Restoring Eden, Rehema Meela’s Story
Written by Dahlia Guajardo on August 27, 2013 in General
It’s 11am and I’m climbing down a lush hillside in Lyasongoro Village. Looking out at the landscape, banana trees and coffee plants cluster beside the vegetable gardens of nearby villagers. Here sits a cozy brick house belonging to Rehema Meela. In the living room her seven-year-old daughter, the youngest of five, stands close to her mother’s side. On the wall hangs a framed photo of a young woman donning a graduation cap and gown. “Who’s that?” I ask. “That’s my oldest daughter. She graduated university,” Rehema states with a smile.
We sit down on a set of well-maintained brown couches that form the edges of a square sitting area. I learn that Rehema’s husband makes a modest living transporting goods around town in a small pickup truck, while she supports the family through raising crops and livestock. I look up at the large wood carved cupboard facing the front of the room, and I’m immediately impressed by the quality of the family’s furniture. Many Tanzanian villagers have only a few simple chairs and a shelf or basket for keeping dishes. It’s clear that two incomes have added an element of stability to the home, but I quickly learn that the family’s success has another crucial element.
After some minutes of talking, Rehema tells me that she has been a member of the Evergreen Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) for the past six years. VSLAs are groups of 20-30 men and women who work together in weekly meetings to accrue their individual savings and also loan that savings out to group members. Rehema’s VSLA provides her with a secure way to save money and receive loans for starting small businesses.
Plant With Purpose helped to start Rehema’s VSLA and also supports it with staff, special training, and supplies for keeping records and storing money. All of the money saved and loaned comes from the villagers, and though the amount starts small and grows slowly, it’s amazing to see the power that VSLA capitol has to transform people’s lives.
“50,000 [Tanzanian Shillings, about $30] was the most I’d ever held in my hand before joining the Evergreen VSLA,” Rehema explains. She goes on to recount, “It was especially difficult to pay school fees.” Though primary school is free, parents are still required to buy uniforms, pens, pencils, and paper. Many families don’t have money even for basic school supplies. Moreover, the government does not pay for secondary school education, and parents must cover the cost of both tuition and supplies. After becoming part of the Evergreen VSLA, facilitated by Plant With Purpose, Rehema has had enough money to send all of her children to school, start small businesses, and pay for her children’s medical care.
I ask Rehema how she found out about Plant With Purpose and the VSLA ‘s they promote; “I heard about it at church,” she remembers, “They made an announcement that they would be giving training for making a vegetable garden. I came to the training, and they invited me to join the Evergreen VSLA.”
Since joining, Rehema has used loans and money from her savings to buy pigs and goats for breeding and selling. In woodpens she had constructed, Rehema houses twenty pigs and seven goats. She attributes her business success to the training she received from Plant With Purpose staff, “They taught us about keeping animals, agriculture, environmental conservation, and entrepreneurship.”
In addition to the crops that Rehema cultivates using organic fertilizers and compost, she constructed a nursery where she grows over 500 trees. Plant With Purpose provides her with the seeds and polyurethane tubing needed for nurturing the saplings. Planting trees is an integral part of farming for Rehema that helps her maintain the land and keep it fertile. Rehema has also learned other useful agricultural techniques.
Walking through bunches of banana trees, cocoa yams, and coffee plants we stop suddenly at the site of a long three foot crevice winding along the farm. “I’m using a contour,” she says. In addition to providing irrigation during the rainy season, Rehema instructs us that the countour “catches the rain water and keeps it from pooling on the ground and washing away top soil.” Hopping over the crevice we find ourselves in the vegetable garden among rows of leafy greens, bell peppers, and carrots. Trees line the garden’s edge like a leafy fence. I look around and feel as though I’m standing in the Garden of Eden.
One of Rehema’s most recent projects has been a small store she opened beside her home. She sells household goods like matches, sugar, and oil. In the future she plans to expand her store into a large shop. At the Lyasongoro Lutheran Church, Rehema is using her training and experience in entrepreneurship to raise money for Women’s Ministry. An active member in women’s groups at the church, Rehema leads a committee that runs a small church owned shop. The shop’s profits go to supporting women’s ministry at the church.
When asked about her family background, Rehema says that she came from a poor family, “I didn’t get to go to Secondary School,” she admits. For her children, her dream is that they might all graduate from university someday, “If God wishes,” she concludes, it will come to pass.
To join Plant With Purpose in helping more families in Lyasongoro thrive through environmental restoration and microfinance visit the Sponsor A Village page on the website.