“When you've been working somewhere for two-and-a-half years, as I have in Tanzania, you develop expectations for what you will see when you visit a community,” said Chris Enns, a staff member for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (now known as World Renew). “However, a recent visit to the community of Wagete near Serengeti National Park completely blew away my expectations.”
Agriculture extension officer Waziri Elias Lukumila talks with community members.
Wagete is a remote village made up of five hamlets comprising about 4,000 people, the majority of whom are subsistence farmers. In recent years, rainfall has been increasingly unpredictable and insufficient, making it hard to produce adequate crops using traditional farming practices.
People living in Wagete also face other challenges.
“A medical dispensary had been built, but the doctor did not want to move to the village, so people had to walk 12 kilometers (about seven-and-a-half miles) to get medical help,” said Enns. “In education, there were too few teachers at the school and the school itself was too far [away for kids] to walk safely. Girls were especially at risk during these walks, so their attendance was poor.”
To address the concerns, World Renew and its long-term partner, the Africa Inland Church of Tanzania (AICT), worked to bring about transformation.
“Community members from the five hamlets in Wagete village attended a workshop and were asked to develop a joint map of their hamlets,” said Philip Chiwanga, an AICT staff member. “On the maps, they were asked to indicate different resources and structures that existed while also indicating the hazards that occur in each place.”
Community members then developed strategies and plans for combating the hazards using the resources available.
“We want to help them see how they can address these issues themselves without depending on us or others,” said Enns.
The men and women in Wagete used seeds to vote on which of the issues were most important to them. For example, if they placed five seeds on a picture of a clinic and two on a picture of a school, it showed that improved health care was the top priority, with a new school also a matter of concern.
Through this process, the community identified three priorities: improved access to health care, improved schooling for children, and improved agriculture.
Over the next several months, World Renew and AICT provided the villagers with training in better ways to plant their crops. They also provided improved cassava seed and helped the villagers form committees to work on solutions for their health and education priorities.
“As my partners and I traveled to a follow-up meeting with the community members, we intended to form an action plan for the year,” said Enns. “Imagine our surprise when they gave us their progress report—they had already completed most of the work themselves!”
Community members had spoken with the District Medical Officer and fixed up the dispensary and a house nearby; consequently, a doctor had moved into the village.
Members of the community had also built three houses to attract permanent teachers to work at the local school, trained parents and teachers on the importance of good attendance, and were finishing a building that could serve as a dormitory so that students could stay at the school and avoid the dangerous two-hour walk each day.
“You helped us become aware of these problems, but we saw that it should be up to us to deal with them. They are our problems, not AICT’s or World Renew’s,” said Health Committee head Musa Kaswahili.
The agricultural situation also had improved. Daudi Gorani, an evangelist and one of the elders in the community, said, “Our agriculture practices are completely different than they were last year. Farmers used to just throw the seeds from their hip. Now they know how to plant with more skill, and the cassava plants from the better-quality seeds are ready for harvest and for selling to others. We are seeing much better results than last year, thanks to AICT and World Renew.”
While the programs reached out to everyone in the community, regardless of their faith, the training was given through the local church by Christian AICT staff. As a result, the church has grown.
“The people in Wagete reported that membership in the community church had grown from 30 to 150 people in the last three years because of the way that the church has reached out to help them,” said Peter Ngwili, AICT program coordinator.
“People are coming to Jesus because the church is reaching out to them,” Ngwili said, “and they recognize that God is the one in whom to put their faith. We want to spread this message to all the villages involved in our programs.”
About the Author
Kristen deRoo VanderBerg was part of the World Renew Communications team from 1999-2016. She now serves as director of Communications & Marketing for the Christian Reformed Church.