So how about I fill you all in on what I’ve actually been WORKING on here in Tanzania for the last 9 months…
I helped start a Community Based Savings Group in my village. The organization Aga Khan, employs Field Officers who come right to my village; I just had to get the right people in touch with the right people. The purpose of this group is for all 25 members to each put in a fixed amount of money each week to the community pot. They can also put in an amount of their choosing to the loan pot. Then, they are able to take out loans for whatever they may need it for, business investments, hut repair, school fees, etc. They have 3 months to repay their loan, with the additional money from the small interest rate. This will enable the villagers to save their money in a safe place for emergencies. It is actually a great concept here in the village, and Aga Khan is a very respectable organization with diligent employees who thrive on timeliness and professionalism.
Each month, I help out with the baby weighing clinics at the Health Dispensary in my village. Sometimes I help the mamas put the cloth on the babies so they can put them on the scale hook, and sometimes I help fill out the cards measuring the progress of the baby and their weight. To my surprise, only a handful of babies were severely underweight or had lost weight as they’ve grown. I thought the number would be much higher. However, just because a majority of the babies are at a healthy weight doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Nutrition is a huge difficulty here. Even for me! Especially when their diets consist mostly of starches and sugar. In general, good nutrition is nonexistent.
One evening in June, Population Services International (PSI) came to my village. They are a mobile movie unit that come from Mtwara and travels to different villages to show educational films. They drive through the village inviting everyone to come to the FREE movies to be shown at the market area; then they take out their generator and set up a projector and screen. My sitemate’s village (who is gone now :/) and my village were combined because we live so close, so there were about 400 villagers there total. They showed one movie about protecting adolescents from early pregnancy, and one about the importance of being faithful. The villagers loved the movies! However, this is probably because only about a fourth of the people in my village have ever left my village, so the rest have never seen a movie on a big projector. And, also, it’s not everyday that a car arrives with a movie screen and generator for a night of education and entertainment.
There’s this girl in my village that is HIV+. Now, the stigmas that are attached to HIV/AIDS don’t allow many people to talk about such a topic openly. I was put in touch with her through an RPCV who she had once worked with. I agreed to meet with her and help in any way possible. She came over and we sat on my front porch talking. She was super shy at first so I was doing a lot of the talking. Eventually, I sorted out that she lives with her grandma who is also HIV+, her aunt, and her aunt’s daughter. I finally understood what she expected from me when she, in a vastly roundabout way, asked me for bus fare. Money. ALWAYS money. I felt awful, but I kept telling her that I literally can’t give her money; I don’t have a salary and, thus, can’t give her money. Besides, me giving her money wouldn’t do either of us any good. She’d still need money the next time she had to travel anywhere, and everyone in the village would be knocking on my door expecting me to give them money. I told her I’m here to be her friend, talk with her, and/or teach her health education. It took her a while to get up and go back home, empty-handed. And, it also took her a good 3 weeks before she decided that I wasn’t such a bad person, and it was worth it to allow me to teach her. So, we’ve had two sessions (puberty and menstruation), and she’s agreed to come every Monday evening. I’ll eventually teach a few sessions about HIV/AIDS, nutrition, and the importance of taking her medications, along with other health sessions. But, for now, I’m going to ease her into some basic health and hygiene information to try to keep her as healthy as possible. If all I do is teach this one girl about being healthy for the entire 2 years I’m here, I can give myself a pat on the back; because I will have helped educate one HIV+ young girl.
I helped to re-start a chicken group. The volunteer before me started it, but it fell apart when she left (which isn’t abnormal). So, I had a meeting with a few core members of the group and they decided to restart the meetings and move forward. To the best of my understanding (I’m still learning, I’m not an environment volunteer after all), the ultimate purpose of this chicken group is income generation. They will eventually be able to breed enough chickens, which they will be able to sell along with their eggs for profit. Right now, they are in the process of finishing the construction of the chicken coop. Each member puts in a certain amount of money each week to buy the materials to make cement and then they each take turns building a portion of the coop. Once they have a safe and secure place to house the chickens, each member contributes one healthy chicken, it is then my job to go to town with the mission of buying two high-quality roosters. Yes, I will be that annoying person with a few live roosters on the bus. Once they officially figure out a schedule of feeding them, taking care of them, and looking out for any difficulties; they will be able to sell the eggs. A schedule for the overall management of the chicken group and the chickens is necessary. Without this management the whole project could either fall apart or just one person may be stuck with all the work of caring for the chickens. Then, in the future, they will be able to sell the chickens, thus fulfilling the income-generating scheme.
I am also working on two different types of grants. The first is to organize a World AIDS Day village-wide testing day. World AIDS Day is on Dec. 1st, and I’d like two HIV testers and one counselor to come from the hospital in town and perform confidential HIV testing to whoever will attend from my village. I’ve met and talked with the District AIDS Coordinator in town and am currently working on the budget. Now, I’m going to try to make it a semi-fun day, and hopefully they will be able to overlook the stigmas and enjoy themselves while becoming educated on one of the most important topics concerning health in Africa. I’m planning on having music and speakers to draw attention and invite people to the event. The testers will begin confidential testing in two separate classrooms whenever people start to arrive. I will pan on providing chai and lunch for the testers, driver, counterparts, and cooks (students will hopefully volunteer to cook). I will have a lot of educational opportunities available: condom demonstrations, nutrition, how to support PLWHA, stigma, the importance of testing, etc. I will have a Healthcare Professional teach a session on HIV/AIDS, and a PLWHA guest speaker. Hopefully everything will go according to plan, although, I’m expecting countless problems just because the life of a PCV pulling off a project without difficulty is unheard of.
The second grant I’m working on is a Maternal and Child Health grant. The Health Dispensary Committee in my village has expressed their desire for a new delivery bed, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and scales for babies and adults. Now, since this is pretty much just us writing the grant and them receiving medical equipment, I have decided to ensure I work in some promising teaching opportunities for myself as a measure of sustainability, monitoring, and evaluation. I’ve met with the District Medical Officer in town and went over costs for the equipment, and the fact that they will need to contribute 25% of the total cost of the grant. This is how we ensure the community has an interest in the grant and encourages community participation. It teaches them the importance of “owning” the project and assisting in any work that needs to be done throughout the project. I’m not expecting this particular grant to be finished and finalized until next year sometime; that’s how long one project here in Tanzania takes…
Anyway, there are other little things that I’m doing here, but these are the biggest projects that take up my time. I’m excited about everything I’m involved in, and am crossing my fingers the grants work out!