Cloth Bags in Kamachumu

This post is actually my final case study for VSO Tanzania as part of our reporting format. But I thought I’d share it here since I’ve been so slack – and there are plenty of other stories that I still hope to tell on this blog!

Case Study: KAVIPE (Kamachumu Vision for Poverty Eradication)

Cloth bags as income generation for women’s groups

In the village of Rugando with MaGizela's family (my adopted Tanzanian family!)

In the village of Rugando with MaGizela’s family (my adopted Tanzanian family!)

KAVIPE works with community based organizations (CBO’s) in Kamachumu Division.  The CBO’s are generally made up of smallholder farmers and aim to improve income generation within the group.  KAVIPE works alongside the CBO’s to support their activities, foster the idea-generating process and improve market access.  Although KAVIPE was put in place by World Vision (WV) and was intended to maintain all WV’s activities, this is simply not possible with no funding and only 5 Board Members supporting.  KAVIPE has chosen to focus mostly on the agricultural aspect of WV’s work but still maintains a connection to the original, more varied projects.

KAVIPE’s role is restricted by lack of resources to support, lack of access to information and education to come up with new ideas, and lack of infrastructure and market environment in Kamachumu.  CBO’s that are established to increase income among the members are often short-lived, people losing interest, drifting away from meetings, until the group exists in name only.  Many such groups were established by World Vision as a way to distribute funds in the community.  The consensus among community members is that the projects funded by World Vision sometimes lacked sustainability.  An example of this is the establishment of two women’s groups to receive training and start-up materials for batik-making.  After the initial training in around 2009, the groups did not continue to make batiks, citing lack of materials and funds to purchase materials as the problem.  Lack of motivation to make batiks also seemed to be an issue. However, these women’s groups continued to ask KAVIPE for help and support in projects.  What to do?

Wapendanao women's group, with their batiking materials before the sewing project was initiated

Wapendanao women’s group, with their batiking materials before the sewing project was initiated

Thinking over the issue, the biggest barriers faced by the women’s groups was the inaccessibility of materials, lack of business know-how, and the complexity of batik-making.  The chemicals were difficult to source (not available in Bukoba, only in Mwanza or further afield) and the groups still felt they needed more training to become proficient.

Another aspect of KAVIPE’s work is that a partnership was established with the International Citizen Service (ICS) program through VSO.  We needed meaningful, useful activities to engage the 20 youth volunteers and the CBO’s.

One particular issue we wanted to address in Kamachumu was the use of plastic bags.  There was a lot of trash lying around in public spaces and there had been reports of livestock inhaling plastic bags.  ICS volunteers could easily engage in activities like litter picks and awareness campaigns.  The women’s groups agreed that sewing simple cloth bags would be a feasible activity and they liked the dual angle of creating stylish, hand-made bags and environmental preservation.

When searching for groups who might be interested in sewing as a project, the batik group in Kamachumu (Wapendanao) was eager to participate.  A livestock group in the village of Irogero elected to form a splinter women’s group, Upendo, and the ICS volunteers identified a third group in the village of Ruanda who were working in tree planting and environmental matters.  The Ruanda group, Inua Maisha, was not yet registered with KAVIPE so it offered an opportunity for expansion of coverage as well as reaching community members in need.

I wrote a proposal for the VSO Gender fund to support a sewing project in Kamachumu including a multi-day business training for the women, to be proactive in preventing some of the issues seen with the batik-making project.  VSO decided it was a worthwhile project and supported the initiative.

All three groups took the initiative to access sewing machines (by renting or borrowing) and to attend the small-scale, half-day trainings offered by KAVIPE and a sewing trainer from Kamachumu.  They experimented with bag designs alongside ICS volunteers, the sewing trainer and supervisors from the KAVIPE Board.  After a long period of collaborative working through designs, the second step, business training, was carried out.  This spanned the first two ICS cycles at KAVIPE.  There were 40 attendees at both days of business training and topics included managing group finances, making a business plan, and registering a CBO (with the government and being part of KAVIPE).

All three groups received a small amount of fabric and thread of different colors to make a first batch of bags.  Results were excellent! Each group developed a look for their bags and since we couldn’t find an accessible way of screening logos on the bags, the women innovated yet again to develop cross-stitching method of writing the name of their group and KAVIPE on the bags.  A community member experienced in cross-stitch volunteered her time to train all the women in the technique.

Djoke sports a lovely bag made by Wapendanao!

Djoke sports a lovely bag made by Wapendanao!

Each group has now received more fabric, their last start-up input.  KAVIPE, through the VSO funding, has purchased 3 sewing machines which will be leased to the member groups for 8,000 Tsh per month (compared to the lowest previous rental price of 15,000 per month).  The machines will be rented only if the groups submit a business plan to KAVIPE and the rentals will be reviewed every 6 months.

A total of about 133 bags had been produced when I left Tanzania in January, and are being sold at a cost of 1000-1500 depending on the size.  Each group had made at least 25,000 Tsh, and will be supported to use some that money to purchase more fabric to continue and expand production of the bags.

The community is absolutely in love with the idea. You see people on the streets carrying bags of different designs, with papers, shopping, supplies.  One group (Wapendanao) have received a contract from a local school to make bags for children to carry their books.  In Bukoba, two shopkeepers have shown interest in buying or selling the bags.  The owner of Fido Dido, the “mzungu shop” (aka supermarket) in town, has commissioned Upendo to make a sample 5-10 bags with “Fido Dido” cross-stitched on them, which he plans buy and distribute to customers for free.

The winning aspects of these bags are the simple design and the novelty, sparked by the enthusiastic ICS volunteers and the three women’s groups.  VSO volunteers appreciated the design and bought the bags when I brought them to VSO Tanzania’s Annual Volunteer Conference (AVC).  Community members are proud to be able to afford and carry a locally-made bag and in general, are not interested in something more polished or “nicer”.  The bags commissioned for Fido Dido were to be simple and cheap, so that when people lose them it wouldn’t be a disaster.  Of course, such a cheap product is not immensely profitable – so the future of this project could be to get further training for the women to diversify, including more complex and high-quality bags for higher-end markets.  Already Upendo group has innovated further and started to make cloth change purses, of which they sold 22 in February-March alone!  Another shining achievement of the project is to have increased the women’s confidence and knowledge in innovation, marketing and business planning.  All three groups, and KAVIPE, have increased their networks and reputation along the way.

The KAVIPE community selected this project as the most meaningful impact thus far of the KAVIPE-VSO partnership because it is so visible and has increased the income-generating ability of the women of Kamachumu.

The three women's groups select bags for me to sell at the Annual VSO Volunteer's Conference

The three women’s groups select bags for me to sell at the Annual VSO Volunteer’s Conference

2012 Kilimanjaro Marathon

It was a rough start for the marathon. The guard dog barked incessantly all night and then a massive thunderstorm sat right on top of us until we got up at 5am. We were sitting around half-awake eating breakfast when Jean comes in and tells us that we need to push the bus out of the mud. He wasn’t joking.

You know when mud builds up on your feet like snowshoes? Yeah, too bad I washed my running shoes.

We ended up piling into a daladala covered in mud. As soon as the last few passengers crawled out at their stops, the yelling began. Ten stressed out, tired wazungus are not so kind first thing in the morning. The driver had no idea where the stadium was, so we followed the stream of runners and taxis, with multiple wrong turns and getting stuck in traffic. We paid him 10,000 Tanzanian shillings, a far cry from the 300 Tsh each he gets for his regular route. Jean, Ishwar, Dan and Eddie, who were running the full, leapt out of the vehicle seven minutes before the start time.

Luckily the race was delayed half an hour (TIT… This Is Tanzania – I’m impressed it wasn’t later).

Originally I was the only VSO running the half marathon but at the last minute, Liesbeth and Fran decided to join me. They’re insane to do it on a day’s notice but Liesbeth does a lot of cycling and Fran has been a runner all her life. And I was so glad of the company!

We started slowly; this is not a rugby game, I didn’t need to pump up with “Move Bitch”. We ran through the suburbs of Moshi, climbing slowly past children, cook fires, the smell of shit, burning garbage and goats wafting in the air. The altitude differential from the start to the turn-around point was about 500m but it felt fine. All my hillwork really paid off; I passed people on every ascent. As we climbed we moved from traditional African-style homes to more colonial surroundings, coffee plantations in neat rows on both sides of the road.

We turned around at 10k and ran back along the same stretch of road. It wasn’t boring because of the people still running up, also the full marathon covered the same route for the second half of their run so we saw them coming through: the Kenyans… the first woman runner… the first white guy… the first mzungu woman…. Also, the guy running with his dog, the girl in the red tutu, the guy in cargo shorts and a Canada shirt, people running in jeans, people gasping for air or just cruising. To pass fellow VSO’s and high five was awesome. You really get to know fellow runners too, from running alongside them and having a brief chat before one of you moves off.

I finished in 2:07:31, first of the VSO’s and company (a friend of Jean’s ran too but I beat him ; ) ). I felt ready to run it again although all of us had some seriously sore knees and hips from busting it downhill on pavement for 10+k. In the full, Ishwar and Jean finished in style and our VSO Kenya guests (Dan and Eddie) came through shortly after them. Of course nobody got pictures of me running… but here I am at the finish:

It was such a great weekend. The lodge where we stayed was beautiful (Honey Badger) and everyone got thrown in the pool (except Liesbeth… she’ll get it next time for sure). The boys even threw in the randos who were hanging out by the pool. Everyone was part of the VSO family during this event!

Don’t worry. All the money we raised goes toward education… but sometimes being a VSO volunteer doesn’t look so bad!

*Thanks to Lesley Reader among others for the photos – I took the weekend off photography

Beauty In Karagwe: Perched On The Edge of The World

“A beautiful view does not fill your stomach” – Peter Moore in Swahili for the Broken-Hearted

I could fill ten blog posts with what I’ve seen in the past three days. Not to mention that the two previous weeks still have blog-able events pending.

During In Country Training, we had a presentation in which someone said “there is no doubt that this picture shows abject poverty”. All I recall is that it was a mud house. I remember thinking, how does one make that statement from looking at a picture? I feel the same way about the images of World Vision children – protruding bellies and flies in their eyes*. I’ve been to some very poor communities in West Africa and having spent time with the families, in the farms, in the kitchens, lounging in the hot afternoon during Ramadan, dancing with my girls and roaming the village, I would not call it abject poverty, although it almost certainly was. When traveling in Mali, we passed through village after village that I swear were being kept poor just so the tourists would have something to look at. On a boat trip up the Niger River, I just stopped getting out at villages. I couldn’t stomach being the rich white girl with the camera for one more second. But would I ever have noticed, if I had not forced myself to face up to it? Probably not. And for some reason it feels different when you’ve taken the time to learn the language and behave respectfully in the culture. Is it? I don’t know.

I have some deep-seated aversion to calling attention to people’s misfortune, it’s the Single Story of Africa, and the world deserves to know more. So when I was asked to take a picture of some elderly people living in a house made of corn husks this weekend, I initially refused. I did, in the end, mostly because we were on a Monitoring and Evaluation trip and one must document to see change. But why the hesitation? Is it just too hard to see? Am I creating my own single story by refusing to cater to the one that already exists? Or am I being respectful, as I would like to think?

This may seem like a picture of despair, but it really shows hope: the shack next to her used to house all five members of the family plus a battered woman who hid there with her two children when her husband was abusive. SAWAKA donated the sheeting for the roof on the house in the background, and with much persuading (they were not enthused), the community helped build the walls. Now the family has a more permanent structure and were also given a goat, which looks shiny, healthy and gave birth a few months ago.

Even if I had tried to hide from abject poverty this weekend, I would not have been able to. We were traveling in Karagwe, a district North-East of Muleba (where I am) on the Rwandan and Ugandan borders, the uppermost corner of Tanzania. It’s beautiful, breathtakingly so. We were working mostly with an NGO called SAWAKA, who have a contingent of very capable, English-speaking staff, and nice office facilities. In fact, Karagwe town surprised me. It’s bigger and more developed than Kamachumu. However once you move outside the town, which I’m sure few do, you find a different story.

The red circle is our base, Kyanga. The green are project sites that we visited.

Up in the hills, roads made slick by the rain (a month and a half early, I might add), we visited families and groups supported by SAWAKA and VSO’s gender fund. There were projects ranging from tailoring to selling fish to cultivating pineapples to raising chickens. We met people; widows, divorcees, volunteers; providing for their communities, their extended families, for people living with HIV, for orphans, for battered women, for girls forced out of school by “poor moral character”, i.e., pregnancy. Most of all these people are struggling to send children to school; school fees are a constant problem. But other things are a problem too: blankets, roofs, walls, food, sleeping space….

These two lovelies (I’m not talking about myself) have a beautiful home, and the Mama leads their women’s group deftly. What is not apparent is that her husband left her and her daughter (on the left) got pregnant and now will likely never be allowed back to school although she qualified for secondary. She is participating in the income generation projects and learning a lot about business, though! She also has a brilliant role model in her mother. 

On Saturday we stopped on the way home to visit a man living in a beautiful compound. The first thing I noticed was Noam Chomsky on the sizable bookshelf, then the flatscreen and the white reclining couches. He’s a retired diplomat who has lived all over the world but chose to retire to Karagwe, his home. Exclaiming over the magnificent scenery, I was brought up short when he said that scenery doesn’t matter when you’re poor, that lack of infrastructure requires these people to haul water and produce up and down those sheer, picturesque hills, that even if power lines were to mar the vistas, the villagers wouldn’t be able to afford electricity. Reading my book that same night I came across the quote I opened with.

I don’t like writing these things any more than I liked seeing them. I don’t feel holier-than-thou with solutions and reasons and having been the person taking that picture of poverty. But I guess it’s part of the story too. It’s just as real as dancing and clapping and laughing and skinny cows and banana disease and drunk driving and crappy roads and entrepreneurial women making wine and donuts and loving parents and people who do talk to their children, every day, and girls who climb onto your lap and speak fluent Swahili at the age of 4, and dishevelled clothing and dropping out of school and rape and the difficult coffee markets and strong women mentoring their communities and orphans growing their own food and husband-wife teams and social isolation and the divide between rich and poor. It’s all real, so real most of us close our hearts to it, so the real challenge is to face it head on, I guess, and don’t block it out. But not to revel in poverty like we’ve been anointed to save the world. It’s a fine line. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s invisible, and who can contend with that?


*Ironically enough I am now working somewhat closely with World Vision, and just the other day got to hear about the developing-country side of the child-sponsorship funding mechanism. I hope to visit a Canadian-sponsored Area Development Program within the next few weeks.

Wafugaji Wapya

New livestock farmers

Last week we (I use the term “we” loosely, especially since I left on the Wednesday) held a week-long training for famers who will be getting dairy heifers in the next few months. It was also a moment of truth for me, because KAVIPE wanted me to help teach the course. Of course, I am still very much in the process of figuring out what they are advising people, and for me to cut in with all my own recommendations to a bunch of brand-new cattle keepers would be stupid to say the least. Stupid and impossible, since I don’t have very many.

Luckily it turns out that the whole course is taught out of a book designed especially for this purpose, in Kagera Region. Although World Vision and KAVIPE have only been working with dairy cows in Kamachumu for ten years maximum, there are older organisations with the same strategy. So here is what I did: I read parts of the book I wanted to “teach”, translated them to English in order to understand, spoke to the farmers in English and had Fransson translate to Swahili for them. Ridiculous? Yes. But everyone loves a mzungu teacher!

It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. The two men who were actually there to teach, Nkinga, our Livestock Extension Officer, and Victor, a vet from the next Ward over, were there to help if anything went wrong, and they taught most of the material. I probably learned more than anyone else in the room. My reading pace at least doubled and my Swahili farming/livestock dictionary is getting fatter.

I also saw exactly how to improve these courses, which are held regularly as new batches of heifer calves are distributed as loans among group members. The material is good, it’s the delivery that lacks substance, and for good reason. Nkinga and Victor do not have time to run an entire week-long workshop, they are run off their feet being rural vets in a place where every single spread-out house has an animal. Good thing it doesn’t take someone on a government salary to teach out of a book; I hope to find funding to train some designated trainers, experienced members of the community who will be in charge of these courses. If we add some more practical time, with actual cows (imagine that!), in the slots where the participants were sitting around waiting for people to show up and get organised, perhaps by the end of the week they will start to be ready to keep a cow.

I’ll give one glaring example: the agenda was only discussed, typed and printed at 9:30am on Monday morning, while all the participants sat and waited in the hall, having arrived for 8:30. Now that is something I can tangibly improve for next time. Typical development moment: but now I can do the atypical; I can actually stick around and see that something gets done about it. I can also follow those 16 people trained to ensure they have the support they need. I am starting to see ways to move forward and it’s pretty cool. I didn’t dare hope for that feeling, but I’m damn glad it’s there.

Run For The World

February 26th, I will be running a half marathon at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, out of the town of Moshi. I have been training hard (with a break for the month of December – oops). Support me by donating to VSO here!

Flocks of children have been entertained by my daily runs around Kamachumu (elevation: 1400m with steep hills galore), and I have found them useful for motivation, whether it’s racing boys up a hill, kicking a soccer ball on the way by, or clapping my hands along to their songs as I pass. Who needs an iPod when you’re the Pied Piper?!*

This won’t be my first race in Africa. Something like the third week I was in the Gambia, I took part in the annual Njawara Marathon, which raises money for the Health Centre. We were still in language training, and in the morning I’d head out and try to run a few kilometres in my long linen pants and t-shirt. The shirt was a gift from Crystal out of a Molson box but I took it for granted that the locals wouldn’t understand “Party Animal”.  In a country that’s 95% Muslim, you tend to keep covered as a matter of course. Running in long pants in sand is hard enough as it is, then add greeting every single person you see. It would go like this: How are you? I am here! How’s the farm? It’s here! The family? They’re there! I hope there’s nothing wrong with them? Nope! Good job for doing that farm work! Thanks, you are running! Yes, I’m running! At that point you would have to start the same conversation with the next person. Even if you saw someone far across a field, you would be expected to yell out to them, clasp your hands in an air-handshake and say “Jerejef!”, expressing how impressed you are at the work they’re doing.

At first the endless greetings seem at best, a waste of time, at worst, paralyzing, when you just can’t remember the proper responses. After a while it becomes a safety net. You know you’re safe, even with white skin, when you’ve greeted every person with a smile on your face. They will come looking for you if you don’t turn up. They’ll come looking for you either way, actually. Here in Tanzania that understanding has served me so well. It even has the ability to turn the tide on a bad day; walking down the street and being cajoled into smiling at everyone and yelling mpao! (mm-pa-OH – goodbye in the local Kihaya language) at the little children is an unbeatable mood lifter.

What with my mostly useless “training”, race day in Njawara crept up rather quickly. I don’t think I mentioned: the “marathon” is not. Men run 11km and women run 5km. Kids run 3km. All the participants got into the manure spreader on the tractor to be driven out to the start points. Prophetically, the village that the girls’ race started from was called Dares Salaam. I’m convinced it was closer to 7km back to Njawara. All along the way, the villagers lined the road and yelled “Toubab! Hurry! Don’t give up!”

I felt pretty awful as I crossed the finish line; thank goodness Leanne was there to take care of me for the next hour. I think I would have kept running straight through the crowds and tents if someone (Sambas, I think, who became a good friend) hadn’t caught me and directed me over to the table to sign my name. The sand and the midday sun were vicious rivals, but I managed third out of seven girls! For the rest of my stay, I was known as the girl who ran in the marathon. Apparently it was even on TV! Way to become popular, albeit while looking completely ridiculous:










This time around I have stepped up the training to match the intensity (a real half marathon of 21km) and importance of the race. Last time I ran it to build relationships and to prove that a not-so-tiny white girl could run. It worked. This time, I’m joining the VSO Tanzania team to raise money for Education programming and I have even made a fundraising page. Education is certainly the most important cause in Tanzania and VSO has traditionally made a huge difference in the area. Many successful Tanzanians recall VSO teachers from their school days. The school system in Tanzania is a mess of high fees, underqualified, underpaid teachers, and the preposterous system that Kiswahili is taught in Primary school, switching spontaneously to English in Secondary. The system flat-out doesn’t work. VSO Tanzania is working in a multiple-pronged approach, addressing policy, training teachers, and some actual in-classroom teaching. It’s an initiative that will help this country to step out of corruption and poverty if the players coordinate well.

I have set a modest goal of $500 but I hope to surpass it! Please donate a few dollars to support VSO Tanzania’s Education programming by clicking here. In exchange… I promise to only pass out after the finish line! I will need Venessa and Tijana to catch me (I don’t mind if it’s with one hand and a Serengeti in the other), but experience goes to show that some Tanzanians yelling mzungu! would be helpful as well!

*Instead I use my iPod to drown out the endless thumping bass from the local bars when I’m trying to sleep.

Cuso International Shows Up In Dar!

CUSO-VSO has recently undergone a facelift and transitioned to a new name, Cuso International. Umeeda Switlo, who works with Cuso, is currently in Rwanda doing a placement. She popped over to Dar for Tanzania’s, and VSO Tanzania’s 50 year celebrations which happened alongside our Annual Volunteer Conference (AVC). She interviewed most of the Canadian volunteers, and managed to grab a few minutes of my time between breakfast and my first Intermediate Kiswahili lesson. Needless to say I was only half awake, having come off a very busy week, but I think I sound reasonably lucid!

Listen to the interview by clicking here!

Doing Development Differently

This week, we learned how to do development differently.

On the weekend, this involved drinking copious amounts of alcohol and dancing late into the night. We danced barefoot on the beach and in the bars, we danced on counters and we danced in hotel rooms. This barefoot dancing was so whole-hearted that one night I lost my shoes. Thanks to some efficient, kind-hearted beach boys (for those of you who know Gambia, think bumsters but less aggressive), I recovered my favourite flats the following night.

I know what you’re thinking. She goes to volunteer, to help, to lend a hand, and now it turns out she’s partying on the beach. And you’re right, it happens a lot when people work overseas. But coming off over a month in the bush, and spending time with my fellow Canadians on a beautiful beach blessed with Captain Morgan and Serengeti baridi (ba-ree-dee – cold), I think I am past due for a weekend of all-night dance parties.

Luckily, I am not only here to drink but also to learn, like I mentioned, about development. Our Annual Volunteer Conference was held at a convent in Dar es Salaam (they serve beer, along with Jesus). On the day after the conference our Country Director, Jean Van Wetter, put together a seminar with the same title: Doing Development Differently, attended by higher-ups in Tanzania’s development scene. I will start with this quote from the Country Director of UNICEF. She stood up without coming to the podium, put her prepared remarks aside, and spoke about her daughter applying to study development in university. “Oh my God, please don’t do that,” was her response to the idea. Her view is that International Development as we know it will be a dinosaur in the foreseeable future; not something you’d expect to hear with such frankness from a UNICEF director. She asked the audience to envision a Tanzania free of development assistance. The rest of the program also worked to challenge the status quo, namely the director of Foundations for Civil Society, John Ulanga.

His talk ended with a shockingly bare-bones statement about government spending: “look at the big cars our brothers drive.” The representative from the President’s office, sitting in the front row, chose that moment to get up and walk out of the meeting, to which Mr. Ulanga faced up, calling out to him, “I hope I have not upset you; are you walking out?” The man made some excuse about his phone, and Mr. Ulanga’s thank-you slide came up. What a conclusion.

I am actually writing this on a notepad while listening to the facilitator’s commentary, in the workshop itself. Admittedly, I am hungover. Free wine at the Canadian High Commission last night, paid for by your hard-earned tax dollars, led to some double-fisting by we Canadians who are loath to turn down such an opportunity. My hangover is not preventing me from being really surprised and impressed. I registered for this seminar expecting participatory process. The flouf is growing on me, I admit, so give me post-its, small group brainstorming, and yes, god forbid, flipcharts. But that’s not what we saw when we walked in. We saw a head table, a schedule with “remarks by the Permanent Secretary to the President’s Office”, among many others, and block seating for the audience. Doing Development Differently? As Chloe aptly put it; “if you wear dark suits like that, you can never do anything differently.”

I prepared to pinch my wrists to stay awake, and started writing this post to look engaged. Surprise again. Jean has done a very slick job of walking the line, pushing boundaries, because to lull government reps into a sense of security, to bring in an MP from Calgary and a VSO Trustee, a Baroness, to hold proceedings at the British Counsel, whose goal is to “spread the British way of life” – awfully American of them, no? – to do these things, to spring challenging subject matter on them and on us, comments on the sensitivity of his approach. Make it look official and sneak-attack an alternative message. Nice.

A rep from one of the oil and gas companies doing exploration in Mtwara spoke, even taking the microphone to answer straight-up questions from the audience. VSO volunteer doctors spoke about catalysts for change, an opposition MP about government spending, a Tanzanian about why Tanzania has a mentality of waiting for help instead of acting, “we are what our actions indicate”, and the facilitator about a spot banned by the government which asked “if we are so rich in resources, why is this country poor?”. The private sector was brought to the forefront despite Tanzania’s socialist leanings, and the surprisingly engaging DFID rep (surprisingly, because we’ve noticed a lack of liveliness in British speakers this week) finished with “Good development is not done with the heart. It’s done with the head.”

It wasn’t a day out of a Robert Chambers book*, in terms of methodology. All the better, if change is really what they’re after. It was challenging, it was outside the box, it spoke in plain terms to influential people, and it was definitely Different. Oh, and we had tiramisu and ice cream for dessert after lunch.

*Robert Chambers has written a few milestone books on participatory development practices, particularly (but not exclusively) in the field of agriculture. Whose Reality Counts?: Putting the First Last gives a good overview of participatory methodology. Plus, you don’t need to read the whole book… it’s so repetitive that you get the gist of it from a few chapters!

On Power Dynamics

Meetings are a good place to observe power dynamics, particularly since I don’t understand much of what’s being said.

This thought came to me while sitting outside Bukoba’s nicest hotel, waiting for World Vision Tanzania representatives. Sunday (my boss) and I had come to town for a meeting with them at 9:30am. However, when we arrived at the office, nobody was there – they had gone for a year-end meeting up at the Walk Guard hotel. I don’t know where the fault lay for the miscommunication, but we went up to the hotel to give them our reports, bringing us to sitting outside, waiting.

The word that came to mind was marginalized. Now, maybe that feeling was only partially accurate, since Sunday is a well-respected businessman and I am, well, white. But he doesn’t speak English and is computer illiterate, and I was dressed in sandals and carrying a backpack. The feeling was magnified when we were pulled in to the room during tea break. At every seat there was a laptop and a slide show was being projected onto a screen at the front. They had dismissed us before we even walked in the door, but Sunday tried his best to adhere to the formal process of greetings and introductions. Upon asking them to explain a call for proposals to me, the two men looked pityingly in his direction and said, “they just think that you have arrived with some money, but that’s not true is it”. And proceeded to tell Sunday that I was still learning and perhaps later I could be of some financial assistance. Out of politeness I did not say, “perhaps you could explain the grant to me and I could be of some assistance now”. We were shuttled off immediately and the two men rushed to their tea. We, of course, were not invited to share it.

A meeting I attended yesterday allowed me to get a different picture. It was a quarterly meeting of KALIDEA, a larger organisation on the same model as KAVIPE. Some of our CBO’s also belong to KALIDEA, and Mkinga, the livestock officer, spends much of his time on their animals. It was an honour to be invited, I soon learned. Let me set the stage: me and Joseph (another VSO) at the head table along with the Muleba District government vet, and three Board members of KALIDEA. The rest of the room was filled with Division representatives and extension officers. I was the only woman in the room and the youngest person by at least 20 years. The meeting went on for four hours while representatives read aloud every word of their quarterly reports, and discussed pressing issues like stolen livestock and insubordinate splinter groups. The meeting finished with the government vet reaming out Mkinga publicly for insufficient rabies control in the area (!!).

Although the meeting was extremely formal, and a rather shocking representation of the old boys’ club, we managed to make some concessions. When I introduced myself (in English with Joseph translating – this was no time for bumbling along in Kiswahili… I am called Margaret, I come from Canada, my work is a livestock advisor… *shudder*) I smiled, explained exactly what I was doing here and for how long, and said, “I admit, I am quite young,” and received a gratifying, and somewhat embarrassed guffaw from the men. In turn, the Chair greeted me, his last sentence being “and you can help us out with gender!”, prompting an equally humble laugh from me. We had managed to clear the two elephants in the room, which is more than I can say for the World Vision fiasco. From this meeting, I hope I gained some respect. I certainly gained many an invitation to visit other Divisions and to meet the players in the government ag offices: this good. I exist.

Now comes my admission that I am more comfortable in a room full of older, well-educated male farmers and extension officers than I am in a meeting of KAVIPE stakeholders; poorer, the baseline of the population, less educated. My worldview differs from both groups, but the latter is removed by another degree. So my challenge evolves: how do I engage the farmers that really need to be heard? The ones who have little power, and as such, are so much harder to communicate with? How can I avoid marginalizing them as Sunday and I were in Bukoba? How do I help make them exist?

When I went to the equivalent KAVIPE meeting a few weeks ago, the attendees were at least of mixed gender; the age thing is another can of beans altogether, as hierarchal cultures can be somewhat unreceptive to youth. I was expected to give flowery greetings, make light of my marital status and whether I had any children, and summarize every village and type of farm I had visited thus far – all in Kiswahili. The reports handed in were all handwritten, not typed, and the presence of our Chair, Sunday, did not elicit the same deference as did KALIDEA’s. Toward the end of the meeting, one of the farmers stood up and began to rant to the audience about the need for a change of attitude, the need for hard work, the need to take opportunities like VSO volunteers and run with them. The need for innovation and movement forward before the entire place stagnates.

So my relative discomfort retreats. If people like that are part of KAVIPE, the stakeholders are accessible. Instead of wishing I was speaking English and theorizing about improvements to the local systems with government employees, I can latch on to the people who create grassroots momentum.

I am currently writing a proposal for a workshop to do a rough organisational assessment of KAVIPE with some of the key stakeholders. I hope to learn how to communicate and identify with them more than the old boys’ club. KAVIPE has access to the people who hold the key to change around here, I think. But I will make nice with the government boys too. I will be needing their support, it doesn’t hurt to debate theory from time to time, and it doesn’t hurt to show a young female face in the midst of their institutionalized ways.

*I have a video of this that I will share when I can upload larger files!

The Man Who Feeds His Cow Everything

“Here, take this passion fruit. I can’t get the cow to eat it.”

Many of my days are spent traveling around Kamachumu Division, tagging along with one of the KAVIPE board members while we check up on the loaned dairy cows. We set out on a pikipiki (motorbike), or on foot, and trek through the most confusing networks of tiny roads, among the banana trees. Today, I went to Bulembo (boo-lay-m-bo) with Steven.

We saw more cows this morning than we do most days. We saw both the best and the worst I’ve seen so far. The worst was a family with two cows, who had complained they weren’t getting pregnant. This is a common complaint, although I can rarely figure out whether or not the cows have actually been bred. Usually, when I ask that question, we get pulled into a rant about how badly the farmers need access to AI (artificial insemination). But that is a debate for another day.

These two unpregnant cows were pacing franticly in their rickety pens, causing liquid manure to fly everywhere. Meanwhile, a few feet away, a woman and two children were within flying-shit-flecks reach, hulling beans! I got splattered standing next to them. Both pens had empty feed troughs, whose wooden bottoms were falling out, and no feed was produced even when we asked. Suffice it to say that both cows were extremely skinny. As to my question, had they been bred, I really hope they hadn’t wasted their money taking them to a bull, since generally in order for conception to occur, the animal must be fed. In this case, we advised to clean the pens, add bedding, fix the troughs and FEED THE COWS! We will return and check within the next two weeks that the issues have been addressed. To blame? Lack of education on proper care, lack of money, lack of time… but the first is the major issue, that I hope to help change.

I contrast now with the last farmer we visited. He had clearly been waiting for us (word travels quickly when visitors are around!) and when we pulled up he leapt, as only an old man can, from his porch and started to show us all the different feedstuffs his cow was eating: grass, bean hulls, avocado leaves, a green avocado (I doubt she’ll eat it, but he said she does…?!), young corn plants, and a coarse grass I’ve seen before. To top it off? Fresh, clean water and 5 inches of dry grass as bedding. I told the old man I wanted to bring him in to train the other farmers. It’s not really fair to compare this retired man with all the other families we saw this morning, but it’s also difficult to avoid. In some ways, I guess it’s the same anywhere: some people are passionate about cows and some aren’t. Difference is, at home, the people who aren’t passionate about cows can afford to buy milk from the grocery store, and don’t keep cows. Maybe having children to care for and no help also decreases your passion, about anything.

I was glad to finish the day smiling, however, when the old man ran into the house and emerged with a single passion fruit in his outstretched hand. I’m used to receiving gifts, but this one was more of a cast-off: “I have many, many,” he said, gesturing to the gardens surrounding the house, “but I just can’t get the cow to eat them! So here, I guess I can spare this one for you.”

Oh yes, and please let me know if you’ve heard that avocados are poisonous to cows.


It’s long past time to introduce my workplace. KAVIPE has welcomed me with open arms and exceeded my every expectation. As with anywhere, it’s the people that make KAVIPE wonderful. My coworkers, the Board, are all volunteers. I can say with certainty that they appear at the office more often than many a paid worker in Africa.


KAVIPE’s mission is to promote agricultural development in the region. They work throughout Kamachumu Division, in 18 villages and with many more Community Based Organisations (CBO’s). The biggest ongoing project is the provision of dairy cows to members. Spread throughout the Division, there are 138 Friesian cows (Holsteins, in North American terms, but these girls are much smaller like the European variety), on loan to suitable KAVIPE members. For a moderate price, a member gets a heifer and training to keep a dairy cow. They must have an appropriate facility, which entails a partially-roofed enclosure, a little crush gate and a feed trough.

Female calves are property of KAVIPE and are again distributed to members. The idea is that families can supplement their diets and add income from the milk, and this has been somewhat successful. As you can imagine, however, the cultural adjustment from keeping Zebu cattle with a hired herdsman for traditional free-grazing, to keeping Friesians on zero-graze, is huge. In a zero-graze system, the grass is cut and brought to the cow. I have yet to encounter a cow producing more than 5-6 litres per day. My first training priority: nutrition.

Other projects include dairy goats and poultry (also on loan), small-scale irrigation, provision of certified vegetable seeds, and community animal health care. The first week I was here, everyone was under the impression I was a vet. Due to the fact that my Kiswahili is only slightly worse than KAVIPE’s cumulative English, I was unable to explain that M.Sc. does not equal D.V.M. This led to awkward situations, for example a CBO meeting in which Wilson cried “and that is why they’re so happy to have you… you’re a DOCTOR!” followed by a visit to a sick calf where I tried to look intelligent while saying “ahhhhh yes, East Coast Fever….” I was pretty happy when some guy showed up with antibiotics because I was terrified they were about to hand me a needle and syringe.

After that, I got my fellow VSO, James (from Uganda, he also works in Kamachumu), to call the Chairman of KAVIPE and explain the situation. The Chairman, Mr. Sunday Buberwa, apologized profusely to me, as is his usual reaction to the slightest hiccup. He is always worried about my wellbeing!

Back to KAVIPE. The organisation was put in place by World Vision upon the phase-out of their 15 year presence in Kamachumu Division. Also established were a Community Care Coalition – Safina, dealing with vulnerable people (people living with HIV, orphans, etc.), and a credit entity, or SACCOS (Savings and Credit Cooperative Society) for lending money to members. World Vision left very little capacity in terms of procuring funding, starting new projects, or even maintaining what was there. An example is the on-site processing facility with a grinder and oil press for peanuts, sunflower seeds, blenders for making fruit juices, etc., none of which are operational. It’s the typical story, after the funding agency pulls out, things grind to a stop…. I think KAVIPE has done very well, considering. They meet regularly, do frequent inspections on loaned animals, and most importantly, recognize the need for more capacity. They strived to acquire someone (me!) to get the organisation energized, to build the knowledge base, and, I pray, to get them some funding.

I couldn’t ask for more. Motivation to work is not a problem when you have a team of willing and enthusiastic people surrounding you.