When I returned from the trip to Tanzania with the Five Talents group and was asked by my colleagues and friends about the visit, I could only say that it was a truly life changing experience. In an English setting I found it difficult to describe the people and places which I was introduced to, but when Five Talents approached me to say that they were planning to invite a fresh set of supporters out to see the programmes, I wanted to share some extracts from the journal I kept during my time in Tanzania. I would urge anyone reading this post to consider taking a similar journey, it’s a trip you won’t forget...
First Morning in Iringa
We were introduced to Japhet Makau, the CEO of Mama Bahati Foundation (MBF) who gave a presentation in which he explained how the Foundation began; a story which is frankly astounding. Japhet described how the former Archbishop of Tanzania founded the organisation after meeting a banana seller named Mama Bahati who was barely making ends meet as a result of the extortionate interest rates of the lines of credit she was forced to take to buy the fruit wholesale. All Mama Bahati needed was a small loan to break the cycle of poverty, and the Archbishop was happy to provide the tiny amount of necessary capital. Soon after, the Archbishop approached Five Talents and asked them to support the establishment of MBF.
Japhet’s account of the organisation’s growth and impact was extremely moving, and the updates on the foundation’s progress were all positive, but what was perhaps best of all was to see this team of people enjoying each other’s company. After the ceremony of a group photo the staff and clients broke out into spontaneous song & dance.
Attending a Village Confirmation
At the end of the week we travelled with the Bishop over many miles of unmade-up roads. Before the service we were entertained by the family of the local pastor who provided us with a generous breakfast which began with the mother & daughter of the household washing our hands – this was such a beautiful & caring action.
We then set off again for the Church which was in the most remote village I could imagine and we drove down a very steep footpath to get to it – the local people are very reluctant to let their guests walk! Even though they do not yet have women priests in this part of Tanzania the Bishop invited me to robe and take part in the service and to give a greeting from Westminster Abbey and it was a great privilege to do this. This was such a memorable morning – I was incredibly moved by the generosity of the people who live in such simple but often harsh conditions. They are all so joyful and pleased to see visitors and their children are amazingly well behaved and so very beautiful.
Later that day: In the afternoon we visited a boarding school and were introduced to a small crowd of 14 -15 year olds who were keen to know what each of us did and to tell us what they dreamt of doing when they grew up. Antony, one of the staff members we were travelling with, asked the children to divide themselves into groups to show who wanted to run their own businesses and who would prefer to work for someone else when they grew up – interestingly nearly all the boys wanted to be employers but only two girls chose that group.
That evening, three of our group were reflecting on our experiences and thinking about the culture we were encountering – each of us had noticed that the people of Tanzania have a very different concept of time from us which gives them the ability to give real attention to the present moment and to appreciate each other and the people they meet from beyond their own community – they have the gift of making others feel special and truly valued.
Visiting a Project
That week we travelled to a remote village with one of the Loan Officers to meet 13 women who were currently receiving loans and had the opportunity to talk with them, to offer our thoughts on running a successful business, and then to visit their enterprises. Once again I have been struck by the friendliness and generosity of the people all of whom are quick to help when they see someone in need (our misfortune with a flat tyre was solved in a matter of minutes by a group of by-standers).
We had a fascinating day amongst the villagers many of whom were the owners of small businesses, selling clothes, groceries, fresh produce, and keeping animals or running food stalls. All the women we met were married except one and all but her had children. When asked why the MBF loans were important, these women gave us the same simple answer again and again: they wanted to make a profit from their work in order to send their children to school.