Thankful For What You Have

This February I was lucky enough to spend 16 days living and working in Tanzania. This was my second experience, the first being in 2008, encountering COCO’s projects first hand and trying to gauge an understanding, not only of the work that COCO does, but also of the lives of ordinary people in Tanzania.

To say that this second experience was different from the first would be an understatement. Not only was I able to take a glimpse into the lives of hard working women at all of COCO’s projects, as well as in the wider area, but these women were also kind enough to take time out of their busy lives to speak with me about the many aspects of their day to day joys and struggles.

One, out of the many outstanding and strong women that I had the pleasure of meeting, stood out for me. Her name is Gloria and she works in Moshi as a seamstress, as well as being an excellent saleswoman, selling beautiful bags made out of kangas (colourful cloth used for all sorts of purposes but mainly as skirts and dresses). I met Gloria by chance really. I was on a quest to purchase the best items I could find to instigate a pilot social enterprise programme selling these beautiful items in the UK and paying a decent rate to the suppliers. There are many women lined up and down the streets of Moshi selling very similar items but Gloria’s superb display and charismatic personality immediately drew me in. After purchasing an assortment of bags from Gloria and going back several times I gradually got to learn about her life. It turns out that she is the same age as me (far too close to 30!) and married with one son. Her husband is a subsistence farmer, therefore the majority of household income comes from Gloria’s stand in Moshi (a common theme, I learnt, in Tanzania). After having pried more financial information from her I discovered that Gloria makes a profit of 1,000 Tanzanian shillings (Tsh) (50p) per bag.  She was also kind enough to inform me that her stand costs her 30,000Tsh (£15) per month in rent. This means that in order to simply pay for her space on this packed street she needs to sell 30 bags a month, so basically 1 per day. Sounds easy, yes? Well it turns out that Gloria is lucky if she sells 1 or 2 bags a day, making me wonder, how does she pay for her rent as well as her home, food, clothing and more importantly, her son’s much needed education? On this subject I’m still none the wiser, but Gloria’s final remark to me as we said goodbye still sticks in my mind. “I have little money, but this is my home, this is where I grew up and I’m happy.” If I was in the same situation, I’m unsure as to whether I could make the same statement. Maybe this is my western mentality, but I still think this is a surprising and humbling statement to make.

What struck me the most about all of the amazing women that I met just like Gloria was their passion and determination for their work, whatever form that may take and their resilience and ability to simply get on with the job at hand without even a hint of complaint.

If I had to pinpoint one lesson that I’ve taken away with me from my time in Tanzania and from the women that I’ve met it would be this – appreciate everything that you have, whether it be a one room mud hut or a 4 bedroom Victorian terrace, it’s yours and you worked hard to achieve it, and that, no one can take away. That and I can’t go 16 days without the desperate need for a day in the spa! This little faux pas in my personality, I’m still working on!

Gemma Dyer, Finance and Office Coordinator, COCO

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Men First in Tanzania

“Katika Tanzania wanaume kwanza” that’s what I was told by the headmistress of a nursery school in Moshi as she gave me a bottle of Coca Cola before then serving my female colleague. The translation is along the lines of “men first in Tanzania”. Many would suggest that gender equality is a prerequisite if Tanzania is to develop as rapidly as possible but when we asked the headmistress if she thought the men-first bias should change we were told that, in her opinion, that simply wasn’t going to happen.

Coming from a lady with 52 years teaching experience you might be able to dismiss this as a point of view belonging to an older generation. Nevertheless, a much younger married woman had told us something similar just the day before.

Furthermore, in the course of my work in Tanzania I have visited a number of Vocational Training Centres, or VTCs. These facilities provide skills training, typically in tailoring and carpentry, to children who will not have the chance to go to secondary school, normally due to school fees being unaffordable. On these courses the gender division is, in my experience at least, starkly drawn. Carpenters are exclusively male and tailors female. Not too much evidence of change in the younger generation either then.

However, ask the leader of a local women’s support group, where single mums help each other find ways to support their families, and you will get a very different, and emphatic, point of view! Add the fact that, only hours after being served my bottle of Coke, I found myself watching five minutes of live TV coverage from the Tanzanian Parliament and, in that brief snippet, saw both a female MP addressing the chamber and a female speaker overseeing it and maybe we can start to see that, far from being impossible, change has already started.

John Davis, Overseas Projects Coordinator

Here come the girls!

The 8th March is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.   The Millennium Development Goals are calling for gender equality by 2015.  Last week, the UN created UN Women, a new agency to promote the empowerment and equality of women everywhere.

But are things really looking up for the girls and women of the world?  Globally, the ITUC reports that women earn only 84% of what men do.  A greater number of women work in the informal sector, notorious for its instability and low wages.  UNESCO reports that two-thirds of the world’s 776 million illiterates are women, and 73% of the children not attending primary school are girls.   The world is not on track to meet the gender equality MDG by 2015.

Gender inequality is not only a major cause of poverty, it has serious impacts on a society’s children.  Recent research by Save the Children shows that countries with empowered women have lower child mortality rates.  Improving women’s education means their children have a much better chance of surviving.

COCO’s projects help tackle gender inequality in lots of different ways.  At the Hoja Project in Tanzania, we sponsor girls through school to help them get an education.  In Ghana, Wulugu’s income generation projects train girls to make money for their futures and their families.  By providing a reliable water source at Olomayani Nursery school in Uganda, we’ve freed girls and women from the time-intensive task of collecting water each day.   Giving women education, and empowering them to run businesses and take the lead in their communities, not only helps more children survive.  It brings more income and innovation to communities, reduces poverty, and transforms societies.  Check out The Girl Effect video, for further food for thought.

– Mel Punton, COCO Volunteer