Sunday, August 29, 2010

Africa Notes 4

7/24/10: Notes from Africa 4

Judy and experienced a bit of reverse culture shock as we changed hotels to join with our Heifer Project. Our previous hotel, the Arusha Resort Hotel was the place where people engaged in project work stayed, also scientists working on the Olduvai project (studying the earliest humans and prehuman), and college study groups. The guests were mostly a mixed group of European with a scattering of young Americans and Australians. Every night we made friends and shared stories about daily encounters, everything from comparing the economics of Europe and America, to discussion of plans to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, to South Africans workers here to expand the local brewery, to explanations of the variety of economic/agricultural/equity projects taking place in Tanzania. We spend one amazing evening with an isotope chemist who had been working with a paleobotanist to understand how the diet of Australopithecus differed from Homo Habilis – a pretty amazing guy!
The place that Heifer selected for us, the Impala Hotel, is more upscale, with two swimming pools, and four restaurants. It is possible to come here and live in luxury, go off on safari, and return to lounge by the pool and think that you have been in Africa. … While the real Africa begins the minute you step outside the gates of this place. (Granted it does feel good to have a good warm shower, and eat European food – but that isn’t what we came to Africa to do.) However for a week it is OK and not so terribly hard to accept.

The more we hear of the work of Heifer, and how they continue to expand their outreach as they provide assistance to those in great need, it is inspiring. The Tanzanian government has adopted the Heifer model for rural redevelopment for the whole country and their successes continue to multiply. It will be an exciting week as we learn more.

7/26: Sunday
We rode in Safari vans for two hours up deeply rutted mountain roads to visit 2 projects.
The first, a family with 1.5 acres, had first received two weeks training at a Tanzanian government agricultural training facility , then a dairy goat, then instructions on fish farming. They had created a small farm that fed the family with a year long variety of vegetables and several sustainable sources of protein. Their methods were ingenious and practical. They used no chemicals in their operation. There was sufficient surplus to provide money for the education of five of their six children and to help support the local health clinic. As part of the plan they had provided one healthy young female goat to allow a neighbor to also begin to establish a livestock farm. (According to the Heifer model, each recipient in turn must give to another person who has been trained) What I found most impressive was how well the farm was integrated. High efficiency planting beds incorporated green plant material, manure, soil, and ash with an ingenious watering system. Goats and chickens were fed some of the grain and plant material, fish were given grain products, and some goat manure went into the ponds to promote algae growth to feed the fish. They had a small plant nursery to produce plants to sell to neighbors. They grew an amazing variety of place for their own use and for sale. For example – vanilla beans are labor intensive but produce an excellent profit. Thanks to their Heifer training they were now a place where other farmers could come to learn new methods. …And to think it all started with one goat.
The second farm was a Women’s milk coop high on the slopes of Mt. Meru. This project began with the introduction of one cow – Since they were farther from the market for their milk a group of local women began to collect milk and produce a variety of high quality cheeses for the regional market. Mama Anna, our hostess, went for special training on cheese making – and we found their product very impressive. They also have integrated into their small farm coffee production, goats, chickens, and stingless bees. Taking advantage of their beautiful location high on the mountain slope, the woman’s coop is also developed a Cultural tourism opportunity – an experience into the local Meru tribal way of life. Some of the women also produce art and crafts for sale to their visitors. That one original cow has led to economic stability and money to provide for education for this entire community of small farmers.
Monday – Today we travelled north from Arusha to a large Masai village. It is always a surprise how much communication can take place even without language. We were greeted with singing and dancing in traditional style –a lot of hand shaking and hugs - then all the participants in the Heifer project entered a compound and the meeting began. The purpose of this visit was to observe the Heifer progress review of this large program. It was skillfully lead, and all particiants were invited to participate (however it was mostly men who offered ideas). It felt very much like a progress review in America – “which of our goals are we meeting, were should we focus our energy to improve…” Here these people who live in a culture so different from ours were engaging in an intelligent democratic sytem to inprove the success of their program. The major issues identified as most successful were the passing on of the gift after receiving an animal, and involvement of the total community.