brand new songs. She was proud the children sang it without any hesitation. The DINKA school only gets visitors from abroad about once every three months.
We also shake hands with the whole teaching staff. The buildings, the staff, the gardens, everything looks very clean and neat. I get the feeling this organisation represents a relatively high degree of wealth. How do they succeed in that? After all it’s a private initiative of just one woman and her spouse.
During the conversation we first have in one of the big school class rooms, with sweet tea, we hear all about how the DINKA school developed. DINKA stands for ‘Dutch Initiative Kimberly Africa’. Kimbery, only 19 years old by then, had the luck to find a businessman from Wassenaar, the Dutch town where she grew up, who responded on an advertisement she had published in a local newspaper. He donated about 2000 euros to her project. In the advertisement she asked people to financially support her for building a school in Tanzania. Kimberly filled a big sea container with all kinds of stuff and shipped it to Arusha. Later on she went by all kinds of factories and shops in Wassenaar, Holland, and just by coincidence she found the best connection you can imagine: the chairman of the ‘Run for Rio’-foundation. This foundation funds money, every year, by organising a run through the dunes close to Wassenaar, near the North Sea beach. A major Dutch government supported foundation doubled the returns from the run sponsoring. And so Kimberly was on her way. When the train was on the track and started rolling, Kimberly found more funding sources. Still Kimberly on a yearly basis spends two weeks in Holland to take good care of her sponsors and to find new ones.
It’s almost incredible to see, what a fantastic complex she has built up here in rural Tanzania. The DINKA school houses about 60 children right now. Some of the children are also financially sponsored by their own parents. Those parents know their children get much better education than they would get in the much cheaper public schools. But most of the children don’t have parents at all. They come from orphanages. They don’t pay at all. The DINKA school grows every year by the yearly flow of the children that are already there. New young ones come in every year. Still two big buildings are yet to come.
Later on Kimberly and Eriq, who also joined us, show us around the complex. Kimberly and Eriq have a 3 year old daughter and their second child will be born some six months from now. All class rooms are very big, well equipped and ‘children friendly’. I’ve seen much schools in Tanzania but not ever one as clean, neat and shiny as this one. I often thought, experiencing school climates in Tanzania: this is the total opposite of inspiring. But here I can only think: going to school is the biggest fun you can think of!
In one class room we meet two high school students from Holland. They come from a school with which DINKA and Kimberly have a lasting relationship. Every year students from that school come over to the DINKA school for a periode of just several weeks to do some creative side projects with the children. Kimberly very much welcomes volunteers who want to come over for at least 2 or 3 months to help the teachers. Definately: not to replace them!, Kimberly emphasises. But right now there are no other volunteers presents at the DINKA school. DINKA always has room for 3 to 5 volunteers, depending on the wishes of the moment and also of the skills of the volunteer. We also get to see the accommodation for the volunteers. That’s a fine place to live for a couple of months, a very cozy place.
On the website of the DINKA school Kimberly tells about how she screens the potential volunteers. You have to write your own letter of recommendation. What is your expertise? What aims do you have? What do you think the children could learn from you? The knife cuts both sides. The volunteer has to show what he (or she) wants to achieve, to learn himself. And Kimberly on the other hand can find out how the volunteers aim can match with a development focus of the DINKA school.
To come back on the specific contrast between the appearance of Kimberly and the level of professionality of this organisation: what I got to experience during this very inspiring visit of the DINKA school is a very special and charismatic personality. It really are unique people who put on this big shoes and show enough perseverance and enthousiasm to build up a project like the DINKA school.
Justification of ethics (correct volunteering) and costs
Kimberly emphasises that volunteers who want to contribute to the DINKA school only pay for the accommodation and the food. In some cases volunteers pay a relatively small amount of money to an intermediary, but when you get in contact with the DINKA school without an intermediary, there is no added costs at all.
Volunteers pay €500 per month for accommodation and three meals per day. Transport to the city of Arusha on a regular basis is also included, just by coming along with the school bus.
The goals and mission of DINKA is clearly formulated on the DINKA website:
The goal of the Dinka Foundation is to provide better education to children of all origins. We will specifically focus ourselves on street children, orphans and children from poor families from the slums and the countryside. We will provide the children with a broader education in order to grant them a better perspective on their future. The school will provide care and accommodation to those children who are in need of it. We will operate as a boarding school. We will not be an orphanage of any kind and will always try our best to reunify children with their families in their hometown or birthplaces.
Kimberly and Eriq have experienced how things are dealt with by many of the government commissioned schools in Tanzania. They believe that children have a right for better education and thus a better future. Eriq and Kim would like to contribute to the development of Tanzania by initially building a primary school and accommodation. After graduation, the children will have the opportunity to continue their education via a course and will eventually be able to work independently in the Tanzanian society.
The long-term goal is to provide the children who have it in them with further and continuing education. Through personal sponsorship, students can continue an education in Tanzania.
Children will feel safe at the Dinka School and will hopefully witness how important education is and how fun it is to learn.
The Olive Branch for Children, June 22 – July 8, 2015
A little over two weeks in Uyole, near Mbeya, in the far southwest of Tanzania, feels like more than a month. I have noticed it’s mainly the accumulation of events and new impressions that make me feel time runs faster. But don’t let this sound like a recommendation to live slow. Maybe my restless temperament drives me to want to have more short and intense, rather than long and deep experiences. How much depth can I take, in the end? The Olive Branch for Children brought me as much depth as I can handle.
Deborah McCracken grew up in Toronto in a well-to-do family. Daddy was a corporate lawyer. When she was five she had her own horse. She went to the best schools and lived the easy life. After getting her degree at a prestigious university she left for Africa. She told me her first awareness breakthrough happened when she was 16 and spent a summer in a luxury exchange program in Durban, South-Africa. She saw township poverty for the first time, and realized she’d always just taken her luxury life for granted.
So she went to Africa at her 23rd.
Deborah did not go back to Canada for two years. When she was away for one year, she told her parents: “I’m not coming back! I’m not gonna live in Canada anymore and I’m going to stay in Tanzania!” Deborah knew what she wanted to do: she wanted to build up her own organisation. “And I also want your help,” she said to her family. Here’s the start of The Olive Branch for Children. The charity is in Canada, the project organisation is in Tanzania. So it’s not about falling in love with a local Tanzanian guy (that came much later), it’s really her own aim to ‘make the difference’: Deborah’s wish to use all her skills and the facilities she could grab to live her life in Tanzania and bring forth a real contribution to community development in a very rural and far away area.
For sixteen days I was a part of the mega family The Olive Branch is. In Zion Home, an extensive compound she rents in Uyole, about 40 to 50 people live together. No, it’s not a hotel. It’s a real living community. What does it consist of?
At first: there are 31 children, varying in age from 1 to 20. The eldest attends university in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, but he’s at home in Zion Home every holiday. A group of children attends secondary school (high school) and others are still in primary school and nursery school. The youngest still runs around in diapers. At the primary school, children also get some education from volunteers from abroad. Everybody speaks Swahili and English. In fact they’re almost the only children in Uyole (and surroundings) that speak English.
All of these children are adopted by The Olive Branch for Children. Deborah is the official guardian of the children. For everybody she IS their mum. Not a second hand mum, but the only one they have. Most of these children probably wouldn’t be alive if they weren’t adopted by The Olive Branch! Even during my stay there was a new case: a 12 year old girl that had lost everything. Even the official institutions in Uyole and Mbeya know where to find The Olive Branch in such cases. Yes, Deborah makes room for her. This girl arrived the day after I left.
Last Sunday we did a hike with the whole family to a beautiful crater lake nearby (Lake Ngozi). Baraka, 13 years old, was there as well. He was walking slowly. Deborah told me his heart is bad and he has about one year left to live. He was already orphaned, living with his uncle, when he had severe breathing problems. His uncle brought him to the hospital and…. disappeared. So there he was, left by his family, all alone, and Deborah got a phone call. With some better medication Baraka’s health improved a little bit. Deborah tells me: we just give him the best last year he can get.
Deborah has got an overdose of energy. Every morning at 5.30am she goes through the medication schemes for all the children. Lots of them need some on a daily basis. Here in Tanzania one-and-a-half generation is completely gone because of aids (in many cases the parents of the children in The Olive Branch, who also passed the HIV on to them).
The Olive Branch for Children will have its own brand-new compound. The building process is already going on for several years. I didn’t get a chance to see the proceedings myself, but when it’s done the whole family will move there. It’s about 25 kilometres away from Uyole. When I say ‘the whole family’, this also includes the 15 children that are in the annexe called Peace Home. In Peace Home mama Edina takes care of the children, a wonderful Tanzanian lady. Deborah wants to have her own school accredited in the new Zion Home and give an even better base to the foundation.
I expect there to be some professionalization – to phrase it western style – in comparison to the stage of my experiences during the last couple of weeks. Here at Zion Home, being a volunteer, you dive deep into another world. No normal toilets, no shower: you poor cold water from a plastic cup. There is a shithole to use and to clean with water from a bucket. The same bucket is at your disposal for having your shower. A smudgy plastic bag is on the ground to put your used toilet paper in. In the living room for the volunteers it’s always noisy and crowded. Everybody leaves his stuff hanging around, even laptops, and all of the children drop by from time to time. I never had to lock any door. It’s a family! There’s also a nest with tiny little kittens in the cupboard. Their mother is often seen on the table, after most of the volunteers have had their ugali (maize porridge, the national food of Tanzania). Outside there are ladies (another part of the family: the household team) cooking in big pans on firewood, soup kitchen-like. Always beans and spinach to accompany the ugali. You eat what you get. Your luxurious food from your home country? Within a month you’ve totally forgotten about that. We don’t live to eat. It’s OK! (For a while ;-)
Normally there aren’t that much volunteers at The Olive Branch. In most months there are about 5 or 6, of which most stay for a quite long time. Often more than half a year. Also now. There’s Cristina from Sicily, who is here already for 15 months. Her Swahili is fluent and she’s coordinating lots of community development projects. Just last week Lindsay from the US arrived. She will also stay here for a year. They really become a part of the family.
But during the weeks I’m here, it’s crowded. Two groups of volunteers from Canada and Ireland. Students of 22 to 24 years old. They came as groups and they run well planned projects. Some are educating the children of The Olive Branch or run summer camps for them. Others participate in the community programs The Olive Branch set up. Their efforts are related to their skills, the experiences and their interests. It’s all about added value.
Prior to my arrival, I asked Deborah about the costs for me to live and volunteer here for some weeks. In a mail she wrote me the costs would only be for food and accommodation: about 10 dollars a day. So a little bit more than nothing.
When I asked her for ‘the bill’, just a day before leaving, she told me (but of course I’m not allowed to generalize this): “Niko, please make up for yourself what you want to give. And if you have a specific target in mind to spend the money on, please tell me, because everything you leave behind will be put in one of our projects.”
A couple of weeks before my arrival Deborah let me know (also by email) what project she had in mind for me. Last year The Olive Branch started a ‘Food Support Program’. This program is sponsored by a Canadian rotary. It’s about 5000 dollars, for a year. It’s Deborah’s wish this program can be continued the coming years.
When I visit the supported people, interview them, take pictures and write stories about the interviews, the sponsors in Canada can have better insights as to what the project is about, and are able to form an idea about the way the people live their hard lives.
At the moment there are about 50 people in the Food Support Project. They get 5 kilos of beans, 10 kilos of maize, 5 eggs and a big bar of soap every month. You could say: who can live form that?! I found out for the majority of the people in the program it’s not really an addition: it’s most of what they have for a whole month.
Deborah introduced Bahati to me. He is my translator. (That’s another part of The Olive Branch-family: the translators and assistants; boys and girls who do internships for their education. There is also a cosy sleep- and living room for them on the other end of the compound.) Bahati and I will be on tour for 8 days, to make the visits to the supported people.
We visit the people in faraway villages on the vast sandy and dusty plains with chains of mountains in the north and in the south. The villages don’t seem to have any kind of infrastructure. Mud houses are built everywhere. Moored and dried mud, that’s what it is. Everything in the same beige colour. The soil, the houses and even the people, they all have the same colour. The houses are ‘empty’. Some wooden stools are being brought in for us to sit on. The people themselves are mainly just sitting on the ground. Some plastic cans and buckets, some pans, and some firewood are also on the ground. Often the air is thick of smoke and it’s difficult to breathe normally. You see some vague food simmering in the pan resting on some bricks, some firewood below. The rest you see is undefinable, messy.
The times I looked behind the fabric hanging before the opening in the wall, just to look at the presumed bedroom, I also found ‘nothing’: an empty and airless room. Most people just sleep on the ground. The old people with grooved faces, little boys with worn and torn down t-shirts with the names of famous football players on their back.
During the eight days we were on our path, frequently also on old ladies bicycles (with my knees against the steering wheel), we did 35 interviews. Almost without exception we heard heart-breaking stories. “How many children did you get?” They start thinking and counting on their fingers (their own age is unknown by them most of the times) and they come out on an average of about 7. But only 1 or 2 are still alive! All those dead children! One-and-a-half generation has just disappeared: aids! It’s incredible. Grandchildren they still have, but the parents of those grandchildren: most of them have passed away. They take care of their orphaned grandchildren.
Besides this we meet people in all kinds of different situations of poverty, disabilities, lethargy, hunger, broken families, etc. etc.I go a long way taking pictures with my camera as well. I try to get rid of all restraint. It sometimes feels voyeuristic, but I believe I have to do it this way. It has to be an honest report: tell it like it is, show it like it is.
Also Deborah told me: one picture tells a thousand words. We are talking about misery here. In fact, Deborah also tells me, she finds me a great photographer! It’s the first time in my life someone gives me that credit. But I’m very happy with it. She is pleased with all the stories I am writing; she reads them almost every day. Of course I also think to myself: I might just be the right person to do this project. Being 53 gives a somewhat different perspective than being 30 years younger: the age of all the other volunteers.
Indeed, I’m very happy, even grateful, with this project. I really dive deep into this and try to be as open minded as I can be; try to switch off every interpretation that automatically pops into my mind. Be pure, be curious. And be overwhelmed. There’s no pro or con, no good or bad, no beautiful or ugly; it’s just an indivisible and unstoppable stream of feelings and impressions.
Finally I had written my report, also filled with the best pictures I took, and it was about 82 pages long. Not ever before in my life I was this much pleased with something from my own head and heart; a pure and personal product. In only two weeks! So I’m very happy to be able to have it be shown to other people. Especially, of course, the sponsors that made the Food Support Program possible. Just yesterday I had my farewell meeting. Deborah prepared a speech for me. About 20 children danced and sang. Of course I couldn’t keep it dry.
The Olive Branch for Children does not only focus on children. The Food Support Program is a good example of this. It’s just got to do with the poorest of the poorest: the people who are genuinely the worst off and who don’t fit in any kind of development program. It’s about surviving and giving just that tiny little bit of comfort. Doris’ grandmother gets food for Doris. She’s 15 years old, working very hard to get the best final results on her primary school examination. Even during the holidays (right now) she goes to school every day to do extra exercise. The reason is: she really wants to proceed to secondary school. Of course there is the money problem: it will cost about 200.000TSH (100USD) a year. Money her grandmother does not have. They are completely depending on some kind of sponsorship. Yes, I told Deborah I know where I want my money to go to.
About 20 so called ‘Home Based Care’-providers (“HBC”, they are all called) are employed by The Olive Branch. They all represent a village or subvillage. They are the people to build the bridges. So the volunteer workers at The Olive Branch are mainly focused on a ‘teach the teacher’ way of educating. That’s all the better, because the people – the real target of the projects – could much better get the right information from someone of their own village then from some ‘mzungu’ from a rich country. The education is about sexual hygiene, use of condoms, female cancers, proper use of HIV-medication, but also about alcohol abuse. The HBC don’t speak English, but they are ‘community leaders’ in their village. They have to take this role very seriously, but in many cases are not that well equipped for this task yet. It needs experience, decisiveness, perseverance and also some mental development. Or at least: a better understanding of each other. There is a cultural gap to close, also for The Olive Branch, being an organisation that wants and needs to get the results. Different styles of working, different styles of handling responsibilities.
Deborah asked me explicitly to keep this in mind when thinking about and formulating advices deriving from my interviews with the people in the Food Support Program. Often I could see with my own eyes that food support was appropriate, but maybe some other ways of support would be even more appropriate. It might be very beneficial for the HBC-providers to be more aware of this. In some cases, I saw old wheelchairs in the mud houses, rotting away, not being used for years. The disabled it belongs to cannot use it any longer. Maybe try to repair it and let someone else use it? Why is everybody cooking inside the house, surrounded by smoke? And complaining about coughs and respiratory problems? There’s no rainy season right now, tell them all to cook outside! Are they solution-oriented in the best way? I think in many cases they lack the right focus on solution flexibility. Sometimes I think: why (the heck) don’t you come up with this solution yourself? It’s a little bit what we call ‘thinking out of the box’. That’s what these people need to learn. Yes, I do know there is something ‘post-colonial’ in this mzungu-‘knowing better’. But again: it is what it is.
The Olive Branch for Children is genuine for the full 100%. The organisation is focused on the basic needs in this environment. There’s nothing sacred or patronising in the way The Olive Branch is working; it gives space to all energy and every insight of the local people and it focuses quite intensely on joy and pleasure: the aim of life is to have a good life. That is an important message, also for the Tanzanian people. Although projects aim towards the collective, in its core, the approach is very personal.
This counts the most, of course, for the children. Every night Deborah takes time to be together with them. In the big meeting room they all come together and do yoga, dance on R&B or African music, do seminar, debates, etc. The volunteers that are present are always also part of this big family.
“Listen good, my lovely children, you will be the heirs of The Olive Branch. You will be the community leaders of the future in this country. It are your uncles and aunts, your brothers and sisters, your tribe members, for whom we’re all doing this.“
Deborah has found the right way, also to bring her own background subservient to her goals with this magnificent project. In the board of the Canadian charity her mother, brother and sister-in-law play an important role. The Olive Branch has a vast supportive network of volunteers in Canada. In Ireland and Germany, she also has good relations with universities that send volunteers, and with communities who support collectively. Altogether, the budget is about 250.000USD on a yearly basis. In Holland, where I come from, that is the financial budget for the needs of 2 to 5 disabled persons. I’m very happy a country like Holland has this collective insurance, this welfare state. But in Uyole there is a mini-society running on this budget, consisting of at least 50 children, pulled out of the gutter, been given a loving family and being educated to real development in Tanzania. Not to speak about all the other projects aiming for real help to people in an area of 3200km2 with 35000 inhabitants, many in the most faraway and poorest villages of the country.
Of course I will come back to The Olive Branch. I want to see how it develops. And if there’s another beautiful project for me to be part of, that would be great.
Niko Winkel, July 9, 2015
MamboViewPoint – 20 May 2015 – 17 June 2015
I wake up every morning shortly before sunrise. To the people living here, the days really last from sunrise to sunset. This is also how they keep track of time: 7 A.M. is called the first hour of the day: ‘saa moja kamili’. The night really falls here: within half an hour, the sky is pitch-black (unless the moon is full, when you might even be able to read outside!). Thousands of stars light up in an infinite black sky. When you walk on top of the mountain, where the house for volunteers is located, it seems as if you find yourself in a quiet and immense theater. However, there is some noise: sounds carry far through the valley. A cow, a rooster. And on set times you hear the muezzins, resounding through their speakers. But even more clearly you hear the children by day. There are so many! 5000 people inhabit the village Mambo, and 2000 of them go to primary school.
Mambo is located two kilometers lower in the valley. Pikipikis drive around. They bring you from village to village (or from MamboViewPoint to a village) for a very small amount (according to Western standards, that is), yet most people walk. They walk endlessly. The students who attended my (by myself developed) Word and Excel lessons over the past month, walked one and a half hour to MamboViewPoint and back. Ally and Josef are MamboViewPoint’s guides. They both live in Mtae, the village visible on the next ridge. They walk every day, even when there is no work for them. It is at least an hour walk. But when you join one of their beautiful hikes alongside the cliff, to the caves or through the rainforest, it seems as if they do not encounter any resistance. Local men are as slim as Twiggy was in her best years. Women too, by the way – even though being slim does not give a woman status here. It is all about work, here in the mountains. Somebody told me people work even harder than they used to do, which, apparently, is partly because of MamboViewPoint’s efforts.
Herman and Marion, the MamboViewPoint couple, left Lienden, The Netherlands six years ago in order to spend the rest of their lives living from the profit of their lodge and living for assisting the local people in building up a healthier life with more prosperity. This is definitely possible: people here are poor, yet often without good reason, since the land is very fertile. Would they give their cow a bit more proper attention and medicine, they would get a lot more milk. Would they give the women who traditionally help mothers give birth a bit more education, they would save lives (child mortality is very high). Would they have a heater that smokes less, they won’t sit in their clay houses breathing smoke all day long. Babies sleep there as well: you can hear them, but the heavy fog obstructs you from seeing them. Long diseases are the major cause of death here.
Water facilities should be touched upon as well. MamboViewPoint organizes the digging of wells and the building of the Blue Pumps of Fairwater. Those pumps work for thirty years. It is not just a matter of installing them: MamboViewPoint takes care of the pumps and ensures the fact that people cannot use them freely, since that would miss the whole point of sustainable development.
Since the beginning of 2015 MamboViewPoint’s community development projects are organized from the new foundation ‘Jamiisawa’ (solidarity).
My own goal was something entirely different. Of course, it was a participating observation. My own project is, indeed: getting to know Tanzania from the perspective of good development projects that employ international volunteers. I am no nurse, no agricultural expert, no technician, no social worker. Yet, most international volunteers are not either. Even worse: they are about twenty years old and do not have a single expertise that ordinarily would justify the fact that you are coming to teach the local people something (sorry, youngsters).
My productivity in four weeks: developing and shaping the library consisting out of 250 titles. I built a computer system for it, which Hoza (Jamiisawa’s manager) can use to keep track of the management and borrowing processes. Hoza is very content with it. I also made an extensive PowerPoint presentation that teaches Word and Excel to beginners. Jamiisawa hired Henrish to teach students. Six computers are lined up in Jamiisawa’s classroom: four are small tablets and two are big laptops with a Spanish keyboard. I now know the symbols you get when you press one of the keys (many actually refer to something else). The upside-down question mark, for instance, is actually a ‘)’. Rafael, a retired Spanish teacher, visited MamboViewPoint a number of times. He taught English to kids at the primary school, and left a couple of old laptops. Hoza’s laptop is also Spanish, and I taught him Word and Excel very intensively.
Hoza’s other project is copying: people often need a copy of something. An identity document, a contract, whatever: they climb the mountain in order to use the area’s only copy machine for 300 shilling per copy (which ends up in the community fund, even though people do not know this). Hoza keeps track of this in an Excel sheet. I inserted some formula and secured the sheet. The only thing he has to do is keeping track when, for whom and how many copies he makes. He had already made a lot of mistakes, so the money they had in stock was not in accordance with what they thought they had.
The computers here are the only ones in the area. Two of the students that attend our classes every afternoon, are teachers at a primary school in Kwentiindi, a village four ridges and valleys away. They listen carefully when I do magical things on the computer. Especially Excel is fun: I notice myself enjoying playing with it (“look, when you enter this, and you press that key..” and the subsequent astonishment in their eyes when all numbers change instantly).
These guys are teachers with a moderate knowledge of the English language, even though they teach English themselves. The other students attend secondary school and are between the ages of fifteen and nineteen (although guessing an age is difficult: I initially thought that the two teachers were students). Their English is even worse. They do not know how to say something like “I do not get it yet, can you explain it again?” and only say “yes.” Do you understand? Yes. Don’t you understand? Yes. When Henrish – I practically am the teacher’s teacher – teaches the students, he looks over their shoulders, gazes at the screens, and seems to be mastering the students and matter. Yet, this is only appearance: Henrish knowledge is limited as well. Even though I explained him time and again that creating space in a Word document should not be done by using the ‘space’ key (“Henrish, spaces are invisible devils: they move your text over the edge of the paper when you change something”), he continues to do it. Repeat, repeat, repeat: Marion says. I am actually the same: she always needs to repeat things to me. Well, Marion, I get it now. Development happens slowly. Herman’s and Marion’s stories about their projects and developments during the past five years are characteristic of this: sustainable development does not happen overnight. Nevertheless, it is sustainable. It lasts. There is a lot of development happening here.
I had one other project. Using Excel, I built an administrative management system for the Jamiisawaa foundation (which employs eleven people: some temporarily and some permanently). This system will hopefully account for a good start for Herman. It was secondary work: work for the foundation, without being in direct contact with the locals. Yes: I had an office-job on top of Mambo’s mountain. Even that is possible! It actually seems quite surrealistic.
Everything I described so far accounted for about half of the hours I spent at MamboViewPoint and its Jamiisawa foundation. MamboViewPoint is the organization that funds many community projects. Jamiisawa is the foundation led by locals and is not subjected to business taxes.
The other half of my time allows for getting to know the area better. Together with one of MamboViewPoint’s guides, you can do fantastic hikes through the mountains. Volunteers can do such (half- or full-day) hikes for free. I also got Swahili lessons from Josef for three weeks (an hour every morning). There are, moreover, colorful markets on set days in different villages. Multiple times Hoza or someone else took me to visit a school. We, for example, delivered instructive school plates (smart boards) at schools. Makanyaga made those: he works as an artist for Jamiisawa and is involved in the ‘drop-in project’ that overlooks children who dropped out of school. Makanyaga painted a big mural on the longest wall of my room, depicting my own family (according to photos I gave him) in a Kilimanjaro-like environment. Gijs from Alphen aan den Rijn (The Netherlands) began a circus in which kids perform. During the weekends, kids ride their unicycle down the mountain.
MamboViewPoint also shows their guests opportunities to contribute. You can, for instance, plant trees. It is useful to restore the former tree population: the Eucalyptus trees that consume a lot of water (and other trees as well) actually need to be replaced by local tree species. You can also sponsor a smart board. When you become a ‘Friend of Mambo’ you will be in the system, which allows you to sponsor many great projects. This is very rewarding, since everything will end up at the right place.
During this period I was the only volunteer at MamboViewPoint. It was a relatively quiet time, there were not many tourists. Sometimes ‘overlanders’ who travel through Africa by jeep dropped by. When there were tourists, things instantly became livelier. I was just here in mid-winter! In terms of the weather this was obvious as well: I was wearing a sweater most of the time. By night the temperature dropped to ten degrees Celsius. The Kilimanjaro, 160 kilometers away, is usually visible from the mountain’s ridge, but I had bad luck: I did not see it once. Nevertheless, the Kilimanjaro is only the cherry on top: I gazed at the valley every morning, seeing villages 1300 meters below me, the Pare-mountains on the other side and the Mtae-ridge in the east. In the west you can even see the highway from Dar to Arusha. It remains a wonderful sight.
In July a Polish creative agricultural expert, a couple of midwives, a teacher from The Netherlands and a group of students from the United States will visit Mambo. The tourist season is about to start as well. Marion and Herman suffered from the Ebola epidemic quite heavily (which is strange, since Western-Africa is very far away), but their social organization and community projects keep flourishing. Marion just got back from her first visit to The Netherlands in six years. The culture shock was immense: she is glad to be back and had difficulty comprehending how neat the country was (“I would not be able to live there any more”).
I am grateful for having been able to stay at MamboViewPoint for a month. That might sound quite devotional, but I truly mean it. I perceive it as a privilege that I was able to add a month of such wonderful experiences to my life.
Niko Winkel, 19 June 2015