27 December 2016

I am at long last on vacation. These past few months have been consumed by a lot of treadmill running, and I am happy to take a break from it. I suppose I haven’t just been on a treadmill, since we’ve admittedly gotten somewhere. We have completed about half of the big garden and water project in my village, but some of it has been extremely grueling as my counterparts and I put in great amounts of effort with little progress as our reward. But we have finished the seven wells, and have trained up the caretakers – that’s pretty big.

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A few of the new rope pump wells

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Pictures from the caretakers training

And we’ve distributed the majority of the gutters, which means most households in the village now have a rainwater catchment system – also pretty big.

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I think we’ll finish the gutter distribution without much more delay. That leaves the third part of the project: the 80 home gardens.

This part of the “food security project”, while the focus, has been the most challenging. The main reason behind the wells and rainwater catchment is to allow for the daily watering of home gardens, which are pretty non-existent at the moment. Home gardens were not maintained in the past because the water was so far away and made daily irrigation an overwhelming chore. Now the water is much more accessible, but we’re still having trouble motivating people to build their gardens.

The simple drip irrigation technology (in the form of “drip kits”) has provided some incentive, as have the free seeds, but people are slow to take advantage of this opportunity to provide themselves with a home garden/better nutrition/food security. The goal is to build 80 gardens (because we were able to get 80 drip kits). Thus far we have managed to build only 4 – and we have been working to promote and motivate people since October… Not great.

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BUT, now that those four gardens have been built, people are able to see the gardens and drip kits in action, and already more people have been asking for assistance. That’s a good sign, and I’m hopeful our garden construction rate will exponentially increase until we finish.

Unfortunately, one aspect of the garden project plan had to change. I initially planned for groups of five or six households to work together to build and maintain one garden, reaping the benefits together. That plan allowed every household in the village access to a home garden. I now understand this is not necessarily realistic. Even though the community of a Tanzanian village is often based on generosity and the sharing of resources, there are limits to this aspect of the culture. Because these home gardens are not massive (the nature of a home garden), the amount of vegetables they can potentially provide would have to be divided between the households.

I originally anticipated that the households would be accepting of this fact, but Tanzanians understand their neighbors better than I do, and know that the division of labor would not be equal. One family would most likely end up doing all of the work, while the others would just come to enjoy the end product. There are of course ways to schedule garden maintenance chores between households to make the work more equal, but that sort of planning was a bit too radical for my Tanzanian friends. Okay. I get it. It would be pointless to try to push the households into doing anything they don’t feel comfortable with – that could never be sustainable or even successful.

So now we are changing our scope. The goal is still to build 80 home gardens, but we are forgetting the idea of the garden groups. We will distribute the drip kits and seeds to every sub-village, but there will be a limit to the number of households that will benefit (80 rather than 406). The first households in each sub-village to prepare a fence and to mix their soil with the proper amendments (manure, and maybe some charcoal dust and/or wood ash) will be the ones to get our assistance to make and plant their own garden, and to install their own drip kit. This way the motivated households in the village will be able to act now and be rewarded, rather than trying to organize with their perhaps less motivated neighbors. I think it’ll definitely work out better in the end, all things considered.

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While I travel these next few weeks, I am confident my counterparts will keep at it and will be able to make at least ten more gardens, maybe even more. Interest is definitely growing as people see what they can get with just a little effort. When I return from vacation I hope to see the progress in my refreshed state, and to feel more motivated to continue helping those enthusiastic community members who wish to plant their own home gardens. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying my two weeks off in some of the nicer cities, and on Zanzibar.

Here are some pictures from Christmas Day, spent with some fellow volunteers (and their puppies) at a little lake near Njombe town – the start of my vacation.

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