Guest Post – By Katie Mead

Hello! My name is Katie Mead and I traveled with Tammie Jo this year to visit the projects of One Small Drop in Tanzania. However, I am not a stranger to Tanzania. In 2012, with planning assistance from Tammie Jo, I spent 3 months volunteering as a nurse at the Mwakaleli Health Center in Kandete, Tanzania.  It was a wonderful experience and I was very excited to return to see old friends this year. In addition to visiting the area, I also completed a fieldwork experience for a Global Health minor as part of my PhD program in nursing. I wanted to learn more about how elders are cared for in the community, as well as evaluate the work that One Small Drop has done with the women’s groups. Today I would like to share a little of what One Small Drop and the women’s groups are doing currently, and their future plans.

In 2008, One Small Drop began providing assistance through seed grants to four women’s groups in the Mwakaleli area in the Livingstone Mountains located in southwest Tanzania. Together they formed an organization called Lukamanda. Eight years later, Lukamanda consists of 11 distinct groups: 10 groups of women from 10 different villages, and 1 support group for persons living with HIV/AIDS. It has also recently registered as an official NGO with the government. Through small infusions of capital from One Small Drop, these groups have been able to start income-generating projects that are now sustainable. As One Small Drop has achieved its goal of helping to support sustainable projects for the groups, it will be dissolving in two years.

Tumaini Potato Project

Currently, each group is running a variety of income-generating projects, many of which are self-sustaining. Some popular projects are growing avocado trees and potatoes, raising pigs or chickens, and administering microloans. Microloans seem especially popular and profitable, as most of the groups have started this project. The larger Lukamanda group is now saving funds so that it can run a more centralized microloan program.

The groups also have a number of plans for the future. Some groups are hoping to buy equipment for milling trees and one group wants to buy a press for sunflower oil. Several groups also want to expand their microloan programs so that more women are able to benefit. For example, in Mbigili, only 28 out of 100 potential women were able to receive microloans, so expending this program is a high priority for them.

The women named a number of things they have learned by working on these projects. First, they learned how to work together and also form partnerships with others, the local churches being the most common partner. They have learned practical skills related to farming and administering the microloan programs. The women have also gained project evaluation skills. When they see that a certain project is not profitable, they invest their earnings in a different project. For example, many potato projects failed last year due to lack of rain, so many of the groups invested in microloans instead this year.

(L-R) Two Luteba Women, Lukamenda Pres. Tumpe, Luteba Pastor

The ultimate goal of all the groups is to improve their communities. The theme of empowerment and “building women up” was threaded throughout each conversation. They want to be able to support their families, as well as share what they have learned with others. With their earnings, the women also want to help orphans, widows, and elders, the most vulnerable members of the community. It was wonderful to hear the women discuss these things. It was also very encouraging to hear their male advocates voice these hopes as well.

Counting the election ballots for new treasurer

The future for Lukamanda is very promising. While we have very sadly lost Labani, the Lukamanda manager, earlier this year, his replacement, Oscar, is trained in agriculture and works very well with each group. He will be administering a new water irrigation project for Lukamanda, which will help prevent crop failure from drought and can also be rented out to generate more income for the group. Lukamanda also held an election during our trip and chose a new secretary and treasurer, and will continue with their current chairwoman. Previously, a retired male accountant served as treasurer, but now one of the women will be taking over that position. It was wonderful to see how far the women have come in eight years, and very exciting to hear their plans for the future.

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Trip 2016 – A Year of Changes

Preparing for this trip I knew there would be several topics that would be challenging: Replacing Labani as manager and informing the groups that One Small Drop would be dissolving in 2 years. Yet I was excited to go back and see how the projects were doing and reconnect with friends.

Katie with Mbafwa ladies

It turned out to be a wonderful trip! Katie Mead joined me. She is no stranger to the Mwakaleli area. 4 years ago I was able to arrange for her to volunteer at the health care center in Kandete. She stay for 3 months. Her many friends were VERY excited to welcome her back!

We arrived 12 hours late in the mountains due to missing our flight in Dar es Salaam, but we were greeted by Sara Mwalilino (Pr. Andrea’s wife), and Tupo (out interpreter).

Oscar

Oscar has been working with the women’s groups while Labani had been sick last year and was highly recommended to be the one that takes on the manager position. The women embraced him with open arms. He impressed me more than I can say! He was gentle, encouraging, respectful and charming.

We visited ALL of our groups and they shared how their projects were going. With each visit I could see Oscar’s confidence blossom and grow into this beautiful leader. With the dissolution of One Small Drop, I pointed out that Lukamenda (the non-profit organization the women organized, having 2 representatives from each group) would have to figure out a way to take over the support of the manager position. They developed 2 plans to do this:

1. They will create a Lukamenda Micro Loan Project, with each community contributing $10/month to get the fund started. (By the way, 8 individual women groups are also doing their own Micro Loans and profiting nicely – helping both the local women getting the loans and interest to the group).

2. They plan to use the irrigation project. Lukamenda members would get the irrigation for free, but other local farmers would pay to use/hire the irrigation system.

Oscar next to avocado tree at Mesebe

It was encouraging to listen to the reports and watch them figure when a project wasn’t working to their standards, they felt confident enough to change the project.

Avocados

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Very Sad News to Share

It is with a very sad heart that I share Labani Mwaikenda passed away this morning. It was very unexpected because he was feeling very well after his long illness. He was the project manager for all of One Small Drop’s community projects. His life touched many people and he will be missed dearly.

Labani had a heart for the community, his family and especially the orphans. Little children always gathered around him. He and his wife Kigali (pictured below) had a yard that was a welcome zone for any young child that had no place to go.

The women empowerment projects of One Small Drop were a passion for Labani. He believed the adage “when you empower the woman, you empower the family”. He was a confidant, encourager and teacher to all 11 groups that One Small Drop has a relationship with. He took his position as manager very seriously because he saw, first hand, how directly beneficial the projects were to the women and widows which lead to benefits for orphans, families and the community.

We were very blessed to have know and worked with Mr. Labani Mwaikenda. Prayers go out to his family and community.

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Giving Back – Oscar

I am grateful, as always, to have experienced a wonderful trip to the Livingstone Mountains in Southwest Tanzania with traveling partner, Marlie Thomas-Rowell.

We were wowed by the progress being made in each of the 11 communities on their projects. This is a diagram of the projects each community has!

But I want to share a story with you about Oscar.

Oscar is a young man that One Small Drop has supported to go to University for Agriculture, through private donations. We met Oscar about 4 years ago through his sister. We were meeting orphans in the Lusanje area. She told us of the 5 children in her family recently left orphaned. Oscar was her older brother, the eldest in the family. We located Oscar and found out he didn’t have enough funds to finish his last year in high school and take the entrance exam for university. He was sponsored by fellow travelers Brenda and Buttons. The following 2 years his university education was also sponsored and he has graduated. In gratitude, Oscar gave me a chicken.

He returned to the Lusanje area and offered his services to the women to assist in making their projects more profitable.

When visiting the 11 communities and their projects, it became apparent that the low rainfall this year is affecting the potato crops in several areas. We suggested that Oscar look into the costs associated with irrigation in these areas (portable pumps and piping). There are artesian wells located near most of the farm areas, making it easy to connect to water. We are waiting to hear projected costs. This could turn into a possible job for Oscar, visiting the fields of our communities in need as well as offering his services to others in the area.

What a wonderful example of how one small drop of assistance can create great ripples of change.

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We are Ready for 2015 Trip!

Last night our local library had a celebration of heroes in our community. Throughout the summer children have been reading books to benefit One Small Drop. The goal was for all ages is to read or be read to 20 minutes per day or 2 hours per week. The child could then choose to give their reading hours to 2 charities with One Small Drop being one of them! It was a great celebration to be part of. There were people from the Fire and Ambulance Department, Police Department, the Community Garden, the Humane Society, The Lions/Lioness, The National Guard, 4-H, Farmers and One Small Drop. Thank you!!!

It is that time of year when all the plans that have been set in motion come together for the amazing and incredible trip to meet my “Family and Friends” across the ocean in Tanzania. I am excited to see the progress of the projects and to visit with my dear friends. There are 11 communities/groups that are working on projects that benefit women, widows and children. Some are entering the 7th year of projects! It is hard to believe our relationship has been cultivated for that many years already! I have been blessed.

I am excited to bring a guest from Salem, Oregon with me on this trip. Her name is Marlie Rowell. I love watching “first timers” experience the wonderful people and culture in Tanzania!

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2014 Trip is In the Books

Another year has come and we have just returned from visiting our dear friends in the Mwakaleli District in the Livingstone Mountains in Southwest Tanzania.

My traveling partner this year was Linda Carey and she was a great companion. She commented several times about the over-the-top hospitality we received wherever we went and understands why I fell in love with these ladies that One Small Drop is working with in 11 different communities. She had fun one evening teaching some of the local children the hand game “This is the church, this is the steeple, open the door, and see all the people”

Unexpectedly, my daughter, Alexandria, also joined us. She had been studying in Sierra Leone for the past 6 weeks on her Masters in public health. But due to the Ebola crisis, her university requested that she leave the country immediately. She joined us a day late, but it all worked out. I think the ladies also enjoyed meeting a member of my family.

The projects are all moving along nicely. The original 4 communities (Lusanje, Kandete, Mesebe, Ndala) each have a pig project, potato project, avocado project and orphan uniforms. They have begun to reap the benefits of their sustainable projects and have begun doing micro loans within their communities.

Mwakaleli, Luteba and Mbafwa each have one year of the potato project under their belt and Mbafwa is the first community to do a chicken project.

Mbigili, Ukukwe, Isange and Tumaini are the final 4 communities. 2 of them started avocado projects last year, and one used funds to start a micro loan project. These communities received funds on this trip to start potato and bean projects. I look forward to seeing their start-ups next summer.

We were without our special friend, Tupo, who is my right hand. She is the interpreter and was missed dearly! But in her absence we had a very fine young man named Peter Mwakatobe who was an inspiration. At 27 years old he is involved with a local non-profit that encourages local children about the importance of staying in school as well as educating the parents and community about the importance of sending their children to both primary and secondary school.

Labani is the manager of all the projects, visiting each community to provide guidance and answer questions to issues that may arise. He is a BUSY man!

We are also thankful to Mr. Mwaikuyu, our driver, who skillfully bounced us to each of our 11 communities.

I am always humbled and amazed with my time in these communities. Every year they teach me that scarcity is a frame of mind. And to spend time with them enriches my heart and soul.

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Take, Take, Take Again

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The holiday season is all about giving. Here is a twist to consider. How about if we take…

- Take action against global poverty and hunger

- Take responsibility for sharing with our neighbors and strengthen communities

- Take heart to change a person’s life

In August, we met with 4 new groups to begin conversations to begin projects that empower women, widows and orphans. This makes a total of 11 communities/women’s groups that we are working with. If funds are secured, 3 of the 4 new communities will be starting the potato project next year and one will be starting a bean project. They are all starting the avocado project this winter by planting 200 seedlings each.

Why avocados? Here are a few avocado facts:

· An avocado tree can produce fruit up to 80 years

· By age 3 an avocado tree will produce 220 pounds of fruit per tree

· Within 10 years it produces nearly 880 pounds of fruit per tree

· At full maturity a tree will produce 1100 pounds per tree.

A simple avocado is the difference between sleeping on the floor, or in a bed for a Tanzanian. This single fruit is the difference between eating a meal containing meat, fish, or poultry three times a week, or never feeling the benefits of eating protein. It is the contrast between having lamp light to illuminate a home, or fumbling through the darkness of night.

Total funding needed for the 4 community projects is $6500. We are well on our way, with over $4000 in the bank! Yay!

Charlene Reiter, who traveled to Tanzania with me in August, is spearheading a Winter Garage Sale Feb. 1, to be held at Lessons From The Art studio. If you have gently used household furniture, books and clothing please contact her directly 715-572-8855. Watch for more details!

Of course you can always send donations directly to One Small Drop, N6823 Co Rd J, Iola, WI 54945. Every little bit helps.

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Coming to a Close – this trip…

As we arrived in each village we were greeted with women in colorful headdresses and traditional kitenge skirts (cloth squares printed with bright colors and patterns). They were smiling, waiving branches and singing. They would each shake our hands and welcome us in Swahili with “Karibu”, which means “you are warmly welcome”. Smiles, hugs and sometimes tears came from friendships that have developed over the past 5 years.

Even the 3 new women groups were anxiously waiting to begin the conversation with One Small Drop. We always talk about what their strengths are and how they can use those strengths to improve their community.

This is where I stay and is known as Tammie Jo’s home. It is part of a Lutheran conference center. This is one of 2 homes that have the luxury of beds and flush toilets.

Each day our day begins with the morning sun peaking over the Livingstone Mountains and filtering through our window. Looking out our front door we already see women carrying buckets of water and huge bundles of fire wood on their heads, which they have cut with machetes. Someone was up very early heating water over 3 stones in their kitchen (which is usually a separate small clay walled building) so Charlene and I could each have our own bucket of hot water for a bath.

Carrying fire wood

It is no easy feat to arrange these meetings with the women groups. Communication starts with Pr. Andrea (instrumental in planting the seed for One Small Drop) , then dates have to be arranged that work for my interpreter, Tupo – my right hand gal and more. She lives 20 hours away in Moshi, but she grew up in these Villages and her parents are still there. Then Labani, the project coordinator is contacted to begin lining up the meetings and transportation in the mountains.

Tupo, my interpreter

I know I talk about the roads every time, but these village are very remote. Roads are more like paths – but the paths have ruts, pot holes and caverns big enough to swallow small cars – and not just every few miles…every few yards! The manual 5-speed pickup we used this trip never goes beyond 3rd gear as we go up, down and around mountain paths. The villages are all relatively close – perhaps 15-20 miles from our home, yet it takes us an average of 30-60 minutes to arrive.

Potato truck tipped over on the "road"

It has been a humbling experience again visiting with the amazing lady groups. The four original groups gave a report on their projects and what their plans are for keeping the projects sustainable. Some of the groups have even started their own micro-finance program, assisting women and widows in very small business loans.

The excitement among women and stories of how the projects are assisting others in the area is truly a representation of “One Small Drop” making many ripples.

Sometimes when I am home, I wonder what direction One Small Drop is supposed to take. Are we supposed to continue? When I see the faces of these women and their eagerness to get a chance to better their lives through their own hard work – I know it is worth it.

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10 Communities – Oh My!

Kukukwe Ladies looking at their picture

The short time we are in the Livingstone Mountains means there is much travel to take place to meet with each of the communities. From the center of these communities, the furthest one away is about 15 miles, BUT it took us 1 hour to travel that 15 miles. It has been raining and cool here, causing travel to be more, shall we say, slippery. On our way up the mountain, there was a large commercial truck hauling potatoes tipped on its side. We were able to squeeze through.

The women groups are amazingly welcome and patient, as we are often late (Africa time). We get to conversing, and sharing and looking at projects, and having tea, and then…we are late for the next town.

Charlene has commented about their extreme hospitality. Their singing feels like love is washing over us. They literally have nothing but the clothes on their back, yet are compelled to give us something, even if it is a chicken from their yard.

We have met with 6 of the ten communities and we are excited to see what the new communities would like to do for projects. We will meet with the leaders of each of the women groups on Friday.

Charlene has taken a million pictures (and I am only exaggerating a little). We are trying to get a picture of each women group and make an album for their community. The pictures are a hit with the ladies as Charlene shows them their picture on her iPad after it is taken.

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Here We Go!

Here We Go!

Charlene Reiter is my companion for One Small Drop’s 7th trip to the Livingstone Mountains in Southwest Tanzania.

We are excited to bring start up funds for the sustainable projects identified by 3 new communities last year. The projects will empower women in Isange, Mwakaleili and Mbafwa. Each of the women’s groups have chosen to start with the potato project . (See more info on the potato project under the project tab.) In addition, Mbafwa will also start a chicken project.
The addition of these 3 women groups makes a total of 7 communities One Small Drop has a relationship with. There are 10 communities in the district and we plan on starting conversations with the 3 remaining communities on this trip.
We are also trying a new transportation method. I have always said that the travel is the hardest part of the trip: 23 hours of air time, then 13 hour bus ride, then a two hour 4-wheel drive, toss & turn trek (literally) into the mountains. Ohhhh my body is tired just thinking about it!
The 13 hour bus ride is being replaced by a 2 hour propeller plane ride to a newly opened airport in Mbeya, leaving us with a couple hour bus ride before heading into the mountains. I can’t begin to explain the luxury change this will bring!!!
Stayed tuned for this year’s stories and miracles over the next 2 weeks!

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