August 9: Two years ago, one of our Karimu (www.karimufoundation.org) volunteers began talking with some of the villagers about founding a cooperative shamba, or farm, based at Ufani Primary School. He offered to fund a collective bank account with a low-interest loan of several thousand dollars. That meant between five and ten percent, compared to the standard interest rate of twenty to twenty-five percent at which Assistant Head Teacher Daniel Amma has borrowed in order to build and make improvements to his house.
Participating villagers would have supplemented the loan with their own monthly contributions of a few dollars each, entitling them to work the communal land and earn shares of its profits. The profits could have paid for higher-profit livestock: laying hens and, particularly, hogs. The communal land would have been made available by Ufani School, which owns a large tract of fertile land, spreading verdantly across the Rift Valley just below the classrooms. In this heavily agricultural nation, almost all except the most radically urban citizens do some farming. This includes the Ufani teachers, especially Head Teacher Paul Yoronimo, who possesses extensive farming knowledge. But they must attend to their individual shambas, as well as families and full-time jobs, so the Ufani farmland has remained unused.
Unfortunately, the project has stalled because of the problems involved in communicating with the California volunteer who introduced the idea. Daniel Amma is a neighbor of Ayalagaya Secondary School, where the Ufani students continue their education if they pass their exit examinations (which they get exactly one chance to take). Ayalagaya School stands only a few yards outside the Dareda Kati Town power grid, but the school has stayed unconnected and therefore lacks Internet access.
This partly explains why the laptop computer and modem that we plan to buy for the Ufani teachers would represent such a breakthrough. With considerable difficulty, villagers can travel to Babati, and the literate ones can use the Internet cafés there. But without a laptop or modem, communicating with the volunteer in California in a way that would be satisfactorily transparent to the fifty villagers who have joined the farming cooperative is a supreme challenge.
Even so, the group went ahead and opened its own small bank account. Now the members hope that the volunteer still intends to multiply their resources with a loan of a few thousand dollars. If not, Karimu can probably help, although the group would need to scale its plans down sharply: we have already made other commitments which, for now, will limit us to offering a grant of several hundred dollars at most.
We are also interested in their plan to encourage some of the village’s idle drunks to change their ways by rewarding them for joining the shamba project. Head Teacher Paul is very keen for this idea. An Ayalagaya School teacher named Constancia has been outspoken concerning the prevalence of domestic violence in villages all across Tanzania, and she underscores its links to unemployment and alcohol. Too many of the men in this village, and a lesser number of the women, get drunk almost for free by brewing a murky, extraordinarily powerful beer made out of a locally grown root vegetable that is too bitter to eat.
I am in no position to assess Constancia’s claim that domestic violence, carried to an extreme, is just as responsible as are the usual suspects—AIDS and tuberculosis—for the orphaning of so many children; it can sometimes seem that every household we visit here has taken in a parentless child or two. Because Karimu volunteers are not permitted to drink alcohol in the village, we hold drunkenness at an arm’s length from us and can therefore fall into an easy, good-natured view of it.
Marianne and I took such a view in 2007, before we started bringing volunteers, when one of the village elders accused the traditional-dance troupe of allowing alcohol consumption to ruin their performances. The dancers had indeed been falling all over each other, and we thought it was funny. Constancia’s assertion that many deaths caused by domestic violence get swept under the rug makes it harder to laugh.