This past Sunday we visited a farmer field school that CPAR was working with on Ukerewe Island. I was reminded on Sunday that Tanzania is an ethically diverse country. In Canada, we pride ourselves in being multicultural and being ethically diverse, and it is something that we are visibly reminded of daily. In Tanzania, even though everyone has the same skin colour and all speak in a language that I don’t understand, not everyone is the same, there are over 120 ethnic groups, each with their own unique customs, values, beliefs, rituals and dialect. When we arrived at the village on Ukerewe Island where the farmer field school was located we were greeted by the women who engaged us in a dance while making a high pitch noise with their voices and wagging their outstretched tongue. Once we were inside the farmer field school the locals who were gathered there broke into a song and dance that everyone seemed to know. This customary way of greeting guests could be identified as the visible part of their culture. A less visible part of their culture are social norms, such as the use of casava to make ugali, a staple in the diet of these people. Through the farmer field school, CPAR has been able to educate the community about arsenic in casava as a reason why people are getting sick, and that different crops can be grown and used to make ugali, such as maize. Inno has also worked with the community to show them different techniques to optimize yield such as crop rotation to preserve the nutrients of the soil. Taking culture into consideration, the new crops that are being grown in place of casava may not be as marketable because people use casava to make ugali not maize. The taste may be different as a result of it and people may not like it as much. Maize also needs to be grown, handled and processed differently than casava, will the communities be able to yield and make use of maize like they did casava? To address this, CPAR involves willing community members to run pilot projects to assess how the crop will grow and allow time for the community to adapt and integrate the new crops into their lifestyles. Once the community realizes its potential the projects are expanded by community members sharing knowledge with other community members. The community is encouraged to pool profits from the crops to purchase needed equipment such as a maize processor, hoses and water pumps to increase the value and efficiency of their work. This process takes time and requires that a staff from CPAR develop a working long-term relationship with the community but the hope is that in the end the community will be self sufficient and sustainable which is exactly the direction they are headed towards.
Community development work involves education, the building of relationships, and the consideration of culture. As part of the service-learning course that we take in conjunction with this experience we were asked to ponder what we think development should aim to do and why. I think that development work should see the assets that a community has to offer and to work with the community members to realize the potential of these assets. I think that development work should aim to provide the tools and knowledge necessary for the people to create opportunities for themselves as well as the choice to make use of those opportunities or not. I think that it is important for development to be approached in this way because it puts the people in the driver seat as active participants working towards and reaping the effects of the freedoms that come with development. As a result it becomes self-sufficient, sustainable and appropriate and relevant to the lives of the people in the community. CPAR is an excellent role model of this approach and it was reflected on our visit to Ukerewe Island this Sunday in the respect and gratitude that the community had for Inno and CPAR. I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to work with and learn from such a respected NGO and amazing team of staff.