We got to see two exciting projects this week. The first project highlighted the striking contrast between Tanzania and Australia’s way of operating in the first. The second project was a completely unexpected series of events and discoveries that unfolded from a simple invitation to a party.
The first project was at the Team Vista block of land at Newlands, a new and growing area on the outskirts of Moshi (as the name suggests). The block had one harvest of maize last year and has since stood empty. Team Vista’s plan for the block is to build a caretaker’s hut with a small classroom facility, a fence to border the block from the random roads that spring up though paths of least resistance, and a workshop, made from shipping containers where youth can undertake vocational training programs for various trades. The rest of the land would be planted with crops and fruit trees, along with a compost toilet and water well.
Our plan of attack for the day was to receive a truckload of sand, bricks and cement in order to start building. After we arrived and checked the location of the boundary markers for our land (four “specific” bushes in the sprawl of other similar looking bushes), we starting walking around the block choosing the location for the hut.
We had an idea of what we wanted to build (based on sketches provided W&G) and set about explaining these designs, in the sand with a stick, to the fundi (the builders). We then planned how far off the road and neighbouring fence we would want the hut (about 6 big steps seemed about right).
The materials began arriving in waves and further fundi began appearing. With a bit of to-ing and fro-ing (including rotating our layout 90° as “it gets windy from that way, you don’t want the door there”, “oh I actually own this bit of land here, but I’ll sell it to you for $60” etc.) we agreed on a layout between the landowner, the builder, the materials delivery fundi and our team, and bought the small encroaching piece of land.
We started pegging with sticks, bricks, string and a sagging tape measure to pace out the rooms. At first the building was on a 45° angle to the road until we explained we wanted it in line, then it was a parallelogram for a while and then we got it in line with the road and rectangular. We handed over our scrap of paper sketch with a mixture of meters and feet measurements to the fundi, taking a photo for our reference. 4 days later the foundations are down, with one wall half built and all the bricks used.
Things can seem frustratingly inefficient or unnecessarily difficult here at times but with everyone present they can turn a sand sketch into a building within hours. The difference between the design and construction process (including the lack of safety or certification standards) here and back home blew my mind.
The second and, unexpected project, we experienced began with an invitation from Steve, a local Masai friend of Caroline’s, to celebrate the birthday of their radio station at their local village and to stay overnight. “What a great trip” we thought, a chance to experience traditional Masai life out in the African plains.
It was a 6 hour long, dusty, bumpy, drive. I was starting to wish I hadn’t worn a white t-shirt, imagining the cold, dusty camp conditions waiting for us that night. I was jolted awake as we arrived, passing an incongruous line of well-built shops and houses, seemingly popping up from the empty desert. We continued past more dwellings and buildings as we drove uphill through a surprisingly well-established community, complete with power lines. It was clear we had underestimated the “remote Masai village” but it was still unclear to what extent.
We were shown into a compound with fully equipped guesthouses, including double bedrooms, ensuites and TVs. Steve gave us a tour of the facilities, which clearly showcased the reason he had wanted us to visit.
This project had started as a library to share ideas among the Masai on farming, health issues, gender discrimination, and to assist in reclaiming their land. Masai could come, read and learn, then return to their communities with new knowledge.
Following this, a series of shelter homes were built for women who were beaten or abandoned in the surrounding communities. In local culture, women only own milk and cows skin and thus had few rights. Then came a radio station to more efficiently spread knowledge, common challenges, issues and music to Masai within a 100km radius. Water wells were dug to access ground water for the site.
In 2003, the community was awarded with won a prize from Ashoka, which brought them to the attention of a Dutch company who gave them a grant. Steve’s father, Martin knew they needed to use the grant as capital for a self-sufficient social enterprise rather than funding for something that would stop when the money ran out. They sent a group of women to the Netherlands to learn to make cheese and yoghurt, utilizing the milk the Masai had in abundance to empower the women in the community. They set up a factory on site to produce yoghurt and cheese to sell to the surrounding communities (I have it for breakfast, it is delicious).
At this point, the exposure to western culture and opportunities it held for their people and traditions were realized. They recognized they would need power and water. The community was growing and needed sustainable, self-sufficient solutions. Using additional funding, the Masai developed a bio diesel production plant, which uses beans from a local, hardy tree. The bio diesel is used to run a series of generators. The waste from the bio diesel production is then converted into gas. Their aim is to supply power, water and gas to the community, entirely sustainably and self-sufficiently.
They capitalized on what they had (land, cows, milk) and turned it into various social enterprises that could survive after external funding ran out. In this way, they have adapted their culture to the changing environment, as opposed to being left behind by globalization. The foresight, technology and welcoming nature of the community and its leaders were inspiring.
It was an exciting week with Team Vista and tomorrow Sam and I are off to climb the looming and picturesque Kilimanjaro (the highest freestanding volcanic mountain in the world), which towers above us daily. The last time our guide Richard went up was with Lily and Ben, we’re looking forward to it and hope to write to you next after reaching the almost 6000m high summit.
Lucy Pocock - Civil Engineer, Wallbridge & Gilbert
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