good-bye Bunda -jb

I have traveled a fair bit, but participating in this service learning program has been so much more than just traveling. I have learned so much about Tanzania, culture, and most of all I have learned so much about myself. Tanzania has been, by far, one of the most amazing places I have visited. The people here have a very special way of welcoming you, loving you, and making you feel like family. 5 weeks is not nearly enough time. My heart is heavy knowing that my time here is finished. As I write this, we’re in the CPAR truck on our way to Mwansa. Susie’s flight leaves today. Our flight leaves tomorrow.

Friday was our last day at Sazira School and Monday was our last day at Kunzugu School. I am so proud of the students and their commitment to the program. All the students we talked to had very positive things to say about their experience. They said they felt that they had learned something very valuable that they will take with them to their friends, family and community. One student that Melanie had talked to at Kunzugu said that he wishes that he could participate next year as well. A student from Sazira commented on his new understanding of gender and equality. I bellieve the students were happy to learn about sex and how to protect their health, which is so important. Yesterday we even stopped at a local hospital where we saw a waiting room full of HIV+ individuals who were there for meds and a routine check up. Even one of the CPAR staff talked about how her family has been affected by HIV. I feel so far removed from HIV and AIDS; in fact I don’t know anyone personal who is HIV+. I hope the students we’ve met take their knowledge to become our leaders of tomorrow. I know I will share my knowledge with my friends, family and community.

I’m struggling with the lack of contact I will have with the students now. They have been so influential on my life. I’m having a hard time accepting that our connection ceases now that we leave. It may be a selfsih thought that I would like to remain connected to them, I hope they view me as a friend and a resource. That is just my wish. We created an email so the students could contact us and remain connected if they have any uestions, thoughts, or just to keep our friendship.

There’s an African proverb that I learned our last day at Kunzugu School when we were celebrated for our time with the students; “Mgeni njoo, mwenyeji apone”.It means the guest comes so that the host can heal. It’s a beautiful proverb, but Tanzania, my friends, my new family, its so important that you know that you have healed me. I have had an incrediably hard start to my year. But the time I have spent here, has brought me back to myself. I am inspired. I am blessed. I am forever thankful. You have reminded me to stay tue to myself and follow my heart. My dreams of helping people, my strong desire to advocate for human rights and builld a healthy, peaceful sustainable future has been reconfirmed. All of the people I have met here have touched my heart in such a significant way. Words could never express my gratitute and love.

Asante Sana.
Nakupenda sana.


the fine line between harmful and helpful – jb

The last week at Kunzugu about half of the class did not attend the program. We saw some of the students outside of the class, and even though we encouraged the students to come, they didn’t come. I was feeling really disappointed by this, and I felt really surprised because the students that were picked for the program are considered leaders in their schools. I’m also surprised because Kunzugu School has participated in this particular program in the past. I wonder if last year attendance was an issue? Delfina has told us that this is because some of the students are done school and live far away, and because of language barrier. I know that this is likely the case, but I’m finding it hard to remove myself from the equation; I have a feeling that we could have done something to improve the attendance rate. For the students that have continued at Kunzugu I am noticing a change in their willingness to participate in the classroom. The students at Kunzugu were shy at first, especially compared to Sazira School. However I imagine this was because of language, and not a reflection on the students willingness to participate. Delfina has said that our interactive classroom style is very different than the ways the students are taught at school, so I imagine this is also an adjustment as well. I believe the way we have been conducting our classroom encourages the students to formulate their own thoughts and opinions about the material we are presenting to them. I believe they have done a really good job at this.

At Kunzugu one of the students asked the question box “Why are you teaching us bad things?” My heart actually felt really heavy when I read this question. The combination of this question and the lack of attendance at Kunzugu has been quite bothersome to me. We were asked this the day that we practiced using condoms. We also handed out condoms to them this day as well. I think I have been feeling upset because the last thing I want is to make the students feel as though we are imposing our beliefs and cultures on them. I understand how some of the students perceive our intentions as encouraging sexual behaviours, but this is not what we are here to do. Our intention is to inform our students about sex (correct condom use, male and female reproductive systems, HIV and STIs, etc), and to get the to explore if they are really ready to engage in sexual activity. A part of me worries that the students have not been attending because of the subject material. The last thing we are doing is encouraging them to have sex, and I’m worried that somehow our intentions have been lost to the students. I am also terrified that our intentions have come off as the typical colonization approach that has been so harmful to people in the past. I don’t think this is what we have done at all, but it really opens my eyes to how easy it is for people to forget about the population they work with (I think about residential schools, and the 60s scoop in Canada).

This has been a significant part of my learning experience here, and I hope to explore this issue in a development and social work context a bit more. I work with a vulnerable population, and as a future social worker, I will continue to work with a vulnerable people. I feel as this issue, of imposing my culture, beliefs, opinions (and likely policy), is something I need more experience and understanding in. I need to be well informed about how easy it is to marginalize and oppress the people I work with. I’m learning there is a fine line between advocacy and help, and oppression and harm. Even with the best intention it’s very easy to harm others.


Challenging Perspectives –LL

There have been two independent incidences this week that have made me aware of the biases I hold. The first was at Sazira Secondary School while we were doing an activity called “vote with your feet”. In this activity a statement is read and students have to decide whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement and stand at the appropriate designated area. Having talked about gender equality and assertiveness in our sessions with the students, we wanted to see what their opinion on the following statement was: “Women should make the decisions in the home”. Being a female having grown up with the freedom to make decisions for myself I believe that women are fully capable of making the decisions in the home. About 2/3rds of the students held the same view as I did, but about 1/3 of the students disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement. From this observation I immediately jumped to the conclusion that these students believed the opposite, that men should make the decisions in the home. I was equally concerned and disheartened that even after all of our discussions these students still held these views. How the students responded to the next statement made me realize just how wrong I was. The next statement read, “men and women should make decisions together in the home”. After hearing that statement all those that disagreed/strongly disagreed with the last statement moved to strongly agree. They explained that the reason why they disagreed in the first place was not because they did’t believe women should be making decisions in the home but that the process should involve all parties. How shameful of me to swing so radically in favour of giving the female the power that I forgot all about the man in the process. Women empowerment should not involve oppression of men in the process. While that concept is obvious to me this incident made me realize that I should be more conscious of the fact so as to avoid subconsciously practicing it.

The second incident happened at Kunzugu Secondary School. After reviewing and demonstrating to the class how to properly use a male condom there were two male students that asked us about female condoms and inquired as to why we didn’t have any to show them. It wasn’t until a more in-depth discussion that Delfina and Melanie had with one of these students after class that we understood the reasoning behind their inquiry. One of the male students shared with us that there are females who want to get pregnant and will convince men into having unprotected sex with them by lying about having a female condom in. Without knowledge about female condoms how is he to know the difference? After becoming pregnant the female will then lie about gaining weight to cover up the pregnancy until it is far enough along that she can rope the man into taking responsibility. This perspective surprised me and I think that’s because I hold the common assumption that the female is usually the victim. I am aware that it can happen the other way, but it isn’t a perspective that immediately comes to mind. What does this say about the way I think about gender?

Gender equality is the notion that everyone should be treated the same despite your sex. It is a concept that is influenced by socio-cultural factors and the attitudes and beliefs that individuals in the community hold. This in turn has wide-spread consequences that affect what opportunities are available to different genders. For example, a patriarchal society would value education for males who then go on to take on influential roles in the community contributing to policies and economic growth of society while women will assume the unpaid domestic roles. When half of the population is not able to contribute to the greater society how can it expect to reach its full potential? The two incidences I encountered this week helped me to realize that I hold a perspective bias towards women being the victim of circumstance and that women empowerment should be the means of achieving gender equality. While holding this attitude I have forgotten about the male perspective. If I believe that men shouldn’t have the only say in the home, then I shouldn’t believe that a woman should. If I expect men to take responsibility for a pregnancy then we should also be educating them about a number of ways to prevent against it. These incidences have made me consciously aware of the fact that gender equality can only be achieved by changing the attitudes, behaviours, roles and responsibilities of ALL the people in a community, both men and women, to facilitate an environment that allows people to empower themselves.


Laughter – MM

Today I’m a toddler.  Only slightly more independent than a baby and equally as able to misunderstand everything and get into trouble.

I’m learning from those around me, but I don’t know the language.  I think I’m ready to venture out on my own but everything is so unfamiliar that I get lost at the first street corner.  I’m sure I can make others understand what I mean, but all the tools in my toolbox don’t seem to work here.  I usually feel more capable than this don’t I?  Even in challenging situations, I can be a champion!  But I’ve certainly yet to win any trophies here.

It’s confusing adapting to being helpless.  Even in the middle of the Canadian prairies, alone, with a flat tire and a dead cell phone, I’d have more resources than I would surrounded by avocados, in the middle of the Bunda market, trying to buy an avocado.  Instead I’ve learned how to ask for help, how to take help and how to give a proper thank you.  Not quite as fulfilling as fixing my own flat, but it all amounts to progress.

To perpetuate this feeling of dependence, I have been “under the weather” for the last few days.  While I am normally completely capable of nursing myself back to good health, being sick is a completely different animal when in a foreign country.

But time after time our endless mistakes are greeted with smiles and laughter.  CPAR staff are constantly having to heard us to the right side (which is the left side) of the road to which they just laugh and poke fun at our sillyness.  Everything we do (wrong) is funny!  Everything they do wrong is also funny…? I am so pleasantly surprised at how good natured Tanzanians are.  A traffic jam, a misunderstanding, there is literally laughter everywhere.

I think of how this might be different in Canada.  Scratch that.  I know how this would be different in Canada.  People not knowing where to walk – well they deserve a honk!  Visitors that don’t know any functional English – well why bother with them…  I made a mistake – how dare you laugh at me… what about my feelings?

Even the kids at school.  The classroom is a fun place.  We make mistakes, they make mistakes, we all laugh together.  Mistakes are greeted with smiles and time, not frustration and impatience.  I know this happens in Canada too, but there is something infectious about the laughter here! Or maybe I’ve just been in a funk for a while. Really doesn’t matter does it?

Loving the laughter.


Lessons learned, being a part-time stranger -DF

Over the weekend we were once again granted the opportunity to observe CPAR in the field! We went with them to Ukerewe, and sat in on a meeting followed by a walk through some of the nearby famers’ crops. It has always been a pleasure to tag along with their work, with all our questions answered without hesitation, and our presence warmly greeted by everyone we passed. We had fascinating discussions on the non-chemical pest control methods of the organic farms, nutritional qualities of maize and alternatives, and other agricultural issues around the health of the vegetable roots and soil erosion. Being a nutrition student, this was most definitely a highlight to my weekend! And once again, we were thoroughly impressed by the hands-on training and development work CPAR led the farmers with.

The local people were beyond welcoming, with smiles from ear to ear. After the meeting, we followed along to see how well some of the vegetables were growing. A beautiful young woman, quite appropriately named Happiness, grabbed our hands, asked us our names, and led us down the path. She patiently taught us the Swahili words for the plants we passed by and frequently reminded me to take photos to show my own family, with a contagious smile that brushed aside the slight language barrier. She wanted me to take many photos to show my friends and family, and insisted I capture the whole field, well as the close up shots of the leaves. And I am certainly grateful I did, I can’t wait to show everyone back home how much green is in rural Tanzania, and of course, how amazing the people are.

The way she presented us with some cassava and oranges, and encouraged me to take these pictures of the fields; she was glowing with pride. It was an incredibly warming moment, and a refreshing reminder of the two way path we are exploring. Just like the kind woman who gave each of us a fresh egg during our previous field visit with CPAR a couple weeks ago, the energy that each of them shared with us will undoubtedly stay with me for a long time.

When I think back to my busy routine at home, I rarely take the time to step back and acknowledge the things I am proud of, yet alone appreciate what others have to offer. I envy the way these strong women handed us, who were complete strangers to them, these thoughtful gifts as we were nothing more than observers to the work being done. But we weren’t strangers for long, as she squeezed a hug goodbye. It’s incredible how deep a conversation you can have with someone you just met, using minimal words, a camera, cassava roots, and smiling eyes. I hope I can relay this energy back home too, and that I take the time to understand, experience, and fulfil the potential that such simple acts of appreciation can heighten.

Two hours on the world’s bumpiest road trip, in a full car… absolutely worth it.


Culture and Development–LL

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.



sex, love, and gender violence – jb

We have just finished our third class in both schools. I’m really enjoying the topics that we are discussing. Linda, Diana, Melanie and I broke up the classes into male and female to talk about several topics. Splitting the males and females is very common here. CPAR said that even in their programs and group discussions they do this. In Tanzanian families it is quite common for father’s to make the final decision. This cultural norm could influence the way in which women and girls participate in group discussions. By splitting into males and females it creates a space where women and girls are not influenced by the men and boys. With that being said, the students are still shy. I think they are still warming up to us, especially the girls. They appear less engaged than the boys; this is my observation, not truth. Is their participation a result of their culture? Is it because of language barriers? Is it both?

Melanie and I have been working with the boys, while Linda and Diana have been working with the girls. We thought it might be good to keep this consistent throughout the program at both schools. We don’t have much time here, so constantly changing who facilitates the boys and who facilitates the girls may affect participation because of the students comfort level. We want to be able to build a consistent stable relationship with the students so they feel comfortable to participate. That way we all get the most out of the program. I was really interested with the opportunity to talk with the boys. I feel as though their ideologies will challenge me the most. It can be so difficult to discuss personal beliefs, especially when the people you are talking with have very different opinions than your own. This is something that I need practice in. I am/was eager for this opporrtunity.

On Day 2 we talked with the students about gender inequality in Tanzania, assertiveness, love, abuse, and gender violence. They all had really good ideas and were able to identify how women and men are treated differently in society. We all facilitated a smaller group. While I worked with the boys, I got them to reflect on how they have felt when they were mistreated or abused, or when they have witnessed someone being mistreated or abused. All of the boys in my discussion groups thought that it was important to defend people who were being mistreated. When we participated in a later activity I took note that some of the boys contradicted this earlier thought. For example, they believed that it’s important to defend people who were being mistreated, and that if a man sees another man beating a woman, he should stop it. But some also believed that there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten. Later, some of the same students who agreed with both statements asked what they should do to stop violence in the home. My observation was that they appeared to struggle with some of their own personal beliefs and thoughts. This is good, I think, because it shows how they can reflect on their thoughts, and their ability to develop their own beliefs.

We also talked about sex with a woman. In our small discussion groups I asked the boys “do you think it is a man’s job or a woman’s job to initiate sex?” Many of the boys said it was both a man’s job and a woman’s job, some said it was a man’s job, but no one said that it was only the woman’s job. I followed up with the question “if a woman tells you no, what should you do?” The boys agreed they should convince her, and if she repeatedly said no then they may try to force her to engage in sexual activity. It was hard to hear that, especially as a woman. I revised the question, and asked them “if you told a woman no, should she try to convince you? What if you continued to say no, could you trust this woman?” All the boys said no, and one said that he would leave the woman. I felt this was a powerful moment. You could tell the boys were uncomfortable, trying to laugh off the question. Some kept their head down, trying to avoid the revised question. Maybe they didn’t want to think about it; but I felt the energy change. The ability to change roles, I believe, was not only powerful for me, but for them too. At least I really hope it was.

Where does this mentality come from? I believe it’s embedded in patriachy, in culture; it’s learned. Canada, North America, the Western world is not exempt from this. I know, as a female, from the perspective of a woman, I can relate to what these boys are saying. I know there are times when I have felt like an object who is suppose to submit to a man’s sexual desires (not needs, they can control their behaviours). It has felt, like sometimes, their desires deserve more attention than my comfort. Somehow me saying no means I am being coy or that I need to be convinced to do otherwise. I’m not sure if this is malicious. I wonder if men have considered the role reversal, if they have thought about being forced or convinced to engage in sexual activity if they have told someone no. I would like to believe that awareness, being able to reflect on one’s behaviour, and open communication between partners would allow men to consider a woman’s comfort over their sexual desires… My hope is that by having these conversations, the mentality of convincing or forcing a woman even if they have said no, will change.