Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I’ve never considered myself a teacher, and I definitely do not enjoy speaking in front of people, so when I was asked to teach a business seminar at the church I was a little nervous. But I knew that I it would be a good opportunity to teach others and a good learning experience for me as well, so I agreed.

On Thursday last week 70 people came to the church to learn more about small business and entrepreneurship. I prepared a lesson for everyone based on what I learned from interviewing them over the past few months. After opening with a Bible study about counting the costs and making good plans, I taught about various aspects of marketing and business. I’m definitely no expert on these topics, but with my background in economics, the microcredit summit I attended in Nairobi, and personal experiences I was able to pull together a few things to talk about. I also invited a few other staff members to help me teach about accounting and creative business practices.

Afterwards I realized that I had nothing to worry about—everything went smoothly and all the participants seemed very appreciative. The participants were clients from the home based care program, parents of the orphans and vulnerable children program, and parents of the child survivor program, all of which are programs run out of KMT (the Mennonite church) Dodoma.

Form my interviews with the clients, I have learned that the majority of the people who have taken a loan from the church have failed to pay it back. This is a common problem when a faith based institution hands out money—people assume that it is charity and don’t need to pay anything back. Many of the loan clients didn’t realize that they were actually expected to pay back the money that was given to them. Another problem was that many people ended up not even using the loan for their business, but used it for immediate needs instead, such as food or medicine.

It is a challenge, especially for a church, to just give out loans and expect everyone to be successful in using their loan and be able to pay it back. Instead, I think it works better when people work through community groups. In Tanzania, there are VICOBAs, village community banks, where groups meet weekly to save together and take individual loans from each other. This method is simple and has proven to work well worldwide.

The Mennonite church here in Dodoma has tried to start a VICOBA group, but it has faced a lot of challenges. So the director of Grace and Healing Ministries of KMT thought it would be a good idea if we took a few members of our VICOBA group on a little ‘field trip’ to go and learn from a successful VICOBA just outside of Dodoma. I thought this sounded like a great idea, and I thought it would be interesting to see how this sort of group works here in Tanzania. So I made a budget for out trip, calculating the mileage at 150km round trip—not too far.

…Only, we didn’t realize that we’d have to travel 150km and three hours one way! Five of us, plus the driver crammed into a little pick up truck and drove 77km east of Dodoma on a nice, paved road and then another 70-some km North on a very bumpy gravel road. Before we left, I was told that it would take 2 hours to get there, we’d have 2 hours to meet and share ideas, and then another 2 hours to get back by 6pm. Well, T.I.A.: we didn’t leave until noon, it took at least three hours to get there, and we had to leave after only meeting for 45 minutes so that we didn’t get back super late! It was actually pretty funny—we weren’t sure exactly how far we had to travel on the gravel road, so whenever we would pull over and ask someone how much further we had to go they kept saying ‘mbali sana’ (a long ways) or ‘badaa ya kupanda mlima’ (after you climb up the mountain). That happened about four times before we finally reached our destination. But, like many things here, it ended up being fun just because it was so ridiculous. And even though we were there for a short time, the members of our VICOBA group said they learned a lot to share with their other members and maybe even try to start another group.

This weekend all the other MCC volunteers are coming to Dodoma for team meetings. (I helped convince everyone to come to Dodoma instead of going to Arusha…) And on the 4th we are going to celebrate America’s independence with a BBQ! I’m planning on making guacamole and mango salsa…

I only have two and a half more weeks here in Dodoma!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I think I have finally been able to post a few pictures! It’s taken over an hour to load them, but I wanted to be able to at least share a few visuals to go along with some of my stories. Time is flying by—I can hardly believe that I only have a little over a month left!

This is what a lot of Dodoma looks like

This past week one of our friends, Martin, had a birthday but no one has ever thrown him a birthday party. Leah, Leisha and I decided to show him what an American birthday party is like. (We were also celebrating my birthday which is next week, but since I have had a memorable party practically every 23 years of my life, I decided that it was more important to make sure it was his party, not mine). We made tons of delicious food, including guacamole and mango salsa, eggplant stir-fry, and even Thai coconut curry! Since we don’t have an oven, we had our friend Tiffanee (the other MCC volunteer) make a cake. It was a lot of fun, especially since our friend was so appreciative. I think he’ll be demanding a birthday party from here on out!

Mango salsa, homemade chips, and guacamole. We went with a Mexican team to honor the first World Cup game...

My main task here at work has been interviewing people who have taken out loans to gather information about their current situation. It has involved lots of walking around to nearby villages, home visiting, and meeting with groups of people. The other day my translator, another service worker from the church and I ventured out to find a client near the church. But, when we got to her house, no one was home. We did find lots of pigs though—about 50, including dozens of piglets! I enjoyed taking pictures of them, but one of the big mama pigs kept sticking her snout at my camera…

The pigs, my new friends. Not quite as cute as goats, though!

Last week I interviewed several people during a monthly food distribution at one of the smaller Mennonite churches on the outskirts of town. It’s nice having a translator because he can do most of the talking while I get to do other things, like take pictures and hold cute babies. This baby below that I am holding is named Thomas. At the time he was not only sick with malaria, but also had just fallen off a table a few days earlier… I almost took him home with me, but decided that his mom might not be willing to answer my questions about her loan if I did that.

Me and Thomas

Hopefully by the end of next week I will have most of my research done and then will be able to compile some reports for the church. I just learned that they also want me to conduct a seminar about making business plans and bookkeeping... two things I am not qualified to teach about, but we'll see how that goes!

Although I am really loving living here in Dodoma, I am starting to really get excited about coming back to Seattle. But I have no idea what I will do when I get back. Any suggestions?

Oh, and congratulations to all of you who are graduating--to all my cousins and Chris! Hongera sana :)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Last week I left the simple Tanzanian life that I am familiar with, of rice and beans and cold bucket showers, to get a glimpse of the opposite—the side that the extravagant tourist experiences when embarking on a game viewing safari. My aunt Dora from Cambodia had to come to Arusha for meetings, and decided to treat me and my cousin Stephen (volunteering in Uganda came) to a 6-day safari. We spent the first night in Lake Manyara, the next two nights in Ngorongoro Crater, and the last two nights in the Serengeti. Over the course of our journey, we saw not only the Big Five, but many, many more animals. Thousands of zebras and wildebeests, hundreds of antelope, and dozens of lions crossed our path. We were even lucky enough to spot two leopards and four cheetahs.

Seeing all these different animals was amazing, especially with the scenic surroundings, however just as equally we enjoyed people watching. We saw the old retired groups, equipped in safari suits complete with matching khaki pants and shirt, with too many pockets (and yes, there is such a thing as a ‘safari suit’—I saw it listed as a potential item on the laundry list!). Often times instead of looking for animals, we would look for clusters of Land Cruisers stopped because it meant that the other tourists were looking at something good. Sometimes when we were stopped looking at animals, we would take pictures of the other tourists, just for fun. My favorite group was an older man and women whose skin was burnt red from the African sun, the man wasn’t wearing a shirt and the women was hardly wearing a shirt. They both had mangled hair, and truly looked as if they were ‘living life in the African bush’ (or at least that’s the look they were trying to portray). People are just as interesting as wild animals sometimes!

Having daily hot showers and three big meals a day was just as exciting as watching for wild animals. I’m pretty sure we stayed in some of the nicest hotels and resorts that Tanzania has to offer—some of the hotels were even nicer than places in the States. It was a bit of a shock for my cousin and I transitioning to the tourist life, but we enjoyed every minute and my aunt made sure to spoil us!

Now I am back in Dodoma and back to work. I was actually really excited to come back to Dodoma, which I think is a sign that I am in the right place here (I sort of used to dread having to come back to Dar after being away). I am currently in the process of conducting a survey for the people who have taken loans from the church. I have already talked to about 20 people, and plan to talk to around 50 total. I am hoping that after getting a general idea about the situation of the clients who have been lent money, I will be able to help the church to realize a more efficient and sustainable program. I only have 7 more weeks here (!) but I think in this short amount of time I’ll be able to help improve their lending program.

I can’t believe it’s already June… Leah and Leisha, my housemates, are planning a birthday party for me and one of our Tanzanian friends for next weekend. And, in the beginning of July we're having a MCC team meeting here in Dodoma and are going to have a 4th of July party, so I have a feeling these last few weeks are going to fly by!