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:
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.