Wednesday, May 20th Grief Counseling Session

Wednesday, May 20th Grief Counseling Session

Over the past week and a half I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what life is life for the neighbors at the Kimara office. This morning again when we arrive there are two small boys wondering at the mzungu (white people) in the bus. They may be school age (I believe they are) but they are not in school. Two women (their mothers?) build a cooking fire each day and cook rice. Today a water truck arrived and they filled several yellow containers with water.
Ed and Mr. Manyama co-facilitated a session on grief counseling. Ed explained his activities as a crisis intervention councilor in Nova Scotia. It sounds as if funerals are not so different in Tanzania as they are in Canada. Extended families gather and support each other.
The session lasted into the afternoon and we shared our final lunch with our Kimara friends. It was difficult to say good bye to them knowing that many of us we would never see them again

Tuesday, May 19th School Visit

Today we are visiting a school in the Kimara region. KPE doesn’t conduct sessions in schools, but Ed requested that we have this opportunity. The school is large, with open air classrooms and the ever present finches flitting in the rafters. 270 of the student in this particular school are orphans. We all brought school supplies which we will leave with the teacher. Ed led a session with the students (10-12 year olds?) explaining where Canada is and what it is like. By African standards, Canada is sparsely populated. Nova Scotia, Ed points out would easily fit within the area of Tanzania, but while Nova Scotia has a population of less than 100,000, Tanzania’s population is 40,000,000.

Sunday, May 17th-Monday 18th, Safari to Mikumi National Park

Sunday, May 17th-Monday 18th, Safari to Mikumi National ParkMr. Lema (favorite translator and tour guide) joined us on our Safari to Mikumi National Park. I wasn’t alone in raising an eye brow when we pulled into the Genesis Hotel and Snake Farm for the night. But the accommodations were a lovely surprise–quaint bungalows and a charming outdoor dining room. The food was delicious, but actually I was coming to expect that now and would have been surprised if it wasn’t.
We got up at 5:30 Monday morning (the best time to see the animals before the daytime sun drove them to seek shelter). We saw giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, hippos, crocodiles, elephants, warthogs…Don’t bother asking any of us to see the pictures from that day unless you have a free hour or two!
By safari standards ours was a short one and we headed back in the afternoon to Dar. Driving into the city after dark and against the outbound traffic was an experience. The traffic- Wow! And the roadside shops – I’m not sure whether shop owners actually close up their shops at any point. There would certainly be a problem with securing them as most were three sided structures with open fronts. In the evening each shop is lit by a gas lamp with a single yellow flame. This was an amazing site on our way back from the Safari when the highway was lined with gas lit shops and cooking fires. Except for the occasional petrol station there was no other lighting.
One of the girls commented “It’s so pretty with all the campfires.” Now, at face value this was a very “valley-girl” comment. After all, this wasn’t camping. These were people living by the side of the highway, guarding what little they owned, cooking, and surviving. It was a comment from a road weary 20-year old returning from a full day safari and perhaps she didn’t think before she spoke. But, on the other hand, she wasn’t wrong. It was a strangely beautiful nighttime landscape.

Saturday, May 16 Children’s Session at Kimara

Saturday, May 16 Children’s Session at Kimara
This is the day everyone in our group was looking forward to. It’s the Children’s Day at KPE. Each Staurday Kimara brings 60-70 children into the center and, using music, drama and stories, helps them to work through what is happening in their lives. But today, at the request of the children, NSCC students will set the agenda for the whole day. And what a wonderful day! The students organized a sing along, Canadian Bingo, an art exchange project with a school in Nova Scotia, and (I can’t believe how successful this was) a game of Red Rover.
Jessica brought 120 MacDonald’s Happy Meal toys (..a huge Thank You to her neighbor!) and each child (and adult) present received a toy. We had well over a hundred more toys which we left with Kimara to use for home visits and future sessions with the children.
Today was a day everyone took photos and the children loved having their picture taken. A highlight of the day was when the Masaii guards allowed Jessica to take their picture. To this point we had been very respectful of the Masaii and worked on the assumption that they did not want their photos taken.
A side note about the Masaii: : “Exotic, noble, aristocratic, freedom-loving, independent, savage, impressive, arrogant and aloof…” (The Rough Guide to Tanzania, p. 446). The Masaii warriors (their designation from age 13-45) are definitely in a class of their own. The warriors we ncountered at Kimara were dressed in traditional red checked and purple robes. Now, think about just how much cool factor is required to pull that off and still look aloof! But the Masaii are tall people and carry themselves very erect. The security guards at Kimara also carry three-fool long bush knives. Nikki asked Mr. M about them and he explained that security was a common employment for the Masaii men because they are “brave and sincere”. And really, really, cool!

Kimara provided lunch for everyone (some 100 people) By 3:30 we were exhausted and it was time to say our good buys. That was not a simple process.
You think we might have called it a day, but we had plans to go to the cultural center for a show and dinner that evening so after a quick stop at the grocery store for safari goodies, it was back to the Econolodge to get ready. The dinner was a good as Monday’s lunch had been and we got a front row seat for a theatre group performing traditional dance and music.

Friday, May 15 The Satellite Office

Today we joined Mr. Mayama for a drug counseling session at one of the Kimara satellite offices about ten minutes from the main office (by rut and road). Mr. Bennet, the caretaker of the satellite center, did most of the translation today to allow Mr. Mayama to focus on the “user” population they were trying to reach.
All of the African attendees seemed bright, young and healthy, although basic logic tells me that this group probably exceeds the general statistic for HIV infection. But they are so young and healthy looking! They certainly didn’t look like a “user” or even “at-risk” population. (Goes to show what I know) Mostly male, teenagers…there was a lunch provided after the session and I have to assume some were there just for that reason.
After the introductions, Gideon, one of our favorite Kimara staff members, led a brainstorming session regarding the ground rules for the discussion. This was, of course, all conducted in Swahili so we found out what it was about when Mr. Manyama translated.
As the first hour moved ahead, more and more young boys (at least they look like young boys to me) joined the group. Seating in the small room soon became a problem. I shared my straight-backed wooden chair with Godfrey, a young guy who came in with his ball cap in his hand and two cell phones. I wondered about the phones. (This is a real anomaly. Almost everyone we’ve met has a cell phone. Even some of the Mamas during the Grandmother’s Day had cell phones. Obviously, text messaging is cheap here. And obviously communication is important. But at home I don’t carry a cell phone, and it seems such an odd indulgence in these circumstances. I guess it’s not possible for me to understand or explain everything here.)
There were five females in the group. One young girl had the most beautiful baby girl – huge baby eyes, healthy-looking, interested in everything and dressed in a little pink dress.
The group was uniformly engaged and interested in what Mr. M is saying. And that seemed to have something to do with inventorying the drugs used in the area. One the white board he listed nine, I recognize cocaine and petrol. The list also included Gubeli (Ecstasy) and Pombe (Alcohol). In Africa drugs touch youths 15-45 in large numbers. Above that age the user population is smaller and not significant.
Nikki occasionally tried to relocate her video camera and tripod in the tightly packed space. She had ear phones on and was monitoring sound as well as visuals. She was trying to be inconspicuous but that was a challenge with forty-some people packed knee to knee to a 16×10 space.
While there has always been traditional drugs used in Tanzania, today’s more serious problem stems from the movement of ‘hard’ drugs from the eastern countries such and Pakistan and Bangladesh in the 1970s and 80s. Africa originally was not a market, just a transfer point but it wasn’t long before the merchandise was tested. When drugs were introduced in the 1980’s (by North American standards that was actually quite late) HIV/AIDS was introduced during the same period of time. And the danger of drugs is not just the injections. Under the influence people will engage in riskier sex and there is the possibility that a user may be raped or sodomized while high. The group is warned that IV drug users have twelve times more chance of being infected with HIV/AIDS.
The discussion moved on to safe injection sites, an interesting concept for the African participants as it seemed to them (and some Canadians will agree) that this is the government condoning drug use. But Jolene made the excellent point that not only does this work to stop the spread of HIV and Hepatitis but it also puts the users within reach of councilors and services which may lead to possible recovery.
At one point Mr. M got caught up in the discussion and perhaps forgot to translate or have Mr. Bennet translate. After forty minutes of animated Swahili, he explained that one young man in the front row has stated that he used that morning; he wanted to know what Kimara could do for him. Mr. Manyama’s response, translated for our benefit, was “ We will listen to you. We are here for you.” (I suspect from the length of the discussion that this translation was not comprehensive) But now I understood why Mr. Manyama’s focus was on the Swahili discussion. He was engaged with someone he felt was ready to receive help. To stop and translate would have been a distraction at a crucial point. As well as we were treated at Kimara’s sessions, at that point we were secondary and after a very brief translation (or perhaps more an explanation) Mr. M returned to the Swahili discussion.
At the end of the session Mama Kiwia spoke to the group in Swahili. There was lots of vocal agreement with her comments. Despite their circumstances and the facts of poverty and despair this group faced, they put their heart into this discussion.
When one of our group asked whether drug users here were ostracized by their families (as they sometimes are in Canada), the answer was yes – for those who still have families. Many in this group had lost their parents and other family members to AIDs.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 The Grandmothers

IMG_1894The first thought that struck us when we joined the group of twenty-one “Mamas” today was that some of them looked pretty young. Mr. Manyama explained that there were two reasons for this: In Tanzania it is not unusual for girls to marry quite young and have families, so there were indeed grandmothers who were barely middle aged. Some of the group were widows looking after their own children and some were aunts or sisters. They were the sole providers for the children they were raising and each of these “Mamas” had received a interest-free loan from the Stephen Lewis Foundation through a program administered by Kimara that allowed them to start some type of entrepreneurial enterprise and put food on the table each day. The shocking fact, for us, was that the maximum loan each Mama received could not exceed $200,000Tsh ($200USD). That small start was enough of a leg up for each of them that they were able to eat each day and some could even afford to pay the school fees for their children.
Kimara has administered two rounds of interest-free loans through the Stephen Lewis Program and saved (not too strong a word) thirty-two families. The third round of funding is coming up and they are hoping to add twenty more this time around. Beyond the micro-loans Kimara offers training in small business skills and helps the recipients go on to access money from institutions in Dar es Sallam. Since there are no property laws to speak of in Tanzania, and few people have a proper deed to a farm or a home, it is not possible for them to use these as collateral for a loan. Instead, sometimes individuals will join together and a groups of five will all co-sign for each other.
In turn each of the Mamas spoke and told us their stories. I’ll relate some of them here…
Mama Rhoda cares for nine children. School fees for two of the children are paid by Kimara. Her son has been moved to a program for exceptional children as he is very smart and her greatest hope is that someday he can attend University. Mama Rhoda cooks and sells fish.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 The GrandmothersMama Flora’s husband died in 2002. Her children are in grades 5, 6, and 3. She couldn’t afford three meals a day for her children and a friend suggested that she go to talk to Mama Kiwia. With her loan money she set up a road-side stall selling food but was thrown out by the authorities because she didn’t have a permit. Mama Kiwia helped with the permit and now she runs a legal roadside stand. She knows how lucky she is that Kimara was there and, Mr. Manyama translates, “Now she can have breakfast with toast just like everyone else”.

The third grandmother started off with a prayer in Sawhili. Her husband died in 1999. When her child died she was left to look after her grandchildren (I’m not sure how many. Sometimes numbers get lost in translation.) She sells charcoal. Which she buys from the “wholesaler” in large sacks, repackages, and sells. Because of this, her grandchildren can afford bus fare to school.

Christina had three children. One survived. She takes care of her grandchildren. Christina does baking. With her Steven Lewis loan she bought a cow. And in a two for one deal, the cow calved not long after! From her cow she is able to collect 18 liters of milk each day, of which she sells 15. A liter of milk costs $1,000Tsh (~$1USD) , so she makes approximately $15/day. She obviously is doing very well on this relative scale. She now has twenty ducks that she raises to sell and has bought a bull. She is paying back her loan (yes, they all pay back these loans!) from milk profits.

Rosemarie was married in 1990. Two and a half years later her husband died leaving her and two children. She had no means of feeding her children. She did any casual labor she could find to buy food and she tried to keep her children in school. One day when she came back from work one of her children (Violet) was missing. It turned out she had gone to see Mama Kiwia who she heard help families like theirs. Mama Kiwia met with the child and told her to have her mother come to speak with her. Kimara paid for the school fees and, when the Stephen Lewis money came, Rose Marie got a grant to set up a business selling second-hand clothing.

Several other Mamas told us their stories. They also told us to “bring back the message to Canadians that the Mamas have ideas. They are not empty-minded”. They blessed us just because we were Canadian and stressed again and again that the Stephen Lewis Foundation saved them and their families. When they were told that Ashley had been the person who suggested the Stephen Lewis Foundation Grant to Kimara, I’m sure they would have canonized her for sainthood, there and then, if they could have.
Later the grandmothers sang and danced. The first song was about Kimara and the Stephen Lewis Foundation and people helping people and lifting each other up. Nikki videotaped it and we promised that the Foundation would get a copy when we returned to Canada.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 The Grandmothers

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 Home Visits

Today we accompanied Mama Elizabeth and Mr. Manyama on two home visits. The first was with a grandmother raising four of her grandchildren. When we arrived, the Mama and her grandchildren, spread reed mats under a tree in the yard and we all sat comfortably. The Mama told us her story; she used to be a teacher (for 30 years) and five of her children died of AIDs. They were all educated and professionals. She spent all of her retirement money caring for them and now she’s looking after their children, Spelasia , Eric, Witness, and Sharon. She showed us the small garden where she grew food for the family and brought out some of the reed mats she and the children wove. A large mat (~8X8) would take up to a month to weave by hand and would sell for $35,000Tsh ($35USD) and smaller ones were$20,000-25,000Tsh (~$20-25 USD). With the money she made selling mats she paid the children’s school tuition. Although the mats were bulky and would be a challenge to pack, two of the girls bought one each. It was a great sales day for the Mama and before we left we gave the family a gift of Maple Syrup from Canada.
The second home visit was with a grandmother who lost four of nine children to AIDs. She caught HIV herself while caring for her daughter, and now she is raising her grandchild, Angela, a gorgeous eight-year old who also has HIV. Her remaining children will have nothing to do with them because they are afraid they their families may catch the virus.
During these visits the Kimara team brings small bags of corn and wheat, they check that the families are accessing the ARV (antiretroviral) programs available to them and continuing to take the medications. That these medications need to be taken with food is an issue for people who don’t have food.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 Kimara Peer Educators Orientation

The Kimara region is called a “peri-urban” region of Dar es Sallam. We might call is a “suburb”, but once you’ve experienced it, you’d know that the word “suburb” doesn’t quiet bring the right images to mind. It is a sprawling neighborhood of deeply rutted dirt tracks lined with 8×10 and 10×10 corrugated iron shops. The nearby homes are a hodge-podge of the same corrugated iron, wooden sticks, mud, thatch, and occasionally grey fire bricks. In front of most huts, people tend charcoal cooking fires. There is no electricity and no running water here. There is not much wood available and it seems all of the cooking fires are made with charcoal. Charcoal production is actually illegal in most Africa countries because it is taking a significant toll on the continent’s forests. In the bush, trees are harvested and burned in combination with sand to produce the charcoal “pellets” (a generous term for black chunks). These pellets burn longer than wood alone and are the main fuel for cooking and heating. A plastic shopping bag of charcoal will sell for about $1,000Tsh (~$1USD).
Current statistics suggest half of sub-Saharan Africa’s 600 million people (leave out the Arab countries of North Africa) live on just 65 American cents a day. Robert Guest, author of The Shackled Continent suggests that even this figure is “misleadingly rosy”. In Kimara I know I am amongst the people on the low end of that statistic. Yet, as our mini-bus lurches and bumps along to the KPE office that first morning, Ashley tells us that we’re going to love this place; it is her favorite place on earth. She right of course; we do.

So how do you go about tackling an HIV/AIDs epidemic if you are just one person in a community where at least two of every ten people are infected? (Tanzania HIV indicator Survey, 2003-2004) In 1992 Pfiriael (Mama) Kawai joined with seven others to start Kimara Peer Educators . Kimara’s core activity area are:
Integrated prevention
Information dissemination
Care and support
Capacity building to local emerging NGOs/CBOs on HIV/AIDS Programming
Participation in research and linking it to grassroots communities for effective HIV/AIDS responses
Networking and collaboration

As needs were identified (such as school tuition support and drug counseling) Kimara has expanded their activities where they could to meet the needs. But they have always adhered to the core values of peer education and community action. In 1996 Kimara became an official NGO (non-government organization) which made it eligible for foreign aid.
Today over twenty people work /volunteer at Kimara and there are three satellite offices where counseling and peer tutoring sessions are held. These are still in the Kimara district but perhaps five to ten kilometers away. When people have no way to travel except by walking, it is important that Kimara can bring its program to other parts of the community and they are very proud of the satellite operations.
During the orientation session with the Kimara staff we got to put some context around what they were trying to accomplish. In this community most families eat one meal a day. An average family would be six people and it wouldn’t be unusual for them to rent one room. There are no subsidies for the unemployed. Since in all of Africa only one person in ten holds a formal ‘job’ (Guest, 2005, The Shackled Continent, p75 ) that stat would be closer to one in a hundred in Kimara. Primary education (to grade six) is free though bus fare to school is the reason many children cannot attend. Secondary school tuition (grade seven to twelve) is $20,000Tsh/year ($20USD). Unemployment is still a problem even for the educated and unemployment leads to a high crime rate.
At dinner that evening our group tried to make sense of what we had seen and heard. Katie Orr, probably because as Director of NSCC International she’d been there before, pinpointed the problem that was unsettling to us. She said, “You’re facing an uncomfortable truth; you are in a position of power by virtue of your passport and your skin color.” To that point, none of us would have described ourselves as rich or powerful, and it wasn’t a description that sat well with most of us.