A collection of journal entries of two students from the University of Western Ontario, Dallas Curow (June-August 2005) and Jonathan Birinyi (June 2005-April 2006). Feel free to read and explore their journey working on the Western Heads East probiotic yogurt nutriontal project in Mwanza, Tanzania, Africa.

September 11th-30th

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The rest of September was filled with some progressive events and still lots of work. Since Dallas has left I think I’ve adjusted to filling up the extra role. I’ve got into a more consistent daily schedule, which usually starts with the opening and supervising the production earlier in the morning. After that I’ll usually work in the apartment organizing whatever upcoming meetings are to be held, compiling information for side projects or helping Kivulini with various tasks – this part usually varies day-by-day. By noon or 1 o’clock I’ll head downtown, grab some lunch, run some quick errands and head to Swahili lessons. I’m usually back in the apartment by late afternoon and by that time I’ll do work that requires me to be on a computer. I find this is the best time because the morning is just too hectic and it’s hard to be able to work on anything for a stretch of time because interruptions are frequent. By 5 or 6 I’ll wrap up whatever I’m doing and meet Rita after she’s finished her aerobics class and grab some dinner.
Some days do vary on what happens, like if I’m going to Mabatini to visit the community kitchen or every Wednesday, when I go to NIMR to pick up the probiotics and talk to the staff. Regardless, my days are pretty full – but I enjoy the fact that I’m not stuck inside all day.

On the 12th, Masele (in charge of Kivulini economic empowerment), Maimuna, the Yogurt Mamas and I had a meeting and discussed the following issues:

- Where money made from selling the yogurt would go

The mamas were unanimously in support for saving the funds and using it for future yogurt-related costs instead of for personal gain. However, they were worried that if they open an account, WHE will stop buying the milk for current production. I assured them that we wouldn’t cut off the supply, but we should be collectively looking for an independent milk source (i.e. their own livestock). In addition, if we are looking at making any type of substantial income by selling yogurt, we will have to raise production significantly. The mamas are excited at the opportunity of getting this project into their community and they have demonstrated tremendous patience while we try and acquire the funds to do so.

- Discussing the yogurt supervisor position

The mamas said that they would think of some of the criteria individually and get back to me and Maimuna. When Brian and Cynthia were here, they did an excellent job establishing the roles of this position – and we’ll use this as a guideline in the meantime. This issue was brought up because it is very important to establish before going ahead with the community kitchen. Having an established supervisor from the opening will create a very independent working atmosphere – a required aspect of sustainability. During the meeting Maimuna offered to find someone to help fill this role and would get back to me next week.

- Establishing the representation of the Yogurt Mamas

This was an issue brought up by Kivulini. The 12 Yogurt Mamas each belong to three separate micro-finance groups (with 4 in each group). There are some funding opportunities for these types of organizations. However, Maimuna wanted to know if the mamas considered themselves part of their original micro-finance groups or the yogurt team as a whole. The mamas agreed with the latter, and much to my surprise, had already set up a small set of governance. There are three mamas assigned as treasurer, secretary and chairperson.

After the meeting, I talked with Maimuna and Masele about the state of the project. They both said that they were happy with the production, but really wanted to get the ball rolling on moving the project more out of Kivulini’s hands and into the mamas. I agreed and assured them that we’re all doing the best we can.

That being said, we really got lucky over the next few weeks with some funding opportunities coming into the project.

Basically, Kivulini had proposed to hold a workshop for Kivulini staff and some community volunteers on “advocacy materials for the link between domestic violence and HIV/AIDS”. Kivulini had budgeted for a facilitator (Lori - who runs an NGO in Uganda) to run a 5 day workshop (in English) and stay another 5 days to write a report.

However, Lori said that she could only stay for 5 days and on top of that, because of company policy can only receive payment covering transportation, food and accommodation. Maimuna recommended that I could write the report. Hence, that money would then go to the community kitchen. We also had another source of funding from the new Kivulini intern, Rita that is living in the apartment. The money she is paying for the rent can again go towards community kitchen construction. On top of all of that, Lori also generously offered to make a second donation to both Kivulini and our project. When I heard of this news I was extremely excited – I was especially elated to calculate that we had enough funds to complete the kitchen!

I ended up attending the workshop the last week in September. During this time, I didn’t participate but rather just took notes to go towards the report, which should be completed in a few weeks. Nevertheless, attending the workshop turned out to be a great experience in itself – learning about different strategies the media uses to inform communities on social issues. I thought to myself, Dallas would have loved this! I will receive payment for writing the report once Lori approves it, which should take another few weeks.

Some of my recent correspondence with the WHE team consisted of defining the business/sustainability and research aspects of the project. There was and continues to be several issues that will need to be addressed if we want both parts to reach their objectives.

The questions I raised were centred on obtaining baseline data for the participants involved in the research phase of the program. We don’t have baseline data for the 12 mamas and their families regarding general well being, frequency of exercise, weight, and how often diarrhoea and chest or throat infections occur. Therefore, if we want to move forward with the research component, we will need to be in an environment where other families can get the yogurt on a daily basis – hence, the community kitchen.

Before I came to Mwanza, Dr. Reid and I talked about the problem of the licensing of the product, should production be moved to the community kitchen and sold to Mabatini. Mainly, what would happen to the funds acquired from the selling the probiotics specifically? NIMR and/or Gregor will most likely have to be compensated.

Other questions still arise, such as how long NIMR will want to be making the probiotics for after our research has finished? How can data be collected in a manner that is conducive in a Tanzanian setting? Can Gregor’s patent on GR1 be upheld in Tanzania? Like other things in life, sometimes if you answer a question you get a dozen others posed in front of you. There doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer or something that can be decided upon right away. It will really take the cooperation of all facets of this program’s administration to tackle these sort of issues.

Moving on; on the 22nd Martin (a DJ for KISS FM, Mwanza) invited me over to do a radio interview about the WHE project and probiotic yogurt. The night before I wrote down some questions and answers for various things surrounding the project and went over it with Rita and Jenny (Martin’s girlfriend).
The next day at 6am, I took a dalladalla down the station. I met Martin outside the large building, which also housed facilities for newspaper printing, television/news recording and several other radio stations. Afterwards, he introduced me to his co-host and we outlined what topics I had written down the night before. Martin has been a good friend of mine since arriving in Tanzania – he did an excellent job prepping the show and making me feel comfortable. Just before we went to air, Martin reminded me that this was going to be aired across Tanzania, not just in Mwanza; what I had originally expected. This comment didn’t help calm my nerves! Nonetheless, the show got off to a great start and I felt right at ease. I was even taking part in some of the normal radio jabber that’s often heard on other morning radio shows.
The entire set lasted about 2 hours. Afterwards Martin showed me out and said he could give me a recording of the radio show…Although I have a recording of the show now, its too long to post or upload onto the internet.

The following weekend was probably one of my more memorable ones since being here. On Saturday Rita and I were planning on having a quiet afternoon for lunch and at the Isamilo swimming pool. However, we got a call from Jenny that her and several communal friends were heading up to the Sukoma museum and eating goat (and later that night, heading to an engagement party). Rita hadn’t been to the museum before and the goat sounded appetizing, so we decided to go. Just a note, the Sukoma are an indigenous group of people that make up a large population in and around Mwanza (and Tanzania).
When we arrived at the museum we quickly realized that we weren’t just eating goat, we were going to buy a live one and slaughter it right on site! There were about 12 of us, so we were confident we could eat the whole thing. Alas, one of our friends arrived with the goat and the staff members there prepared it for its slaying.
Ian (a vegetarian) and I were the only ones who stuck around to see it happen. Ironically Ian grew-up working in the family abattoir and was used to this sort of thing. I was just more curious than anything. I must say though, it was a good learning experience. I never really took into consideration how animals end up on my plate, but this live event gave me a very clear portrait. Ian took some pictures of what took part, but they really aren’t for the faint of heart and it’s probably best I don’t post them.
After they cooked the goat and the twelve of us did the best of eating it (of several helpings), the staff decided to bring one more course out to the table – the goat’s testis. All I can say is that it tasted a bit like mushrooms…

Back to business. The other big news for the rest of September was meeting our would-be yogurt supervisor. Maimuna got back to me a week after the meeting (that I described earlier) and said there was someone they had in mind. She continued to state that her name was Barulya and had experience in agriculture development and business in Mwanza – she was also the niece of a staff member at Kivulini. It seemed like a good fit! The two of us met on the 19th and had a very lengthy discussion and orientation about the project. The meetings continued on until later in the week.
The mamas and her got along with each other right away. I found it very beneficial having her around because she can speak English well; she often acted as a translator when the yogurt mamas aren’t clear on something and visa versa.
By the end of the week, it was very apparent that Barulya would be a good choice to keep around and train as a supervisor. I believe that she is not as a default option; Barulya possesses a lot of the qualities in a permanent leader we are looking for. Currently we are still working together to keep this project moving forward...

- Jonathan

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