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Posts tagged ‘livelihood’

Break Time

Arusha, 15-Sep-2011

My co-worker and Community Coordinators: Wilson, Evarest and Jordan

Damn time flies fast! A month and a half went by while I am working on my Ilboru Livelihood program and grant round. For someone who’s used to living it up, visiting new places every week and taking the long road, it is quite a shock. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the work I am doing and I am happily burning the midnight candle to get things done faster but I needed a bigger brake then the regular dinners and night out in town.

Our gang

I was in luck too: my host family, the Kimambo, was the best one out of all the other volunteers’ families including the ones from other organizations. I build up a fun and great relationship with my brothers and made sure we’re always together whenever I was out in town with my volunteer friends. All in all the group was composed of: Ishan, a teenage Californian working with me, Matthias, Andrea and Tobias, 3 fun Danish volunteers working in an orphanage and my 2 brothers Wilibrod and Gady. I even sometimes managed to get permission from Mama to have my younger brothers, Dominic and Gody, join us on an outing. Soon enough we all gelled together and we started planning bigger excursions.


That bodes well since I took it on myself to set-up a Safari company for Gady and Wilibrod to allow them to reap the benefits of the tourist industry vs. being at the mercy of the big Safari companies.  Imagine that as professional registered guide, Wilibrod makes $10/day while a 1 day camping Safari starts @ U$D150/day (at least double the price for lodge stay). The difference in income between the majority of Tanzanian and the top percentile of rich entrepreneurs is staggering (96.6% of Tanzanian live at less than U$D2 per day >> see WIKI – click on the sort arrow in table and Tanzania is worst between the 125 polled countries). You should just walk Arusha’s rich neighborhoods where villas rival anything you see in Westmount (Montreal) or the Bridal Path (Toronto).   And while I am working on the logistics, costs and marketing of our new company, Wilibrod and Gady were preparing trips for their first “clients”: us :). We wanted to climb Kilimanjaro and go on Safari. But as a start we set our aims on a more modest targets: before Kili, let’s start by training our sore legs with hikes in & around Arusha’s beautiful surroundings and before we drive into the Serengeti’s endless plains, how about visiting a couple of nearby National Parks?

Join me on these trips by checking the pictures

Photo album




Round One – Ilboru

For Ilboru’s grant round many mamas came along fishing, looking for easy money from the “mzungu” and it proved harder than expected to identify genuine candidates. My initial aim was to elect 10 mamas but I had to settle in helping 7 women… and 1 man!

The Draw

Each grant recipient has a donor associated with her/him.  What do I mean? Well, as a special thank-you to all my friends & family who donated to make this project a reality, Naomi, my younger Tanzanian sister, drew each candidate’s names and assigned it a donors.  These are the first 8 grants, more to come later. Please note, the amount granted to each candidate has absolutely no connection with your donation amount, as all were put in a pool and I just drew from it as appropriate.

Below is a resume of each grant recipient. A couple of notes:

  • Tanzanian people are often called by their eldest child’s name, regardless if it’s a boy or a girl. For instance, Agnes eldest child is Maggie, thus she’s called Mama Maggie.
  • I you catch my drift… I removed the HIV status of each Mama.

Quick jump to each candidate:

  • Agnes Faustini– – – – – – – – – (Mark & Kathy and Julia)
  • 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)
  • Alex Luka – – – – – – – – – – – – – (Alisson and Barry)

Agnes Faustini – Mama Maggie

Thank you Mark, Catherine and Julia


Agnes is a very quiet and shy, divorced mother of 3 living in the Ilboru region. Her living situation is quite poor, sharing a 1 room house of mud and stick construction with her children: Marguerite (F, 16, mentally challenged and was taken out of school), Antonia (F, 14, Form 1) and Evodia (F, Std 4). As a business Agnes rents a small and basic “4 poles and a roof” stall on the side of the main Ilboru Juu road where she sells vegetables and fruits. She’s been running this business for 5 years and makes around 15,000Tsh/week, barely enough to suffice her family.  Agnes doesn’t seem to be able to exit her low earning biz cycle. Recently, she took Marguerite out of school (it seems Magi couldn’t cope with her class education level) and Angelina, a seamstress and one of our success story from the 2010 grant round, took Magi under her wing and is teaching her how to seam.

Agnes's home

Agnes wants around 60,000Tsh from FutureSense to expand her vegetable offering by providing products her customers are currently requesting: cooking bananas, sweet bananas, coconut… and other seasonally available produce.  Although many other vegetable vendors are present nearby, Agnes have a faithful customer base including Sam and Sister Lucy (and temporary me ;)). She mentioned she wants to concentrate on selling products which Ilboru residents do not grow.  Personally, I have some concerns on her business expansion plans, most importantly the fact she will have difficulties increasing her customer number in this small neighborhood and with many competitor nearby. She could expand into other markets and diversify her offering (more than fruits and veggies) yet a seemingly lack of enthusiasm weight her case down.  On the bright side, people familiar with Mama Magi mention she works very hard on her business and is dedicated to raising her family: within her limited means, Agnes always makes sure her living situation remain stable.

Veggie stall

After discussing all the pros and cons with the team, we recommend issuing a loan to Mama Maggie based on her living situation and the fact that although the potential of biz growth is small, her ability to run a stable business will assure a small and steady income increase for her much in need family. At the same time, Sam and I have been pushing Agnes to provide us with more ideas to expand her business: can she grow her stand size? Can she offer more products to sell? Or maybe diversify into new product lines on top of her veggies?… unfortunately it is hard to get Agnes engaged, with one of her biggest concerns being the owner of the shack; he will substantially increase her stall the rent (currently a mere 2,000Tsh/mth) if he noticed she’s making a higher income. I will even go as far as describing this fear as being a “blinding handicap”, overpowering any thoughts Agnes have in term of expending her business, leaving her frozen in her current living condition.

As it stands now, the grant amount requested is still unchanged although it might be reviewed as we help her develop her business plan.

Anna George  –  Mama Grace

Thanks Albin


Anna is a previous grant recipient back in 2010. Anna has a “mboga-mboga wa matunda” (vegetable & fruits) stall and she used the initial grant round to expand her business offerings. Based on her and Sam’s feedback, her business was doing pretty good… until a piki-piki hit her while she was crossing the street. The accident left her severely injured and Anna required 6 months of hospital, rehabilitation and rest which took its toll on her business. Not only she could not attend her business, she had to downsize and borrow money to pay her hospital bills.  On a bright note, she got financial support from both DINKWA and the other grant recipients! Unfortunately the accident also had indirect victims: Anna’s children! Grace (F, 15, was in Form 2) had to abandon school because Anna couldn’t afford the tuition fees. As for her son Moses (M, 22) he left technical school and now is an apprentice motorcycle/moped mechanic and. All 3 live in a small 1 room mud and stick house which Anna rent for 15,000Tsh. Today, Anna is back selling vegetable but her offering is very limited due to lack of capital. Any money she saves is used to repay her medical bill loan which still stand @ 50,000Tsh, a year after the accident.  Discussing with Sarah, we feel Anna would greatly benefit from our help, allowing her to get back on her feet again.

All we want to do is to replenish Anna’s stall with a top up.  She asked for 150,000Tsh to buy 50Kg bags of potato and onions (1 bag each). However, I am not sold on that sum not the least it’s supposed to be a further help. Beside, Mama Maggie’s stall is 50m away and we granted her 60,000Tsh to expand her business. We just have to follow the same treatment be fair to both women.

Berth Alex – Mama Alex

Thank you Nada, Eric & Yasmina

Mama Alex

Mama Alex is a happy and popular owner of a fried fish stand not far from DINKWA office. She has also become my favourite lunch spot in Ilboru.  Her stand is pretty rundown: 4 poles and a very dirty tarp as a roof (previously white and full of holes). A small bench is all she can offer her customers yet it doesn’t stop them from coming regularly to eat; many repeat customers from the nearby businesses and small workshops flock to her stand at lunch time. It’s not uncommon for Mama Alex to sell most or all her fish by early afternoon.

Space management: behind the curtain is the bed

Berth lives in a rented room just behind her stall and shares it with her daughter Helena (F, 14, Form 2) and her grandson Leonard (M, 7, std 2) who was abandoned by his mom Monaicha (Mama Alex’s daughter) when she ran away. Mama Alex was very emotional and cried when she told us the story of her son Alex: he was a piki-piki driver (small motorcycle used as taxi) until Alex got into an accident a couple of month ago which left him with a multiple fractured left leg. His severe injuries are a disability and Alex is currently unemployed with a bleak future ahead. Alex and his family fully rely on his mother for their daily life needs (food, cloth, medicine,…); Mama Alex even pays their 1 room rent. So I went ahead and approached Alex to evaluate if he would make a good grant candidate. See bellow 🙂

Once it's fried, it doesn't matter

All of the above leaves Mama Alex in a very weak financial situation. Alex’s medical bills took their toll and consumed all her savings, not to mention she has to provide for 6 persons (incl. her) now. She’s requesting 100,000Tsh to buy more fish from the market as well as cassava, fries, banana, oil,… allowing her to sell more plates per day. We have no doubt in Mama Alex’s business growth plan and her ability to handle the increased number of patrons: her stall is ideally located on a busy alley connecting Ilboru to Mianzini.  However we would like to further help Mama Alex by improving the stall itself. With the rainy season approaching, her business will take a hit as the shack will not be able to shelter her cooking area, let alone the customers. Based on previous years, her monthly income will be significantly cut and Mama Alex is really worried; she has so many family members depending on her.  Currently Mama Alex is heading our advice to look at ways to restore her shack and we are doing the same on our side.  We should all be ready to analyze her latest proposal this week or at the biz training course.

Catherine Mesa

Thank you Tony, Linda & Victor


Catherine (real name: Cadherini. Tanzanian write phonetically using their alphabet pronunciation) has a very difficult life and she cried many times while we were talking to her.  She has been abandoned by her family after her marriage (for religious reasons) and her husband then abandoned her and their 3 kids for the rich owner of the home they used to rent. Her husband did not only abuse her, he also refused to provide any financial help to their 3 children: Peter (M, 14, finished Standard 7 but now out of school as she cannot afford his Form 1 tuition; he’s depressed and wants to head back to school), Steven (M, 7, Std 3) and Anna (F, 6, Std 2 who told me while I was playing with her: “I love to go to school”). Currently they all live in a rented, small 1 room house in a field of banana trees up in Sanawari Juu. Even a rooster, a gift from her neighbours, lives inside the house for fear of it being stolen.

What 13,000Tsh rent (the leftmost room with the white draped door)

Catherine used to be a waitress in a restaurant making 2,000Tsh/day but the restaurant closed and she was left with no job other then roaming the streets selling used cloth as well as doing the occasional hair braid.  She earns around 7,500Tsh/week, a far cry from her previous income and an impossible sum to sustain her family’s daily life needs. She relentlessly asks everywhere she goes if anyone can offer her a job, but no luck.  Catherine is stuck in this poverty cycle and badly requires our help to break free.

Catherine and Sarah @ home. Everything in 1 room

During our many meetings with Catherine, we realized that the starting cost of her new biz will top the higher end of our grant amount at about 200,000Tsh.  We are working on ways to reduce or postpone some of these costs but still, we strongly suggest helping Catherine exit her poverty cycle.

Note: Catherine was sick the past couple of weeks and we couldn’t meet with her. As if things couldn’t get worse, it turned out she got hit by Malaria. She’s recovering however we suspect Catherine’s current business took a severe hit on her already dismal financial situation and poor living condition.

Fatuma Shabani

Thank you Ziad & Mireille

Fatuma rents a 2 room house in Mianzini where she lives with her 2 children: Zahara (F, 13, Std 7) and Maliki (M, 9, Std 4). However, when we visited Fatuma, a “wife of a cousin” with her baby daughter were also living “temporary” there.  Fatuma’s living condition can be described as OK: the house is tidy and clean, and the rooms are fairly big. The question is: why 2 rooms when other Mama’s in similar situation have only 1? I could only assume someone else also lives here.


Fatuma’s husband “disappeared” (read: left her) a few years back and Fatuma is still very affected by this fact and couldn’t hold back her tears when I initially asked about him.  However she soon gathered back her composer and showed enthusiasm when she explained to us about her work; Fatuma is a hairdresser and works in nearby Ilboru. She sets up shop on a rented sidewalk in front of a convenience store. Sitting on a bench while her customer sit on the floor, she does braids, rastas and other hairdressing requests. She manages to earn an average of 25,000Tsh of weekly income in the high season and a low 10,000Tsh after Xmas and during the rainy seasons.  Fatuma really impressed us with her hairdressing skills: she’s extremely knowledgeable in a multitude of hairdressing requirements and has the knowhow to apply them even without any fancy equipment.  Of course, these are cheap workarounds she adapted to face hers and her client’s financial situations. Fatuma mentioned she is well sought after in the community and I can confirm that fact: I pass in front of her sidewalk almost daily and Fatuma is always hard at work with a client.

This is Fatuma's saloon

Fatuma’s aim is to open her own hairdressing saloon and she boasts the business knowhow to do so. She was one of the few women who provided us with a business plan within a few days of asking her to do so. And once we limited the grant amount we could provide, she knew immediately her priorities and where the revised smaller figure should be spent. I approached her with the idea of teaming up with another person to share the costs of the saloon and maybe even the equipment (I have Catherine in mind), but to my surprise, a biz partner is not at all an appealing idea to her. Many problems seem to arise in such a case and Fatuma had a previously bad experience, partially responsible for her situation now. Even after I introduced both ladies to each other and let them discuss in private this collaborative business idea, it was a no-go.

For now, Fatuma is asking for a grant of 300,000Tsh, with the amount divided between buying a 2nd hand hairdryer (150,000Tsh) and saloon/hairdressing products: Oil, Rasta, makeup, combs, scissors,… We understand this amount is still 50% higher than the max amount FutureSense can allocate and we will be working with Fatuma during the biz training to analyze different options and elaborate a biz expansion plan through time.

Miriam Joelle – Mama Joelle

Thank you Jason, Becky and Violet

Mama Joelle

Mama Joelle is a widow and mother of 8 living at the far upper end of Ilboru Juu. She’s a very funny woman, full of life and always making Sam and Jordan laugh. She makes artesania for a living, crafting bracelets and necklaces from beads but is facing increased difficultly to sell. She also joined a cow farming scheme where she will fully take care of 2 cows, split their daily milk production and make them breed. The 3rd offspring of each cow is hers to keep. Since she lives next to grassy and wooded area, she does not need to buy cow food as she goes twice a day, morning and evening, to collect grass and shrubs and feed the cows. The problem is: 1 cow seems to be impotent while the other barely makes 2 litres of milk per day, not even enough for its own offspring. I still do not understand why she’s still in this scheme since neither of these cows are producing enough; I never managed to get a logical answer to my many questions but I requested decisive answers/solutions she will take on that front prior to us granting her a loan.

Beautiful but doesn't bring food to the table

Currently only 4 of Miriam’s children live in her house: Lucia (F, 22, didn’t do well in Form 4, stopped going to school and currently unemployed), Shales (M, 20, masonry but work is rare and even if he has a job, does not contribute to the family), Cecilia (F, 18, also did not finish school, currently helps her mom in doing artesania) and Lengarivo (M, 15, stopped school at Std 7, wants to be a mechanic). Miriam owns her land where she spent the past 9 years building her house: it is fairly new yet in disorder. Actually, her whole property is in disorder.  The garden is littered with rubbish and not fully planted even if she’s extremely lucky, having 2 streams of water passing by her house. The cow “barn” is in a sorry state and not regularly cleaned. The chicken coop can’t be called as such: it’s a bunch of corrugated metal sheets on one side and wire mesh on the other. I think Mr. Everest will fervently oppose such a coop to raise chickens.

That's a sorry looking chicken coop. Must rebuild or it's a no go.

But this is exactly what Mama Joelle wants to do: raise chickens. She is facing many dead ends in her businesses thus she wants to start anew. I talked to several other maker of similar artesania (bracelets and necklaces), as well as in the Maasai market, it is clear this is a dying business; definitely not a sustainable way to provide a living. During the tourist or festive seasons Miriam makes at most 30,000Tsh per month yet almost nothing in the rainy seasons. Most of her sale comes from hotels who call her when they have interested tourists otherwise she sometimes joins the hoards of other sellers who line-up outside churches and halls when a ceremony or wedding is taking place.  Add to that the aforementioned cow and garden situations and it’s obvious Miriam is having a very tough time making ends meet especially with her children still depending on her.

Several facts makes me hesitate granting Miriam a loan and I discussed them with her: why isn’t the garden fully planted for food? Why are the coop and cow barns in such a bad state? Why is the house surroundings filled with pile of dirt and litter abound?… in short, how can I gain enough confidence in her commitment to work and compel me in issuing you a grant? In particular, how do we make sure the chickens will be well cared for, thus assuring you a steady revenue stream? She kept assuring me that she’s working as hard as she can to tend to her work & home and I have no doubt on that front.  My concern is she’s stretched out thin and her many daily tasks are too much for any one person to handle alone.  So why don’t the kids, other than Cecilia, lend a helping hand? Not that they are really “busy” anyhow.  Personal opinion: The children’s school records indicate they are below average and combined with what I witnessed during my visits, there seem to be a factor of laziness from the kids. It’s a pre-conception but on several occasion, Miriam mentioned to us: “I raised my kids well; I hope they will be there when I really need them”.  That said, she also seem to lack basic & fundamental business knowhow: She did not even know her artesania cost per item and thus, her profit. For example, she couldn’t explain why she sells a bracelet at 5,000Tsh vs. any other price? She just follows the market price and seems quite content doing so.

Only after my 4th visit that I realized that Mama Joelle cannot read and write which explain much of her troubles as people take advantage of her. Although I noted my reservation in approving a grant to Mama Joelle, I have to admit she is in a dire need for support. Miriam always showed an enthusiasm to learn and she insisted she knows and understands the need to take extreme good care of her chickens, “Otherwise they will die!”.  She even tried to improve the chicken coop in between our many visits which shows commitment and resilience…  Upon further discussion with our team, we believe the best course of action is to invite Mama Joelle to both the biz training and the chicken breeding class we will provide.  In the meantime she will be working on her land and coop, and her friend Stella Emmanuel (a great & successful business woman whom we also interviewed) will be helping on these fronts.

If Mama Joelle shows further progress, we would recommend providing her with a grant for a minimum of 10 chickens and 2 roosters as well as the initial vaccines and medicines needed to care for her livestock.

Theresia Alfonsi

Thank you Francoise


Theresia is very hard working widow who lives in the Ilboru area.  You can always see her commuting to and from the main market or tending her veggies and fish & fries stalls. She rents both the stalls and her 1 room house for 40,000Tsh/mth and 25,000Tsh/mth respectively. A total of 6 persons live at home. Theresia has 4 daughters: Yosephina (F, 18, studies in college for teachers), Scholastica (F, 16, Form 3), Siya (F, 13, Std 7) and Neema (F, 9, Std 2). She also takes care of Esta (F, 14, completed Std 7) who doesn’t go to school anymore but rather helps around and tend the stalls when Theresia is away. Esta (phonetic Swahili for Ester) gets a monthly salary of 20,000Tsh and seems to be a happy girl, always smiling.

That's home for 6 people

From a business point of view, Theresia is one of the best women I interviewed: very enthusiastic, hard working and determined to grow her business through diversification. She earns around 10,000 to 15,000Tsh/week from selling vegetables and around 35,000Tsh/week from selling fish. She wants to concentrate here effort on expanding her restaurant business, noting: “I will not have all this energy for long”. She has ambitious dreams: she’s looking to rent a place nearby and depending on the location and its size, she either will open a small kiosk or a very small restaurant + seating area. In either case, her grand plan is to have a fridge which will allow her to sell soda and beer alongside her food. She’s also considering buying a bigger quantity of fish for a lesser price per kilo, which she would be able to keep fresh in this fridge.  Not only she thought about ways to bring in more customers to the fish & fries stall but most importantly I really liked the fact she wants to earn more money from her current patrons by simply selling them mores.

Samaki wa chipsi (fish and chips!)

Even if Theresia has less clients then Mama Alex whose stall is 50m away, I have little doubt on Theresia’s abilities to succeed. We researched fridge prices and unfortunately even the cheapest one tops our maximum recommended grant amount. We are looking at a 320,000Tsh for a regular fridge while a small one costs 220,000Tsh; a freezer runs into the 240,000Tsh. Theresia insists on the fact she only likes us to support her in buying a fridge as she can take care of all other items. Not all is lost though: We approached Coca-Cola and they will be interested in supplying Theresia’s new business with a small fridge… with a few strings attached: for one, they need to review the restaurant or kiosk and 2) their fridge can obviously only be used for Coke products.  As I explained to Theresia, it’s OK: she can have the small Coca-Cola fridge for the soda and we will concentrate our research on finding a cheaper smaller fridge for the beer and the fish. She definitely agrees as she also remarked: “Whatever the outcome is, I want to open the restaurant”.  As the say: Attitude goes a long way!

Esta tending the mboga-mboga stall

We strongly recommend supporting Theresia; she has many dependent children and school will only get more expensive as her girls enter Form 1 and above (primary school cost 40,000Tsh while secondary 300,00Tsh+). She also showed strong will and demonstrated business wits and we should support such attitude. Finally although understandably a difficult request, I would like to see Esta back in school. We will invite Theresia to our training session and help her develop her business expansion plans.  In the mean time we will all continue searching for a fridge which falls within our budget (or maybe split the cost with Theresia) and be ready to contact Coca-Cola when she opens her kiosk or seating area. We are requesting to allocate Theresia the maximum grant amount, ideally 200,000Tsh.

Alex Luka

Thank you Alisson & Barry


Alex is the son of Mama Alex (my favourite fried fish vendor). Unfortunately he too was a piki-piki (small motorcycle used as a taxi) victim, although in his case Alex was the driver.  I approached Alex following my interview with Mama Alex as both Sarah and I decided to further inquire upon how we could help his living situation. If you recall, Mama Alex indicated that financially Alex and his family are fully dependent on her, his accident having left his right leg severely injured. Currently, Alex requires crutches to move around and his injured leg suffers from dystrophy. Alex is recently married and his wife is also unemployed, taking care of their newly born daughter.

Not only is it hard to find a job in Tanzania, imagine if you suffer from a disability.  Even so, Alex spirit is high and is eager to work and support his familly.  Listening to him describe his situation seems as if the accident also knocked some sense into him: “I wasted all my time on piki-piki”; “I have my daughter to live for”; “I will do anything for work, a man in my position doesn’t have much choices, so anything is good”,…Too good to be true?  Maybe. To be honest, I still have my suspicions. Still, we are inclined in taking our chances with Alex by helping him find a job or start a biz and hope he’s true to his word.

Alex initially wanted to sell vegetables outside his home, however neither Sam nor I were warm to this idea. First, in the small alley leading to his home there are no less than 5 other vegetable sellers but my biggest concern was who will actually do the job? Who will go get the vegetables and fruits from the central market and tend the stand? I walked these streets long enough to notice that rarely if ever a man is working as a vegetable seller.  He made a very good pitch about it though: “Definitely I will be there, my wife will just help me when needed. I will buy a little of everything and adapt my offering to my clients needs. I will differentiate myself from the competition by offering diverse and fresh fruits and veggies…”. Impressed but not convinced, I pitched the idea of maybe working a more “sedentary” job so as not to overstrain his leg. Tailor for example?

Jordan helping Alex during the our business class exam

During the training, Alex came forward with his new biz idea. A while back, he used to work as a carpenter making wood furniture. Well, that same shop would like to hire him as a sofa upholstery tailor.  He will be paid 2,500Tsh per couch set (a set is comprised of: 1 triple sofa, 1 love seat and 2 single seats). Jordan and I did investigate with other sofa makers in Arusha and can confirm this rate. The stores also told us that a good tailor can do 2 or even 3 sets per day, earning him/her a respectable 150,000Tsh per month. So how many sofas can be sold in Arusha? Well according to the sofa makers, a lot and they strongly recommend this job. I failed to grasp their logic and they couldn’t answer me how come an upholstery tailor profession is not a thought after career? One more note: none of the sofa fabricators wanted to actually hire a tailor although we found 1 lady which is ready to teach Alex how to sew upholstery: a 2 week training will cost 14,000Tsh.

We will be meeting soon with Alex to discuss these development prior to deciding our next move.


Thank you all!


The Apprentice


For the project I signed-up for I will be working with Sam, FutureSense Community Coordinator in the Ilboru, Sanawari and Mianzini neighborhoods. So what will Sam and I do? Well, first we headed out to meet the neighborhood elders, group leaders and local Tanzanian partner organization to gage the general need of the area.  They, in collaboration with Sam, have spread the word among the women and mothers whom are in need and would like to start or expand their business, to come and meet with us. All were waiting this mzungu (white person) who will give them money.

Local Ilboru office

But that’s not what we do! We never hand out cash and the project is much more structured and has more depth as they will soon learn. Painstakingly and one by one, we explained to the mamas our role, our purpose and the way we work.  We then interviewed each women privately to gather as much info as possible regarding their personal life and work: I want to know all about their families, their health (especially HIV status), if they afford getting appropriate treatments, their living conditions, their kids and do they attend school, the husband and if he’s abusive,… bref, I was not only trying to determine the neediness level but also the ability to cope with the extra responsibilities that accompany any new business venture and most importantly, the ability to succeed in their new endeavor.


You soon realize that one of the major cause contributing to the mamas’ poor living conditions stems from the countries social background: many in rural Tanzania still live in a patriarch society, clinging to their tribal past were inequality of women is a defacto status, were abuse and violence against them is rampant, were access to education is practically non-existent and so on.  Unfortunately these women are not helping their cause either. Yes, I do understand the power of a culture and its social traditions or the repercussions stemming from a lack of education; but still few women get organized to change that misconception and most bow to their husband’s behavior.


They also fail to really take care of themselves: many get pregnant at a very young age, have multiple relationships (as do men) but rarely if ever practice safe sex (even if Tanzanians are religiously devout, whether Christian or Muslim, few follow abstinence). This is the daily situation we face and we try to improve it on multiple fronts, concurrently while conducting the grant round: we give seminars and talks on Human rights, Women rights and on HIV/AIDs & how to protect against it.

Cow barn

Coming back to my livelihood project. After the above mentioned subject analysis we do an initial candidate selection, eliminating the non-starter (mostly based on having a “good” income or a livestock: 50+ chickens, 3+ cows,… or a land to cultivate and sell its crops, etc… Technically, we are aiming to help candidates in poorer conditions to attain the aforementioned levels!). Sam and I will now visit each mama’s home, talk to her family & kids and then head to evaluate her work or business. Most are self employed while a few live from whatever her garden or home’s surroundings can provide.

They will manually water these lands from the nearby streams...

...to grow green onions

Let’s be clear her, we are talking bare-bone basic businesses: frying and selling fish, frying or roasting banana or cassavas on the side of the street, selling 2nd hand clothes door to door, raising chickens to sell eggs, working as seamstress in front of a convenience store, hair braiding or rasta on the front porch, etc.  But believe me when I say it’s not easy to grasp their state of affairs; it takes time to figure out their true business state: few really know their actual profit or even daily revenue or why they sell a particular product at a certain price. Doing the math is definitely not their forte and unfortunately a few of them are illiterate.

Same idea

After struggling to gather as much info as we can, we move on to the most important question: “How can we further help you?” …and the real challenge starts. Being patient does not even come close to describing what I went through with these mamas. First, I needed to know the fundamental of their new business idea, yet that core plan is often made up as we go along. If I re-phrase the same question or ask it again the next day, half the time I get a different answer. As simple as “How much will you sell your item?” or “How many items can you sell per week?”… and from 1 day to the other an unprofitable business become a cash cow.  Yet Sam & I had to perceiver: we do role playing scenarios, I used coca-cola bottle caps to do math analogy, we gave examples which they can relate too in the hope of finally “succeeding???” in extracting an answer. Throughout our discussions nearly half the mamas realized their business idea was flowed… only for them throw another idea out of the blue.

Imported 2nd hand cloth killed the local economy

Selling fries won’t work? “How about if I sell vegetables? Or you know, I can do hair braids. But no, I think selling kangas/kitenge is better (traditional colorful garments worn or wrapped around the body). Oh wait, underwear! 2nd hand underwear is good business, everyone must wear underwear”. It doesn’t matter if there are 100 other vegetable sellers in the neighborhood, if so many people wander the streets selling used clothes or if they don’t realize how many underwear someone needs to sell to make a living… “Hey, the neighbor said it was a good business. Besides, I can assure you it will work!”.  Anything since it’s not their money they are gambling with. Sam and I met at least 5 times with each mama, some of them up to 10 times. I had the advantage of time as my stay here is long enough and I was determined to establish a good working base. Not to mention I could not give up on some of the candidates who were in so much need.

Yet even with my best efforts, I will be had by a few mamas (you will read about in my future stories).

Hi mzungu

The hardest part of my work? I had to choose who will make it to the final stage. Imagine having to say no to someone who makes U$D0.80/day for each child, because I have many other candidates making less than U$D0.50/day. Or how can I be really sure a kangas + kitenge business would not succeed?  In other instances I am left flabbergasted: some women as needy as they can be, just refuse to do any effort: they do not attend classes, don’t show up to our meeting and so on… like nothing really matters to them.  Let them be? Yes, I have no choice and we are flooded with other applicants. But it is heart wrenching when you see the situation their own children live in.

Class is on

We narrowed down our candidate list to the few who seemed most adept to receive our grant and Sam & I start conducting the trainings. Everyone had to attend a 2 day basic business and entrepreneurship class and we also offered specific training in each candidate field of work (when applicable): e.g. a veterinary to teach farmers the basics to raising livestock, tailoring course for seamstresses/tailors, hairdressing techniques for braids and rastas,…

Once concluded and in light of the training outcome we conduct one final review with each mama, now that she has a better understanding of the situation: we re-evaluate her business case and improve her plans. Unfortunately, sometimes we also had to stop our engagement with a few candidates.

So who succeeded in receiving a grant?

Read my next blog!   .



Call it a baptism of fire

Call it a baptism of fire! I arrived to Arusha on Sunday at 22:00 and the next morning at 9:00 I was already at work.  My first steps into my volunteer job were to assess the current situation of a couple of our partner organizations.


First, I headed with Sarah, FutureSense Tanzania manager, to visit a kindergarten school where FutureSense recently placed a couple of volunteers. The kindergarten school consists of 2 small & simple rooms with corrugated metal roof and handmade wooden benches.  There are no glass windows yet and the desks were recently constructed by other FutureSense volunteers. But the mere sight of the kids learning in class, then happily running around and playing in the schools yard during lunch break before devouring their daily porridge snack (compliment of our volunteer’s contribution) and I was overwhelmed by a sensation of accomplishment and satisfaction.  Everything seemed to be running smooth until I was invited to assist a “call to action meeting”; our volunteers Bene and Kate had some serious concerns on how the place was run: kids are lacking notebooks, the 2nd teacher barely speaks English yet is supposed to teach it, the teachers are not getting paid, the teachers not always attending class and/or regularly take a half hour tea break, kids getting spanked with a stick,… and Sami crashed back to earth.  I saw the school’s figures before we came here: there are a couple of foreign organizations continuously funding the school.  So what’s really going on here?  Listening to the discussion & reading between the lines, it was obvious someone was skimming off the top.  Definitely not the sort of news a freshly landed volunteer wants to hear.  The pathetic part is, it wasn’t even a guessing game on who our suspect might be: this is a small kindergarten with 2 teachers and a sole, 22 year old young manager!  Nowhere to hide now, is there?  And not only “he” was present at the meeting but so too was the school’s major sponsors, a middle aged couple who were on their yearly visit to “their” school.  Well, the best way to describe what happened next is to recount part of the conversation.

Do you want to teach?

Let’s start with the manager: “So there are no notebooks for the kids to write and draw.  How much does a notebook cost anywayZ?”.  “Oh, hmmm, they are expensive now…” turning to his teachers “how much?”. “300Tsh” (or 20 cents US!).  O-key, let’s move on: “And why didn’t the teacher get paid?”. “They didn’t? well, we don’t have money”.  Did I mention the school and the teacher are fully subsidized?  The worst part, not only the main sponsors did not seem to grasp the severity of the situation, the wife couldn’t stop diverting the conversation and recounting how she started her beautiful school.  They were on vacation in Tanzania and whiles strolling in Arusha they saw this teenage kid which they just had to take his picture.   At first, she thought of adopting him before deciding to come back and start a beautiful organization to help other kids.  And today thanks to her help the teenager she first saw is our young manager.  “… then I realized I can’t save all the children!” To which Sarah quickly snapped back: “They do not need to be saved!! They can do fine by themselves. All they need is a helping hand to get them started, that’s all”. But the women kept padding herself on the back: “Look at the one we did save, look what they have become”.  The meeting continued with our saved-teenage-kid-become-manager explaining how he wants to expand the nursery to become a primary school… wow buddy, easy.  How about crawling, let alone walking, before you run?

Rush hour traffic

OK, enough sarcasm but seriously, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth.  And please, do not get me wrong: I definitely appreciate and regard the donor’s intentions.  It’s the show-off attitude behind it and definitely the miss-management of their aid that just diminishes any good intention, not to mention wastes much of the help offered.  Luckily we had great volunteer placed there and they took it on themselves to get things straightened out, starting by doing a full review of the situation.  Until the final report is released and correction items are implemented, the school has been black flagged on our list.

Neighbourhoods where we work

My second visit on the other hand was the complete opposite of the first:  Shocking to see but encouraging to witness the work accomplished.  This time I accompanied Dan, FutureSense assistant manager and a proud Tanzanian, to visit “BEST Center For The Blind”. BEST is run by a couple of local entrepreneur whose aim is to help blind people from his neighborhood by not only offering them lodging but also food and clothing.  Nestled on the slop of a hill on the outskirts of Arusha, BEST center consists of a rundown 1 floor complex built around a small cement courtyard where sixteen rooms serve as residence for 24 blind individuals and their family.  It’s really crammed, some rooms are shared by 2 families so most residents spend their day sitting outside under the porch.  Another room serves as a chapel and the last one is assigned to be a classroom.  Unfortunately, they can only afford 1 teacher so all kids aged 7 to 13 will attend that same class.  If you think the way I am describing the complex make it sound bad, you should have seen for yourself their living conditions; I couldn’t even bring myself to snap pictures of the center and it’s resident… it was really heart wrenching.  But BEST organization is making a difference, just ask its residents how would they fair on their own? Quoting them: “We were beggars and homeless, roaming the streets and wondering if we would eat tonight or live to see tomorrow”.  FutureSense is looking to place volunteers there as well as raising funds to support building more rooms.   For now, neither is available and we had to leave BEST with a promise to come back.

Water source

Gas shortages

But what about my job?  As you know, some of my great family and friends donated to FutureSense and supported me in raising funds for the purpose of helping impoverished individuals improve their livelihood situation.  It’s worthy to note that I actually chose the job and its challenges, not the location, for my volunteer stint and here I am in Tanzania, calling in for duty.  My FutureSense volunteer role consists of finding candidates, mostly women/mothers, some living with HIV/AIDS, who want to start a new business or expand on their current one.  I would have to sort through their ideas, analyze the pros & cons, establish with them a business plan and evaluate the business’s potential before finally selecting 8 to 10 recipients which will benefit from our support.  We will provide them appropriate training for their business, a small grant to buy them initial equipments and stock needed to start their new venture and an on-going support for 1 year to help them overcome the many problems their business will face.  Our main target is reach sustainability and we strive to build for the long term.

Friendly neighbour

Selling used cloth door to door

Before I dive into my job, what better way for me to understand the challenge I face other then meeting with last year’s candidates?  Not only it turned out to be a very constructive task but it was also a refreshing one, giving me the boost I needed after yesterday’s 2 visits.  I could witness firsthand how FutureSense Livelihood program helped make difference in these women lives. More than half of them are boasting great success stories while out of the remaining women, a few are on a slower route to increased earnings with tangible improvements compared to the previous year (3 meals aday, school for the children, etc…) but sadly (and as expected) a couple just couldn’t break the mold, they wasted the help we provided and are stuck in their poverty cycle.

Car insurance

Soon I will be starting my own grant round and I hope in 1 year time I will be part of a greater success story.

2010 Grant recipient graduation

International Criminal Court over Rwanda

In the meantime I was also meddling in all sorts of projects trying to extend the help I can offer to more individuals and organizations, both on a personal level and via FutureSense.  As Sarah quickly remarked: “When will you have time to tackle all these tasks?”.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t be more right.  Still, with 6 month in Tanzania, I just might be able to pull it off.  Of course, my main goal is to complete my grants round but alongside it, I was analyzing several other possibilities: There’s Upendo, a women group looking for a loan to collectively open a corn mill venture.  Or Mr. Everest, one of our Community Coordinator and an expert chicken farmer who is looking to grow his coop.  I also want to follow up with local banks, financial institutions and clubs to explore possibilities of securing more donations.  On top of my list, I want to help Jacob who with his parents runs LOHADA orphanage, kindergarten and primary schools: They are looking for volunteers as well as financial support and a way to secure a constant food source for their children.  I also approached my neighborhood secondary school to teach math and physics in the morning.  Not to forget, I am also helping my brother Gady establish his Safari Company as well as building its website.  I am also aiming to issue a 2nd grant round in the later part of my journey.  And who knows what else might pop-up tomorrow?  It seems I have fallen into a sort of Shindler’s list syndrome: there is so much to do and I have so many possibilities to make a difference. I know I can help and I want to tackle all issues.  Yet the toughest part is to manage myself and know my limits.  Still, I couldn’t head my own advice: I am happily working until 1AM daily, reminiscent of previous slave days some might say, and I am not declining any request for help….  I am overloaded.

Mama Rafael home

Going to visit a Mama Siroyan

Remember the story of the washed ashore starfishes? For those who might not know it, here it goes:

« A guy was walking along the beach one day when he stumbles upon a huge stretch of sandy shores littered with thousands upon thousands of washed ashore starfishes.  And the strong waves kept bringing in more.  Our guy knew that out of the water the starfishes will soon die so he rushes to t water’s edge, picks up starfishes and start throwing them back in the sea.  Half an hour goes by before a passerby strolling along the shore stops to see what’s going on here.  He walks up to the guy throwing the starfishes back in the sea and asks: “Hey dude, what are you doing?”, “Saving the starfishes!”.  The passerby astonished looks at the distant shoreline filled with washed away starfishes and exclaims: “It’s useless man, there are millions of them. You’re wasting your time and energy. You can’t make a difference”… to which our friend replied: “It did for that one” as he threw back into the sea a starfish he just picked up.»



Jambo! Welcome to Africa

At Boston Public Gardens

I planned several stops on my long journey to Tanzania. First, I took the overnight bus to Boston to spend 5 days with Adriana before my long exodus in Africa. It was the perfect getaway we both needed in one of North-America most beautiful city… 2nd to Montreal of-course ;).  And since Adriana is a Harvard graduate, she knows Boston inside out and I was treated to a deluxe tour of the city. To top it off, both of us also have many good friends there and we shared some great time together.  In particular, I spent 2 extra days with Alex and his family for some quality and fun times with close friends.

Prakriti, Katy, Stuart,... of FutureSense

Next stop was London: There, I wanted to visit my NGO’s headquarter and meet FutureSense and INSPIRE staff and directors.  And what a breath of fresh air was it to meet face to face with the team, especially Simon and Prakriti. Many NGOs exists but few if any have the visionary skills Simon brings in directing FutureSense organization. Any hesitation I had prior to my trip vanished in a wisp while listening to Simon and sharing opinions & ideas about volunteering and its role.  I then headed to London to meet with my very good friend Laura where I spent the next couple of days. Unfortunately, Laura had some business emergency and we couldn’t hang out much but on the other hand, I managed to re-unite with Adele after my 2 year hiatus and we had so much to catch up with.
I “escaped” London prior to the riots (and no, I had nothing to do with them ;). Ironically, we were just discussing about London and what a beautiful, socially active and overall safe city it is and that I might want to live there after my endeavors.  I guess if it can happen in Vancouver it can happen anywhere, eh?  AnywayZ, I personally blame it on Apple: it’s all this iPhone/iPad craze. Everyone wants to get his/her hand on one.

Jambo! “Welcome to Africa”!

Mount Meru... a gorgeous sight

Here I am, setting foot for the first time ever on the African continent! It was a glorious feeling landing in Tanzania, as if I just discovered a new land to explore. Quickly, where can I buy a motorcycle?? ;).  As I walked out of the airport and took a ride to my hostel, my senses where absorbing everything around me.  Although I am over any culture shock when visiting a new country, Tanzania still caught me by surprise on a couple of fronts: for one, it is way poorer than I had ever imagined and two, the locals are extremely nice.

Vendors outside our local school

Allow me to explain: Tanzania is a top tourist destination catering especially to Europeans. My Swiss Air plane of 300 was full of white tourists while African origin travelers could be counted on 1 hand. And if the people coming in and out of Dar Es-Salam airport are a sample of the tourists visiting Tanzania than I can safely gender them as: white, middle aged and rich, many wearing spanking new shoes, cloth and backpacking equipment. Yet as we were driving to our hotel I could see the poverty engulfing this country: un-asphalted and extremely rough roads, litter lining the streets, electricity shortages, run-down houses, hundreds of street vendors selling everything from food, fruits & vegetables to Chinese flashlights and 2nd hand cloth. The Dar Express bus station is a simple dusty parking lot with many tin shops around. Internet shops are few and I would have sworn they were using 56k modem for connections. I thought Tanzania, at least in its major touristic centers, would be on par with Ecuador or Peru in term of living standards… but it was far from it: even Bolivia seems years ahead compared to Tanzania. Disclaimer: My opinions are uniquely driven by my stay in Arusha; however locals and tourists alike keeps reminding me if I am surprised at what I am seeing here, just wait until I visit the non-touristy city & towns. In Arusha, only the major thru fairs are asphalted as well as a few side roads. Otherwise, the city streets are worthy of an off-road moto-cross track: gaping holes litter the rough & rocky streets with the only “reprieve” (sarcasm intended) being the sections of deep sand. Only Land-Cruisers can safely tackle these streets while cars shake & rattle violently, scraping their bottom on every bump in a loud screeching sound, an agonizing scream of something on the verge of disintegrating into pieces.

It's cooking time

Here, everyone and everything is covered by a brownish dust layer; never take white or light colored cloth with you to Africa!  We have 10-12 hrs of electricity shortage per day and the water pressure varies constantly. My homestay is a lot better than the average Tanzanian home, yet it’s as basic as the homes in remote & small villages I stayed at in South America. We use a bucket and a cup to shower but at least we have a “western” toilet vs. the “hole in the ground” type. Hey, it could be worse; we could be like many of our neighbors who have to go fetch all their water from the public taps spread sporadically around the neighborhood.  I do my laundry by hand in the garden using regular soap and couple of buckets of water (for wash and rinse cycles ;)).  Mama cooks over charcoal while water for tea is boiled using a kerosene burner.

Public tap

In sharp contrast, anything touristy is extremely expensive: A 4 day Safari to the Serengeti starts at a minimum of U$D800 in basic camps rising quickly if you choose to stay in lodges. Kilimanjaro climb is a U$D1,200 expedition – during the low season if you please –  while Zanzibar luxury hotels show no vacancy during the summer month. And there’s so much more (and expensive) things to do here in Tanzania. Yet, tourists spend, spend and more spend; every morning dozens upon dozens of Land Cruisers packed with Westerners (“wazungu”) head toward Tanzania’s many national parks and nature’s wonders. However, the money itself doesn’t seem to go on a Safari: A Kilimanjaro porter makes ~U$D 7 a day, a far cry from the stinking rich tour companies make or the National Parks Ministry.  The unofficial minimum monthly wage hover around 80,000Tsh == U$D 50. A local restaurant meal is U$D 1-2, a soft drink @ 35cents, taxi charges $2-3 for in city trip,… Tanzanian people rarely see any of the tourist money.

Yes, you will be hassled in the street to buy goods and souvenirs, to take a taxi ride or buy a Safari trip, but isn’t it the same in any other touristy destination? Here at least, most of the times a simple no suffice; Tanzanians are extremely nice and respectful people. I won’t lie to you; I did have some apprehension prior to landing her. You know, being lighter colored skin I will stand out in the streets and thought: “I am going to be constantly targeted”. Well I was right!! All these little kids running after me screaming “HowRyou?”  :).  Other than that, especially while walking in Arusha’s suburbs, I will answer a lot of respectful hellos. I feel safer here than in many South American cities I visited.

Baba leading the prayer

My host family is the Kimambo’s and I am their 8th member now… well, not mentioning the many family relatives whom drop by to stay with us for a week or 2. Baba is an assistant preacher, Mama works within a community group as well as farms maize in a small parcel of land she rents.  She’s a fun lady, always making the kids laugh and is a great cook.

Mama and Sarah

Gadyel (25) is the elder son but still my little brother ;). He’s an accredited guide although currently un-employed.  I am trying to help him start his own Safari company by working as a freelancer and partnering with established tour companies.  You’ll hear more about it soon but if you or anyone you know are coming to visit Tanzania, drop me an e-mail and your vacation will be in good hands; my sister Sarah (20) is studying with IATA to become an airline travel specialist or stewardess.  Godzef (“Godi” -17) is in secondary school and the do-it-all guy at home. A few cousins stay with us most of the time: Dominique (17), a very bright and hard working high-school kid who I accompanied once to visit his school and chat with his teacher. His brother, Wilbrod (26), is a fun guy and a freelance guide who has no problem being called upon to work. See, Wilbrod speaks 3 foreign languages (English, French and Spanish) and he’s pretty good at them too. So tour companies can send him alone on Safari with a melting pot of clients. I think he can do a lot more with his talent and personality, so let’s see how he exploits it.

My brothers: Gadiel, Godi & Dominique... oh, the white guy is Ishan, a fellow volunteers


And last but not least, Naomi, my 5 year old little sister. Naomi is a pretty fun little girl who just lost her 2 front teeth.  She loves to draw, so I will be getting a few souvenirs prior to my return.  She’s also trying to teach me Kiswahili but somehow I don’t think that’s going very well. One day sitting & relaxing in the garden, Noami was teaching me the animal names: chicken = “kuku”; Dog = “umbwa”; cat = “nyaw”.  That same night while having dinner with my family, our cat Pele jumped in my lap and I proudly said: “nyaw”. Everyone bursted laughing and I just smiled politely thinking “What’s so funny?”. Pointing to Pele, I said “nyaw” again… only to be interrupted: “Yeah, Pele, a cat or “paka” in Kiswahili. Are you trying to talk to him?” :).