As many of you know, for the last year I have been working to develop some projects to study what effective interventions can help youth in developing countries better cope with adversity they face, with a particular focus on learning more about the potential role of resilience processes, and how these can be taught. Fortunately, through all my networking I was finally introduced to one really excellent organization Mkombozi, which for the last 10 years has worked with helping street children through providing healthcare, education (including offer street-based schooling), job training, housing, family re-integration services, and so forth. More recently, Mkombozi has begun to expand their focus to include greater engagement with families and communities...with much more focus on prevention and legal reform than just responding ad hoc with services to youth on the street. In fact, they have now taken the focus of working on some more nation-wide initiatives that are really important and amazing - these links below will take you to two web pages that describe their current efforts:
The 50% campaign
ACTT Now & Support giving Tanzanian schools computers and computer training (in pdf).
Mkombozi also continues to raise money to youth kids from difficult backgrounds advance into higher education (and I encourage anyone who is inspired by these efforts to help in any way you can!).
What was a great experience for me on this trip was that I had an opportunity to attend week long organizational meetings, which provided me with the chance to meet just about every person who works in the organization and interact with many of them in various structured group processes. One exercise we did that I found particularly interesting was to explore our own "alignment" vis-a-vis the organization's goals and visions....which of course got me to thinking about how I am aligned in other aspects of my life. A second exercise I liked a lot involved what is known in the organizational development field as ,,open space technology": anyone who had a key concern or question, could write it down on a large sheet of paper, then anyone who resonated with that question could join that group to discuss the issues for about 3 hours - with approximately 8 groups forming based on questions asked by the group. A person could float to any other question discussion too, but most people stayed with their original question. Our question was "how do we get the community to become more engaged with the children we work with, and how do we get the children to become more engaged with the community?" The ensuing conversation had much depth, and was quite wide-ranging...moving from national issues down to what we could do locally - a lot of good ideas came out about how to facilitate more inter-communication and connection between the local communities and the children.
The last two days of these meetings were spent on monitoring and evaluation planning activities, which required the various groups that compose the organization to identify what they had accomplished in the previous six months, and to identify what concrete attainable goals they hoped to attain in the next 6 months. Though it was a challenge to clearly identify what was and will be attained, staff really was able to accomplish a great deal of work, and at the same time lay the groundwork for any future monitoring and evaluation efforts. It at times it got rowdy, as people sorted through the various issues, concerns and needs, but the end results were impressive. Further, this whole experience gave me a chance to do a lot of learning about the organizational needs, and to meet with members of the organization who were interested in being involved in research activities, so we could start planning some future projects. It is so impressive to meet people this committed to helping vulnerable children - to the point of taking services to them in the streets. Superstars!!
A fun side-light to this week for me was the fact that I was part of a commuting car-pool that traveled 60km each way between Mt Meru (a Mt St. Helens type volcano which towers above the town of Arusha) and Mt. Kilimanjaro (towering above the smaller town of Moshi). So you get a bit of a flavor of it, here are a few photos I took one day during the commute:
Hut in the countryside on the south side of Arusha
Coffee lands and corn crops north of Mt Meru, heading towards Moshi
Rolling into the beginning of Moshi town
Mt. Kilimanjaro as we head home
Mt Meru sunset just before Arusha
Mental Health services in Tanzania
One other meeting I had that was an eye-opener for me, was to meet with one Sister Sheila Devane, an Irish nun who has a PsyD. in Clinical Psychology, and who ten years ago founded Mt. Meru Mental Health Centre in Arusha. Mt. Meru Mental Health consists of four people - a psychologist, a psych. tech., and two nurses - and they represent the "mental health system" for the Arusha region (consisting of over 350,000 inhabitants). Needless to say, four people cannot delivery mental health services to such a large population by themselves, so besides offering outpatient services to people who come to them with mental health needs, they primarily focus on finding and providing additional training to other people who have some mental health training in their background, in hopes of expanding services that can be offered through them. There is no public inpatient mental health hospital in this region (in the whole country?), even for short-term acute cases, though some people do end up in the regular hospital briefly. The fact that there is no inpatient mental hospital may not be so bad (long-term care is expensive, and Tanzania just doesn't have that capacity), but it is my understanding that there are really no other services besides outpatient counseling...so there is no safety net like we know in many of the Western countries. So this was my first exposure to more "formal" mental health in Africa...and found that mental health is not really even recognized as a free-standing practice in Tanzania, but instead falls under the umbrella of medical services (with very little, if any, funding nationally). Lots to do in this way...
Alternative Energy in Tanzania
Turning to energy issues, one thing I found out is that Tanzania is an original signatory to the Kyoto Accords. I was wondering to my friend Jo what it would take to help Tanzania be able to access alternative energy resources, especially in light of how poor the country and the people are. Jo said that actually there is already in existence a good way to facilitate this: carbon trading. That because Tanzania does not put the amount of CO2 into the air that the developed countries do, it could use its lack of pollution for carbon trading, and thus having the developed countries pay for Tanzania's credits in exchange for investing money to develop wind, solar, and other alternative energies, which then could set Tanzania up to be more energy stable and self-sufficient. Neighboring Kenya already has a high volume of small home owner solar use, so the technology is in the region, and there is a lot of open range that could hold a large solar field (for example) or for wind generation. Further, in this northern region of Tanzania there are active volcanos, so it is possible that that steam energy could be tapped too. It's all about affordability at this point, but also about priorities.
Additionally, one of the big problems that Tanzania does have is that just about everyone uses charcoal for cooking and heating, which is resulting in deforestation. Some people are now starting to plant forests as a way to get carbon credits, but my friend is looking at it from another angle: what about creating a new kind of charcoal briquet that is made of recycled organic materials...which would address a number of problems at once, especially deforestation and trash?
A catch to all this, however, is the fact that while Tanzania has this opportunity to do carbon trading with developed nations and build an alternative energy infrastructure now...it is apparently not doing anything about this. Why? This is not clear. Do they not see the opportunity? Or do they not know how to work with the whole carbon trading system? Do they not see the value of energy independence? Or what? And what will it take to get the Tanzanian government to see the great opportunity they have to move significantly towards energy independence and do something about it? It's not so easy to go tell a developing nation how to do their business...but this will really be sad if they don't take advantage of this opportunity. Anyone got some good connections?
One thing for sure, there is a big potential for alternative energy in Tanzania...and they can definitely get developing countries to pay for it...right now.
Wildlife and conservation
After this whole first week was finished, I had the opportunity to visit one of Tanzania's smaller national wildlife parks, Tarangire. One thing that Tanzania has done fairly well, has been to recognize the value of the conservation of their wildlife...and the tourism that it brings in. So Tanzania has established a number of very large national parks, for the purpose of protecting this natural resource, and now has more land dedicated to this than just about any other country. This is a good thing, though it is not without its difficulties...
Tarangire is about 2 hours south of Arusha, in north central Tanzania, and maybe 2 hours East of the famous Ngorogoro Crater (which is apparently loaded with animals all year round). During the wet season in Tanzania, most of the animals in the area of Tarangire spread out into the surrounding regions, since there is much more food and water available. But during the dry season the animals in this region all move in around the Tarangire river, as it is the only large source of water available. And this is where you will see the mixing of predators and the hunted, as of course the lions, jaguars and cheetahs all know where to hang out in the dry season! It is interesting to see large herds of zebras and wildebeast cautiously and nervously approach the water.
Before I go further, I will shameless plug my new friend here, who has a business named:
Jo Anderson Safari's and you can look around his website to see what he offers. Jo is a biologist and a wildlife viewing guide, who since the early 1990s has been leading game viewing safari's all around Tanzania, and in parts of Kenya. His wife Kate is the founder of Mkombozi, and thus how I got to know Jo. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to go out "into the bush" with Jo, Kate and their kids, as Jo really is a store of knowledge about birds, animals, animal behavior, and about the various Tanzanian ecologies. If you ever go to Tanzania, you really must check out some parks while there, and I'd recommend Jo as a guide! <end of shameless friend plug>
At any rate...at the end of my trip to Tanzania I got to go visit Tarangire, and below are a few of the many photos I took with my little Nikon camera. In the 24 hours there, we covered not even a fifth of the park, and still saw large numbers of elephant, zebras, wildebeast, Cape buffalo, giraffe, plus a scattering of other animals such as baboons, impala, waterbuck, ostrich, mongeese, Dik Dik...and a huge variety of birds (a great birding area, for sure). The only thing we didn't see were lions, jaguars or cheetahs, who according to other guides had all moved down to the swamps in the lower part of the park (oh well...will just have to go again...).
You can actually rent a private campgrounds there, but you would definitely want a guide and staff, as you will be surrounded by wild animals. We all stayed at this place called the Tarangire Safari Lodge which has an established tent camp with nice solar heated showers and bathrooms, attached to tents under wood roofs, with a large lodge to hang out in, and even a swimming pool. But this is all set in the middle of this national park, with a view down into this small valley and the river, so you can see many animals heading down to the river to drink. My one night in the park, I went to sleep in my cozy bed in the tent and it was totally still and quiet...and sometime in the middle of the night I awoke to the soft sound of an animal walking slowly nearby. My heart started racing...was I being stalked? I mean, it could have been anything (and my imagination was running pretty wild at first), but then I figured out by the small little steps that it was a harmless Dik Dik deer, so something like that. But you never know...there are big cats around, and I saw an elephant poop not far from the tents...and each tent bed has a whistle attached to it, which I assume is to be used in the case of animal "intrusion" (although it is clearly us that are intruding on them).
Safari camp where we had our tents:
From our tents we could see river with this view (with watering Wildebeast herd):
At any rate, I survived the night without being eaten, and after the fantastic morning chorus of birds, we all got up, had breakfast, and then headed back out to view animals. In Tarangire, you are not allowed outside of your cars, except in certain campsites...as truthfully, it is dangerous to be walking around. We took advantage of Jo's solid 4 wheel drive safari vehicle to head off to the East border of the park, and spent half the day working our way south along the boundary. The old horticulturalist in me was thrilled to see the Baobab trees...and especially to learn that these trees are all hollow, and thus have bark on both the outside and inside...which protects them from being killed when the elephants strip the outer bark off for food. Here are some photos of animals (and Baobab trees) I took from our tour:
Elephant mom and baby
Zebras in river
Giraffe (I did not know this, but giraffe mothers raise their young collectively in what is called a "crèche", in order to more easily protect them from predators)
Baboon male (he sat down in front of the truck and wouldn't let us pass until his troupe had crossed the road)
So my trip to Tanzania was a very informative and productive, in that I got a lot of work done I needed to and I learned a great deal. Plus I met many new, friendly and hard working people, made some new friends, and even got to see a bit of "the bush"..
And after all this, some may want to know, "where do my projects in East Africa all stand?" Well, there are now solid projects developing in Uganda and Tanzania, and I am working on expanding possible collaboration partners. What continues to be the challenge, and this is what all organizations and projects in Africa continually face, is the issue of finding funding for supporting the research, training and programs we hope to do. From the perspective of the amount of money that is out there being spent, our project costs peanuts, and I believe we can truly help local organizations better develop their skills and capacities, and thus become more effective and self-sufficient. Still, this is the hurdle to be crossed...it will take more work...and some luck. I welcome any leads you may wish to offer! Call me crazy, but I remain optimistic.