2020, a year like no other…

Looking back over the year, we’re all looking through COVID spectacles, plans cancelled, zoom church, social distancing etc. We know we had a very different experience here in Tanzania than many of our European and American friends. We thank God that the pandemic has not affected Tanzania in the same way as it has other countries around the globe. No lockdown has meant the normal day-to-day life has not really been affected, but other things, more lifestyle things have been.

In March, my Dad (Phil) was visiting us just as everything was kicking off. We went ahead with the annual swim gala while Dad was here, but it was the last activity for a while. Soon schools and colleges were closed, and we allowed our domestic and EI staff to stay at home. But by July the local schools and the children’s swim club re-opened and over the following couple of months, most things in Tanzania were back to normal. We have not heard stories of over-capacity hospitals or people dying on mass. It’s difficult to know exactly the extent to which the country is affected, but we feel safe and continue with our work here, pretty much as usual. We know all the fresh air, outdoor lifestyle and hot sunshine play a big part in keeping virus levels down.

The thing that affected us most as a family (other than having to do so much more cleaning and washing up with our staff staying at home through the long dry, dusty season!) was that we had to forgo our summer furlough(!) to the UK. We all miss our extended families, especially the children, who haven’t seen their Granma or cousins for over 2 years. And to be honest it would be nice to experience a few of the treats that being in the UK brings!

We continue to be amazed by God’s provision. We’ve never gone without things that would cause us to struggle. My biggest worry with moving overseas would be lack of books for the children, especially with one of them being such a bookworm. But we have never been short. Even without travelling to re-stock this year, we have never been short of books, either borrowed or bought from departing missionaries! We thank God for hard working grandparents who have scanned and emailed much of the kids’ curriculum.

In February we will have been here in Tanzania for four years (yikes!). It has been noticeable that fewer work permits have been granted to longer-term expats recently, with many, and pretty much all of our longer-term friends here having either already left, or leaving by the end of this coming year. We ourselves are preparing to submit our next application and are aware that it’s likely we will be given one final year without opportunity for renewal. Over the past four years we’ve become very settled into life in Tanzania, so it’s hard to imagine leaving, but we are open and prepared for whatever God has in store for us, whether it’s to stay or leave.

The EI Tanzania team lost two missionary families this year, the Van-Woerdens left Iringa in January, and the Mongers in July. This has meant the missionary responsibilities and workload has been shifted around. Our Iringa colleagues now have no missionaries to support day-to-day tasks, so we try our hardest to support remotely from Mwanza. Physical visits took a knock with our COVID policy preventing travel, but we have been meeting every week via zoom which has really been a blessing to all the team. Joel has taken over as Tanzania director and Simon now oversees the finances (not a small task!)

Training consumes a lot of the time of the work that we do here. I think historically more people went to low-income countries to do jobs, whereas, especially in countries like Tanzania, which have shifted to middle-income, the focus is more on imparting as much training as possible and developing skills in the local staff, so that one day they will be able to continue the project without the need for foreign staff. We have recognised this shift and our focus this year will be to invest heavily in our national staff.

Team training in Iringa

It’s been great to see Emmanuel, our Kome Island field officer, grow into his role this year. He has thrown himself into the work of sanitation promotion on the Island. He is fantastic at creating rapport with the locals and has committed himself to the task of educating as many people as possible about sanitation approaches and distributing SaTos, a simple toilet improvement device.

Emmanuel teaching about SaTo toilets

The pandemic also provided opportunities to encourage good sanitation methods at a time when people were extremely receptive. We also saw how many of the approaches people have understood, and are able to use when they have the right motivation. Unfortunately a lot of the behaviours have returned to pre-pandemic normal, as worry about the pandemic has subsided, and communities haven’t fully grasped the benefit of sanitation methods for general good health.

Pastor Daudi demonstrating how to use the bucket tap, distributed by our team to over 100 churches in Mwanza

We plan to travel to the UK for a couple of months in the spring, when hopefully restrictions will be freeing up a little bit. We’d love to be able to travel around and visit different churches, but it’s very difficult to predict what rules will be in place at the time. If we can meet up in person that would be great, but we did feel really well connected through the summer months when we were able to attend zoom church meetings at several UK churches. What a treat to see inside the homes (via webcam) of many of the church congregation who support us as a family. Thank you to all who involved us during those meetings!

We’ll be starting an email newsletter in the new year, which will allow us to share things on a less public platform. If you’re interested in receiving these updates please drop us a quick email at contact(at)theewings.uk and we’ll add you to the list.

We appreciate all the support again this year. We know that we wouldn’t be able to continue the work here without those of you who give regularly, pray with and for us, and stay in touch to help us feel connected to everyone in the UK. Thank you!

Here’s a new year verse for all of our friends who have had a rough time this last year in one way or another:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

A summary of summer

I (Victoria) don’t want to count how many partially planned blog posts are lurking around in the crevices of my brain and as drafts amongst my computer files. It’s too much to put everything down since our last blog post, so here are a few key points that I can remember from March until now!

Back in March my Dad came over to Tanzania to do some Bible Teaching at the local college. We planned a few fun trips while he got over his flight related sleep deprivation and before he started his teaching – a short trip into the Serengeti being one of them. Things were just getting heated with the virus at that stage and after doing one short session at the Bible College we were informed that the college, along with all the other schools and colleges in Tanzania, was going to be closed as a precautionary measure. 

Phil preaching his first and last message to the Bible college in the minutes before it closed for COVID

My Dad opted to stay here until his flight was officially cancelled and re-booked, rather than leaving early. This gave us a few final days to enjoy each other’s company and a few swims at a back-of-nowhere swimming pool! At that stage we really had no idea of the nature of the virus and went equipped with bleach spray to clean our chairs and tables etc! 

Pops with his adoring grandchildren
Simon showing his diving prowess on the spring board

It’s really hard to remember the exact order of everything that has happened over the months, but Tanzania, along with the rest of Africa has not been affected by COVID as much as other places, and although there have been various changes at different times, right now life is pretty much back to normal here. 

There was never any official lockdown but we did sort of lock ourselves down to an extent and even now, while things are pretty normal, there are times that we are cautious. Throughout the summer we attended church online, mainly through our home church in Leighton Buzzard. More recently we’ve been attending a house church that meets outside. We value prayers and wisdom about how to go forward with church attendance locally.

During the lockdown period I completed two short-courses, one on COVID-19, as I thought this was a good opportunity to update my public health training and a second course on disability and global health, which is an area of interest to me. The COVID course was very useful and I was able to put my new knowledge to use straight away, running a couple of seminars on COVID-19 with our local staff. Our staff travel far and wide to villages across the Mwanza region and are respected local sources of information, so it was good to be able to train them, so they in turn could pass the knowledge on. We find Tanzanians living in villages often have good, well thought through questions, but lack good sources of information. Rumours and mis-information also circulate here rapidly, so I incorporated practical sessions on assessing the quality of sources of information.

Socially distanced COVID19 training session

Early on in the crises we decided, as an EI Tanzania team, to put together a COVID committee and create a plan for how best to serve our local churches. This resulted in us putting together some educational material about COVID-19, including some myth busters, and distributing 10,000 pamphlets, alongside handwashing buckets across 300 churches. 

Delivering 10,000 leaflets and 100 handwashing buckets with awareness posters across Mwanza
Buckets and taps as tall as Daddy!

These days we spend most of our time at our home in Mwanza city. Simon is involved in doing a lot of admin here in Mwanza overseeing the finances for EI Tanzania, and for the most part we are able to train the staff from here. Simon has made several trips to Kome since March alone and we have made one trip as a family. We were really encouraged to see everyone on Kome and very much enjoyed the opportunity to experience ‘Kome life’ after a long break! We also met a Tanzanian man who lives with his family in the UK, who had opted to travel to Kome as a family to spend lockdown with extended family there. Kome is so remote, so it was amazing to find someone who has spent decades in the UK, in such a remote area. It also reminded me of how many children growing up the UK come from such diverse backgrounds. I imagined his kids sharing their lockdown tales when they got back to the UK, telling their friends about spending it on a remote island with no running water etc and it was strange to think that for his children, the UK was more normal than it is for ours!

Eating sukuma food of beans and potatoes

We were due to spend this past summer in the UK but due to all the restrictions in place there, decided to stay here for now. It’s likely that we’ll head to the UK for a couple of months early next year depending on the situation there. The UK is so different to here in many ways and our children do not have strong memories of life in the UK. I find myself regularly explaining things to the children along the lines of ’In the UK people say/do/have’ etc. It will be interesting for them to go and see for themselves and it’s a long time now since they’ve seen their extended family and they miss them. 

Stay tuned for more updates on some of the other things we’ve been getting up to recently!

A packed few months…

January marked the end of the second year of our Island project, so a lot of thought has gone in to what’s next. We organised a seminar for two of the women’s groups to invite their friends and neighbours to demonstrate what they’d learnt over the last two years. The women practiced role plays to perform in front of the groups to stimulate discussions. Unfortunately no one from outside the groups attended but Victoria held a long question and answer session on the topic of the plays. These women are really hungry for knowledge so we really feel supporting these groups over the last few years has been worth the effort. It was also a really great time of fellowship. I played taxi and bought one (very rural) group to (the slightly more townie) Buhama. There aren’t many occasions outside of funerals that these two groups would meet so it was a privilege to see their warmness towards each other. During the seminar I drove the length and breadth of the island trying to find enough Fanta to reward the groups for their hard work, 3 from one shop, 5 from another, eventually getting two crates worth!

Women’s seminar on Kome

Driving around the island is becoming much more difficult. The rains have been super heavy, cutting through the sandy roads making them impassable even for motorbikes. Although not really flooding here in Mwanza the water table is really high, meaning many of the pit latrines we are working to improve are simply full to the brim! (I’ll let you guess why we are focussing on the sanitation project  next!)

I spent a couple of days with Pastor Daudi training him how to make toilet slabs that work with the brilliant invention, the SaTo toilet pan. This plastic moulding is cheap , hygienic and has a self closing mechanism which means when you throw a bucket of water down after doing your business a little door opens and closes again (think: aeroplane toilet) and any smell or flies are trapped. We’re working hard to set up small businesses to distribute and install these SaTo pans at a slightly subsidised price. I’ve written up a project proposal for this work for the next two years and we’re sending it around some donors, but If you know anyone who’d like to fund this or contribute to this work please let us know!

In the last week of January my parents came to visit which was such a blessing. The kids obviously loved having their grandparents around! We wore them out hiking up to Jiwe Kuu, a massive rock on the hillside not far from our house. The kids managed the hike well, and the view from the top was worth the sweat and bruised bottoms! Reuben did most of it in bare feet, of course.

Mwanza is an interesting place to visit for about a week, and then you’ve “done” the restaurants and sites. Two years ago my parents came and we “did” the Serengeti and Kome Island (although you can’t really compare the two!) This time we decided to give them a lift to the airport, 800km away in Kilimanjaro! This gave us the chance to see Tanzania on a two-day road trip through the different agricultural regions of northern Tanzania, ending up in the mountainous region of Arusha. We stayed a few days in the foothills of Mount Meru and explored Arusha National Park. We did an amazing self-drive safari around the park and saw flamingos, giraffe, zebra and loads of other things. We then drove most of the way up Mt Meru to a beautiful waterfall and the freak-of-nature Fig Arch.

Fig arch

Meru Waterfall

We stayed one night at a lodge which had a very colonial feel about it, with a beautiful lake (which we went punting on in the rain), outdoor pool, rabbit enclosure, horses and hydroelectric turbine! (guess what I was most excited about!). We then drove to within a few miles of Kilimanjaro and stayed at another hotel with camels, a tortoise and heated outdoor pool. The place was full of pre-hike Kilimanjaro climbers. We joked with them that it was obvious they were pre-hike (clean shaven, laughing, unbruised!)

The week after my parents left we had a team retreat for all EI Tanzania staff. We had a really nice couple of days exploring the reality of what it means to be the body of Christ, through our work and team relationships. We were all challenged to change how we work in the team and to use our skills and talents more effectively. We took all the national team into the Serengeti for a half day safari and saw most things (no big cats unfortunately). The rivers were flowing really fast so some of the river fords appeared unpassable. This made for an exciting few moments when at one ford we asked some rangers to cross in front of us. If they succeeded we would follow. They did succeed but the water was really very high up the side of their car, and neither Joel or I felt the consequence of driving into a river filled with crocodiles and hippos would go down well. We opted for the rather long detour.

As for everyday life, school for the kids is going on well and we are counting down the weeks until the summer break in July. Tabitha is training hard for a national swim gala on Friday, and Reuben is mostly climbing trees and swinging from ropes in the garden (although his swimming is also excellent now, easily managing 25 metres). We’re hoping to finish school work in good time for our planned two months in the UK in July and August. Let us know where you’ll be during those months!

The expat population of Mwanza is changing pretty quickly, with many long-termers returning home. Everyone is having visa issues which will no doubt affect us when we reapply next year. It seems to be affecting everyone we know, but we’re praying that we’ll get the visas we need to stay for at least the next two years to see the sanitation project through. We’re also seeing transitions in our EI team with the VanWoerdens in Iringa (who left in January) and the Mongers in Mwanza (who will leave this summer). These changes mean the remaining EI missionaries pick up new roles, and for now I’ll be overseeing the finances for our office.

Times of transition are always especially difficult for the children, who see their friendship groups getting turned upside down! Pray that they’d know the constant presence of Christ in their lives throughout ongoing change.

But for now,  this week we’re looking forward to Victoria’s dad coming to do some Bible teaching, so more treats for the kids are in store!



A few weeks ago I (Simon) received a call from the Bishop asking me to attend the inauguration of a new church building in the district of Buchosa, close to where we work on Kome. These types of events are important for the local churches to mark the completion of their building project and plan for the future use of the church in the community. I was then told I would be the “Mgeni Rasmi”, which is the “official guest”. From our experience foreign missionaries generally get a high status at church events, and seeing the guest list of “wageni maalum” (“special guests”, not quite as important as the “official guest!”) I knew my place was to be higher than the school headmaster, local chairperson and even the district commissioner! I asked our house lady to help me choose a shirt for such an occasion; she obliged in choosing a smart, low key African shirt – I was glad she didn’t choose the garish bright yellow one!

Choice of shirts

The ceremony was also going to contain a Harambee, which is basically a fundraiser. In our last blog post we shared our observations on local economics and at this event the church was going to throw everything at getting more funds for their development projects. The Harambee is a blatant call for donations from all the congregation, special guests and official guest (in increasing expectation). We have our opinions about the way the local church raises money, but after talking with another missionary friend, I decided to view this Harambee as more of a “church fete” than an offering. I’d happily pay a few pounds to throw tomatoes at our church pastor in the UK, or attempt the coconut shy, so why not throw money at a dancing choir?

The church location was near the second ferry on the way to Kome Island, so I left in good time to arrive at 10am. Of course no-one else was there and things didn’t really get going until 12pm. In the process of waiting for everyone to arrive I got pretty sunburnt and was supporting a lovely red glow by the time the bishop arrived to cut the ribbon allowing us to go into the church and seek some refuge from the harsh African sun! My poor Scandinavian skin was designed more for travelling toward the arctic circle on a viking longboat than standing without shade in semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Inauguration service was a great encouragement – everyone committed themselves to using this new building for growing God’s work and sharing the love of Jesus in the community. It was good to see some of the Kome pastors who also attend as all the pastors from the district were invited.

The Bishop addressing the congregation

I addressed the congregation with some verses from Habakkuk about not building idols and challenging them that the church is actually those people inside the building. After a lot of singing and dancing we got going with the Harambee.

[As you read this you have to envisage the “normal” events going on in the background of nearly every service that goes on here in Tanzania: the power goes out; someone runs off to find a generator; the power comes back on; the mixing desk blows up; a few minutes later someone arrives on a motorbike with another desk; everyone who speaks in a microphone has to switch it on and off a few times before it work;, a goat runs through the building; a baby pulls the tablecloth off the altar table. And in true African style, no one even blinks through all of this]

Here are my observations:

The Church secretary reads out the requirements for the fund raising event: 800,000 shillings to extend the plot, 1 million to build a toilet, 3 million to buy some music equipment etc… in total more than 5 million shillings (about £1500) was the target.

First the master of ceremonies makes a general call for donations, with the offering basket being waved under the noses of everyone sitting on the left side of the church. Less than 5,000 shillings is raised (under £2). The right hand side is then challenged to beat this amount. Less than 3,000 shillings is gathered. The wise and well versed in these proceedings are hanging back because they know they will be called up by name to give later on. The official guest list is unfurled like a scroll at the front. Church elders are called and shuffle to the front and drop some money in. 10,000 raised. Next the visiting pastors, 20,000 added. Next the headteacher is called. “Bado hajafika” (He has not yet arrived). The local chairman. Bado hajafika. District commissioner. Bado hajafika. Next the special guests including the various department leaders from the church diocese. 50,000 added. I’m sitting next to the bishop and we’re next so we put our offerings in the basket. The MC gathers all the donations and quickly counts it up. We’re not at the total he was looking for. So he starts again, and calls a choir up to get people moving, they hop and shake and lipsync convincingly: more money is raised. After the song the MC comes and kneels before me and the bishop and BEGS dramatically for more money: we give some more. He asks for more, this time he’s more persistent, telling us to round it up to the nearest 150,000! But we’ve both run dry and the bishop dismisses him. Now I can breathe. It’s not the most comfortable thing to be publicly requested for more and more money but it’s one of those cultural things we just have to live with!

So after the meeting was over I headed back home, thinking a lot about how we help the churches we have an ongoing partnership with. I believe there is a place for the harambee, just like we would hold charity quizzes or auctions in the UK. But the idea of wealth creation within churches has been on our minds recently as we plan where to take our projects. Raising funds from donors for specific projects is fine, but when the churches become dependent on those funds, or when their visions become greater than the means available to them (like building a massive church in a small farming village), something is out of balance and we don’t want to be the ones causing the dependency.

I am reaching the end of the ‘Perspectives’ course, which is a course on mission theory, and it has given me an excellent to insight into global mission and how the church has prospered, grown organically but also suffered from dependency issues at the hands of foreign missionaries. We know there is potential for our church partners to get their funds for building projects by the work of their own hands, and we’d love to put our energy into setting up sustainable businesses within the churches so they have a funding source for the years to come. And there’s no harm in having the occasional Harambee!

One of the groups on Kome: Breastfeeding peer-supporters who have a community bank to raise funds for their own businesses.

Grass roofs and toilet truths

Its so great to be part of the growth of the churches on Kome. When I say growth I do mean it in both physical and spiritual ways. The area was given a new Bishop last year, Bishop Masala. Kome is tucked away in the corner of Mwanza region whereas the previous leadership was based in the city and I couldn’t begin to imagine the demands of a city Bishop to spend all their time on city matters since, physically speaking, the congregation numbers are greater and the church projects more demanding. Dividing the region into 3 has been a good move from the perspective of the rural churches in Sengerema and Buchosa districts, where Kome is. Kome now has a Bishop based an hour away, instead of six hours! This now means the rural churches can now get more help with spiritual leadership matters. The number of churches is also growing. One of the smaller islands off Kome, Ikuru, now has a new church plant, which we hope to visit soon to help them with their vision for the population of around one thousand people, mostly fishermen. Also there is word of another church plant on the main Island, which will bring the total falling under the Kome leadership to six. Pastor Daudi at Nyamkolechiwa is finishing the walls this month and is waiting for funds for the metal roofing sheets.

Pastor Margaret at Buhama has her new plot of land and will soon start making bricks for the new building.

Pastor Charles at Mchangani now has the go-ahead to replace the tarpaulin roof with metal sheets. This is good news because the local government prohibits permanent structures at Mchangani because it is technically a forest reserve, but they have seen the valuable asset a church building can be in the informal community at Mchangani and have allowed the development. The electricity grid is being pushed out into the rural areas with poles and wires sprawling through the villages. ‘Development’ is moving quickly!

On a recent visit to Kome I was notified that the church at Buhama had been burned. Despite having the new plot Margaret was still meeting in the original grass church and it was this that had been burned. We were obviously all shocked and I visited with Gertrude to give some encouragement to Margaret and to get more of the story. It was so encouraging on our arrival to see that Bishop Masala was there along with the other pastors on the island. This community of church leaders is such an encouraging team to be working alongside. Together we surveyed the damage, apparently at two separate times in the night different parts of the church building had been targetted, and each time the elder who lives close by was woken up and put it out. It was obvious the fires were deliberate, but luckily they were not too extensive. There was no clue as to who was responsible.

Obviously Margaret was very upset, so after eating a meal together the Bishop shared an encouraging passage from Acts 7 v 60 , where the apostle Stephen, who is being stoned, prayed to God for the forgiveness of his attackers’ sins. To be reminded, in the midst of the confusion and discouragement of an attack against church property, to forgive those who were responsible, was the perfect advice! After praying the bishop got on his motorcycle to get the ferry back to the mainland. Having this local leadership available is such a great development for our church partners.

Two weeks later, to officially kick off the Clean Latrine project on the Island I called a meeting of all the church pastors and elders to start thinking about a shared vision for the project. I was super encouraged when all attended! To me this demonstrates they have a commitment to improving the physical health of their communities through sanitation. Our home church Hockliffe Street Baptist in Leighton Buzzard, raised over £3000 to equip each of the Island churches with toilets that meets international standards.

The tough question is how to spend the money in a way that is appropriate in the context. Bearing in mind none of the churches have running water, any kind of flush toilet would simply not work. There are, however, a number of good methods to use in low water areas. So at the meeting I tried to give the pastors and elders a number of things to think about, rather than prescribe any particular design. Obviously toilets should be clean (and cleanable!), odour-free, well lit, safe and private. I also challenged them to think about the needs of parents with small children and also the needs of girls and women concerning menstrual hygiene. I showed a few videos to help them to visualise different styles of toilets around the world. They’ve now had 3 weeks to think about what they want and the next job is to plan the construction.

Surf & turf farming

(from Simon) Here’s a short update to share what has happened over February.

Gertrude has been faithfully working on Kome to keep the Island health project going while we have been taking care of admin in Mwanza. We’re excited to share the “Clean Latrine” project on Kome will kick off with a fundraiser at our home church in Leighton Buzzard this week, and I’m working hard to get some latrine improvement products ready to share with the communities on the island.

Since our work is church-centered and relationship driven we believe strongly that the best way to bring development change to an obvious need (like sanitation) is by demonstrating appropriate technologies that can be replicated locally. This way we can encourage households to want to make a change (through our relationships and training seminars) and then give then options of how to change (though the demonstration of the technologies).

Building a Sanplat toilet slab

Now for something completely different!

Two weeks ago six of us from the Mwanza EI team and 2 from Iringa travelled to Arusha to attend the biennial ECHO Agricultural conference. ECHO is a Christian based organization that works to develop appropriate farming methods. Most of the presentations were about Conservation agriculture, or CA (If you know about Farming Gods way this is one approach), CA is a method of farming which is going to be crucial in restoring the poor soils across the world damaged by intensive or poor farming practices. Also attending were hundreds from across East Africa all excited about sharing experiences and technologies. There were some excellent presentation covering everything from Farm Radio, dairy cows, bees (presented by our colleage Rachel) and a new curriculum to facilitate leading discovery bible studies with farmers. I think everybody learned something.

A modified local plough

Learning how to propagate by taking cuttings

My long-lost ancestors

I attended a tour to a residential house where Chris, the owner, (an experimental german engineer) has built a biogas system under his house to turn all of his garden waste, sewage and waste water into cooking gas and nutrient rich water. He had some very honest opinions about biogas in Tanzania, on one hand it is entirely appropriate to turn all your waste into cooking gas, and believes every city house should have one instead of a septic tank. On the other hand making the technology accessible to rural areas is very unreliable and requires great investment. Plastic tanks or sheeting have a very short life span in the African sun, and are easily punctured. Chris was also proud of his compost heap, where he collects urine uses it to infuse charcoal to make ‘biochar’, a slow release nitrogen fertiliser. Again, an appropriate use of a waste product but probably not immedialty attractive to the average Tanzanian farmer! We all had a good week and got back safely to Mwanza with one puncture, timing itself nicely with a torrential downpour!

Digested effluent is completely safe to handle apparently…!)

Here’s where all the waste goes (yes it stinks!)

A week later Elisha and I travelled to a part of Mwanza region to take part in some fish farming training. Another missionary, Brett, living in Geita, about 2 hours away, has some well established demonstration farms. He has invested a lot of time building relationships with farmers, farming alongside them and showing them, through his plot, different styles of CA, and then letting them experiment by themselves. One area he has explored is fish farming and so 3 farmers have already built a pond and this training was to build on their knowledge and introduce others (like us) to the idea.

It was 3 days of intensive practical training instructed by Chrispin, an expert. We learnt how to dig a pond, lay the foundations, stock it with Tilapia (apparently the most suitable for farming) and how to deal with all manners of threats including birds, monitor lizards and turtles! We even attempted harvesting one of the ponds. There was something very special about watching a group of farmers attempting to fish! i’m still trying to find the biblical application for a future sermon!

Digging the pond

Chrispin teaching about fish-farming

Teaching farmers to fish!

Digging the pond by the church

Digging our own pond in Mwanza

Whether a fish farm could work in any of our project villages is another question, but Tim and Rachel, our colleagues have a large garden which has space to experiment. So that is this week’s work, putting into practice our training and seeing if we can keep some fish alive long enough to be worth it! Its quite a boggy patch so digging sand while up to your knees in mud is quite a work out!

Meanwhile in Mwanza, Tabitha and Reuben were inspired by a fantastic swimming gala this weekend where many of their friends entered and beat their own personal records. The youngest entry was 3 years old and the oldest was 47. We hope to get Tabitha in the mini gala in November, and she’s more than ready! I, however, have no plans to enter the “dad’s race”, an 800 meter front crawl!

Bishops and Blue Cheese

“I have a second wife on Kome island”. These were the words I (Simon) used to introduce myself to the congregation of 200 bishops and officers at the annual TAG leadership meeting. It was received with raucous laughter, and my stand-by translator turned to me and clarified the hilarity. What I said was “nyumba ndogo” which literally means “little house”, but casually refers to having another marital home.  Standing in front of a crowd of people is pretty daunting at the best of times but this really broke the ice.

Three of us, Joel, Laura and myself all travelled to Arusha last week, which is 12 hours drive from Mwanza. As missionaries for TAG we are required to attend these group meetings which can happen anywhere in the country. The road, as you can imagine is pretty treacherous. Its tarmac all the way, which is already an upgrade on the drive to Kome, but that in turn means the road is fast, and some people take it really fast! To combat this the roads agency have put vicious speed bumps through every village and regular radar traps.  So we planned to leave early to make up time in the dark,  with  quiet roads and no police. We made it in good time with no complaints from our other passengers, the assistant bishop and secretary from Mwanza south diocese.  The route from Mwanza to Arusha bypasses the Serengeti and then cuts through Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Park, so there’s some potential to see some game and we did see some zebra and wildebeest. There’s also some impressive scenery with mountains, coffee fields and forests.

We had timed our arrival to coincide with the opening ceremony on the Tuesday evening. The bishops had been there since Saturday but all the supporting officers were now arriving. The Archbishop was obviously encouraged to see our faces and very early on we were invited up the front to introduce ourselves to the congregation. Laura went first and did a fantastic job of introducing herself in Swahili after only a few weeks of lessons. I went next and dropped my clanger, and then Joel followed. We weren’t required to contribute anything more much to our relief! At one point the Archbishop invited anyone with a building project to move to the front for a blessing. Needless to say everyone went- buildings really are a high priority for churches here!

Bishops with building projects receiving a blessing

The following few days were a marathon of meetings – 8am to 8pm all in Swahili all on diocese related issues. The format was predictable, each diocese had prepared a report and then had 10 minutes to deliver it to the council. There was then a few minutes of questions and observations from the audience. There are more than 50 dioceses and about 10 departments (covering children’s ministry, students, development projects etc) and each one was prepared to give a presentation sometime over the four days. You could see from the reaction of the congregation when one report was particularly good (or shameful) and the council pulled no punches in the questions. Sometimes it was uncomfortable viewing! One diocese planted 74 new churches last year which obviously received much praise! Although we didn’t need to formally report at the meeting, all of our work in EI Mwanza is through the TAG churches and therefore impacts the reports of our respective dioceses. It was great to be there to support the new bishop of Mwanza West, Simeon, whose diocese covers Kome Island. He is a well respected pastor but the diocese is very new, less than a year old, but is already well formed and has good plans for the new year- watch this space to see how we will be involved.

We committed to staying for two full days of reporting, which was very hard work. I zoned out several times since the 10 minute timer made the speeches very rushed and understanding them impossible. On the Friday we had the morning to explore Arusha before heading back to Mwanza. Despite being a smaller city it is definitely a tourist hub, every other car is a safari car filled with tourists heading to the Serengeti, so we fitted in nicely. Arusha also sits under the shadow of the imposing Mount Meru. We took advantage of the shopping malls to stock up on things Mwanza falls short on- blue cheese, sprouts and raspberries.

All in all it was a good trip, we returned safely. We’ll probably be invited back next year and I’ll have to find something else to say to entertain the masses!

Packed and ready (almost)

So in less than 24 hrs we’ll be at Mwanza airport ready to check in for our 8 week UK adventure. I’m glad I checked the booking last night since it appears we’re on an earlier flight! We are also clearing out our house ready to let out while we’re away, which is giving us a chance to purge the rubbish that has accumulated over the last 18 months.

We’ve had a hectic week, a leak under the house lost 400,000 litres last month, and was very much under the house so therefore impossible to fix, so a plumber had to reroute all the water pipes in the house!

Then we had 2 days of health teaching here in Mwanza, 14 faithful pastors and leaders from the island churches came for health-themed seminars. They were a joy to teach and I think it was a fun trip for them to the big city. Pastor Zakayo and his team at MICC did a fantastic job of hosting the conference.

Unfortunately our plan to keep Reuben healthy failed and he got another infection, which wiped him out for 4 days. He’s much improved now, but still not up for much more than lying on the sofa. It’s scary when kids get sick so far from good testing facilities, but Praise God it wasn’t anything serious.

Home school coop started back this week, it was lovely to see Tabitha catching up with friends who have been away over the summer. So many people have either been away or have left recently, so it was a joy to see her relaxed playing with so many friends!

We also received a goat as a gift this week after visiting a church in Buhongwa. Our good friend and night guard Swedi is a pastor of a Pentecostal church, and he showered us with all kinds of gifts (Including the clothes). We were treated to the best acapella and traditional drum choir we’ve seen in Tanzania. On the way home Tabitha was scared as the goat bleated and struggled right behind her head in the back of the car !

We’re reapplying for work permits (its nearly been 2 years yikes!) So that means a whole host of forms and letters need to be written. We were able to get letters signed last week as the bishop was at our conference, but he didn’t have his stamps to officiate the documents, so he returned to Sengerema with them. He then planned to send a messenger to deliver them back to Mwanza, a plan which almost worked smoothly, but unfortunately I hung up on the messenger telling me she’d arrived because I thought she was calling the wrong number ( still got a long way to go with our phone Swahili!). So I finally got the message that the documents were on the ferry on their way back to Sengerema. Doh! I managed to get the messenger to leave the documents with one of the ferry crew who I’d collect it from when the ferry returned to Mwanza later. That worked fine so now we have our stamped letters, slightly crumpled and smelling of ferry oil, safely in Mwanza.

We have been trying to get hold of some papers for the health project since before Christmas, with multiple trips around the district and seemingly endless phone calls. This week Victoria camped out in a key person’s office to make sure it gets written before we leave. We’ve spent the remaining time meeting with Gertrude to hand over both the sanitation and nutrition projects to her for the next couple of months.

So as we prepare to head home there’s a host of paperwork still to be done, 2 new passports to be ordered, tax returns submitted, work and residence permits to be applied for as well as all our church commitments, so at least we’ll be kept busy!

We’re very much looking forward to seeing family, Waitrose essential chipotle sausage rolls, cool breezes and pothole free roads.

Schedule wise we’ll be in Hampshire (11th to 19th sep) , Bristol & Wales (20th to 30th Sep), London (1st to 5th Oct), Leighton Buzzard (6th to 14th Oct), Chester (15th to 21st), Cotswolds (22 to 29th Oct ) and finally Hampshire (30th Oct to 5th Nov) so look us up!

Definite church dates :

23rd September Ivy church Bristol

30th September Life Church Bristol

7th & 16th October Hockliffe Street Baptist church Leighton Buzzard (also Joy, Oasis, Mission prayer evening, men’s evening and the mission tea on the 16th)

We’ll also be also be at St John’s Rowlands Castle, but just confirming dates….

Karibuni Wote!

We’d love to see as many people as possible!

Bees and Banks

A bee sting to the chin and cheek can really make your face swell up! The irony was, that even before the stings, I had been complemented by the Malya beekeepers group for having become fat and healthy since my visit in May last year!

One of our Mwanza EI community development projects is beekeeping. We have partnered with Bees Abroad, a charity from the UK who assists community bee projects as a method of contributing to poverty relief. Julian from Bees Abroad has beeen visiting here every six months and recently spent a week with us to help our Mwanza EI bee projects with their harvest. This was my real first chance to get up close to a working hive (Victoria had the joy and pain last year!)

Our EI staff member John has quickly become an expert in African beekeeping. Much of his work involves travelling around the region visiting the beekeepers , monitoring the hives and answering questions about the ‘modern’ techniques we promote. The ‘traditional’ approach of harvesting is to burn or smoke the hive so that the colony either flees or dies, allowing the farmer to remove everything from the hive (honey, wax, dead bees) and extract the honey for sale. This destructive approach risks wiping out the entire colony.  Our groups have been taught to use hives with ‘top bars’ which allow a trained beekeeper to non-destructively inspect the state of the hive and then, when ready, harvest only enough honey and wax as is safe, allowing the colony to replenish quickly.

We experienced a full range of bee types; from docile crawling bees, to angry buzzing bees which will try and seek any holes in your suit to come and sting you! Our best success was harvesting at night, in a remote field, using a red torch (which bees can’t see)  – we filled nearly 3 buckets!

We learnt one very important lesson- when to walk away! At one hive the bees were stirred up so much the local cattle, goats and chickens started getting stung. This can end in tragedy for a farmer since animals can easily die from multiple stings, so we stopped and got out quickly.

In total over 70kg of raw honey was harvested which will now be filtered and jarred. The wax will be processed for either the production of future hives (bees are attracted to bees wax so it helps to colonise a new hive) or to be used in other products such as body cream and candles. The money will be returned to the beekeeping group and its up to them to reinvest it wisely.

[Victoria takes over…]

Life continues in the busy and varied way of life here. We have started up a breastfeeding and early nutrition support group in a second village on Kome Island. The first village we started in have seen their group as very much a ‘church project’ and it’s been challenging to get people from outside of the church involved. There are various reasons for this and at this stage in the game there’s not much we can change. At least for the household sanitation work that Simon has been leading, we have been more successful in engaging the wider community a bit more.

We have now started in a second village – Buhama. There is such a different feel to working with this church and particularly with the pastor. The pastor of this church is a woman, which is quite unusual here. She seems to be well connected and well respected and keen to involve all the women she can, regardless of what church they go to, if any. We feel really encouraged that there have been so many women at the past few meetings. We are also excited that we have been able to set up VICOBA as part of this group.

VICOBA is a community saving scheme. Basically, before every health education meeting all the members have the opportunity to ‘buy shares’. The group have established the ‘rules’ of their group themselves, with guidance from us. This group has decided that each share costs 1000 Tanzanian Shillings (about 30p). Each week the women can buy between one and five shares. Once the ‘bank’ has enough money the women can take out loans to use for business investments. The group has set their priority list of what kinds of things will be most likely to be given a loan for. Those who take loans will pay back to the ‘bank’ with interest. It is a favourable rate in comparison to loan sharks, the women have decided to set the rate at 10% and the loan is paid back over three months. There are various ‘fines’ in place for ‘misdemeanours’, such as being late or not turning up without having informed anyone, or having a good justification for having not done so. These have all been decided by the group members themselves. The fines also go into the ‘bank’. The women have decided to run the scheme on a 12 monthly basis, so at the end of the 12 months they will split the money they have collected between them.

The purpose of the loan scheme is to support business investment, and so increasing the amount of money owned by all members of the group, and enabling the borrowers to be able to afford the interest. Loans must be approved by the group, since it’s a risk for everyone if loans don’t get repaid. Schemes like this can be challenging where community members lack the ability to buy basic necessities, such as medicines. For this reason there is a second, smaller collection each week for the ‘community box’. This is a kitty of money that the women can take loans from for essentials such as medicines or school books. There is no interest on money borrowed from this smaller collection.

Its coming up to the summer holidays and we are close to finishing Tabitha’s schooling. Homeschool groups have been a bit disrupted, most of those on the American system of homeschooling have already finished, for us schooling has lagged a bit due to our nomadic lifestyle. Also we have sadly lost 2 homeschool families in Mwanza who have moved away. This has been very sad for the children and us, losing friends and surrogate aunts and uncles. This has however given us the ruthless opportunity to pilfer any household items they were selling (coffee pots, carpets, power tools etc…). Every cloud has a silver lining!

Finally we are excited to announce we’ll be spending eight weeks in the UK in September and October, we’d obviously like to see as many of our supporters as possible in this time, so please let us know where you’ll be, and we’ll attempt to do the same! We’ll confirm our itinerary nearer the time. Our home visit will be an important time to update our supporters as well as continuing our fundraising and getting more supporters. If you’d like us to give a short presentation about our work in Tanzania to a group or church near you please let us know!

New knickers and sewing stockings

Well it has been a very busy but blessed February and March. With a visit from the Ewing parents, a Safari holiday,  Nutrition meetings continuing on Kome and planning for household sanitation work in April…

Visitors from afar…

My mum and dad visited for 3 weeks and it was a delight to show them the sights of Mwanza and Kome. It was so nice to see them after a whole year, and Tabitha and Reuben certainly got used to them being around! In their bags they managed to find space for (alongside tools, books and chocolate) new pants for the kids and a bag of black ladies stockings (keep reading to find out why!)

‘It’ll be just like camping’ is the advice we give when visiting the island, and yes, just like camping, it did rain! We had the privilege of having the last wet-weather church service at Nyakabanga chuch, which had been postponed due to a torrential downpour, and then started again during the service!

Praise God the church now has a roof, so my parents were the last ones to get sunburnt and wet simultaneously while worshipping in this church!


Nyakabanga Church, March 2018

Mama’s meetings…

The womens meetings at Nyakabanga church on Kome island have become regular, every week with Gertrude doing a fantastic job of coaching and translating.  The topics of conversation have been around the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and the importance of appropriate food in the months after. Breastfeeding discussions are much easier with a model breast to hand, so this was a priority job for my mum who donated her old tights!

The work with the ladies group is in full swing , with all manner of topics being discussed, from positioning a feeding baby, to preparing foods for older babires and toddlers. Many of the women in the group assume it normal to introduce non-milk foods to an infant not even a month old, for example uji (watery maize porridge) and banana and they have some disbelief that milk alone is enough.

Safari so good!!

Its a special year for the Ewing Family, our 10th wedding anniversay in May, my parents 40th anniversary and a ?0th birthday for someone, so we were treated to a 5 day safari in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater. This really was a holiday of a lifetime and we saw so much its impossible to report. We were rewarded with numerous giraffe,  elephants protecting a dead relative from a pride of lions, a cheetah stalking some wildebeest,  and a leopard hiding a cub in a tree. The views in the crater were also phenomenal and impossible to capture the scale in a photo!P1090183.JPG

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Starting Sanitation…

We’ll be starting the santiation work in the communities on Kome next month so I am busy organising the content of the household training. We aim to work with around 6 families in the church community, and it is hoped these families will become educators of the neighbouring  households. We are not attempting anything massive but suggesting simple technologies for improving handwashing, water treatment and safe storage of drinking water.  The approach is that everyone (including us!) can make small improvements at a household level on issues surrounding water and sanitation wherever they are on the “ladder”. By giving the families a biblical understanding of how and why they should be taking care of their households we hope the families will perservere with the suggestions we make, and in turn the community at large will benefit.


A family discussing what small changes they can make to their toilet facilities


Finding the plot

A couple of weeks ago one of the elders of Nyakabanga church on Kome invited us to look at a plot of land his father owned. Word has got around that the wazungu are building a hospital so I think he thought the plot would be good for that. (We’re not building a hospital by the way!). I (Simon) visited the plot today (Monday) to see what potential it had. Something in me enjoys the challenge of walking into the unknown with a guide who speaks no English. I met Josephat ( the elder ) at the pastor’s house and we walked off, with him carrying my shoulder bag, as is the custom. We walked quickly through the fields, mostly cassava and sweet potato and some maize. After a 20min fast hike through fields we arrived at a clearing where an old man sat in the shade of a tree. This was Josephat’s father (Babu, meaning ‘grandfather’) and I could see his mother hoeing cassava in the distance. We talked for a while about how I was mad to only have 2 children at my age and that we must hurry to have more, at least 10, to ensure we ‘fill the earth’ as God has instructed us!

Babu and family live in mud brick, grass roofed houses and cook over an open fire outdoors. They collect water from a well, which only works half the year, and also a muddy spring.

We talked about how EI is different from the Korean and Chinese NGOs who the rural people have seen splashing the cash on large infrastructure projects ( Kome received a basic electricity grid 3 years ago, but only a small proportion of the island can afford the connection). They were intrigued that EI were not interested in making money from the rich agricultural land or fishing opportunities on Kome, and even more interested to hear about our agricultural projects that could potentially give Babu an income. It was early days to make any decisions about what sort of thing Babu could pursue, but I was able to encourage them that since they were already skilled farmers some farming project, or at least education on improved farming practices would be most appropriate. We sat in the shade of a tree while mama brought freshly uprooted cassava to eat raw. I was then loaded up with aubergines and more cassava to take home with me. These sorts of experiences are really crucial in our understanding of the church community, the extended families, underutilized land and skills, and it also helps structure our thinking in how we can engage the church in ways other than the health project.

In other news, which Victoria will report on, the health project had its first proper meetings this week. The women in the church met together to discuss openly issues around breastfeeding and infant nutrition. These open air meetings are a challenge in both hot sun and rain since the church has no covered building to meet in. We are raising money to put a roof on their building, which will not only help our project meetings but also allow the church to gather in all seasons, literally come rain or shine! If you feel you’d like to contribute please click here https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/komekanisa

Kome Island

We made our first to Kome island last weekend almost two years after our first thoughts about  working there. It was great to see some of the communities we’ll be working in. It was also great to see the clinic and pharmacy that have been set up on the island and think a bit more about the work we’ll be doing there. We went to a local church on the Sunday and got to experience some of the local hospitality. It’s a good thing we’re a fish loving family!

Kome is lovely and peaceful. In Mwanza, between the night-time parties, dogs barking all night and the calls from the surrounding mosques, I feel like I never actually sleep! I’m not sure I really slept anymore on the island, but it was lovely to wake during the night and hear nothing but insects, until the birds and other animals began to wake. It’s a bit of a shock getting back just in time for Ramadan, as there are more calls and for a lot longer. The mosques project some of their sermons through loud speakers. It continues till late and starts at 4am.

We are renting a house on Kome. We visited the property on Saturday with the intention of using the house as a base for our 4 day trip to the island. Unfortunately on arrival it was obvious that although a lot of work had been done to make the place habitable it was very much still a building site. We were able to find a guest house for £2 a night instead!

The location of the house is pretty idyllic, overlooking a sandy beach on the southern shores of Lake Victoria. You quickly get used to the smell of drying fish which the local women spread out to dry in their thousands on the sand, raking them constantly. Having a house in the heart of a fishing community will give us a real insight into how the community works and we should get to know many of the people being served by the projects in the village just by living alongside them.

We drew a fair amount of attention on the island! During the few days we were there, we had a pretty much constant audience. The local children were very happy to hang in through the windows of every building we entered in order to maintain a constant watch on what we were doing, even if that was sitting still and resting for an hour. We can live with that while out in public, but thinking about setting up a life for ourselves on the island, we’d appreciate a space where we can sit and eat without having an audience. Therefore we have decided to have a simple fence around our property.

Some aspects of setting up a house within the community make us a little uncomfortable, especially considering some of the modifications being done to the house. Although not something we asked for, those modifying the house have taken it upon themselves to install electricity. They obviously felt that was something we needed. It looks like none of the neighbours have electricity, so we are already standing out as ‘rich’, but that will be more obvious when we park our shiny prado on the driveway. We would be happy with a basic but secure house, but we probably need to accept we won’t exactly fit in no matter what we do. No-one has running water and that will include us. It is expected for us to have someone to help within the house and one of their jobs will be to collect water from the nearby lake. We are fortunate to have the knowledge and facilities to clean our water, but Its shocking how many people in Tanzania drink from unclean water sources. Today we saw countless people collect their water from small pools or the lake, sharing their water source with many animals. From a Public health (and engineering) perspective there is much to be involved with so i’m sure we’ll be very busy over the coming months.