We have really enjoyed our last couple of trips to Kome Island and are looking forward to heading back this week. We’re really hoping that the house will be ready when we get there and that we’ll actually be able to stay in it! I’ve heard so many stories, from pretty much all the missionaries here, about it taking so long to get projects started and the challenges in the beginning. I know it’s not only mission. The clinical trial I worked on in Malawi was delayed by about two years because of challenges getting ready in the first place, buildings that needed building and permissions that needed granting etc, so I don’t think anyone is immune.
We now have funding to set up a Community Health Education project on Kome Island. This is a really new venture for Emmanuel International (EI). Usually EI works directly with churches but on this occasion will be working in a three-way relationship between Tanzania Assemblies of God (TAG) and a local charity called Rural Islands Community Health Initiative (RICHI). There are always a lot of details to iron out in any new collaboration, and this is no different. All the right people need to be involved from TAG and in the right order and we have to work out how to engage with and get the local churches involved. RICHI also has its own structure, and up until now have been one of only a very small number of organisations doing any kind of healthcare related work on the islands. As with anywhere else in Africa there are local systems of village, regional and district leaders, all of whom need to be involved and give their support. It’s really important not to step on anyone’s toes. All of this means a lot of meetings, conversations and time, before you even get started. With our western mind set we just want to crack on with the work! But here relationships and proper process are the higher concern and it’s impossible to progress effectively without the support of those on the ground.
There is plenty to be getting on with in Mwanza: I’ve started working on some training materials for the health project; there are contacts to be made and CVs to start looking through in our search to find a Community Health Educator; and as EI representatives we look for opportunities to support local projects being run by and through the TAG churches. This week Tabitha and I went to visit a girls’ shelter being run by a friend, who is the wife of one of the local church leaders. The shelter opened a couple of months ago and is being run as a rehabilitation centre for girls who have been living on the streets. There are 19 girls from age 12, three of whom are staying at the shelter with their babies. It is not without its challenges, but it’s lovely to see and support a project run by Tanzanians for Tanzanians. I believe they will always be the best people to find solutions to local problems. The girls are learning a wide range of handicrafts, which may provide them with a source of income in the future. There is a local volunteer who looks after the babies while the girls do their training. And efforts are being made to place the two youngest girls into a local school. I plan to return to the shelter to do some health education training in the near future. My friend really wanted someone who would be able to provide some baking tuition, but anyone who knows me will know that is not exactly a skills set I possess…
Pray for us as we head to Kome this week, while we love our trips there, they are also challenging times. The local children are not used to seeing white children, I suspect for many of them Tabitha and Reuben are the first they have ever seen. Just walking from one place to another can attract a crowd of more than 30 children who just want to watch everything our children do, or who want to touch them and see what they feel like! You can imagine this is a little overwhelming! Especially when it’s hot and everything seems to happen a little differently including when and what we end up eating. I don’t even want to think about what it’s going to be like this time when we have to cook for ourselves! My brain keeps exploding when trying to think about all the stuff we need to take and prepare. Simon’s been running around all week getting guttering and rainwater collection tanks, cooking equipment etc. I know some people like to travel with nothing but a credit card, but I wonder what proportion of people on the Island know what one is!
There’s no piped water on the island and we’re all still getting used to how the ‘bathrooms’ work. But I think it will be much easier when we can stay in our own house, with our own toilet (pit latrine style). We have also had a fence built around our property, which may have a gate on it this time. This will hopefully provide somewhere the children can play in relative privacy, at least some of the time (the local children just climb a nearby rock to watch from a distance, but at least there is some distance). Last time we went we visited some village leaders away from the main town area and it was lovely to see how nicely our children played with the local children when it was just a few of them and they had a chance to interact. I’m sure they will develop good relationships with the local children in time, especially as they gain more Swahili.