[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
[Februari 29, 2016]
Mwanza is the second biggest city in Tanzania. Cities in Tanzania are expanding rapidly: the population of Mwanza, on the south shores of Lake Victorai, has doubled in the last 15 years. Mwanza is now inhabited by 600.000 people. The city is known by the name of 'Rock City'. The hills are covered with eroded rocks, you sometimes get the feeling giants have been building and playing with those rocks.
Marga van Barschot, Dutch, came to Mwanza in 1999, sent by a missionary organisation called SMA (Society for African Missions). Some catholic nuns were running a street childrens project and asked Marga to take over. She was already over 50 years old but built a whole new life in Tanzania.
Together with her husband Hoja, who grew up near Mwanza, she has been running the Upendo Daima street childrens project for 15 years now. I have invited myself, have visited Marga and her project for almost a week at the end of January. Marga has welcomed me in her house and after only a couple of days this felt as a home to me. The aim of my visit: to get to know the Upendo Daima organisation and to write my story about it.
The work of Upendo Daima can be devided in two specific parts that both have their own location: the 'Back Home House' where street children (Upendo Daima only works with boys) have a temporary shelter. In this Back Home House the focus is on trying to reunite the children with their families. The other location is the socalled 'Malimbe Family House'. Children for whom it appears not to be possible to bring them back to their families can build on their future in Malimbe Family House. Upendo Daima works with 22 local employees. These dedicated people cover a variety of tasks assisting the children. Some focus on individual counseling to prepare chidren for reunion with their families, some are working on the streets in Mwanza to get to know the street children, some others take care of the gardens, the caring for the children, the preparation of food, etc. etc.
The process starts with the street workers. Twice per week the street workers go on the streets in Mwanza, where they find lots of street children. Most of these children come from villages far away from the city. They all have their own reasons for having run away from home. In most cases they have just been sent away, they are being neglected and mistreated. Very often they have become traumatised and they use primitive drugs, like sniffing gasoline or glue.
Of course they are not going to school at all. They just wander around, begging and stealing. In many cases they are not eager to come along with the street workers. They feel "free", so to say.
The street workers try to make contact and they try to convince them to change their lives, also by coming with them to Upendo Daima's Back Home House in the suburb of Mwanza.
When children come to the Back Home House, the phase of counseling starts. The children enter therapeutic sessions in which they get attention in a very creative way, especially by drawing and visualisations. In this way the counsellors try to find out about the backgrounds and trauma's of the children. The Upendo Daima (which means 'endless love' in Swahili) organisation tries to find the families of the children and arrange sessions in which they find out if there's possibilities to focus on reunion.
In January 2016 about 30 children were staying in the Back Home house. Children can stay in the Back Home House for 3 months. That is the maximum amount of time.
When I arrived in the Back Home House the children were just on their long weekly walk upon the hills surrounding Mwanza. One hour later the groups came through the entrance gate, singing and shouting. They all shook hands with me, greeting me with 'shikamoo', and then they all took a bucketshower on the muddy playing field. After that they all sat at the long table eating their 'ugali' (maize porridge). The boys are all between 7 and 12 years old.
Malimbe Family House
To bring the children back together with their families is the primary target. But in lots of cases this is an unattainable goal. In those cases Upendo Daima arranges shelter for the children in the Malimbe Family House. This is not really a 'house'. It's a spacious terrain with community buildings, a semi-covered space in which the children have their meals, kitchens, offices, class rooms, a library and different buildings in which the children sleep in bunk beds. In January 2016 there were 45 children (maximum capacity is 55). There is also a soccer field, some playground equipment and a big garden with maize, banana trees, cabbage, beans and spinach.
Chicken walk around the buildings.
The Malimbe Family House is located about 10 miles south of Mwanza and Marga and Hoja's house, where I have a small appartment for mysef, is just next to Malimbe Family House.
The children live in safe surrounding buth without luxury. Of course in the end they still have to fit in their own social environment. They attend the local primary school and are offered some extra tuition from the Upendo Daima education officers. It's important the children get possibilities to learn to speak and read English and learn how to work with computers.
One afternoon I make a lang walk with 8 of the Malimbe Family House children. We climb upon the remarkable rockeries and they also show me their school.
Throughout the week I have long talks with Marga. She feels at home in Tanzania. She puts out to me her work is very rewarding, but she keeps everything just within perspective: 'I know I can't change the world, but it feels good to know that some children get a better future'.
Sponsoring from Holland offers opportunities to give the children better education.
Volunteers from Europe and America are welcome. Marga says she's very carefull with volunteering assitance: unskilled volunteers are a risk for the organisation. Language and working circumstances can be problematic. When you don't have any experience and specific affinity with development countries, a volunteer possibly can do more harm than good.
Marga and Hoja have splendid lodging facilities just next to their house and get volunteers, mainly form Holland, every now and then.
The volunteering activities are customized. In close consulation with Marga the volunteer tasks can be arranged, especially according to the specific expertise and experience of each volunteer.
During my stay at Malimbe Family House, almost a week, a have seen with my own eyes the splendid and rewarding work that Upendo Daima is doing. This is a beautiful small scale project, showing continuity, dedication and commitment.
Niko Winkel, February 4, 2016
[January 23, 2016]
The last two weeks I’ve been living in Haria Hotel, on Mawenzi Road in the centre of Moshi town. When I look up from the roof top terrace, I get a glance of the Kilimanjaro summit, covered with snow. A spectacular view. Haria Hotel, run by the Team Vista NGO, is my basis during my stay in Moshi, for the purpose of finding out how the volunteering ‘business’ runs over here. Every evening this terrace is crowded by lots of young volunteers from Europe and America. Haria itself spends all its profits on improving the lives of those less fortunate and their environment.
The company’s currect project seeks to transform the lives of children and the broader community in a suburb within Moshi, Tanzania. The suburb is called Kaloleni and it is a very poor area on the fringe of Moshi town centre, and built around the town dump.
Kaloleni Nursery school was purchased in March 2010 by Team Vista, an NGO originally started by Australians. It was renamed the ‘Kilimanjaro Kids with Future Education Centre’. This small school had approximately 200 students crammed into a room of 15m2. Resources were completely insufficient and students were re-writing over pages of scrappy books. Team Vista built a second classroom, garden, added a water tank, power and had the sewerage line connected and built two new toilets. This building will now be used by the community for projects and as meeting rooms.
Team Vista Nursery School
Team Vista has now relocated the school to a cleaner area of Kaloleni with one classroom and four teachers. Because of volunteers and donors Team Vista has the funds to feed all students a mixture of beans and rice for lunch everyday; for some this is the only food they receive on a daily basis. To date, Team Vista has sponsored 312 children from the Kaloleni community, helping them to attend nursery, primary and secondary school. Team Vista now has 4 secondary students continuing with tyertiary studies!
Also 5 boys are sponsored who were found abandoned in the community. They now attend boarding school. The new school compound also contains ‘Team Vista Home’. One of the teachers, Zahoro, lives there and looks after the boys when they come home for holidays.
Adult Entrepreneurship Class
Team Vista has started adult education classes in business studies. This is a 4 month business course teaching adults how to write a business plan and basic accountancy. They are then offered a small interest free loan to help establish their business. Team Vista are also starting an earth brickmaking operation – a small business to help employ youth form the streets of Kaloleni.
Recently Team Vista purchased 2 acres of land for the community to begin their own small vegetable gardens. The future idea is to build a workshop on the land for training in plumbing, carpentry and brickmaking. Team Vista also works together with both the local council, Kaloleni Primary and Secondary school, helping to provide additional support and infrastructure.
Upendo Women’s Group
In September 2010 Team Vista started a Women’s Group. The group assists nine women in the Kaloleni community, some of whom are mothers of children from the schools. These women used to scavenge through the rubbish dump daily, trying to find things to sell to support their families. Team Vista has purchased sewing machines for the group and built them a shelter to protect them from the harsh weather of Moshi.
Just last year Team Vista took a 3 year lease on Haria Hotel, the place that is beginning to feel like home for me. It’s a cheap and cheery backpackers in the heart of Moshi. They have given it a spring clean with new linen, mattresses and ceiling fans. It has a wonderful roof top bar and restaurant with the views to Mount Kilimanjaro. All of the profits from Haria Hotel go to Team Vista’s projects in Kaloleni.
Team Vista is always looking for volunteers and sponsors for the projects, although there were no volunteers working in Kaloleni during my stay. Ally, the Haria Hotel manager showed me around all the projects. He himself, the staff at Haria’s and also the teachers in Kaloleni are very dedicated tot the Team Vista goals. The Australian owners of this NGO spend a couple of months every year in Moshi, but live in Australia. To find out more about Haria Hotel and the Team Vista projects, take a look at the websites.
GoTanzania-highlights (where to go!) – 1 : Researching chimpanzee behaviour with Ugalla Primate Project
[November 8, 2015]
“The Ugalla Primate Project (UPP) invites qualified individuals to volunteer for the Project, and is open to discussing potential independent studies for those volunteers.” This is no volunteering for wimps; ‘adventure’ is a somewhat eufemistic kwalification: cooperate in mapping the habitats and lifestyles of the chimpanzees in the far woods in western Tanzania.
The Ugalla Primate Project is founded by researchers of different British universities. Of course mainly scientists (to be) are busy with time absorbing activities like observing the primates and collecting data in the field. Volunteers are invited to participate in data collection but also to initiate their own research activities. The huge Ugalla Primate Project data collection is also available for specific personal purposes of student volunteers. You can stay for one month but some volunteers stay until a year.
On the website you can read lots of interesting stuff that gives you insight in how life will be in the settlement in the woods. You can also look at some appealing video's of the spectacular nature and the way the researchers and volunteers work. Life conditions are challenging: the nearest village is about 70 kilometers away, life in the campement is basic: there's just a small tent in the grass, no luxury food. There is enough electricity to charge your phone, there is satellite internet connection. The weather can be hot and during the rainy season there sometimes is heavy rainfall. Expect to walk about 25 kilometers per day in hilly and difficult accissible landscapes.
So, altogether: this is adventure! And a contribution to valuable new insights contributing to the protection of endangered species.
[GoTanzania will highlight beautiful projects, working with volunteers, on this website. This is the first in a series.]