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


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.


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.

Moving on

It was Tabitha’s last day at pre-school today. This feels quite emotional. She’s been going to the loveliest little school – you couldn’t want for nicer and more supportive teachers, friends and parents. I’m glad that she’s had the best start to school life that I could offer, but it feels a big step forward for that to end. I don’t think she can fully understand things ending, but she is worried about missing her friends and her school. We’ll meet up with friends in the holidays and I’m sure she’ll soon settle at lower school, but for now it feels like a big change. All the more so as it gets us one step closer to us having to take on the role of educator as well as parent. A very daunting prospect.

Tabitha is excited about Tanzania and keeps reminding me that I need to get her some Swahili music and that we need to start learning some Swahili words. It’s hard to keep on top of the current demands and so this ‘extra’ work keeps somehow slipping through the cracks. Tabitha was thrilled this week to be given a book of Swahili numbers and we’ve had a go at counting 1-4. She spent the majority of one car journey to school (about 10 minutes) chanting these first four numbers again and again!
Thankfully the book provides the words in phonetic English as well as the Swahili. For anyone interested in learning, the numbers go like this
1 – moja (mo∙jah)
2 – mbili (m∙bee∙lee)
3 – tatu (ta∙too)
4 – nne (n∙nay)
I’m encouraged that the numbers are not crazily different to Chichewa (used in Malawi) and number 3 is the same.

Questions questions questions

There are three questions I get asked a lot, so I thought I’d try and give a few answers:

Why do you need to raise so much money per month?

I’m answering this without the budget in front of me, which may not be the wisest… but… there are a few main costs associated with our time. One is flights to and from Tanzania, plus the internal flight to Mwanza. I believe this also includes a budget for a return trip mid-way through our three year stay. One of the biggest costs is the cost of a car. Cars in Africa tend to be expensive due to the high import cost. We will also need a pretty robust vehicle due to the fact we will be doing a lot of travel on pretty bad roads. We have made the decision to base ourselves in Mwanza and travel to the Islands for the project work there. For that reason we will need accommodation in both places.

Finally some of the things we take for granted in this country include the cost of health insurance, and there’s also a budget for home-schooling, which isn’t massive, but should cover some syllabuses in core subjects.

We haven’t put the budget together ourselves, it’s a joint effort between the Emmanuel International operations team and those already on the ground. We think it’s a great cause though, and are committing to it financially ourselves too.

What will you eat and how will the kids cope?

I’m working on the basis the transition will be pretty tough. My understanding in the main staple food is Ugali, which like many foods you’re not used to, is a grim substitute initially, but you get used to it. Mwanza is a city and I’m therefore guessing you can pretty much get anything, if you’re willing to pay for it. Or at least will be able to get most of the ingredients needed to produce it yourself. Our experience in Malawi was that many normal things here would be available in specialist shops, with a high premium attached. We’ll probably go a bit easier on ourselves at the start and then cut back.

On the Islands life will probably be pretty basic. Vegetable and what have you will be available from markets, which will no doubt be the central point of most villages.

I have a few plans in mind, for one thing I’m planning to take a load of the stock cubes we use, in a clip lock box. I think that will give the undercurrent of a familiar taste to the food we cook, at least initially, which I hope will help the children. In Malawi Simon used to make pasta and we also managed to somehow get our hands on a bread maker, which was amazing. We’ll be exploring all of our options, at least for our time in Mwanza.

Will you need to take clothes for the children in bigger sizes?

Global clothes waste in unfortunately a reality. Our charity shops in the UK and elsewhere get so swamped that much of it is sent over to Africa. Local individuals are able to purchase a bundle of clothes and sell them on to make a small profit. For this reason second hand western style clothes are available io a lot of local village, markets. In Malawi there are also shops that sell quality second hand clothes. New clothes imported from China are sold in bigger markets and some shops. There were also one or two South Africa fashion chains. I actually quite liked buying clothes for myself in Malawi because the sizes tended to be small! I will have to confirm with the guys on the ground, but at the moment I don’t plan to take a whole load of clothes out for the children.

One thing I’m more concerned about is shoes, I’m a bit of a clarks shoes fan for the kids, and I’m planning to stock up on sandals and possibly shoes of various sizes at the end of the summer.

Cake, anyone?

Sunday afternoon was our first real chance to present to our church our plans as they stand at the moment. HSBC has an active mission team and whenever there’s an opportunity, such as visiting missionaries, or in our case potential new ones, the team lay on a fantastic spread and invite anyone to come and listen. Armed with lovely leaflets and bookmarks it was our turn to take to the stage. The event was really well attended, with around 40 people and the cakes were top notch! Following the talk we had some really good chats and discussions and hopefully a few more people know a bit more about our plans for the move to Tanzania and the work of Emmanuel International.

We were also asked some really good questions, which have prompted us to do some more research and thinking!

Thank you to all who came! it would be really helpful to have your feedback on the projects and presentation.