Monday, June 29, 2015

JamiiSawa Office and computer lessons

Volunteering @ MamboViewPoint – 20 May 2015 – 17 June 2015
By Niko Winkel

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I wake up every morning shortly before sunrise. To the people living here, the days really last from sunrise to sunset. This is also how they keep track of time: 7 A.M. is called the first hour of the day: ‘saa moja kamili’. The night really falls here: within half an hour, the sky is pitch-black (unless the moon is full, when you might even be able to read outside!). Thousands of stars light up in an infinite black sky. When you walk on top of the mountain, where the house for volunteers is located, it seems as if you find yourself in a quiet and immense theater. However, there is some noise: sounds carry far through the valley. A cow, a rooster. And on set times you hear the muezzins, resounding through their speakers. But even more clearly you hear the children by day. There are so many! 5000 people inhabit the village Mambo, and 2000 of them go to primary school.
Computer lessons with Niko
Computer lessons with Niko

Mambo is located two kilometers lower in the valley. Pikipikis drive around. They bring you from village to village (or from MamboViewPoint to a village) for a very small amount (according to Western standards, that is), yet most people walk. They walk endlessly. The students who attended my (by myself developed) Word and Excel lessons over the past month, walked one and a half hour to MamboViewPoint and back. Ally and Josef are MamboViewPoint’s guides. They both live in Mtae, the village visible on the next ridge. They walk every day, even when there is no work for them. It is at least an hour walk. But when you join one of their beautiful hikes alongside the cliff, to the caves or through the rainforest, it seems as if they do not encounter any resistance. Local men are as slim as Twiggy was in her best years. Women too, by the way – even though being slim does not give a woman status here. It is all about work, here in the mountains. Somebody told me people work even harder than they used to do, which, apparently, is partly because of MamboViewPoint’s efforts.
Herman and Marion, the MamboViewPoint couple, left Lienden, The Netherlands six years ago in order to spend the rest of their lives living from the profit of their lodge and living for assisting the local people in building up a healthier life with more prosperity. This is definitely possible: people here are poor, yet often without good reason, since the land is very fertile. Would they give their cow a bit more proper attention and medicine, they would get a lot more milk. Would they give the women who traditionally help mothers give birth a bit more education, they would save lives (child mortality is very high). Would they have a heater that smokes less, they won’t sit in their clay houses breathing smoke all day long. Babies sleep there as well: you can hear them, but the heavy fog obstructs you from seeing them. Long diseases are the major cause of death here.

Dinner @ home with the local computer teacher Henrish

Dinner @ home with the local computer teacher Henrish

Water facilities should be touched upon as well. MamboViewPoint organizes the digging of wells and the building of the Blue Pumps of Fairwater. Those pumps work for thirty years. It is not just a matter of installing them: MamboViewPoint takes care of the pumps and ensures the fact that people cannot use them freely, since that would miss the whole point of sustainable development.
Since the beginning of 2015 MamboViewPoint’s community development projects are organized from the new foundation ‘Jamiisawa’ (solidarity).

My own goal was something entirely different. Of course, it was a participating observation. My own project is, indeed: getting to know Tanzania from the perspective of good development projects that employ international volunteers. I am no nurse, no agricultural expert, no technician, no social worker. Yet, most international volunteers are not either. Even worse: they are about twenty years old and do not have a single expertise that ordinarily would justify the fact that you are coming to teach the local people something (sorry, youngsters). 

My productivity in four weeks: developing and shaping the library consisting out of 250 titles. I built a computer system for it, which Hoza (Jamiisawa’s manager) can use to keep track of the management and borrowing processes. Hoza is very content with it.
I also made an extensive PowerPoint presentation that teaches Word and Excel to beginners. Jamiisawa hired Henrish to teach students. Six computers are lined up in Jamiisawa’s classroom: four are small tablets and two are big laptops with a Spanish keyboard. I now know the symbols you get when you press one of the keys (many actually refer to something else). The upside-down question mark, for instance, is actually a ‘)’. Rafael, a retired Spanish teacher, visited MamboViewPoint a number of times. He taught English to kids at the primary school, and left a couple of old laptops. Hoza’s laptop is also Spanish, and I taught him Word and Excel very intensively.
Hoza’s other project is copying: people often need a copy of something. An identity document, a contract, whatever: they climb the mountain in order to use the area’s only copy machine for 300 shilling per copy (which ends up in the community fund, even though people do not know this). Hoza keeps track of this in an Excel sheet. I inserted some formula and secured the sheet. The only thing he has to do is keeping track when, for whom and how many copies he makes. He had already made a lot of mistakes, so the money they had in stock was not in accordance with what they thought they had.

Introducing efficient, smokeless stoves
Introducing efficient, smokeless stoves

The computers here are the only ones in the area. Two of the students that attend our classes every afternoon, are teachers at a primary school in Kwentiindi, a village four ridges and valleys away. They listen carefully when I do magical things on the computer. Especially Excel is fun: I notice myself enjoying playing with it (“look, when you enter this, and you press that key..” and the subsequent astonishment in their eyes when all numbers change instantly). 
These guys are teachers with a moderate knowledge of the English language, even though they teach English themselves. The other students attend secondary school and are between the ages of fifteen and nineteen (although guessing an age is difficult: I initially thought that the two teachers were students). Their English is even worse. They do not know how to say something like “I do not get it yet, can you explain it again?” and only say “yes.” Do you understand? Yes. Don’t you understand? Yes. When Henrish – I practically am the teacher’s teacher – teaches the students, he looks over their shoulders, gazes at the screens, and seems to be mastering the students and matter. Yet, this is only appearance: Henrish knowledge is limited as well. Even though I explained him time and again that creating space in a Word document should not be done by using the ‘space’ key (“Henrish, spaces are invisible devils: they move your text over the edge of the paper when you change something”), he continues to do it. Repeat, repeat, repeat: Marion says. I am actually the same: she always needs to repeat things to me. Well, Marion, I get it now. Development happens slowly. Herman’s and Marion’s stories about their projects and developments during the past five years are characteristic of this: sustainable development does not happen overnight. Nevertheless, it is sustainable. It lasts. There is a lot of development happening here.

Bringing smartboards to the primary schools
Bringing smartboards to the primary schools

I had one other project. Using Excel, I built an administrative management system for the Jamiisawaa foundation (which employs eleven people: some temporarily and some permanently). This system will hopefully account for a good start for Herman. It was secondary work: work for the foundation, without being in direct contact with the locals. Yes: I had an office-job on top of Mambo’s mountain. Even that is possible! It actually seems quite surrealistic.

Everything I described so far accounted for about half of the hours I spent at MamboViewPoint and its Jamiisawa foundation. MamboViewPoint is the organization that funds many community projects. Jamiisawa is the foundation led by locals and is not subjected to business taxes.
The other half of my time allows for getting to know the area better. Together with one of MamboViewPoint’s guides, you can do fantastic hikes through the mountains. Volunteers can do such (half- or full-day) hikes for free. I also got Swahili lessons from Josef for three weeks (an hour every morning). There are, moreover, colorful markets on set days in different villages. Multiple times Hoza or someone else took me to visit a school. We, for example, delivered instructive school plates (smart boards) at schools. Makanyaga made those: he works as an artist for Jamiisawa and is involved in the ‘drop-in project’ that overlooks children who dropped out of school. Makanyaga painted a big mural on the longest wall of my room, depicting my own family (according to photos I gave him) in a Kilimanjaro-like environment. Gijs from Alphen aan den Rijn (The Netherlands) began a circus in which kids perform. During the weekends, kids ride their unicycle down the mountain.

MamboViewPoint also shows their guests opportunities to contribute. You can, for instance, plant trees. It is useful to restore the former tree population: the Eucalyptus trees that consume a lot of water (and other trees as well) actually need to be replaced by local tree species. You can also sponsor a smart board. When you become a ‘Friend of Mambo’ you will be in the system, which allows you to sponsor many great projects. This is very rewarding, since everything will end up at the right place.

Artist Makanyaga paining Niko's friend and children in the volunteer room
Artist Makanyaga paining Niko's friend and children in the volunteer room

During this period I was the only volunteer at MamboViewPoint. It was a relatively quiet time, there were not many tourists. Sometimes ‘overlanders’ who travel through Africa by jeep dropped by. When there were tourists, things instantly became livelier. I was just here in mid-winter! In terms of the weather this was obvious as well: I was wearing a sweater most of the time. By night the temperature dropped to ten degrees Celsius. The Kilimanjaro, 160 kilometers away, is usually visible from the mountain’s ridge, but I had bad luck: I did not see it once. Nevertheless, the Kilimanjaro is only the cherry on top: I gazed at the valley every morning, seeing villages 1300 meters below me, the Pare-mountains on the other side and the Mtae-ridge in the east. In the west you can even see the highway from Dar to Arusha. It remains a wonderful sight.

In July a Polish creative agricultural expert, a couple of midwives, a teacher from The Netherlands and a group of students from the United States will visit Mambo. The tourist season is about to start as well. Marion and Herman suffered from the Ebola epidemic quite heavily (which is strange, since Western-Africa is very far away), but their social organization and community projects keep flourishing. Marion just got back from her first visit to The Netherlands in six years. The culture shock was immense: she is glad to be back and had difficulty comprehending how neat the country was (“I would not be able to live there any more”).
I am grateful for having been able to stay at MamboViewPoint for a month. That might sound quite devotional, but I truly mean it. I perceive it as a privilege that I was able to add a month of such wonderful experiences to my life. 

I can now start to translate this story to my own project: GoTanzania ( That is what it was, initially, all about: spreading the word about the real, genuine development organizations that employ volunteers in Tanzania. This was a great start.

Niko Winkel, 19 June 2015.

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