(Group A Above: Frieda, Elizabeth, Regina, Vicky, Nashieli, Spora)
We are sitting on plastic Coke-cola chairs at a simple restaurant. The ‘building’ is a cement pad, a few sheets of corrugated metal on posts to make a roof but no walls. What looks like an old shipping container with windows and door cut-out is now the duka (doo-kah, store) and restaurant kitchen. We are probably the big customer group of the day ordering two rounds of soda and water plus a simple lunch of beans, rice and stewed greens (think spinach and onions). The total bill, about $10.
Group A has assembled for their annual check-in with me. Six women who started it all in 2011. Vicky, Spora, Regina, Nashiele, Frieda and Elizabeth. Elizabeth has newborn Elijah with her.
It is obvious how close they are as a group and with time have grown comfortable with me. No longer do they give simple answers, avoid eye contact and tough subjects like illness, struggles with family relations. They have grown use to me giving hugs vs. them politely curtseying with an offered hand.
The women take turns giving updates on their businesses. Vicky does a great job of translating. Our discussions focus on the prior year’s successes and challenges, the current state of the project and any future plans.
There is greater stability, despite a difficult year for most of the project’s chicken farmers (Regina, Frieda and Vicky). A disease unknown to the local vets has decimated a few coops. The contingency fund created from loan interest was needed to treat animals as best as possible then restock coops.
Nashieli graciously gave away a male pig to another member of the group. A substantial gift which speaks not only to her generousity but her new found level of income. She wants us to know, it is finally time to start building her new home. She has had the materials for a couple of years however elected to educated her daughters and grow her pig business. She has a foundation down, right beside the mud and stick hut that she shares with her husband and three daughters. I am invited to come see the foundation and think this is truly a great thing to see.
Spora, the tailor has some big news, too. She and her husband have bought land about 30 minutes from the city. They will be building a house on it then start raising animals. The other five tease her about learning to raise chickens and pigs which they are talented at.
“…people see me as a human being now.” Spora Tippi
What surprises me is what comes next, with a strong voice Spora tells me that the project has changed her life. She thanks god that she is in the group as “…people see me as a human being now.” She was able to rise up from where she was. She also started a small food manufacturing business wholesaling potato chips and snacks to local businesses and shops from her home. This gives her a steady weekly income as tailor work is seasonal. With regular and increased income, she was able to contribute to the purchase of the new piece of land. She emphasises “It is my land, too!” And that the project has given her a voice in the house. (see note below regarding asset ownership)
She now has no worries in her life and even if she did she knows that this group is with her, “…they are like bodyguards.”
Well said, Spora. Thanks for reminding me that in the daze of business plans and talk of chickens real change is called empowerment.
Cheers to them! And all of us supporters, too.
Note: Women in Tanzania rarely own their assets. Any family wealth is solely held by the male of the family including titles to land and animals. If the man passes away, the man’s family hold the right to remove the assets and the women and children from the land. Nor is there an obligation to help the widow. And don’t expect the government to step in, there is no social safety net of any kind. What laws do exist are rarely enforced due to local customs and lack of funds to fight.