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.

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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!

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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