I’ve interrupted reproduction of my Tanzania diary notes to update the progress—maybe not the most accurate term—of the women’s healthcare initiative that we hoped would revive the Integrated Agricultural Training Center. In my September 24 post I explained that the Center’s Director, Justine Sokoitan, and two pastors from the Lutheran Diocese of Arusha had started to consider my suggestion that the Center would better its chances of getting funding if it emphasized women’s health programs over teaching improved agricultural methods to local farmers. Justine and the pastors accepted my idea before we left the village on August 14, implying that they now took responsibility for organizing midwives and other local women to talk about and agree on their healthcare needs.
But in that September 24 post I also reflected on “how often I have misunderstood what goes on in Tanzania” and, by the end of the month, developments connected to our women’s health initiative had underlined my ignorance. In the last few days I have received e-mails from different Tanzanians giving conflicting accounts of who has the right to represent the Center. Although nobody contests the Lutherans’ ultimate authority over the Center, that cannot help settle disputes among different Lutheran factions. One man says he has already organized meetings among more than a dozen midwives while another man insists the local midwives know nothing of any such meetings, therefore he, the second man, will organize them. And so on.
In an idle moment I googled the Lutheran Diocese of Arusha and found the name of its Bishop (or the name of the Bishop of the North Central Diocese headquartered in Arusha, which has no Diocese named after it). However, I don’t even consider contacting the Bishop for clarification of the Center’s chain of command. That would merely raise the stakes, the last thing I want to do. I’ve made the judgment that we need to put as little stress as possible on who will organize midwives and other local women and as much stress as possible on what emerges from their meetings—whether or not some of those meetings have already occurred. I think in the end this project will work because it’s too important not to. I think the men challenging each other for control will realize their egos don’t count for much compared to the lives of the women we can save. One way or another the midwives and other women will get together and reach agreement about what they need and what changes they wish to see.
Veronica, the midwife who told us about the high incidence of genital cutting among local women, impressed our gynecologist so much that Dr. Susan told her, “I have nothing to teach you.” I believe once the dust has settled among the men, the thoughtfulness of Veronica and other women in the area—who only need adequate resources before their competence can shine—will become visible and so will their plan to improve women’s healthcare. Then perhaps Lorraine Flores, a 2009 Karimu volunteer and a Board member since last autumn and an experienced, very skilled grant-writer, can do something about putting the plan into action.—Don Stoll