Hope: a Growing Resource in Eastern Tanzania
Written by Plant With Purpose on March 22, 2011 in General
By Dahlia Guajardo
At the foot of Kilimanjaro, in the village of Arisi, Hoita Pharess Mkonyi is raising her two grandsons. They grow beans, one of the area’s staple crops, along with maize, rice, and bananas. Like 75% of the Chagga and Maasai people in her region of Eastern Tanzania, Hoita lives by what she and her community can grow. Looking up from the land they cultivate is Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak. It overlooks Tanzania’s northern border with Kenya. A couple hundred miles to the east lies the coast of the Indian Ocean and going west about the same distance is Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest freshwater lake. Between these two great bodies of water, rests Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro region where Hoita and her family live.
Agricultural workers are vulnerable to sudden changes because they often do not have alternative options to earn income. For Hoita, such a change was the death of her husband, an event that left her with less hands and double the work as she became both sole provider and parent to her young grandsons. Her husband was not the only crisis that Hoita was facing. Though less sudden, she and her fellow villagers had lost something else that has had far reaching consequences for everyone in the community. Trees have been disappearing in Eastern Tanzania. The forest there houses monkeys, buffalo, and leopards. With the growth of the population and other pressures on the land, people have been pushing back the forest. Areas once dense with trees now have sparse plant life.
Trees are an anchor, a fertilizer, a cistern, and a filter all in one. They fix nitrogen to the soil, trap water and help it absorb into the ground, and increase rainfall through trans evaporation. Soil quality and the water supply are intimately tied to trees. Without them, Hoita and the other Chagga and Maasai people must live with fewer water sources and a diminishing food supply as rainwater carries away mineral rich top soil, crucial for crop growth, without any trees to keep it in place.
In the shadow of grave challenges, Hoita’s hope was not founds in seeds for trees or new crops, at least not at first. Her hope was found in the resources that Plant With Purpose shared with her, small ways to transform her life and the lives of her grandsons. One such resource was a savings and loan group composed of local women in the village. Plant With Purpose provides detailed training for community leaders who want to begin the groups. To support loans made to start small businesses, Plant With Purpose researches local markets and offers training to new entrepreneurs. After Hoita watched the lively members sing and dance their way up to the collection box to drop in their money during weekly meetings in Arisi, Hoita decided to join the dance and began adding what she could to the group’s growing sum. She received her first loan and possibilities took root that had looked like closed doors after her husband’s death.
Hoita’s life began changing course. She used her loan money to renovate her home and have electricity put in. With the improvements she rented out a room and used the rent money to buy a pig that will soon have piglets, allowing her to continue expanding her investment. Hoita is also using her entrepreneurial skills to help her local environment in Kilimanjaro. She and the other 1,200 farmers working with Plant With Purpose in Eastern Tanzania have planted 357,428 trees in ongoing reforestation efforts there. At her church, Hoita is the chairperson of a women’s group that has raised money to fund uniforms, books, and school fees for orphans at the local school. Having been given resources to solve her economic and environmental problems, Hoita has become a resource of hope for other vulnerable members in her community.
To learn more about partnering with villages like Arisi in Tanzania click here.