Students Without Borders is a WUSC and CECI program that enables Canadian university and college students to participate in exciting, volunteer learning opportunities in South America, Africa, and Asia.

Tanzania: has it already been two months?

August 15, 2015

Despite all warnings, I still can’t believe how quickly my time in Tanzania is flying by! I almost don’t recognize the person who walked off the plane at Kilimanjaro Airport two months ago. I hadn’t slept in two days but spent the entire one-hour drive to Arusha with my groggy, dry eyes glued to the window.DSC_0877

Everything seemed so new and Tanzania looked nothing like my Google images search. I am here to tell you there is in fact more to the country than lions, a very big mountain, and traditionally dressed Masai men.

We arrived on the Friday, and the entire weekend I didn’t want to leave the house unless we were with someone else. A coworker took us on a daladala to explore the city. Daladalas are the local bus and, although it seemed like an insane system at the time, I now think OC Transpo in Ottawa could learn a thing or two. It costs 400 shillings (less than 50 cents) to ride and is a small van that snuggly seats 13 people but generally has over 20 people. The person collecting the money has half his body outside of the window shouting at people walking along the road. The best part: you can’t go two minutes without seeing one drive by – can you imagine only waiting two minutes for a bus in Canada?

I must admit I also find the roads fascinating but I wouldn’t be caught dead driving here. The main roads are as good as the ones Canadian politicians use and probably have similar traffic. I still haven’t figured out how a two-lane road can manage to turn into six lanes; motorcycles constantly pass on the right, daladalas pass on the left. The moment you turn off the main streets you hit uneven dirt roads with deep potholes and rocks jutting out.

We take one of these roads every day to get to work. It is a beautiful walk with an amazing view of Mt. Meru and Megan Fox (there is a hotel called the Megan Resort with a photo of Ms. Fox) but we end up spending the entire time starring at our feet, still occasionally tripping.

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Interning at Farm Radio International (FRI) has been an incredible experience. While the work was slow to start, I now feel fully immersed in the organization. As a Communications Research Assistant I have been creating communications materials and doing research on Community Listening Groups (CLGs). They are groups of men and women (sometimes only women) who meet to listen and discuss a radio program.

Last month we spent 13 days visiting Singida and Shinyanga in central Tanzania. We were designing radio programs for FRI’s Irish Aid III impact program. I love the approach taken because it puts farmers, broadcasters, and experts all in the same room to discuss small-scale farmers’ needs and is then neatly packaged in a 16-week radio program.

In Singida the program is all about sorghum: its benefits, challenges, and best practices. After designing the program, we went into the villages to form the CLGs and provide, for a small fee, a radio that doesn’t rely on batteries or electricity.

In one village, Mnung’una A, over 50 people were crammed into the small executive office (similar to a town hall). The women, who were all dressed in beautiful, bright colours, were sharing chairs and some of the men were standing on desks in order to get a good view of the blue wind-up and solar radio. Everyone was paying such close attention as FRI’s staff explained how to use the radio and record the program.

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In another village, one lady’s story almost brought me to tears. Zaina Issakungu is a farmer in Msisi village of Singida rural district and she helped design the sorghum program. She was also a part of a special sub-committee associated with FRI’s Her Farm Radio project, which is all about giving women a voice.

The sub-committee was designing provocative questions for the female CLGs to answer for the radio program each week and it gave Zaina the opportunity to share her story. Her husband beat her daily – once until she broke her arm. She had no clothing or food for her six children and she was forced to sleep outside most nights.

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In 2002, she had the strength to leave in the middle of the night and go to the police. Her husband spent seven months in jail and married another women as soon as he was free. Zaina struggles to send her children to school as she doesn’t have the tools or knowledge to make money from her farming.

She shared stories of other women having to steal from their own farms, from their husbands, in order to feed their families.

From what I’ve seen, women often do most of the farm work but are not seeing any of the profits. Felix Maigo, a Social Welfare Officer for Singida District Council, told me being economically dependent on their husbands is often the source of violence against women.

I had goosebumps when he expressed his gratitude for the work Farm Radio International is doing to increase women’s independence.

Every community we’ve visited has been so welcoming. The children shout “mzungu” (the Swahili word for foreigner) at us until we look and wave and the community groups were so happy at our attempts to introduce ourselves in Swahili. I can’t wait for what our last month in Tanzania will bring!

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I will leave you with the welcome we received in Msisi village of Singida rural district – I hope it makes your day like it did for us!