The Babati Rotarian’s plan

Today I begin with a correction: in my June 1 post I claimed that Julian Page’s write-up of the Bacho Community Survey attached to my May 18 post did not report how far the villagers must travel to collect water, only that the “community do not lack water and so food security and vulnerability are not concerns.” Julian caught my error right away and e-mailed from London that I should look again at page ten of the survey, which notes that the “average distance to a water source is 140 meters and 82% of the community live within 200 meters of the water.” As my June 1 post observed, Bacho’s abundance of water puts its villagers in a far better position than people in many other parts of rural Tanzania, who sometimes walk for miles to fetch water. Obviously, though, even transporting water the distances recorded by Julian imposes hardship on the women and children who typically carry it in buckets on their heads. Julian writes that “one household might need to make between 8-10 trips a day” which is “extremely time consuming” and can “lead to skeletal complaints.” He also suggests a link between the time needed to fetch water and the rarity with which the villagers boil water before drinking it: that would require still more time devoted to gathering firewood, whose source for the average Bacho household lies more than three quarters of a mile away.

Karimu’s limitations probably will keep us from bringing running water to Bacho’s households for at least several more years, just as we think we’ll need a lot of time before we can bring electricity. On page eleven, Julian says that electricity’s “nearest access point is 3.4 km”—just over two miles—“away on the main road” and that “lack of electricity leads to. . . lack of businesses such as milling.” I’ve written before about this main road and how it might get the paving it desperately needs in two or three years. This would open up larger markets to Bacho and its neighbor, Dareda, and make many more businesses feasible for both villages.

For a year or so, I had thought about electricity mostly as making it easier for schoolchildren to study, and about a paved road mostly as encouraging surplus agricultural production to take to market. However, that was before Karimu talked last summer with the leadership of Babati’s Rotary Club. To meet us in Bacho, they drove west on that unpaved road, the Singida Road, for the sixteen miles that Julian gives as the distance from Babati—which shocks me and imparts new appreciation of the road’s terrible state, since I had assumed it was much farther from Bacho to Babati. One of the Rotarians, an intense-looking man of Indian descent and a Muslim (named Ahmed or Muhammad, I think), had an inflated sense of Karimu’s resources. He thanked Marianne and me for our efforts on behalf of education and healthcare in Bacho, but then—fixing his stare on me as another man and so, presumably, more knowledgeable about business than Marianne—he said, “These two villages need jobs.” And Ahmed, or Muhammad, had come ready with a proposal to bring jobs to Bacho and Dareda, if only Karimu could supply the needed capital: with electricity already available at the main road and with the tarmac making slow but consistent progress all the way from Arusha, he saw no reason not to fill in the valley between the two villages with a volleyball factory once the tarmac finally arrived.

What impressed me the most about this idea was its specificity. Bacho and Dareda did not need just any factory, they needed one to manufacture volleyballs. Passion for volleyball had gripped India’s hundreds of millions of people and their insatiable market lay only a hop, a skip, and a jump away across the Indian Ocean—probably easier to traverse than the roads from Bacho and Dareda to the coast for now, but no longer once tarmac smoothly covered the entire route.

At least, the Babati Rotarian explained his plan this way. I have no clue whether India has really gone crazy for volleyball, never mind whether Tanzanian volleyballs would stand a chance if China decided to compete. I didn’t need to investigate because Karimu surely cannot build a volleyball factory if we can’t even run electrical wiring two miles from the Singida Road to Ufani Primary School so that the school could benefit from television or computers. So I did not need to ask the people of Bacho and Dareda whether they liked the Babati Rotarian’s idea. Yet—bearing in mind the necessary precautions against allowing a factory to scar the natural environment whose beauty mounts steadily as one walks from Dareda to Bacho—many of the villagers might well desire such a factory. Five years ago Jeffrey Sachs’ “The End of Poverty” raised eyebrows with its praise of Bangladesh sweatshops. But the Bangladeshi feminist and development economist Naila Kabeer had already published research indicating that although Bangladeshi “women have many complaints about their jobs in the garment industry,” of “all the formal institutions that they had contact with, the poor identified the garment industry (alongside NGOs. . .) as the most positive” (http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-trade_economy_justice/article_1977.jsp). And three years ago Kabeer told an interviewer that employment “in a garments factory had been emancipation for women: for young women who were not married, it was escape from the pressure to be married, those who were married did not have to ask their husbands for money, and the divorced or the widowed had enough to be self sufficient” (http://www.newagebd.com/2006/dec/28/newyear07/heroes08.html.)

I don’t want to push the analogy between Tanzania and Bangladesh too far. I confess that I still have an awful lot to learn about Tanzania and my ignorance of Bangladesh is even greater. Nevertheless, the green hills and valleys that take our breath away when we work in Bacho coexist with poverty, isolation, and sparse opportunities much like those which drive Bangladeshi women to take factory jobs—mainly without regret, if we can trust Kabeer’s findings. Although at Karimu we want to preserve everything good that Bacho has, we must persist in trying to understand what the villagers themselves consider good about what they have. If, when the tarmac comes, the Babati Rotarian finds capital for his factory and it turns out the subsistence farmers we know wish to leave their fields behind to make volleyballs for people on the other side of the Indian Ocean, we must not lament Paradise Lost. Nobody is fool enough to leave Paradise. But fools can ignore those things about a place which drive people away and they can, like the fools they are, mistakenly call it Paradise. At Karimu we have the job of learning what the villagers call Paradise and then approximating that as closely as we can.–Don Stoll

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About Don Stoll

Don and his wife, Marianne Kent-Stoll, are co-founders of the Karimu International Help Foundation. They established Karimu in 2008 at the request of the people of Dareda Kati Village, in the Manyara Region of northeastern Tanzania. Karimu is devoted to working with the residents of Dareda Kati in order to satisfy their development needs, as defined by the villagers themselves.
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