I'm taking advantage of free Internet at the hotel where I'm staying in Arusha to send this update. I arrived in here Monday night. It's five hours by bus from Nairobi, with a population of about 300,000 -- a perfect size. Not too big! Fairly good infrastructure, lots of trees and the city is surrounded by Mt. Meru -- very scenic. Since arriving I've been visiting grantees and potential grantees as well. The first day I met with the Maasai Women's Development Organization, which has received 2 grants to work with the Maasai, who are one of the most marginalized communities in Tanzania.
MWEDO is linked to GROOTS International that we fund in Kenya and targets pastoralist communities to advance women's rights, property rights, and economic independence. It provides business skills training, HIV and health awareness, literacy classes, scholarships for girls, and information sessions on women's rights and land rights. MWEDO assists Maasai women in obtaining land titles to protect themselves from land privatization schemes that are pushing the Maasai onto smaller and smaller spaces. The literacy classes utilize content that is relevant to the Maasai, and after six months groups of women develop a group IGA project to enable women to earn income. The HIV education is really important as the Maasai are polygamous and regard AIDS as a "town disease". However, they have been receptive to the training and have stopped some of the cultural practices that put youth at risk.
I like MWEDO's methodology of using traditional structures for the training, and facilitating brainstorming by the community on how they can solve their own problems. MWEDO asked for specific assistance in establishing an endowment (inspired by reading GFW newsletters!)
Yesterday I went out to Emusoi Centre, about a 30 minute drive, which is a school for Maasai girls preparing to enter secondary schools. Emusoi means "discovery" in Maa, the language of the Maasai. Because many Maasai attend sub-standard primary schools, Emusoi Cnetre offers remedial courses to prepare them for the national exam to enter high school.
The facilities are very nice, for about 40 students, who are then placed in various high schools in the region with Emusoi paying tuition, uniform and incidentals since parents cannot afford it.
I was very impressed with the Centre -- the students I met were beginning their annual program. Many are the only girls in their family to attend school. If they were not at Emusoi they would have been married by now. A few are married but their mothers insisted they continue school. It's heartening to hear that the demand for placement is increasing, the Parliament member from the Maasai district is regularly referring students (finding sponsors for them), even the male guards at the school have reserved spaces for their daughters. The first university student sponsored by Emusoi will graduate this year. It is hoped that Maasai women will return to their communities to teach, as there is dire shortage of teachers in their communities. The talk with the girls was wonderful - they started out very quiet, but at the end they couldn't stop asking questions.
Today I spent time with a group of women farmers that works with Global Service Corps, a San Francisco-based organization that runs sustainable development programs in Tanzania. They host American volunteers to work in Arusha for one month to 6 months, with focus on AIDS, nutrition and sustainable development. The sustainable development piece involves training women in organic farming. We went out to their demonstration farm, which uses compost, mulch, and techniques that require less water and promote growth of natural seeds. The idea is to grow healthy food that is independent from fertilizers and costly imports. So the women's group I met has been part of this training, which they say is what their grandparents used to do until World Bank programs forced them to do otherwise.
The group is interested in selling their organic produce for income, but challenges include: no organic certification, no marketing training, need for business skills, interest in microfinance , food processing and additional training in general. They described their lives as hectic with farm work, childcare and do not have a clinic close by. When we talked about women's rights, they indicated they want classes for men on gender and HIV/AIDS. The training is a training of trainers model so the group is now training other women and communities are becoming more independent. So it's been a very fruitful and productive trip!