Best practice: Global Resource Alliance works on improving food quality in Mara-region in Tanzania

[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.

American website Global Resource Alliance
Tanzanian website Global Resource Alliance

Newsletter: What we did in 2015!

Niko Winkel, March 15, 2016

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