Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wiki Mbili (Week Two in Swahili!)


I discovered clothes and various other donations from organizations in Canada—set up to provide help for those in need—are often not received by the end consumer free of cost. Large trucks unload these donated goods in urban areas where they are subsequently purchased by vendors and resold in privately owned stores. The apartment is right across from a second hand market, so I have had the opportunity to visit a few times and found value village tags still in tact with stamps iterating “not for resale”. I understand to a certain extent this infuses some money into the Tanzanian economy; however, it was unsettling to know that profits were being made off of what was intended to be someone’s contribution.

Water Situation

After Boyd posed several questions inquiring about Mwanza’s water supply, I immediately looked into the situation and here’s what I found out. Overall, Mwanza has an extensive supply of water resources on account of its proximity to Lake Victoria – one of the largest fresh bodies of water in Africa –but it is distributed poorly. Timing is a concern for communities located in the more rural areas of Tanzania as the country experiences a dry spell over a large course of the year (June to October), which frequently results in a lot of its natural water reserves drying out. These communities living in rural areas surrounding the city of Mwanza commonly rely on neighborhood water taps that come from privately owned wells. Individuals are forced to pay a fee to share this water, but when water is unavailable they will travel to Lake Victoria. Wells necessitate an investment of around $ 1, 600 USD.

The sewage system is messed up. The water and sewage facilities are in disrepair and/or not integrated. It was built so long ago that it fails to serve even 1/5th of the population. Something like 3 % of people in Mwanza have a flush toilet, so this has led to people defecating in bags and throwing them in Lake Victoria, introducing a multitude of diseases to the water. Majority of people living in Mwanza depend on septic tanks, pit toilets (i.e. a hole in the ground) or on the outdoors. The pipes, intended to pump waste out of the city, broke a long time ago so large masses of raw sewage pour into a river canal feeding into Lake Victoria near the downtown district every day. This explains the rancid smell that overpowers the downtown area where I live. Meanwhile, a mile away you have the pipes retrieving water from Lake Victoria and distributing it for domestic use. This piped water serves the majority of the people living in Mwanza. Tourists are forewarned not to even step on the sand that constitutes the waterfront, as there are numerous parasites and worms chillin in its depths.

Social Ways

When we were living at the University, the other interns and I met the director of the sociology department. He is an extremely intellectual man that surprised us initially with his fluent English. He asked us to come and assist his students in studying the development, structure and functioning of human society in Canada. I am really looking forward to this as I hope to also learn about the social problems/successes experienced here in Tanzania.

On the topic of societal norms - I noticed men of all ages hold hands here and found this to be a unique social attribute. This type of behavior is not characterized as homosexual in Tanzania, which is contrary to how it would be viewed in the Western world. However, I soon learnt that homosexuality is an unfathomable concept here and punishable by death in certain areas.

In addition, it is unacceptable for men and women to engage in public displays of affection – this is in part due to the significant role religion plays in Tanzania. There is minimal conflict surrounding the topic of religion—so long as there is some type of God people believe in. The concept of being ‘undecided’ does not exist as everyone must have a chosen faith.

There are several other things I have taken note of here that are definitely different. I don’t know if these can be considered social differences, but they are interesting/annoying. Firstly, there is no such thing as credit. Everything is paid up front (e.g. pay as you go phones, no contracts)—generally in cash. You wouldn’t be able to get a credit card here.

Customer service is non-existent in the hospitality industry. Everything takes at least 5 times longer than it normally would back in Canada. For instance, it takes a full day to photocopy several sheets of paper. Going out for dinner occupies a full evening. I waited almost an hour and a half for a banana split–convinced they were taking the time to churn the ice cream in the back—I was sadly disappointed when I received a banana cut in half on my plate a couple of hours later.

The temperature is ridiculous here. It is always clear skies and no wind. Just stagnant, boiling air. The soaking wet laundry took less than 2 hours to fully dry at 7 am this morning.

It’s so loud everywhere, all of the time. Dogs bark throughout the night—I feel like that movie 101 Dalmatians is going down outside my window. Prayers from the mosque are broadcasted over the sound system at 5:30 in the morning. There is constantly music playing from a broken speaker right outside my window. I am convinced it is the same dude that keeps returning. I am so tired at the end of the night though that I have grown accustom to it—and I bought earplugs.

Everyone wants to grab your attention. As a foreigner you’re hissed at, yelled at and sometimes grabbed at. On one rare occasion, this guy at the market would not stop harassing me/touching me in inappropriate ways so I elbowed him hard in the face—he then left me alone. I don’t condone violence; however, this was warranted. The harassment is not a question of safety, it is just irritating and something that I have yet to get used to.

Theft is forbidden here and will generate such chaos that people are sometimes beaten to death. I was told if something is stolen from you and not of paramount value, don’t say anything. Yesterday on our way home from the fabric store, my roommate and I encountered a riot that had broken out across the street from our apartment. Crowds of people were screaming and yelling at something. There was such a commotion we immediately entered the building and went up to the balcony to observe. This one man had stolen a woman’s cell phone and taken refuge in the store people were now aggressively cornering. Men were gathering huge boulders and running into the crowd. Then, a jeep filled with men no older than me pulled up. These guys were armed with huge machine guns strapped to their chests. I saw them pump their AK 47s as they unloaded off the vehicle and was terrified. The man immediately emerged from the crowd and was taken abruptly in their jeep and they sped away. Definitely one of the more entertaining spectacles I have seen so far. I don’t know if this was some type of neighborhood watch team, but they seemed to be greatly appreciated by everyone. I am hesitant to say they were police as they were not wearing any type of uniform and were quite young.

The Yogurt Mammas

We conducted our first meeting with the Yogurt Mammas this past Monday and it went extremely well. The focus of the meeting was to teach the Mammas how to package and seal the yogurt containers with the new supplies and sealer machine recently purchased in Nairobi, Kenya. This meeting was viewed as a milestone in terms of progression for this venture. For the past several years the Mammas in conjunction with various interns have struggled to find proper packaging for yogurt distribution. The lack of packaging has held the women back from selling the yogurt in locations outside of the main production facility in Mabatini. The meeting ended with two of the Mammas successfully packaging two containers in their first attempt –leading to an eruption of clapping and cheering from everyone in the kitchen.

We returned on Tuesday to perform some further research –narrowing in on personal testimonials from the women about the project. I am mesmerized by these women and how far they have come with this project. I am now beginning to understand how these types of projects simultaneously help people abroad and inspire and educate those contributing their efforts. There is no individual beneficiary in these types of situations.

Two of the Mammas, when asked to recall their favorite moments with the development of the kitchen, spoke about the interns from Western. They exclaimed how excited they were when students arrived and how appreciative they were of the change Western Heads East brings them. The women strive to join the “yogurt production industry” and soon generate enough revenues to employ further women in efforts to empower even more Mammas.

This illuminated that the women have minimal entitlement issues and want to help out their local communities as much as possible. The mammas’ eagerness to grow and begin mass-producing the probiotic yogurt was interesting. Expansion is not simply an objective listed on paper for this venture, but a personal goal held by the Tukwumuane Women’s Group as well.

Growing the Venture

There are various components that come into play when assessing the readiness of this operation in terms of expansion. We have explored the idea of expanding via social franchising but this option has its limiting factors. After much research, it is evident social products/services must have a strong brand and competitive presence in the marketplace before they can be replicated. Before we can consider an expansion, it is important to gauge how successful the current business model has been so that we don’t expand Fiti Yogurt too soon. We also must locate other womens’ groups that will be able to commit to a supportive franchisor/franchisee relationship. Another important requisite is that this group has some type of business experience or knowledge, or would be willing to undergo training.

Right now, one of the things I am concerned with is the pairing of such an aggressive social objective with employees that have limited business expertise. Past records have revealed that after interns depart, the women cease to continue with whatever change was recently implemented. For a project that aims for sustainability as one of its primary goals, this speaks to me as an alarming factor embedded in the current operations. Their lack of business knowledge is a disadvantage and makes it difficult for the women to properly evaluate the different business ideas presented by others like myself. Even some introductory business classes would allow for them to better lead this venture into becoming a more commercially viable social business. Franchising is a good strategy for replicating social businesses; however, it is a questionable route for an operation that is somewhat in the start up phase and trying to grow.

1 comment:

  1. thanks Kathleen for providing us with this information. We are following your journey and while we can't possibly experience everything, we are at least getting the highlights and the essence. keep Healthy.
    Love from Maureen,Paul,Andrew and Kevin