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.

A new head on my shoulders - January

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I arrived at the Mwanza airport and took a cab down to the Kivulini and my apartment. Not much had changed in Mwanza except for the fact that the landscape seemed very parched and dry. The December – March period is supposed to be the rainy season for Tanzania, however, the rains were very few and far between.

One of the nicer changes was getting a new roommate, Hali. She’s the third Canadian and GTA-native roommate I’ve had in Mwanza. Before coming back I was under the impression I would be living by myself, but having Hali around has been a pleasant surprise. Unlike Dallas and Rita, Hali is not working with Kivulini, but rather Kuleana – a children’s rights organization based in Mwanza.

Feeling very refreshed after my stay in Canada, I was very motivated for certain tasks to be completed during my last/the next three months. Below is a list of what I thought were obtainable goals that I would implement during this time. At the end, I came to about four main points:

1. Continue to complete previous endevours:
a)Getting electricity for community kitchen and move production there
b)Organizing how the livestock will be handled
c)Finalizing and signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)

2.Brand product
a)Increase the community’s exposure to the product and make distribution possible

3.Set up/facilitate future research possibilities

4.Reports and Documentation
a)Includes media material (articles) for back in Canada
b)Work to completing final report (including the monitoring and evaluating of project/personal activities and expressing future recommendations and guidelines).

While I was still settling in, I set up a series of meetings with the key program participants to work towards the monitoring and evaluating aspect of the project – chiefly, to understand the sustainability and feasibility of project activities during the absence of an intern.

First, I had a meeting with Baluhya, who had assumed full responsibility as yogurt supervisor during my hiatus. We also were accompanied by Paskwalina (the “mwenye-kiti” or chairperson of the yogurt mamas). First, I went over their financial records from money given to the group to cover program costs, such as buying the milk. After checking it over with them, everything was in relatively good form and extra money was returned to me.

Next we discussed how production went over the last six week. Overall, it stayed pretty stable; yogurt was made every scheduled day except Christmas day. They said that they found another (and closer) gas-filling store to replace Mrs. Sodah’s supply (for more info, read the second November entry). Weekly meetings were established for the yogurt mamas and Baluhya to talk about the project. Finally, they said that the milk from Iddah had been delivered regularly to the kitchen and the supply from Mabatini continued good service.

The issue circled around the constitution and funding proposal that the group had completed with Baluhya and Kivulini. With the former, the document had been submitted to a specialist in Mwanza on constitutional writing for small businesses. He had already reviewed the paper and handed it back to the mamas and Baluhya for revision. They expected to make the appropriate changes and re-submit it as soon as possible. With the proposal, Baluhya and the yogurt mamas attended another workshop for three days and finalized the plans with what they wanted to see included on the document. I was told that a first draft had been made and Masele was going to be translating the document into English within a few weeks.

The last major issue brought up during the meeting was that the mamas had started selling yogurt. I wasn’t surprised that this started taking place. I had anticipated this change in the project’s administration while I was away; which was why I was adamant on seeing the production run on its own for a period of time. They went on further to say that they were giving some of the yogurt away to people in the community who were very sick, mostly those showing severe effects from AIDS.

The system they had going was as follows: from Tuesday to Thursday the mamas sold yogurt to customers coming by the apartment and to the Kivulini shop downstairs. In addition, on these days, they arranged who was going to deliver yogurt to the sick people or “mgonjwa”. Again, the mgonjwa were pre-picked people by the yogurt mamas and they did not have to pay for receiving the yogurt. When yogurt was sold, people either brought their own containers or used our own. The latter was done in cases where the customers were well known or eating the yogurt immediately. This was because our own containers could not be given away. In either case, the mamas did a fair job keeping track of these containers. However, it became apparent to me that I needed to facilitate the advancement of the packaging of yogurt to make it more accessible to more customers.

On Friday and Saturday, the distribution of yogurt to the (yogurt mama) families continued as before. If the sales of yogurt during the week were slow, then more yogurt would be allocated to the families. The money that they obtained from selling the yogurt would be given directly to mama Elizabeth, the treasurer for the group. That money would then get deposited into the yogurt account for savings for purchase of future items.

I was quite impressed by this last point. They really had taken the responsibility of looking into the long-term for the project instead of immediately demanding financial gain. The distribution of yogurt to the sick I thought was another plus for the program because it allowed more people in the community to become familiar with the product while understanding its benefits (even though that up to this point, the mgonjwa had been consuming regular yogurt, not probiotic).

My major concern with all the developments was the documenting system for yogurt distribution. I felt that I needed to intervene here and provide some help to make sure that a clear record of sales, money obtained and money owed were available and written clearly.

Not far after the meeting with Baluhya and Paskwalina, I also met with John Changalucha to discuss and review the role of NIMR with the project. We touched on various topics like what the program is capable of doing with NIMR, what we may require for the future, what NIMR may benefit from the project and the subscription of the MoU. The meeting seemed pretty successful; we agreed that conducting scientific research on the yogurt would be the most beneficial step forward for both NIMR and WHE – allowing both groups to get exposure in the international community for this project.

Also, John wanted to see the production-side of our project from start to finish. Up to this point, he has been more of an administrative contact, however he expressed interest in getting a total overview of what we’re doing to understand what NIMR’s long-term work potential is.

In regards to the MoU, copies were submitted for John for review at a later date. However, he didn’t express too many problems with our process and intentions with this document, so I’m expecting the revision stage to go pretty smoothly.

The next day, I conducted a similar meeting, this time with the primary participants from Kivulini (Maimuna, Masele and Baluhya). One of the main topics of discussion was to get the yogurt mamas and their group formed into their own NGO, which was brought up by Kivulini. The intention was to allow the mamas form their own autonomous group and give them the opportunity to receive as much funding as possible. I was a bit weary on this issue because I’m not familiar with the process and reasoning for doing such an action. We left this point for future consideration so we could understand its potential function within our project.

At a later date, with the same Kivulini participants, we also reviewed the MoU together, coming to some recommendations, which I submitted to my contacts back at Western.

In addition to all those meetings I also had a few other things on my plate during the month of January…

As mentioned in my previous posting, I suffered a big setback at the bank here in Mwanza. My first week back, I cashed all my traveler’s cheques at the bank which I had an account at. Because the bank was closing soon, I decided not to withdraw any of this money and I asked for it to be deposited it directly into my bank account instead. The next day, I returned to the bank only to find out that the money from the cheques was being suspended. Apparently they needed to send my cheques to the American Express headquarters to somewhere in the U.S. to be verified. If you have any impression on what the mailing system is like here, you will know that this is not an easy or quick task – they told me that I had to wait about a month for it to clear. I was not even able to make a collect call to the Tanzanian AMEX rep in England because the phone company does not offer collect call service anymore. After asking my dad to call instead, I realized that there was nothing I could do – the cheques had already been cashed and some banks don’t have an agreement with AMEX to prevent this step (even though that this never happened before with this bank and that they never notified me it would happen now).

All of this meant that I needed to use my own personal savings to pay for program costs during this time. Luckily, I had set up my debit card correctly so I could use it in the ATM machines here.

Feeling a bit startled by this experience, I felt like I really needed to incite myself to be a bit more sharp with my actions here in Mwanza. This of course involved getting a hair cut – a major one. For about 5 years now (and especially the last 6 months), I’ve had relatively long(er) hair. However, I felt like now it had to go. Maybe it was because of the banking incident, maybe it was because of the extreme heat which now presided over Mwanza City. To any effect though I (along with my photographer, Rita) went to a barber shop downtown and did the deed. The whole process took over an hour – both because my hair had to be cut in stages and that the barber’s machine kept breaking down. By the end of it all, I had an army-style buzz cut and consequently lost 5 pounds of shagginess.

In addition to the hair cut, I promised myself that I needed to get into better physical shape – admittedly, I have avoided regular exercise for almost 2 years now. So, I suppose it’s my new year’s resolution to go to the New Mwanza Hotel Gym (for a buck a pop) three times a week. I must say that I stayed true to my word throughout the remaining time in January.

And so, that’s what my two-and-a-half-weeks in January ended up panning out as: settling back in, goal setting, having a ton of meetings, and getting a hair cut.

Oh… if only month no. 2 was as uncomplicated as the first!

Hali and I
My new roommate, Hali

Mama Abdallah
Mama Abdallah, Maimuna's sister and Kivulini worker who passed away in December

The Yogurt Mamas
The yogurt mamas after a meeting

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