I read a book recently that tried to summarise the problems with Africa, and why foreign aid is not working. In it the author Robert Calderisi attempts to explain the struggles and turmoil that most of us working in development face when dealing with local people and governments in villages and towns across Africa, but specifically Tanzania, and even more specifically the Kilimanjaro region in which I live and work. He said that without working together, we are wasting our time; if we don’t pass our knowledge on to others, then when we leave it falls apart; if we don’t engage the local community and respect their wishes then we will fail; and he is right.
It’s very rare that you meet someone who shares the same ideals and visions as your own. Only once in a while do the stars align in such a way as to allow these things to happen and proceed in a constructive and positive way. It’s even more rare that the opportunity arises for you to work together in your common shared goal whilst both remaining at your original posting and continuing as normal. I think I may have found that person.
Tone Ellesfrud is a Norwegian woman who has lived and worked in Marangu for over 10 years, and like my boss Katy Allen, has had her ups and downs but has remained strong in her endeavour to help the people here. Like me she is dealing with grass-roots problems in the local area and runs a couple of groups that aim to deal with the problem of youth unemployment and strife. She lives in a gorgeous little house not far from me in Marangu Mtoni and specifically works to train and improve the skills of the local school drop-outs that have nowhere else to turn when their own country has failed them. She looks after around 150 children and young people who have been with her since leaving school, and of those, has several that are going on to do really big things here in Tanzania. It is her wealth of knowledge and experience that drew me to talk to her, after mutual friends suggested it’s mad we don’t already know each other, and so our meeting was borne, sadly 18 months after I arrived, but it’s never too late to improve your lot. I’ve just spent the afternoon with her talking over our collective experiences here, and both coming to the same conclusion, that we are stronger if we work together.
Tone originally came out here to climb the mountain, as is the way these things work, having decided that she needed a break from her life, soon after her children had fled the nest and she had both the time and the inclination to do something different. Like me, she saw something out here that drew her in and so during her second visit to Tanzania she began working at Marangu Hospital as a nurse, and stayed in that post for four years. She met the people she now lives and works with; she found out, as I have, that not everyone can be trusted here; and she learnt above all that life has more meaning than the rat race she had persevered at for so long. I wanted to speak to her as I had heard she runs a group called 4H that is a drama and performing arts group in Marangu which a couple of my friends in the village have been part of in the past. From that group there is now a working group of performers that sing, dance and play music across northern Tanzania and are doing very well. The eldest, Kelvin, is now an IT teacher in his own right, and has put himself forward as a potential teacher at my computer centre up in Mshiri. Her operations down in Ngaruma just below Mshiri are so similar to mine, that should we not decide to work together I am guilty of all that Robert Calderisi foretold. So it is with great sense of pride and accomplishment that I tell you today that things are about to change for the young people I help in the village. By working with Tone, collectively we can offer courses, training and support to not only a greater audience, but across a wider range of subjects and disciplines, and I really hope that this leads to my own future here having a bit more structure; and bit more experience behind it; and above all, for the first time in my life, I have found someone who understands what I want to get out of this, and why this is important to continue, and agrees with me on the smaller finer points of how we go about doing it.
After arriving here and finding my feet, then building my own life and sharing it with others, it’s time to collectively pool our experience and build up a bigger infrastructure of assistance to underprivileged young people, and you know what, I’m starting to feel more positive about it already. Here’s to a new beginning, and a brighter future for all.