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Archive for October, 2011

Meet Poverty

Sokoni1, 13-Oct-2011

We all have seen the news, newspaper pictures and charitable organization ads calling for aid to Africa and displaying the extreme poverty hitting the region. Even as we speak a multitude of African countries, the poorest in the world, are facing an unprecedented hunger crisis and the UN and NGOs are all sounding the alarm. Luckily Tanzania does not face such extreme disasters however poverty still has many ugly faces.

A month and a half has gone by and I am comfortably settled in Arusha. My host family, the neighborhood, my work with the Mama’s,… all is more or less running fine (more on that in subsequent stories). However, throughout my interaction with the locals they often remind me I haven’t seen the “mbaya” (e.g. bad) yet.

I met Yakobo, my best Tanzanian friend to be, by coincidence while strolling my neighborhood’s streets with my Tanzanian brother Gady. You heard about Yakobo, his mom Mama Wambura and their organization LOHADA, through the other projects I established to help them: Banda La Kuku, sponsoring children, etc…   Well, Camp Joshua Primary school was established by LOHADA in the poorest suburbs of Arusha: Sokoni1 and Ungalimited. This area lie a kilometer south of Arusha in a very arid sector since most rivers and streams coming down the slopes of Mount Meru are drained by the communities living on the mountain’s footsteps and ultimately by Arusha itself. Sokoni1 bakes under the sun and is blanketed by a thick layer of dust. That is until the rainy season hits which turns the area into an awful mud pit. Although Sokoni1 isn’t big in size, I estimate a good 15,000 people pack this small settlement.  Most of its inhabitants have left their village lured by the “richness” (subjective word) of the big city only to end up here. Facing worse conditions if they return home, they settle in Sokoni1 where they live in mud and stick houses inter-connected by a maze of alleys. Entire families are crammed in a small 3m*4m room they now call home. The room usually has a bench or a couch, a bed and many foam mattresses they unfurl at night for everyone to sleep on. They have no running water rather a dozen or more 20-liter “gallons” (a.k.a. cylindrical containers) they use to go fetch water from the neighborhood tap. Needless to say there are dozen upon dozen of people, mostly children, each with a pile of 10 or 20 of these gallons waiting for her/his turn to fill up… if they’re lucky and water is available.

Back at their home, the mother and/or elder sisters would be preparing dinner (most families cannot afford lunch here) on a small charcoal grill at their houses doorstep. Some of them cannot even own a grill, so like we do when camping, a few stones and a wood fire makes-up the cooking area. The washroom is common per each compound of rooms and consists of a “big-box with a hole in the ground”. The neighborhood has an awful stench as it’s crisscrossed by open drain and sewers which you have to jump over or juggle to cross by walking a wooden plank.

In this midst of it all, 100’s of kids makes these alleys their playground: they play with wood sticks, with these murky and disgusting drains, they try to find something interesting in the garbage or a favorite, make a football out of the many plastic bags that litter the place. Some of them show real ingenuity: check the picture below for the wooden” car/truck” controlled by a long stick & a string and with wheels are made out of the sole of flip-flops!

Of course once yours truly walks by, this mzungu (white person), then all bets are off and a cortège of screaming kids will buzz around me, some of them wanting to help, other curious about my presence here and all of them screaming and repeating: “how-R-Youuuu” or “good morning” (regardless of the time of day). The sorry state of the neighborhood is also reflected on the kids:  most wear torn and/or over sized old-cloth handed down through the generations, some have no shoes, others are dirty while a few are downright filthy. Worst, once the parents also see this mzungu they send their kids to ask: “give me money” to which I do not shy to go face-to-face and reprimand the parent’s behavior.

What do people here do for a living? That is, if you could call it “living”. Well nothing changes much in the poor world; people join the herd of the many selling a handful of veggies (carrot, tomato, greens,…) in the Sokoku (e.g. the main market), other sell 2nd hand clothes, a few do hair braids while many fry/grill food for sale on the side streets. None of these jobs make ends meet. So the first solution is to procreate and have many children, 4 or 6 in the hope it will improve their situation. Unfortunately poverty also pushes people towards hideous acts: alcoholism is rampant and these people drown their misery in homemade alcohol or beer (usually made out of banana). Child labor is appalling but its worst when the parents send their own children, as young as 8 years old, to work cleaning other people homes, laboring the fields, hauling stuff or getting paid to wait in line for water,… all for a meager sum of ~500TSh/day (30cents) (yet it is an important some for them). Many times I had to  face such situations where, with the help of a teacher or Yakobo or Mama Wambura, we had to go search the neighborhood for some of LOHADA’s school children who, even if offered free primary school, their own parents forbid them to attend in order to “work”! And it only gets worst: prostitution is common and a few cases of under age sex also happen. As for the husband/father, if he’s around that is, he will be worried about his next drink and many take out their anger by beating and abusing his wife and children.

Sokoni1 is not on the radar of most charitable organizations and both the state and the federal authorities seem to have conveniently forgotten its resident.  But this is exactly where I want to work, trying to make a sustainable difference in these people lives. In the coming days I will bring you the stories of the Mama’s we helped thanks to your donations. In the mean time, here are some pictures of the kid’s life in Sokoni1 while next time, you’ll be welcomed in the home of some of it’s residents.



Picture Album

Ilboru Grant Round – Update

Ilboru, 7-Oct-2011

Business Training – Day 1
Sam explaining basic business principals

Sam, assisted by Jordan and myself, conducted the final business training session for our Ilboru candidate and he did a great job. The training session went very well: Sam has a keen ability in teaching and he always managed to get the candidates engaged in the discussion. We also did many exercises on the black board, based on the assumption that we are all running a convenience store business. This allowed the women to better grasp the points we were trying to make. By the end of the 2ndday, I asked the Mamas to fill-in a stock and asset sheet for their initial business investment, as we did during our example. It was also (re)putting in writing the exact same business plan Sam and I have been developing with each Mama for the past months.  But to my great surprise, it was extremely difficult for most of the candidates to complete the form: Sam, Jordan and I spend the next hour helping each candidate (re)list all the equipment and stock they need for their business as well as indicating what they wanted to purchase with the grant awarded.

Business Training – Day 2
Hands on

Still it wasn’t easy. For example, both Fatuma and Cadhrini (Catherine) still presented a request for more than 1,000,000Tsh! Fatuma realised quickly enough that she has to stick to the grant amount and business plan we previously developed together. However, getting Cadhrini back on track proved to be a mission impossible.  For some unexplained reason, leaving both Sam and I completely flabbergasted, she got swept into a dream-become-reality of opening a fully fledged saloon, plus hiring an assistant if you please. Gone was the plan she wrote in her own hand about starting to work as a braid and rasta hairdresser on the sidewalk of Sanawari Juu. AnywayZ, we had no choice but to request another face-to-face meeting with Cadhrini, hopefully tomorrow.

Lunch time (Jordan)

In our Ilboru grant round, a total of 992,000Tsh (or 583 U$D or 381 GBP) in grants will be issued to 8 candidates. Our group is comprised of: 2 hairdressers, 2 vegetable vendors, 2 fried vendors, 1 chicken breeder and 1 man, Alex, the upholstery tailor.


Please find below a description on the initial grant disbursement:

Quick jump to each candidate:

  • Agnes Faustini– – – – – – – – – (Mark & Kathy and Julia)
  • Alex Luka – – – – – – – – – – – –  (Alisson and Barry)
  • Anna George – – – – – – – – – – (Albin)
  • Berth Alex – – – – – – – – – – – – (Nada, Eric and Yasmina)
  • Catherine Mesa – – – – – – – –  (Tony, Linda and Victor )
  • Fatuma Shabani – – – – – – – – (Ziad & Mireille)
  • Miriam Joelle – – – – – – – – – – (Jason, Becky and little Violet)
  • Theresia Alfonsi – – – – – – – – (Francoise)


Agnes Faustini

Thank you Mark, Catherine and Julia

Agnes was awarded 52,000Tsh to diversify her vegetable offering as well as to fix her food stall & slightly increase its size. With her award, she decided to buy green cooking bananas, the yellow bananas and coconut. Unfortunately Agnes had to urgently go to Moshi to be by the side of her sick mother and only once back we could award her the grant.


Alex Luka

Thank you Alisson & Barry

My idea for Alex is to give him a 3 months probation in his upholstery job. We will rent him a sewing machine for 3 month, buy him a stool and cushion and stock him with needles and thread to start his business.  If he succeed and proves responsible by Xmas time, Sarah and I will give him 1 sewing machine. To start, I wanted Alex to attend an upholstery sewing training session for which we will cover the costs.  Even if Jordan and I found a sewing class for Alex, I still asked him to go search for a trainer himself; it’s a simple matter of getting him to start owning responsibility of his employment. Unfortunately, I was left disappointed; when I returned to see him a week later he told me he was not able to find anyone who provides sewing classes/training. Hmmm… it took me, a white guy with broken Swahili, 10min to find a trainer.  Not a good start, is it?

We still enrolled Alex with our tailor’s training and rented him a sewing machine. Adding the cost of the initial stock required Alex would be awarded 67,000Tsh. The gift sewing machine will top 200,000TSh and will not be included as part of the grant.

Sam and I will be following up with his training as well as regularly visiting him at his furniture shop to properly decide our future course of action.


 Anna George

Thanks Albin

Fresh veggies @ Anna’s kiosk

What will be the best approach to re-start Anna’s vegetable sale business? She would like 140,000Tsh to diversify her product offering with her primary choice being potatoes & onions followed by green banana and charcoal.  Although I believe Anna’s idea is sound and have no doubt on her ability to expand her business again, both Sam and I felt constrained in accepting her plan: Agnes ‘s vegetable stall is 50 meters away and she is only requesting 52,000Tsh from us.  Granting Anna her wishes would be unfair to Agnes.  I thus recommend buying half the quantity solicited by Anna and only for the products Agnes currently does not already sell. The final revised grant amount stands at 65,000Tsh.

I visited Anna’s veggie stall last week to buy some of her newly purchased onion and potato and she was extremely happy, relentlessly thanking us for the help. As for the potatoes, ask Bruno, Sam’s brother, he devoured them all prior to us getting back home to eat!!


Mama Alex

Thank you Nada, Eric & Yasmina

Mama Alex business expansion plan was to double her daily fish sale.  As I mentioned before, I had high hopes in her accomplishing this feat; she sells good fried fish and her food stall is always busy.  Unfortunately something must have been lost in translation between Mama Alex, Sam and I.  We awarded 117,000Tsh to Mama Alex to fix her food stall and for her to buy the extra fish, oil, cassava, wood,… The deal was: she will buy her usual amount of fish and we will match her purchases thus doubling her total. Yet when Sam when to the market Sam only bought the usual amount of fish Mama Alex buys: ~150 small and 15 big fish, yet Mama Alex didn’t buy anything (I couldn’t go; if they see a white man, the price doubles!). And she subsequently refused to buy more fish! She played us and just cashed in ½ of our grant money.  To further complicate things, a few days later Sam also awarded here the remaining loan amount to buy material necessary to fix her banda. Unbelievable!

I was caught off-guard, couldn’t believe Sam could let something so obvious happen. It’s not like Mama Alex wouldn’t have stole our money anywayZ, even if she bought for 1 day her amount of fish. Sam just made it easier for her to get away with it. Last week, I tried talking some sense into Mama Alex but then she fell and injured her arm and had to follow treatment for 1 week.

I have my work cut out explaining the simple math logic of how profit will grow if sales grow as it seems we failed the first time.

Cadhrini Mesa

Thank you Tony, Linda & Victor

The situation with Catherine got complicated when she got swept away (probably due to her friends influence) into imagining herself owning a fully fledged beauty salon.  Even if together with Catherine we had developed a step by step business plan to initiate her hairdressing venture, starting with a sidewalk stall, she completely diverged and started following her fantasy.  She asked 1,400,000Tsh from Futuresense even if she knew that our range is max 150,000Tsh. Neither Sam nor I could really comprehend this extreme change of behaviour… nor her stubbornness in insisting

We discussed in details the issue with Catherine and she finally, hopefully, “agreed” to go back to the original plan. Her first task is to look for a street side covered sidewalk where she could conduct both her hairdressing job and used cloth sale. Only at that time we would award her the grant: 3 month sidewalk rent plus the beauty supplies and equipment needed for her job, for a total of: 126,000TSh.  Sam and I will continue meeting Catherine on a bi-weekly basis to provide her with support and advice and we are looking forward in seeing her career progress.

 Fatuma Shabani

Thank you Ziad & Mireille

Fatuma always showed excellent business flair and she managed to find a saloon where she could sell her products while she continue her hairdressing job in front of a convenience store on the sidewalk of Ilboru’s main road (still a dirt road).  Fatuma’s grant was divided in 2 parts: An initial 90,000Tsh has been awarded to her to buy saloon and beauty products necessary to conduct her job. It will allow Fatuma to increase her client number and thus her weekly income.  The deal will be for her to save 240,000Tsh in the busy 3 month leading to Xmas, at which point Futuresense will award her the remaining 110,000Tsh, at which point she will be able to buy the 350,000TSh saloon hair dryer she so badly wants.

I met with Fatuma 2 weeks after the initial grant award and she was very happy with her situation. Even if she admits she’s not on track to meet her saving’s target, she expressed great confidence that in the November and December time frame she will catch up. We will be following closely her progress. 


Mama Joelle

Thank you Jason, Becky & Violet

Mr. Evarest inspecting Mama Joelle newly constructed “Banda la kuku”

We offered Mama Joel complete liberty in buying her chickens. With our 163,000TSh grant, she bought a mixture of thirteen chickens, ranging between 5mth and 7mth old as well as 1 rooster. The chickens were vaccinated and we provided her with a 1 month supply of food, anti-bacterial and vitamins.

I visited Mama Joel a week after she got her chicken and she is ecstatic. She’s getting 2 eggs per day but it’s only a matter of time before the other chickens grow to be able to lay eggs.  Mama Joel also headed my calls: The house surrounding has been cleaned, the vegetable garden is now better utilized and planted ahead of the rainy season and she got rid of the cow which wasn’t producing milk. All in all, Mama Joel is doing great.


Theresia Alfonsi

Thank you Francoise

Theresia Alfonsi is still very much in the hunt to find a place to open a small restaurant.  We both agreed on the following plan: once Theresia has rented a place, we will contribute 200,000Tsh (the maximum grant amount possible) toward the purchase of fridge estimated at 350,000Tsh.  2 weeks have gone by and Theresia still hasn’t found a suitable place yet but both Sam and I have full confidence in her abilities.

The Professor