Yesterday we toured the Lake Victoria islands of Irigia and Rukuba. The welcome we received from the core communities on both islands was very warm. They don’t receive many visitors, especially Americans, and they were eager to show their progress. In fact, there are now some permanent structures on Irigia (a few shops and a church), although most housing is still reed walls and plastic roofs.
The most startling aspect of the tour for students and volunteers is the level of poverty on the islands. Our seminar discussion in the evening revealed that group members are realizing that there are strata of poverty, even among the bottom billion poorest people. Among those making less than $2/day are families living on much less than $2/day. Another troubling aspect of the visits is that there are so many young children who are living in abject poverty on the islands. Some of the children did not know how old they were (even when asked by Fr. Kazeri, who they know).
We are all challenged to discern how we, as individuals and as a country, can make a difference in the lives of these children and their parents. The solutions are not clear.
Wednesday, June 10, focused on the stratifications and competition in microfinance for small business development in the Musoma area. We visited three microfinance lenders in the morning: FINCA (a pioneering international nonprofit), Tujijenge (recent for-profit microfinance lender partnered with KIVA.org), and Musoma SACCOS (a Tanzanian credit union with offices nationwide). We were able to compare the different types of clients and loans across the platforms and see how competition among the lenders is benefitting borrowers. For example, FINCA has moved from weekly payback to monthly payback periods to allow borrowers more time to use the funds to purchase goods and then resell with profit to repay the loan. In the afternoon we met with 4 different borrowers in the Nyegina area who borrowed from AFREDA (another lender in Musoma area) and Musome SACCOS. They are using the loans to buy in bulk at wholesale prices and sell at retail to make profits that cover loan repayments and pay school fees. They look forward to further business management training from the new Madaraka Nyerere Library and Community Resource Center in Nyegina, which will be easier to access for many people than going all the way to Musoma.
One of the 19 women who belong to microfinance borrowing groups in the Bukwaya area presents information on her group borrowing to students and volunteers in an afternoon seminar.
The 2nd seminar day was focused on microfinance as a development tool. We visited three microfinance NGOs in the morning: FINCA, AFREDA, and SACCOS Musoma. We learned how they work and who are their clientele. In the afternoon, we met with 19 women from various microfinance groups that work with AFREDA and UMABU to develop their businesses. The women own restaurants, sell vegetables, and cereals, and run shops. What we learned from the women is that they struggle very hard to pay back the 36-60% APY interest rates (this is not a misprint). The default rate is amazingly low because the group members have to make the loan repayment for a member who is sick or is away for a funeral and cannot make her payment. Still, they manage to make a profit even after paying back the loans. Some groups have moved past AFREDA loans and now have their own internal lending program. The picture above captures the presentation of one borrower explaining her circumstances to the NIU students and TDS volunteers.
Good News! The TDS volunteer group arrived at Epheta in Musoma this evening, about 6pm. All their baggage came with them! They are tired but in good spirits.
The student group spent the day on Lake Victoria, visiting two islands with fishing villages. There are many problems on these islands. One is supposed to be a protected bird sanctuary, but there are about 300 fishing folk living in a settlement with no permanent structures, including no schools, no clinic, no wells, no toilets. The other island has permanent legal residents, yet has enclaves of very poor people with very high HIV+ populations, prostitution, malnourished children, and other issues. There is a school, and there is a new kindergarten (funded by a German foundation), so progress is being made. The church congregation welcomed us warmly and provided a delicious lunch. The leaders introduced themselves, and then the students were challenged to introduce themselves in Kiswahili (as they had practiced in class all week). They need more practice, but they gave it a fine effort and that was what really meant a lot to the congregational leaders who had hosted us so enthusiastically.
Video by Mark Biernacki, Music by African Tribal Orchestra
Tanzania Development Support has been active in the Nyegina Community for nearly 5 years. During those years we have been lucky enough to establish connections with some of the community’s most inspiring people: its students. This letter from Nyegina is an illustration of the life story of one of Nyegina’s students—an invitation into her world.
16 Year-old Maria Sisso writes of how difficult life has become since her father’s death in 2010.
This letter is just a small sampling of the stories waiting to be heard from Nyegina. TDS is striving to create a happier next chapter for these students and their families.
Not all of our volunteers are climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Two, Georgette (who you’ve heard from in previous posts) and Leroy are travelling to sites throughout northern Tanzania. If you’ve joined us for past volunteer and study trips, you’ll be familiar with some of these places already.
No calls from the climbers today, Wednesday June 6, but we do have a report from the adventures of Leroy and Georgette. Among the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) Father Leroy aranged to visit with them was the Community Based Health Care Council (CBHCC) which he was instrumental in founding. Accompanying Father Leo, Georgette, and Leroy was Father Kennedy.
The small group drove from Moshi where they are staying, to Arusha to visit the headquarters of CBHCC and meet with Engineer Shija Mlingwa who outlined the organization’s goals and accomplishments. One of their main projects is the construction of gravity water supply to seven villages south of Arusha and health, sanitation, and hygiene education to community and schools in those rural communities. The engineer devoted the afternoon to driving us to three villages to view firsthand the completed first phase of the project. We saw the pipes that carry water to large tanks and the central spigots where the women come to buy water for 10 shillings (approx. 1/2 cent) per bucket. In the absence of this water supply, the women would typically walk for hours to a water source of questionable quality.
We also went to a Massai market in one of the villages – quite unlike any market I’ve ever seen!
What would you like to know about life in northern Tanzania? Post your questions or comments below.
My trip to Tanzania was an unforgettable experience of contrasts and differences. The people we met were so welcoming that I felt a connection with them almost immediately. The children have an insatiable appetite for learning and are very knowledgeable despite the fact that they don’t own textbooks for school. The local government officials (with whom we met) were obviously reactive rather than proactive and had an attitude of complacency. Consequently, the infrastructure is undeveloped resulting in limited access to clean water, unpaved roads that are almost impassable because of ruts and boulders, a non-existent landline phone system that, among other things, minimizes the effectiveness of any emergency response system that may exist.
The poverty is so extreme and widespread that it is difficult for me to comprehend how people can live that way. The one room huts that dot the roadside at great distances from each other don’t have running water or electricity. The people have to walk long distances to find wood for the stove and water for cooking, bathing and laundry. The only available water often times is dirty and contaminated so it must be boiled before use. The physical labor is assigned to the females and they seemingly assume the role without argument. They walk home carrying five gallon jugs of water or 40 pound bags of grain on their heads because there is no other means of transportation. It’s a very hard life. I don’t know how they continue to hope and cope.
There are people within the community who are educated and aspire to a better way of life for themselves, for the children and for the future of the country. There are civic and social organizations that are making a difference in the lives of the less fortunate, such as the disabled, children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and women and children who have been diagnosed as HIV positive. Many of these organizations receive funding from NGOs in other parts of the world. For example, one of our partner organizations, UMABU, receives financial support from Terre des Hommes, an organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
The group of people with whom we (Tanzania Development Support) partner have a clear perspective of what they must do to improve their plight in life. They recognize that education of the children, particularly the girls, is critical to a promising future for all. They are educated and have an unshakable determination to do what needs to be done to change. I was particularly impressed by the women teachers at the school who told me that they must teach the girls to respect themselves and believe that they deserve a life that is far better than fetching wood and water.
While I was there I noted that social behavior was often dictated by cultural beliefs and traditions but I wasn’t there long enough to learn what these beliefs are. Next time I go I hope to get a better understanding of the cultural influences.
I can’t find the words to describe the gentleness and kindness of the people we met. The beauty is in their hearts and souls and is reflected in their eyes and smiles. The smiles are wide white grins that light up their faces and connected to my soul. That’s the picture that comes to mind when I reflect on the experience.
TDS Board Member and 2011 Volunteer Trip Member