In May I visited Tanzania with a delegation from the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), on a learning exchange to the Diocese of Masasi. Our aim was to learn about the successful conclusion of the Preventive Health and Food Security project and the implementation of the All Mothers and Children Count (AMCC) project, which will last until 2021. The Diocese of Toronto gave $500,000 to PWRDF for maternal, newborn and child health projects in 2016, including the AMCC. The AMCC project also receives 6:1 matching funds from Global Affairs Canada.
Our delegation, diverse in age and geography, included three PWRDF staff members (Zaida Bastos, Suzanne Rumsey, and Jennifer Brown); Maureen Lawrence and Bishop David Irving from the PWRDF board of directors; Chris Pharo and Geoff Strong, volunteer PWRDF representatives for the dioceses of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and British Columbia, respectively; PWRDF Youth Council members Asha Kerr-Wilson and Leah Marshall; André Forget from the Anglican Journal, videographer Jordan Leibel, and myself.
Getting there was a long journey. From Toronto, we flew overnight to Amsterdam, then to Dar es Salaam, arriving late Friday evening. Early the next morning we flew to Mtwara, on the southern part of the coast, where we were met by the Rev. Linus Buriani, assistant development officer for the Diocese of Masasi, Joyce Liundi, the diocese’s Mothers’ Union secretary, and two Land Rovers with drivers to take us on the three-hour journey inland to Masasi. Zaida assured us the drive had been two to three times as long before the highway had been paved! When we finally arrived at Masasi’s cathedral, we were greeted by hundreds of people of all ages singing, dancing, ululating and shouting “Karibu!” (Welcome!). Over lunch at the Diocesan Centre, Bishop James Almasi told us that the welcoming crowd included Muslims and Christians of other denominations as well as Anglicans, because all members of the community benefit from the projects supported by PWRDF. He thanked Canadian Anglicans for their tangible expression of God’s love that is transforming lives in Tanzania.
The next day, Sunday, began with worship in the cathedral. Bishop Irving preached, his words translated into Swahili by Bishop Almasi, and together the two bishops confirmed more than 80 young people. With so many confirmations and musical offerings from five local choirs, the whole service was about four hours long, but the energy and joy expressed by the 700-strong congregation was palpable. In the afternoon, we visited projects supported by the local Mothers’ Union and met with youth from the diocese.
From Monday through Wednesday, with our guides the Rev. Geoffrey Monjesa, the development officer for the diocese, and his assistant Linus, we visited PWRDF-supported projects in and around Masasi and the neighbouring district of Nachingwea. These ranged from medical clinics supporting maternal, newborn and child health to livestock and seed programs to an agriculture-veterinarian centre and a borehole well. In each village, we received a warm welcome and a report on the project. On Thursday, we had a roundtable discussion with project staff and beneficiaries.
Like the Preventive Health and Food Security project, All Mothers and Children Count takes a holistic approach that understands food security and clean water to be the foundation of health. Thus, in addition to funding clinics and community health workers, the AMCC project provides wells for clean water and seed and livestock to improve the food and income security of beneficiaries. The Diocese of Masasi works to build relationships with district, ward and village leaders to gain support for the project. The members of the communities involved may not be Anglicans or even Christians – several villages were predominantly Muslim – but building trust and openness has paid off.
The needs are identified by the communities themselves, and individual villagers are trained to carry the message forward as community health workers and “Trainers of Trainers.” This leads to greater community ownership of and engagement in the development work. Those who receive seeds and livestock give the first offspring or a portion of their first crop to the next round of villagers in need, paying the gift forward. Trained professionals, including nutritionists, nurses and midwives, livestock officers, and monitoring and evaluation officers, provide support and accountability. It was especially exciting to see women taking the lead in many of these roles. Because the projects are short-term, they aim to make community involvement self-sustaining, and to transfer responsibility for ongoing inputs (the salaries of medical staff, drugs and supplies for clinics) to the Tanzanian government. This approach has made the Diocese of Masasi a trusted development partner of PWRDF for more than 20 years.
In five years, the Preventive Health and Food Security project met and surpassed its goals, boding well for the success of All Mothers and Children Count, which is applying the same principles in a further 72 villages. Births attended by trained medical staff have doubled, while infant mortality and stunting of children under five have plummeted.
As impressive as these statistics are, what stays with me are the stories of the people we met. Nurse Magdalena Mwidadi no longer must walk 11 km to her work at Mtandi clinic because staff housing on-site allows her to be on call for labouring mothers. Joyce Mtauka of Ruponda village used seeds and agricultural techniques to improve her farm, and is now supporting extended family members with her increased crop production. Hassan Mkitage and his wife Nouru Salamu have used the milk from their dairy cow and the income from her calves to improve their home and farm and send their daughter Halima to secondary school, opportunities they could barely imagine five years ago.
On our last day in Tanzania, we met with staff at the Canadian High Commission in Dar es Salaam. The challenges of poverty in rural Tanzania, exacerbated by climate change and limited access to health care and education, especially for women, are very real. But in the people we met in Masasi, we saw how transformation can take root, and success build on success.