Tanzania Diary: August 6 (night)

Marianne and I think Karimu can achieve more on this trip to Tanzania than on the previous two because this year we’ve brought not only volunteers of good will determined to work hard, but a few volunteers who plan to use their specific professional skills to develop new projects in areas where Marianne and I have no competence. And, if we can trust the famous economist Jeffrey Sachs’ analysis in his book from 2005, The End of Poverty, of the needs of the poorest countries, Bacho must move forward on several fronts whose improvements can provide support for each another.

This makes sense regardless of what one thinks about Sachs’ unstinting advocacy of colossal foreign aid injections into the poorest countries. Early on this trip I have twice caught glimpses of the government corruption that, according to Sachs’ critics, siphons off most foreign aid money, which serves precisely to bolster corrupt and ineffective government that wants to keep citizens poor in order to attract more foreign aid for the enrichment of useless government officials, and so on and on in a vicious circle.

Wherever this debate goes, however, Sachs has convinced me that Karimu’s small-scale operations, which begin and end in Bacho and deliver only trivial enrichment to government officials—we paid off the customs man at the airport and the parking officer in Arusha, after all—shouldn’t stop with education. Sachs convinces me largely because the people of Bacho themselves asked what we could do about healthcare. They know that a sick child, or a child who has to care for a sick parent, cannot benefit from Ufani Primary School or Ayalagaya Secondary School, no matter how much they improve as a result of Karimu’s work alongside teachers and villagers. The people of Bacho also know that an undernourished child might feel too weak to attend school and that a sick child may remain sick in the absence of transportation to a clinic or hospital. The villagers even know that the brightly painted classrooms of their schools, which keep the weather outside with the doors and windowpanes Karimu has paid for, cannot deliver the whole world of knowledge to their children but can merely open up that world to them, by way of a narrow crack through which only the most persistent and luckiest will pass.

So the villagers think about connecting Bacho to the outside world with electricity, which could bring them television—and of course Internet, about which many of them probably don’t know—and with better roads and a four-by-four, like the one I’ve started dreaming about getting to them. Since the stomach attracts a captive audience even when it whispers, the villagers also think about growing more food. Therefore the people of Bacho understand perfectly well, without ever having heard of Jeffrey Sachs, his insistence on improving the lives of rural villagers in the poorest countries by upgrading agriculture and by linking them to the rest of the world as well as by strengthening education and healthcare.

But access to clean water completes Sachs’ recommendations and we don’t yet know what they think of this in Bacho. We have little doubt that the villagers don’t much enjoy hauling buckets of water to their homes, although nobody at Karimu can picture how we would bring running water to every hut. Short of that, making sure they have clean water would thrill us. Yet we don’t know for sure that they do not already have clean water and we don’t even know that they have a sense of water contamination and the harm it does. Fortunately, Tiffany Wise-West has taken charge of finding these things out.

Tiffany, a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz, began collecting water samples for testing during my trip to Arusha. The impossibility of bringing sophisticated laboratory equipment to this remote location means that, at best, she can check only for the presence of fecal coliform. Still, presence of fecal coliform in the villagers’ water might point to a high risk of contracting ear infections, dysentery, typhoid fever, viral and bacterial gastroenteritis, and hepatitis A. It impresses us that Tiffany had hoped to do more, but even what she regards as very simple tests could justify a commitment by Karimu to cleaning up Bacho’s water.

For this reason I worried when, earlier this evening at dinner, she fretted that the conditions here—including chickens walking near her samples—would invalidate her tests. Tiffany needs to boil water to perform her tests which, as a practical matter, means she has to test close to the big outdoor fire where half a dozen village women cook for our volunteers, which in turn means unwanted friendship with the chickens supplying us with eggs and meat. (Our cooks, like all the villagers, adore Cassandra Babcock, the California State University at Long Beach student who has come along on all three Karimu visits to Bacho, and have offered her the chance to slaughter one of the chickens. Cassandra, a vegetarian, will probably decline.)

We’ve finally confirmed a use for at least one of the two StoveTec rocket stoves we brought with us—eureka! Even after Marianne, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, Faren Clum, and I successfully tested the rocket stove in California three weeks ago, I’ve worried that we will fall on our faces when we demonstrate it for the villagers. Now I breathe a sigh of relief and promise that tomorrow I’ll take my stove to Tiffany at her cabin where, safe from all chickens, she can do as much boiling and testing as scientific rigor demands.—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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