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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

Iringa living

I think it’s fair to say life has been pretty busy! We have less than 3 weeks of language training left, which is pretty scary. I don’t think we’re anywhere near the level that would be necessary to work in any kind of efficient way! They are really trying to push us now, but I can see how really the lessons just give a foundation and it’s from there that you have to do some serious learning. We plan to spend a stint on Kome Island in the near future and I think that will be a good time to consolidate and hopefully get to grips with the language a bit more thoroughly. Simon is really pushing himself on and trying to read bits of the Bible in pamphlet style accessible language. To be honest though I’m spending some time going back to the basics and trying to get clear in my mind some of the things from our early weeks, which I’ve already forgotten! My memory is not what it once was and languages were never really my forte!
We’ve been enjoying life in Iringa, and the children have become quite settled. I’m a bit apprehensive about another transition, but Tabitha is excited about seeing Lake Victoria at least! We plan to leave for Mwanza at the end of the month. Our house won’t be available straight away, so we’ll be housesitting for some missionaries who are going on home leave for the first couple of months.

Yesterday we went to visit a team who are over from the UK and staying in a village called Lupembelwasenga. It was great to see what the villagers and the team have managed to achieve. The villagers have been working hard digging a trench in order to put in a water pipe to provide the village with clean water. It needs to be something ridiculous like 10km long and 1m deep the whole way. It’s no joke, but amazing progress so far. I think it’s been a real encouragement to have the team come out and support the village in this endeavour, and hopefully it will help inspire them to keep going. It’s been no mean feat for the team though and they’ve been working hard. They’re also running kids activities in the afternoon, which have been attracting over 100 children. As you can imagine, they are getting pretty tired. So pray for strength for them and also for health, as one or two have been unwell.

The accommodation is pretty basic down in the village, but it was great to see how happy our children were there. Both are getting fairly proficient with using squat toilets and both are happy running around in the fresh air all day! This reassured us that they will cope with Island life (hopefully).

Reuben unfortunately trapped his big toe a metal gate a couple of weeks ago. He damaged the nail and it was quite sore at the time, but settled down and looked fine within a couple of days. Over a week later it suddenly became painful and was obviously infected. As a result his nail gradually detached itself and he now has no nail. It will be interesting to see whether it grows back, and in what form. He has not loved the antibiotics and didn’t want to walk on it much, but it’s obviously feeling a lot better now and will hopefully have settled down completely by the time is course of antibiotics is finished.

Thank you to everyone who has been in touch! As always we appreciate all your support and words of encouragement!

Here are a few more updates of the last month:
-Reuben turned 2 and had a lovely party with a car cake and pin the tail on the baa baa.
– The Rolletts have moved into the house now which will be their Base for the next 2 years. We’ve really enjoyed their company and they’re a great addition to the Iringa family.
– The car search continues, the best choice is in Dar es salaam, 10hrs drive away so the logistics of finding a car, checking it out and then bringing it to iringa is taking a lot of Simon’s spare time. The ideal scenario would be to have one of our own in time for our relocation to Mwanza in a few weeks time.

Grassroots

One of the common comments we get when we talk about our plans is ‘that health stuff seems right up Victoria’s alley, what’s Simon going to do?!’ Fair enough, since the Community Health Education project is the reason why we’ll eventually end up in Mwanza and that’s a really tangible project that people can understand. Thinking back to our time in Malawi nearly 5 years go (wow!) I (Simon) was able to spread my engineer’s wings and participate in many projects needing some technical input. A lot of my time was spent teaching basic IT skills to school leavers, as well as project management for AMECA & Beit-CURE Hospital. Anyone who’s lived in Africa can also tell you how much time keeping a car on the road and getting banking and admin done takes (those queues!). We anticipate the same in Tanzania!

So what is the plan for me? In the last blog post Victoria mentioned the importance of not dumping any preconceived ideas or projects on the community we’ll be living with. We saw so many failed projects in Malawi that were somebody’s “good idea” but didn’t ever get going. So i’ve titled this post ‘Grassroots’ because that will be the approach we will take to many of the activities we pursue. They have to be “bottom up” and developed hand-in-hand with the community.

So here’s a few themes that describe the types of projects i’ll most likely be involved with and i’ll elaborate more as we go along:

Appropriate technology: Simply put this is basic adaptation of existing ways of doing things that make those activities cheaper, more efficient, easier, safer etc. Here’s a few Africa-related examples of AT to get your head in the right place:

  • Micro solar lanterns– These cost the equivalent of e.g. 3 month’s household spend on candles and dirty fuels like kerosene, and in return provide a light source that can be recharged every day for three years. Some even have mobile phone chargers built in!
  • Earthquake proof housing design– Something very fresh in the thoughts of those in Tanzania at the moment. Simple strategies can prevent roofs falling down and mud brick walls caving in.
  • Fuel efficient stoves-  You’ll hear a lot about this on our blog since EI are doing a lot of this across Africa. If you replace the typical 3 stone fire found in every rural household with a simple clay or sheet metal stove you can increase efficiency and cleanliness of everyday cooking tasks whilst saving the household money (they don’t need to buy as much fuel)

Consultancy: If we spend a lot of time in a city or township setting, there may be scope to  provide skills training (e.g IT, engineering, maths & science coaching) to key individuals or groups. The term ‘Capacity building’ is often floated around. For example in Malawi I taught several Police men and women at our local Police checkpoint basic computer skills. Not only did this foster good community relations, i believe it helped those individuals with their career aspirations and allowed the police department to improve its administrative capacity.

Preaching and teaching: Wherever we are we will be involving churches in the work we do. The need for good quality bible teaching is of paramount importance in the typical areas EI works, since the blending of traditional religions and locally established denominations often lead to a loss of focus on the importance of the gospel message. For me this could take many forms, from youth mentoring, church sermons to seminar style lessons.

So that’s a brief summary, there’ll be more as plans become clearer. Grassroots projects can take a long time to establish, which may be frustrating and awkward at times, but always give better results than those which are imposed on communities.

Needless to say, as missionaries everything we do will need to be flavoured with the message of sharing Jesus’ love. Practical projects can be done by anyone with any motive, so our challenge will be to make our motives distinct and point our project partners to the person of Jesus.