Monday, May 13, 2013

It's all about the people at Kesho Leo- Liz Francais

This blog about my time at Kesho Leo is more than a little overdue. This is partly due to the following reasons: 
a) I can write about anything you like but am not very good when it comes to writing about myself
b) I will therefore do almost anything to avoid it and
c) Every time I thought about what I should write about I was overwhelmed with ideas and didn't know where to start, so didn't start!

Anyway to make this a little easier for myself I decided to simplify things and share a little bit about some of my most memorable/favourite moments and experiences volunteering for fws in a David Letterman- style Top Ten sort of format, so here they are (in no particular order though!):

1. Learning to sew: Part of my role at KL was to help out the Kesho Leo Mama's Sewing Group. I'm not sure if they expected me to show up and teach them things but I have to say before this I hadn't sewed anything since about Year 10, and even then I think I broke a needle/got a bobbin all tangled/just made the machine stop working every time I went near it. This became apparent to the Mama's quite quickly and my role became that of oversee-er/ideas person/sometimes cutter. Coming up to KL to help out with the Sewing Group became an enjoyable part of my week as it generally involved a lot of laughter with (and some brilliant singing from) Mama's Gladi & Oliva, who always set to work with enthusiasm  whenever I came up with a new idea, like Christmas wreathes made form scrap, bunting, multicoloured aprons and purses and the (dreaded) stuffed animals! I also eventually got over my fear of the machine with the help of Helena, whose calming presence and patience in teaching are incomparable to anyone I've ever met, or think I ever will! 

2. Mudi's morning office entry: I don't think anything made me laugh more than seeing Kesho Leo Project Manager Mudi burn into the volunteer village on his dirt bike in a blaze of glory, like some kind of action hero, and then remove his helmet and greet us with a very polite 'Good morning guys'. I also enjoyed his general morning greetings as he entered the office, which usually went something along the lines of 'Good morning guys. Mambo Bwanaaaaa Joshua, Mamboooooo... Mrs Nurse etc etc... Are we all feeling happy, because it's a beautiful day and we're all alive? Fantastic, yeah ok mate, that's cool mate.'

3. Salimu: While there's obviously no picking favourites when it comes to all the brilliant KL kids, there's some sort of infectious happiness that spreads to you whenever Salim is around, and luckily for us Salim seemed to like hanging around, and took to dropping in to say hello at the Volunteer Village on his way home from school every couple of days (often walking, because as his teacher informed a very amused Mama Gladi, he would often 'eat his bus money' ie-spend it on chocolate instead of the bus!). From learning sign language together to watching his eyes light up with delight as he discovered all the different tools and colours available in Microsoft Paint, there was no better or more welcome interruption to an afternoon’s work than a visit from Salim.

4. Simon's (Volunteer Village Security Guard, Translator, Veggie Salesman...) terrible sense of humour: Simon never failed to get laugh out of us with his antics, from brining us messages from Maggie the guard dog, to pretending he didn't recognize us through the peephole of the front gate for several minutes, even putting on his 3D glasses to assist him, to playing horrible children's songs at maximum volume for a whole day, and of course making it his duty to write the name of his alter ego 'P-Diddy' across the back window of the Land Cruiser as soon as it was coated in dust (much to Mudi's annoyance...)

5. A simple one but... Cleaning my teeth and looking up at the stars. It might sound a bit clich├ęd but there was something special about gazing up at the sky each night at the thousands of stars in that very clear Tanzanian night sky. The only thing that ruined this experience was accidentally stepping on a frog while you were doing it...

6. Conversations with Bibi Franki: These were another highlight of a visit to Kesho Leo, and almost always ended in a big fit of laughter and a lot of leg slapping from Bibi. Despite my limited Kiswahili (especially in the beginning) we managed to semi-understand each other and think whatever the other one was saying must have been very funny. I think I actually learned a good part of my Swahili from these conversations as she never made me feel silly for trying to say something, and at the same time was not afraid to correct my mistakes either!

7. Walking from the Volunteer Village to Kesho Leo with Nurse June: This was always an entertaining experience as true to Tanzanian form, but somehow even more so than anyone else, June would stop and chat to almost everyone we passed on this walk, and took a real interest in what they had to say too. A typical line of questioning would go something along the lines of:
'Good morning Bwana, how are you? How is your family? How is your crop? What is it that you are growing here? How old are you Bwana? What year were you born? Oooooh, my goodness, you are very old, you should go and take a rest inside.'
In between catching up with everyone June would share her knowledge on all sorts of things from history and politics to medicine, farming and local traditions with us, and asked just as many questions about how these things work in our country. I don't think I'll ever learn so much on the commute to work again...

8. Learning to drive a manual 4WD - I remember Mudi saying something about it not taking long to get used to driving in town as we turned into the hectic nightmare of an intersection that is 'Friend's Corner' (false advertising...) on my second day in Arusha, and me laughing to myself thinking 'As if I'll ever get behind the wheel HERE!'. But thanks to some very patient and encouraging teachers in my fellow volunteers I eventually managed to make it all the way to 4th gear without stalling, aaaand drive in town, and kind of enjoyed it! I think Jacinta, Health Volunteer at the time, deserves a medal for her patience in some of these situations... And wouldn't you know it, the week before I left Arusha they installed what I believe to be the second set of traffic lights in town at 'Friend's Corner'!

Well that did turn into a bit of an essay once I got started so I'm stopping there at eight! Anyway the moral of the story is while volunteering at Kesho Leo wasn't always a walk in the park like this may make it sound, it is these little moments and memories that make it such a brilliant experience, and to anyone considering it I would say just go - you won’t regret it!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Working in a team at fws

By Estahappy Mariki Wenje

I was among the people from developing countries in Africa who believed that working with professional volunteers from developed countries is very challenging following different cultures like, language barrier, various skills in resolving encountered drawbacks, problem of the time management, daring, efficiency and admiration to deliver the intended goals. 

Estahappy Mariki Wenje - fws Social Worker at Kesho Leo, Arusha, Tanzania

As a Social Worker here at Kesho Leo, I am very much happy to work closely with volunteers from different countries, different cultures, knowledge, status, skills and behaviours. As the Kesho Leo project supports orphans in a family set up (which is very rare model here in Tanzania), this gave me a room to learn from the devoted mamas available at Kesho Leo children’s village and their families who shares the same cultures and traditional practices with the orphans or children they have in Kesho Leo children’s village.

From day to day these families within Kesho Leo and outreach clients have many issues that relate to their social and health wellbeing, these allow me to be very close to all staff and volunteers in the project site and share and receive various skills that will work out their needs for the progress of this project.

In Kesho Leo, staff and volunteers works in different departments including our beautiful Chekechea and Pre-primary, farms (shamba), Kesho Leo Community Health Centre, social work, development, administration and other places. These entire teams makes me very existed on the way we unity, collaborate and support to each other to complete any task. It is very enjoyable to be staff or volunteers among others in this organisation as everyone has his/her amazing talent with different experience in matters that support our project activities. 

Estahappy introducing students to books and reading at the Kesho Leo and Engosengiu Literacy Day in May 2012. 
Everyone in the team is always ready to share the respective knowledge and skills in order to improve and meet the intended project goals. Personally my experience and skills growing amazingly according to the team working and the support I always get from the senior project managers from Australia; their encouragement in order to perform the best is mostly cherished.

Esta and the fws Team at the School of St. Jude, Moshono, on an exchange visit in April 2012

I am sure everyone who wants to join us will enjoy all her/his time with our local staff here in Tanzania, at foodwatershelter- Kesho leo project as we all as very attractive environment here in Kesho leo village, Sinon Arusha.

Karibu (Welcome to) Tanzania , Karibu Arusha , Karibu fws Kesho Leo.

Asante sana (thank you very much).

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Fun and Friendly Community

By Jenny (Kesho Leo Education Volunteer)

I have been to Africa three times before, and came back for the wonderful sense of community and the fun times that I have found before. Arusha and the local foodwatershelter community have not let me down.

At school, both in the morning with the Chekechea and Pre-Primary classes and in the afternoon with the Tuition classes, I regularly find myself smiling or laughing with the students and the teachers. Sometimes it is a happy smile, after children have answered a question they have been asked, or done some work that I have been helping with, or just simply showing me their work. Sometimes it is the teacher’s humour at the response from the students doing their work, often trying so very hard, and coming up with an answer that is “beautiful” although incorrect. It is so rewarding watching the teachers with the children, and getting a buzz from hearing them laughing with the children and showing in so many ways that they care about them. It is not unexpected to see the teachers sweep up a child in their arms and give them a big hug, sometimes congratulating them, sometimes comforting them, and sometimes because the child has made a mistake and is confused or embarrassed. 

Regina (Kesho Leo Education Manager) congratulating the Champion Pre-Primary Student
at the Kesho Leo-Engosengiu 2012 Mini Olympics
Lucy, Kesho Leo Chekechea Teacher (far right) and Engosengiu Primary School Teacher (far left) congratulating the students after finishing the Chekechea Champion Relay Race at the 2012 Mini Olympics.

Beyond job satisfaction, there are many other places that I have found my fun. I came here hoping to find other volunteers who like playing cards, and couldn’t believe it when the first group of vols didn’t seem very interested. I was very disappointed, until a few months after I arrived I discovered that the night Askari (security guards) play cards. Once I realised they enjoyed cards, it didn’t take me long to invite myself to their game. It has been entertaining and interesting. I have shared some games I know, and they have shared games they know. The last game they have shown me is a Maasai game, and it really ‘takes the cake’. In every card game I have ever played, you may not show your partner your hand, even though in some games like Bridge, the bidding can give a pretty good indication what is in your hand. In this game, when you play with a partner, it is best to show your partner, but not your opponents, your cards so that you can work out your strategy to win the most cards. And believe me, there is real strategy to this game. I still haven’t got it yet, as I have lost a fair few more than I have won. 

From the left: Midmi, Husseini, Jenny and Toshi, play a round of cards.

Keeping the game equipment in order also proved to be an event in itself. Although we can play without a bench, the makeshift table, a shallow plastic crate on a bucket, was not the most stable. So I asked the Askari to see if they could repair the broken bench. We lacked a few basic requirements, like a hammer, good quality wood, and eventually light as we had a power out while the job was half done. They managed to fix it with the back of a small axe, scavenged wood from some other broken benches and light from my mobile phone, with a result while not the most elegant, is a stable bench that is often used for cards in the night. Added to their company and card playing, the Askari are very generous and are always offering to share their meal with me. I finally accepted, and just recently we shared a delicious dinner of local smoked fish, cooked to perfection by Husseini, one of the Askari, and I cooked the rice – I just can’t eat ugali. If you ask the Askari why, they will laugh, as I tell them that if they were to throw it on the ground, it would bounce, and I can’t eat food that bounces. They know I am joking and that it is just me being fussy again. 

The games bench...
Last of all I have had some dancing. I love to dance and do many different styles of dance back home in Australia. Only a few days after I arrived in October, one of our Askari had his wedding, and we attended. We went to the reception ceremony at his home. After that amazing experience came the music and of course, for me, that meant dancing. I had a great time, and danced both in and out of the covered area. Later, as I got to know the mamas, I shared my enthusiasm for dance with them, and they responded with similar enthusiasm. So came about our first dance at Kesho Leo last year. It was a few weeks before Christmas, and all fws employees and their families were invited. Simon (aka P.Diddy and day-time Askari), was our awesome DJ for the night. Unfortunately, he had to swap his rostered day and was working on the day of the dance, so we didn’t have his expertise and equipment (borrowed from a friend) at the start of the dance. I had gathered music from different sources, endeavouring to provide music for all who came. The night (6.30pm) started slowly, but when Simon came and the volume increased, things got moving. It was a fun night with one or two stand out dancers from Kesho Leo. We had our second dance night at the end of March and this time Simon was there from the start. Again, we had a great night and it got pumping much earlier with P.Diddy doing his thing. 

The Kesho Leo girls show off their dance moves.

Jenny gets into the groove!

The Kesho Leo residents enjoying the disco night.
As well as the dance nights, and the functions that I have been to and danced at, a family celebration for the new baby, two graduations, and another wedding, there is a group of children who sing to me when I pass them on my way to Kesho Leo. They once saw me dancing at some of the local celebrations and now every time they see me they come out to the road and sing and do a few dance steps eagerly waiting for me to join in. Anyone walking with me to Kesho Leo will meet them and hear their “Kiduku” song. What more can a person ask for? … What a fun and friendly community here in Sinoni Village, Arusha, Tanzania!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mfereji: Communtity Based Water Management in Arusha, Tanzania

By Paul Hasse (Kesho Leo Permaculture Volunteer, 2011-2012)

One of the first things that caught my attention when I arrived in Sinoni Village was the water irrigation system. Coming from a developing country myself (Guatemala), and being habituated to chaotic, nonfunctioning community dynamics, I was ready to face almost everything but a decent and somewhat well functioning, community based water management system. This is how it works...

The local water irrigation system - the mfereji
The mfereji, otherwise know as an open water canal or channel, works as a community service, from 7am to 5pm. The water comes from the Themi River, in Njiro, and all of the money that comes from fees and fines is used in the maintenance of the mfereji from the river to town. Every farmer in the community is entitled to 1 or 2 hours a week of water, depending on the size of the plot. This schedule is arranged through Wilson Laizer, or Willy, our next door neighbour. He is also the one in charge of the mfereji revenue, and reporting to the village elders (which themselves report to the municipal officials, which report to the district officials, which report to the regional officials). When water is scarce, and consequentially not enough for irrigating large plots, night hours can be arranged. You can also lend or borrow hours of watering from other farmers.

Farm workers (John, Richi and Elias) prepare the channel(s) for water from the mfereji to flow in between the
farm garden beds and into the farm hafir (plastic lined dam).

There is only one simple and strict rule about using the mfereji: Use it in your time. If you block the mfereji; use it out of your scheduled hours; or claim that you are using it in someone else’s hours without their prior consent, you get fined. Fines are generally 20,000 Tanzanian Shillings (Tzs) (approximately $20AUD), but can vary depending on the
attitude of the offender.

Water from the mfereji travels down the channels in between the garden beds. 
John Laizer (fws Farm Manager) oversees the farm water irrigation system.

In order to withstand water shortages and the exhausting labor that implies carrying water to irrigate, we’ve built a
hafir. A hafir is a plastic lined dam. Ours is 7 meters long per 1.5 metre wide at the top and 1 meter wide in the bottom, and 1.5 metre deep. It holds approximately 8,000 litres of water.

fws Volunteer Village Farm hafir.
Elias channels the water around the garden beds.

Last but not least, there is a land transfer fee for the mfereji. If you decide to buy land from
another farmer in the community, you must pay 150,000Tzs (approximately $90AUD). This fee falls into that kind of dodgy bureaucratic revenue which is so common in developing societies. Asking around about the real use of this revenue to a local farmer, I get a smile and: “If there’s a problem with the mfereji they’ll fix it, if not, they will all celebrate with sodas.” 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Construction in Africa

By Ben Keyser

My time in Tanzania was spent working as an infrastructure volunteer on a variety of small projects and maintenance at Kesho Leo and the Volunteer Village. This ranged from maintenance to starting the foundations of the new church compost toilets adjacent to the Kesho Leo site. When I arrived I was full of enthusiasm and remember saying to Corky, Infrastructure and Permaculture Manager working from Australia, “Make the most of me while I’m here, I’m happy to help!”. I remember thinking on my second last day when I had a list close to two pages of things I still wanted to do that maybe I shouldn’t have told him that. Having said that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Enjoying a ride into Arusha Town!
Coming from an engineering background and spending some time in the construction industry I had some skills that I could offer the team working over at Kesho Leo. However I quickly learned that it would be the local workers who would teach me the most about construction in Africa and how valuable it is to work with them, rather than “Australianising” the way they do things.

One of the main projects I worked on was the hand washing stations for the Kesho Leo mamas compost toilets. When told about the project, I estimated that it would probably take a few days and that being a Wednesday, it would be done by the weekend and another thing I could tick off my list. A few weeks later the hand washing stations were finally completed, albeit after a few frustrating days and frequent broken Swahili/English conversations with Vale and Moses, the two infrastructure workers. The most satisfaction I got out of this project was getting input from Moses and Vale, and seeing their ideas come to fruition. 

Inside view of the Kesho Leo Mamas Handwashing Station

Moses makes the final touches on the  Kesho Leo Mamas Handwashing Station water tanks
Throughout my time there, I worked on a number of projects including the new compost toilets at our neighbouring Church, finishing the ‘shamba’ (farm) silo, the Kesho Leo mamas handwashing stations and completing the liquid waste gutters for the mama’s compost toilets. They all had one thing in common; they never went to plan. That’s not to say they weren’t well thought out, great ideas or implemented correctly but it is an accurate reflection of the challenges facing new projects in developing countries. Whilst I learnt a lot from  working with the local foodwatershelter employees on these projects, I also learnt that problem solving and ingenuity are key assets when thinking about construction and to accept that things not going accordingly to plan is not always a bad thing.

Setting the liquid waste gutters on the Kesho Leo mamas compost toilets
The workers are so resourceful and given a scarce amount of resources it is quite incredible to see the solutions and ideas that they come up with. I certainly learnt early on that while I could help with some organisational and bookkeeping ideas, I had very little to offer when it came to doing projects ‘their way’. For the first time in working on construction projects I got the most enjoyment out of the process, rather than seeing the final product. I can’t wait to get the opportunity to work with Moses, Vale and the infrastructure team again sometime in the future.

Mudi (Kesho Leo Manager), Vale, Moses, Roger and Myself setting the foundations for the Church Compost Toilets next door to Kesho Leo children's village