Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Final Thoughts

In the late afternoons, about 2 hours before sunset, I've been taking a 3 mile walk around the neighboring farmlands and Faraja School. It is a pleasant time of day, when the sun is less intense, a cooling breeze is out of the SE and the clouds that surround Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru usually have lifted. Many people are returning to their homes after working in the fields and the children, in their school uniforms, are coming from their classes. We greet each other with a smile and "Jambo". For me, it is the time of day for reflection and exercise. Today I stopped and wrote down these final thoughts.

As my trip to Siha is winding down, I am overwhelmed by all the wonderful people I have met and what I have seen and experienced. I look back to the first time I came to Siha. I had the vague concept of "voluntourism" [the term did not exist then] and how I envisioned the development of Adventure Aid. After several missteps and a period of inaction, I emailed Miriam Mg'maryo to see if she would be willing to help get AA back on track. It has been largely through her efforts in the community, that AA now has the trust and the partnerships with local organizations and programs which will make the volunteer's experience both rewarding and sustainable. I have used the analogy of a wheel to describe how AA works. In one direction spokes go out to volunteers and in the other side there are are community programs and projects. AA is the hub connecting the two. To expand on this idea, Miriam is the axle, the grease and the motor that turns the wheel!

During these 3 weeks, I have met many remarkable people, some of whom you have read about on this blog. Institutions like Faraja School for Disabled Children, Ndarakwai, Floresta and VICOBA, and Miriam's organizations of women, Bonde la Chem Chem, exemplify the vitality of the Siha community.

One project that I have not written about is the proposed new Siha township. Almost all towns and cities in Africa are a thrown together conglomeration with little planning or forethought. When the District was established several years ago, an extensive area north of Sanya Juu was designated for its new center. Now there is a plan to create a unique town which will be the model for other communities. What a great opportunity for people with skills in urban design, architecture, water and waste management, solar and wind power and business development, just to name a few areas, where one could get involved in this process. There must be many university programs that would also want to be a part this endeavor.

On the volunteer side of the hub, Cleven Mmari in Eugene, Oregon is working with Lisa Durrante in Dubai, UAE on a web site for Faraja. Lisa will be volunteering here in December. Aimee Fagent, from San Diego, conducted training for teachers to improve their ESL [English as a second language] skills. Katie James from Eugene will be here in a week to assist with business planning for Bonde la Chem Chem and other micro enterprises. This connection of people and ideas and what can come from them are the most remarkable and exciting aspects of Adventure Aid.

On the adventure side of AA, Siha is situated in the center of some of the greatest tourist destinations in the world. Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, is out your back door and is climbable for the hardy [or the fool hardy]. Ngorongoro Crater is 10 miles across and populated with thousands of large game animals. The Serengeti is magical. In the morning, you go out on a game drive and as far as you can see there hundreds of thousands of animals. The different cultures like the Maasai offer an insight into lives of the people who have lived here for millenniums.

And then there is the Mighty Mzungu. You have previously read some of his adventures. If Thailand is known as the land of a thousand smiling faces. Then Siha is surely the home of 10,000 smiles and jambos. The MM guy has become quite proficient with his right and left waving and jamboing but he warns you not to do this at the same time especially as you race through Sanya Juu on market day. You run the risk of hitting a goat and doing an endo!! I forgot to mention the model of mt. bike he is riding. It is called a "Hummer X".

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Aid , Economic Development and the Alleviation of Poverty

One of the first questions I asked before starting AA was , " Why has Africa, with all the aid and assistance that it has received, not made the gains that other developing areas have achieved?" There are no simple answers to this question. My time in Siha has given me insight and some possible solutions to the issues facing Africa today.

First , there are two fundamental assumptions that need to be dispelled. One is that Africans lack the drive and work ethic to succeed. The truth is that to survive everyone in a family, including very young children, need to work exceptionally hard just to provide for the basic needs of daily living: food, fuel and water. If you don't you die!!

The second is that Africans do not know how to make their lives better. This belief is the reason why so much of the donated money has not helped the people, and in some cases been counter productive. Rarely are local people asked what they need to make their lives better. Both governmental and NGO programs have come to Africa with their preconceived ideas of what they think will help. A large amount of the money of their programs goes for administrative costs for foreign advisers and consultants, and for their on the ground costs plus money paid to government officials [for bribes and corruption] so that only a fraction of the money is actually spent on the project. Once a project, like the construction of a hospital, is finished, the program is also done. The long term funding and staffing issues are not addressed and the goals for the program fail to be achieved.

There have been several programs that address these deficiencies and are truly helping the people. One is the Dutch NGO - FEMI-DIRA 1. They have working in an area south of Moshi called TPC [Tanzanian Planting Company] which grows and processes sugar cane. TPC employes about 4000 people. The NGO has been in the community for many years and has the trust of the local people. To better understand the community and to get base line data, Joris de Vries has conducted over 900 household interviews of the residents of a village of 4000 people. With this information, his NGO will work with the community and TPC to develop community projects and programs. After a period of time, the survey will be repeated to see if their goals were met.

What is lacking in the African psyche, especially among the poor, are the concepts of long term planning saving and investment. These are difficult ideas for people living from day to day or season to season. The VICOBA program that I have written about in an earlier blog provides not only the ability to save and lend money but also teaches business skills and community involvement with tree planting and other civic projects.

Miriam's rosella wine making operation is another example of small scale capitalism. Her group of 10 women set up a complete cottage industry from first growing and harvesting the hibiscus, to making the wine and setting up markets for their product. They made 100% return on investments, returning half as profits and reinvesting the remainder. Now they are looking to double or triple their next "vintage". More important than this economic success was the change in the mind set of these women. Having felt that there was no chance to improve their lives before this project, they now are empowered and energized by their accomplishments.

On a larger scale, Siha is looking to develop itself as a tourist destination. The District is capital poor and tourism offers the community the influx of money to help their economy as well as work and training opportunities. There are potential downsides to doing this. When two cultures interact it can be for the good or more commonly for the worse. In Arusha ,for example, where the vast majority of tourist go before they go on safari to the parks on the "Northern Circuit" [Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti etc.] foreigners are hounded by "touts"who are people trying to sell their wares, and children begging. Siha has very little of this now. It is the goal of the District to develop "Green Tourism " [see the description of this concept on the AA web site] where the visitor is "educated" to respect local customs, behavior and dress and the community is discouraged from begging and harassing touts. Adventure Aid is looking for people with skills in marketing and web site design who would be interested in working on this project and developing the concept of "voluntourism".

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

AIDS Seminar

My one volunteer experience on this trip to Siha was to give a seminar [more like a round table discussion] to a group of 20 deacon students [all men in their 20's] at Faraja. Also present were Gunter Neidhardt and his wife Gabriela.

The most recent HIV/AIDS statistics about Tanzania that I could obtain were from 10/05. At that time 8.8% of the population were HIV positive [1.6 million people]. Since these numbers come from people who are voluntarily tested, most experts believe that this % is low. Women accounted for 56% of the cases and young women, ages 15 to 24, are twice as likely to be infected compared to young men. In 2oo3, there were 140,000 infected children. and 1 million AIDS orphans. I had heard from several sources that there are more cases in the southern part of the country where there are many mines and more poverty.

My first question to these men was to ask if they knew someone with HIV/AIDS. They all answered in the affirmative. Then I tested their knowledge of AIDS and they did very well.

AIDS acts a different disease in the US and Europe than it does in Africa. In the US the vast majority of HIV/AIDS cases are among IV drug abusers and male homosexuals. The exclusively heterosexual population rate is < class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_8">IV drug abuse and gay sexual relations, it is almost entirely transmitted by vaginal, heterosexual relations and the infection rate is as high 40% in some countries.

What are the reasons for this difference? There has some recent research that suggests that African have less genetic resistance to becoming infected. Circumcision has been shown to decrease the risk of becoming infected by 50%. When studying the difference of sexual practices between the West and Africa, it was found that both groups, on average, had the same number of sexual partners in their lifetimes. The difference was that westerners practiced more serial monogamy while the Africans were more likely to have multiple partners at the same time. Why is this important? When a person is first infected with HIV, he/she is most infectious to others in the first 6 to 10 weeks before the antibody response occurs.

We then talked issues of sex and reproductive education. There is a large resistance to openly discuss this subject in the home. They felt too "ashamed" and embarrassed to talk about this subject. These attitudes do not prevent them from becoming sexually active, usually beginning between the ages of 11 and 13. Theirs is a male dominated society and the double standard rules. If a girl in secondary school becomes pregnant, she is forced to leave school. She rarely identifies the boy [or man] who impregnates her and he suffers no consequences. In situations where there is a high poverty rate, sex is a form of currency for women to obtain money, food and shelter. It is very common for married men to have an extramarital relationship[s].

When I asked, "With the risk of AIDS being about 1 in 10, how have you changed your attitudes and activities related to your sexual activities?" The silence was deafening. These young men are the future deacons of the Lutheran Church, pillars of their society. If they are not changing their actions, how is the rest of the population responding?

Clearly, if there is a potential solution to ending the AIDS epidemic in Tanzania and Africa, it has to be in educating the youth of the country. Sexuality, sex education, STD and AIDS prevention and redefining gender roles need to be discussed in the homes, schools [starting in the Primary Schools]and in the community settings. These messages will need to be repeated for each new group of young people.

I presented material supplied by Mary Gossart, the educational coordinator for Planned Parenthood in Eugene. It gives a step by step, research tested approach to teaching issues related to sexuality. These materials were left at the Teachers Resource Center for their use and for future volunteers who wish to develop follow up programs.
Thanks again, Mary for your help.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Physical Disabilities in Africa

During my visit to Faraja School, I asked Gunter Neidhardt, the director, what were the causes for the disabilities. His answer shocked me. A large number were preventable or easily treated. The causes can be broken down into the following categories: accidents, illnesses, lack of treatment and congenital.
In the first category are falls, burns and MVA's. In a recent meeting with a person who had done a study in a poor village in Tanzania, I was told that 9% of the households had a burn injury in the past year and the vast majority of these injuries were suffered by children and infants. Most motor vehicles for human transport in Africa are in poor repair, overloaded and driven at unsafe speeds.
Malaria, polio, measles, rickets, floridosis [excess floride in the drinking water] and malnutrition are the most common illnesses that causes disabilities.
Lack of early treatment for club foot and hydrocephalus go on to cause permanent disabilities.
Finally, the common congenital problems are spina bifida, cerebral palsy and genetic abnormalities.

When you go over this list, you see that simple prevention or treatment methods could eliminate or greatly reduce many of the causes. Fuel efficient, safe wood stoves made of brick or pottery are available. Here, in this part of Tanzania, they sell for $3 each. Vitamins taken by an expectant mother greatly reduces the incidence of spina bifida. Vaccination programs do not always get to all the rural areas and there are still widely held beliefs that vaccines do more harm than good.

80% of people with disabilities worldwide live in poor countries. Another issue is one of perceived causes. In a recent study in rural Zimbabwe 56% of the people believed in witchcraft and spirits and 33% thought that God was the cause of the disabilities.

Places like Faraja are doing outstanding work to help these children. The costs of their programs are going up very rapidly especially in the area of transportion of the children to Moshe for medical appointments, about a 1and 1/4 hr drive each way. In the last year, fuel prices have more that doubled. If you or any of your family or friends are interested in helping Faraja you can make a tax deductible contribution to Adventure Aid and ALL the money will be transferred to the school's donor fund.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Faraja School for Disabled Children

Think about the difficulties that people with physical difficulties face in developed countries, now consider being disabled on Africa. Where do you get a wheel chair , crutches and other orthopedic equipment? If you can find it, could you or your family afford to buy it? Once you have it, try using it on rocky, dirt roads that are muddy for part of the year and try getting in and out of houses that have steps and lips at the doors. In areas of poverty, were everyone in the family needs to work in the fields, who is able to give assistance to a disabled person? Now add the neglect and abuse suffered by many of these children and the stigma on a family who has a disabled child and you just begin to have an idea what it means to be disabled in this part of the world.

The dream for a school to address the needs of physically disabled children was answered when Mabel Swanson, a woman from Virginia, who worked with the disabled children, bequested the money to build Faraja School. It opened in 2002, and now serves 80 students between the ages of 7 and 15. Physiotherapy,Occupational Therapy and training are available on site. Orthopedic equipment, prostheses, wheelchairs and crutches are provided as well as a referral system to doctors and other medical specialists in Moshe. Vocational training is provided in a sister institution in Usa in carpentry, tailoring and shoe manufacturing when students graduate from the primary school. Social workers also assist with long term placement for the students.

When you arrive at Faraja and you first see the children your heart stops [at least mine did]. Many children have severe deformities of their limbs or have lost them. Then you see their smiles, hear their laughter, see how they help each other [ a girl who can barely walk herself pushes another girl in a wheel chair] watch them play and you begin to understand what a place like Faraja means in their lives. Children from all over this region of Tanzania are brought here for assessment and for the lucky ones, an opportunity to get an education and medical help. Faraja becomes their new home and a place to feel "normal" and accepted as a real person.
Faraja is fully wheelchair accessible. The class rooms have adjustable desks and chairs to fit each child's needs. With 6 teachers, a large group of support people and volunteers, it is the best staffed school I have seen but it is still barely able to meet the special needs of the students.

Faraja is run by the Lutheran Church. Its funding comes from donations[60%], churches in Germany and the US [10%] Tanzanian gov't [5%], school fees [5%] and the remainder from agricultural activities on its 200 acre farm.

Adventure Aid offers volunteer opportunities for people with training in Physical Therapy, Occuptional Therapy, wheelchair repair and orthopedic, prosthetic device repair and construction. On staff is a full time PT specialist, Grace Solomon Lema and an OT specialist who comes once a week. There is an excellent facility for PT and OT but equipment is lacking; stationary bikes, weights and pulley systems were some of the items mentioned when I was just there. There are 2 cottages and a guest house for volunteers to stay in on the premises. The setting is lovely with gardens and great views of Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Adventure Aid is helping to get out the message about the wonderful work that this unique institution is doing and to help raise funds to support its programs. Cleven Mmari is in the process of designing a web site for Faraja. They are also looking for someone to write and design an email newsletter [Lisa, could this be a small project for you when you are here in Decmber?]

It is unfortunate that I am unable to post the pictures of Faraja with this blog. Check back in about 2 -3 weeks and you will be able to see them. They are moving and inspiring!!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Floresta and VICOBA

Miriam and I drove to the NE side of Mt. Kilimanjaro to Marangu to see projects run by Floresta. At over 5000' and on the wet side of the mountain the area was cool and verdant compared to Siha. We were met by Edith Banzi ,the project manager. She outlined their series of programs. Florestais an NGO whose mission is to set up programs for economic development that would be sustainable and benefit the environment. Their programs include bio-intensive agriculture [BIA]which trains the local population to grow organic produce for their own use and for selling to improve their income , conservation/reforestation projects and VICOBA. They also sell safe,fuel efficient, wood cooking stoves to the community for $3 each. Miriam and Edith have been working together to implement Floresta programs in Siha.
The biggest success story is VICOBA which stands for Village Community Bank. It is a microfinance program with several unique twists. At the start of his book, "Out of Poverty", Paul Polak describes his conversation with a poor farmer in Nepal. He asked the farmer what he would need to get out of poverty. His reply was," money". What he was saying was that he needed seed capital to invest in drip irrigation supplies so that he could grow off season vegetables which he would then sell at a premium price. With this extra income he made improvements on his farm and in a very short period of time he and his family were able to enter the middle class in his community.
VICOBA expands this concept of microfinance. The initial step is the formation of a community group of about 30 to 40 members [75% are women]. They then enter a 12 week training program where they set their rules of governance, are trained to develop business and marketing plans and learn about the process of borrowing money. From the start each member invests $1 to $3/week. A group dynamic is formed in which members assist each other with their home based microenterprises. [I had described this process when I wrote about Miriam's women's group in an earlier blog.] Each member is allowed to apply to borrow up to three times her personal investment. The loan process also includes a business plan that tells how the money will we spent and how and when the loan will be repaid with interest. A subgroup of 5 people are selected to evaluate the loan applications and business plans and then monitor the use of the loaned money. In this way the VICOBA program has empowered and built capacity of the people on the proper way to manage their small enterprises. Currently there are 17 groups with more than 600 members and are now in the process forming an umbrella group to be able to do larger projects.
Adventure Aid has begun discussions with Floresta to see if we can set up joint programs in the Marangu community. Volunteers with business , accounting, banking marketing and agricultural skills will be a great asset to these programs. For tourism options, Marangu is one of the primary starting points for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Night and Morning at Ndarakwai

The night sky was clear with more stars than I have even seen. The Milky Way looked like a solid silvery white band in a sea of stars in a closely packed speckled pattern. I woke up at 3 AM [the remains of jet lag] and walked down to the dining area which is adjacent to a creek. There was a rusting sound coming from the bank below me. When I shone my flashlight in this direction, I saw a bush buck[like our deer] grazing on the shore. The light does not startle him and he continues on his way. I return to my tent,which is more like a suite with separate sleeping and sitting, toilet, shower and sink areas, falling back to sleep immediately. I am awakened by a beautiful bird call: chi,chi chi, teacher,teacher,teacher. The notes are clear and are repeated in multiple variations. At first light[about 6:15] I dress quickly since it quite cold [mid 40's] and return to the dining area. In the tree above me a family of blue monkeys were feeding on the dry seeds. With a cup of hot coffee in hand , I sit and watch them only a few feet away from me and they stare back at me. It is a curious encounter between primates. We are joined by many species of birds and I am wishing I had brought my binoculars and a Tanzanian bird book. Breakfast consists of juice, fresh fruit, coffee or tea, eggs as you like them, toast, muffins and home made jams. What a lovely way to start the day!