Education – The only way to tackle albino myths in Tanzania

Another month means another blog post from the COCO Chronicles! Everyone has been rather busy and hopefully you’ll have read the great stories from Harriet, our CEO Lucy Philipson and Brad who have been out in East Africa over the last few weeks!

Meanwhile, there has been a lot of media and press surrounding albinism in Tanzania. Those living with the genetic condition lack pigmentation in their skin, hair or eyes. Witchdoctors encourage the belief within East African communities that albino body parts bring good luck and wealth which has resulted in 74 reported cases of people with albinism being murdered since 2000 (1.) Their body parts are then sold for hundreds of dollars. As a result of the persecution, albinos in Tanzania live in constant fear, afraid of going out to work or being out at night. Fear is growing ahead of the elections due to take place in October as politicians look to witchdoctors for good luck.

Recently, the government and Tanzanian Albinism Society have reacted by banning witchdoctors. Whilst this is a positive move, the underlying issue of a lack of knowledge persists and the beliefs of albino body parts bringing good luck and fortune remain embedded in communities.

COCO has been working alongside The Hoja Project in southern Tanzania since 2005. One of the projects involved the start up of a creative performance group who perform various shows to educate communities on issues including HIV and AIDS, malaria, family planning and albinism. A study has just been conducted to measure the effectiveness of the group. The study found that members of the community feel they have learnt more about these issues as a result of the performances including new ways to deal with and reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and malaria. The following charts show the before and after results of two, true or false questions surrounding HIV, albinism and malaria.

“Having sex with an albino can cure HIV”  True or False?

1 Feb Coco Chron

                                                  Before                               After

“Witchdoctors can cure malaria” True or False?

2 Feb Coco Chron

                                                Before                                   After

The results from the performance group at The Hoja Project highlights how fundamental community education is in challenging beliefs and changing attitudes. Whilst the ban on witchdoctors won’t stop the killing of Tanzania’s albinos, education will. For more information check out this amazing documentary from film makers, Gemma Caldwell and Kat Hodgkinson.

Vimeo Link Kat & gemma albinos

Oswin Mahundi, director and co-founder of the Hoja Project, will be climbing Africa’s highest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro, in June 2015 in aid of COCO and The Hoja Project! You can donate and support Oswin here.

4 Feb Coco Chron

It was great to see that our corporate Kili climbers made the summit last week – we knew you could do it!

5 feb Coco chron

(1.) The Guardian – Tanzania bans witchdoctors in attempt to end albino killings


Brad visits Uwawayaki and discovers some great new potential projects

Towards the end of an enjoyable first week in Tanzania, I was joined by a group of trekkers keen to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro and raise funds for COCO in the process. Prior to departing on their trek, the group visited Uwawayaki Nursery to see an example of how their hard-earned funds would be spent.


Uwawayaki are a women’s group working in Majengo, a suburb of Moshi situated in the shadow of Kilimanjaro. Having witnessed the difficulties members of the Majengo community faced, a group of women combined efforts to change things by providing education and healthcare to vulnerable people within the community.


COCO has supported Uwawayaki towards the construction of a nursery school, having renovated a couple of classrooms, a toilet block and a kitchen. There are currently 40 energetic young boys and girls studying at the nursery, each of whom will benefit from a solid foundation ahead of starting primary school.

uwawayaki building   Children waving

Most recently, COCO has helped the women’s group to implement a chicken project. A few hundred chicks go into the chicken project each month, they are nurtured until they become fully-grown chickens and are sold on. The funds from the chicken project are sufficient to cover the cost of running the nursery, meaning that Uwawayaki don’t rely on any further support from COCO to keep the nursery running successfully.

COCO will continue to closely work alongside Uwawayaki to ensure that the nursery maintains self-sustainability. I’m quite glad of this, given how enjoyable my visits to the nursery are. Thankfully the kids don’t seem to quite enjoy them too, it’s quite a struggle to get into the nursery as I’m pounced upon relentlessly to shouts of “Good Morning, Madam.” I’ve been assured that this is because their teacher is female, rather than being a question of my masculinity!

 Child hopscotch     teaching at uwawayaki


Thankfully, with a lot of determination combined with the excellent advice from their guides, each of the trekkers reached the roof of Africa! They returned from the mountain having spent six nights on there and were treated to a pretty impressive celebratory meat feast at a local restaurant… Having gorged on beef, chicken, pork, more chicken, lamb, sausages and an impressive array of salads, the trekkers received their certificates from Safi, the head guide on the mountain.

 kili gate   three climbers at the kili gatwe

Confusingly, the trekkers and everyone else at the meal also received several boiling ‘warm’ flannels to wash with at various points in the meal. In fairness, the flannels were definitely warm enough to kill off any bacteria on our hands before we started eating, I’m just not sure they had to be so warm that they burnt off our finger prints too!

Whilst the trekkers were on the mountain, I was busy finding a School for Life site in northern Tanzania. As well as being fantastic for the communities and projects themselves, our projects in northern Tanzania becoming self-sustainable gives us the opportunity to divert our support elsewhere and work our magic in a different location!

Future Opportunities

IMG_3789Two sites in particular have stood out from the many I have visited this week. Dageno Girls’ Centre in Karatu provides secondary education to girls who have slipped through the net of the government system. Being a girls’ school with only female staff, I did receive quite a lot of attention as I walked into the centre the first time. To break the ice, the girls were encouraged to ask me questions about who I am and where I’m from. The questions started timidly, but it wasn’t long before I was being put on the back-foot with unexpected questions. I was particularly flummoxed when asked “so, what are you going to do to help us?!” and had to give a bit of a politician’s answer to get out of the awkward situation!

Dageno is a fantastic facility, which provides students with formal education skills as well as marketable skills with a particular focus on the development of entrepreneurism. Students at the school have recently begun to manufacture sanitary towels, which will be sold to generate income along with an informative leaflet about female health. I’m informed that female health is really not a topic for discussion, so many girls are under the impression that what they experience is unique to them, which must be really difficult… It’s not as though most girls in the area can have a discreet look on Google to check out embarrassing medical conditions so they just have to suffer in silence.

In spite of the fantastic performance of the school, support is necessary as currently the centre is located on rented property with 48 girls and 2 staff living and learning in a five-bedroom house.  In addition, the water supply is privately owned and controlled.  The centre often goes days and even weeks without access to water. The school board have acquired a plot of land a couple of miles from the rented site and plan to begin construction of a permanent site there, this will eliminate the cost of rent, water and electricity which comes to around $1,000 each month and provide scope for the development of further income-generation strategies.

The other stand out site I visited was Lekrumuni, which as I found out as I bounced along a rocky track is a long, long way from anywhere! For my visit to Lekrumuni, I was joined by Oswin, who travelled from southern Tanzania to help identify a new project site in Kilimanjaro. Secondary students in Lekrumuni are currently forced to walk 13KM to the nearest secondary school and 13KM back at night… Try concentrating on algebra when you’ve had that commute to school! Similarly, primary students have to walk 9KM each way.

 IMG_3797  IMG_3801

Education in Lekrumuni starts at age three and ends at age five. Once students have had two years in nursery school, that’s their lot and understandably the community are striving to change this. Many members of the community turned up to the meeting to discuss how best to develop the site, and given that many of them can only speak Maasai we ended up in a ridiculous situation where community members spoke in Maasai, the village chairman translated to Swahili and Oswin translated to English!

When you stand on the site that the community has donated for construction of a school, it is unbelievable to think that such an area could be forgotten. The school is in a beautiful location, you look one way and see Mount Meru and look the other way and see Mount Kilimanjaro. Sandwiched between two of Africa’s most famous landmarks, but somehow completely neglected.

The value of making projects self-sustainable is two-fold. Firstly, it ensures that the project is able to continue long into the future without support from elsewhere. Secondly, it enables COCO to focus our support elsewhere. Having visited a couple of fantastic initiatives this week, I am delighted that COCO is in a position to consider support for other projects and hope that we are able to continue our Schools for Life journey in these communities.

Harriet gets to work at Maasai Academy!

Harriet is one of our lovely volunteers currently out in East Africa who has kept us entertained with her two previous blogs on settling in to the ways of Maasai life. We now have the third installment where she evaluates the impact of the new classrooms and kitchen funded by COCO and goes on a very exciting hippo hunt!

Maasai Academy

I am now halfway through my stay in Maasai land and it really does feel like home! My past week has been spent discussing budgets, spending time at the Maasai Academy and going exploring for hippos! After reading case studies and writing funding proposals in COCO’s office in Newcastle it is great to be able to visit the projects I’ve read so much about, and get a real understanding of just how important and beneficial they are to the community.

The Maasai Academy was originally established by parents from the community who wanted their children to receive an education. The school had only 20 students and lessons were held in a small church which was dark and cramped. Six years later, and the school now has 140 students beginning at nursery and going right up to class 6 with 7 teachers, one classroom assistant and a cook. Discussing with Hennie and Becca about how the school originally was made me realise just how far they have come in developing it into a great primary school that they and the community can be very proud of. The next couple of years are looking to be very busy at the Maasai Academy with classrooms 7 and 8 among the many projects Hennie and Becca hope to complete. Discussing future projects which COCO could potentially be part of has been extremely interesting and provided me with an insight into the process of developing a school that can deliver quality education whilst being closely involved with the local community.

I had originally planned to carry out health checks of the students this week but decided to post-pone until next week, instead focusing on monitoring and evaluating the impact of the classrooms and kitchen funded by COCO. The kitchen build was completed in May 2014 and has been hugely beneficial to the school. Before the kitchen the cook, Simel, was preparing the children’s lunches over an open fire with the only protection from the elements being the branches of the tree it was under. Simel told me how, during the rainy season (and when it rains here it rains hard!) preparing the food was almost impossible and the fire would frequently go out due to the rain meaning that the students would have to wait to eat until dry firewood was found, or occasionally not eat at all. Furthermore, food had to be carried across the school grounds from the storage room to the fire on a daily basis which was time consuming and the food would be easily damaged in the rain. Now the academy has a large kitchen with space inside to store, prepare, cook and serve the food meaning that the students are guaranteed a good meal every day.

          previous olf kitchen  new kitchen

The old kitchen v the new kitchen

I made sure I visited the school just before lunch so I could talk to the cook and see the kitchen in action! It really is a great, bright space with a cooking area large enough for two pots and a serving area. When the bell goes for lunch break the children all queue up, the youngest classes first, to wash their hands overseen by an older student before heading to the kitchen to collect their food. It was a very efficient system and I couldn’t believe how orderly all the students were…no pushing or queue jumping but maybe that was just because I was there with my camera! It has also been great seeing the new classrooms in use. They are bright and airy with large open windows covered with thin mesh to let in light and a constant breeze to keep the rooms cool, with additional light provided by skylights. The rooms are finished to a very high standard with smooth white walls and blackboards at both ends of the room.

            washing hands before lunch       Cooking lunch at school

lunch time

Whilst I was visiting the school work had begun on the road below erecting electricity poles. The electricity cables had been delivered to the area a few months ago but there had been no more progress so it was very exciting to see the first poles go up and the community becoming a step closer to having power! Electricity will also be hugely beneficial to the school! The academy would have the opportunity to use projectors which would give the teachers much more flexibility in the way they deliver lessons and also allow the students to watch educational media and see the world outside of their small community. In the future Hennie hopes to build a library and computer room for the students which would also be open to the community, so receiving electricity is a step closer to achieving that goal!

Over the weekend I got the chance to go exploring intohiipos the bush again, this time with the Marais family in search of hippos! We walked across open plains and through the forest before we came to a pool of water often frequented by hippos. On the walk down we saw hippo prints in the mud so I was hopeful we’d get to see one! When we reached the pool it took a while to spot them but we were lucky enough to see two! They were asleep in the water so I could only see their backs but I was still happy with that!

I also bought my first souvenirs of my trip…two wooden Maasai clubs. They are hand-carved by an elderly man named Ole Kirok Olker who is completely blind and walks the 17 mile each way trip to Hennie’s compound led by his young son to deliver them. I was fortunate enough to be in the compound when he visited so was able to watch him at work. He is very skilled and has produced some beautifully carved pieces and I feel very grateful to be able to take some back home with me!

carving the wood

Brad heads straight to Londoto Primary!

So Lucy has just returned and now it’s Brad’s turn to head out to East Africa! Brad is out to discover potential new projects and partnerships and to visit several of COCO’s current projects. We’ve just received his first blog post where he visits Londoto Primary, a really challenging project that has seen perseverance pay off! Hear it from Brad…

Londoto Primary

Since I returned to Tanzania, the topic of discussion has been this year’s election. The election isn’t due to take place until October, but is already being fiercely disputed by everyone.

Significant proportions of the Tanzanian population are asking questions of the current incumbents. Tanzania has an abundance of national resources to call upon and has world-famous tourist destinations such as Mount Kilimanjaro, the beaches of Zanzibar and the Serengeti. However, the country doesn’t quite seem to be reaching potential.

En route to East Africa, I spent the flight from Amsterdam to Dar es Salaam discussing with my seat neighbour about politics. He was Tanzanian and had been visiting his wife and young children in the Netherlands. He was desperate to raise sufficient money to enable him to enroll his children in school and have his family return to Tanzania… Though only after the election, which he was fearful of violence surrounding.

Similarly upon arrival, plenty of the discussion focused upon the political climate of Tanzania. With this in mind, it seemed fitting that the first project I visited was one so heavily involved in political discussion.

Londoto Primary School is located a long, hot daladala ride from Moshi in northern Tanzania. Since I started to work at COCO last year, as a project it has probably been the major challenge I’ve experienced. The project was not working as we had hoped; the community seemed massively disengaged with the school and any support offered was problematic.

School from afarThe reason for the community’s apathy towards the school was that Londoto fell under the jurisdiction of Msitu wa Tembo, a neighbouring settlement. Perception amongst the Londoto community was that they put a great deal more into the government pot than they got in return. It’s difficult to argue when mothers are lost during labour in Londoto, as the nearest clinic is 6KM away and secondary school students have to rise at 3AM to make it to school on time.

Kids under shadeI haven’t come across a community in Tanzania which has failed to relentlessly pursue a better situation for themselves, and Londoto is no different. Thankfully, in the latter stages of last year, the Londoto community dragged themselves through the endless red-tape and managed to split Londoto from Msitu wa Tembo. I shudder to think how much paperwork and bureaucracy they have had to go through… It was enough of a chew on to prove that I didn’t have ebola when I arrived on Saturday!

The newly-appointed committee has not rested on its laurels since gaining power. The head teacher at Londoto explained that since the committee were elected, they have successfully enrolled over fifty students who were previously being prevented from attending school as their parents saw greater value in them helping to generate income.

 Kids at desks   Kids in classroom

The committee has also set aside land for the school to farm, to provide nutritious food to students and have engaged the community to contribute towards the repair of the teachers’ toilets. The toilets had deteriorated into such poor condition that teachers had been advised to move from the site by a local health group, as the amount of waste would make them ‘erupt’ – lovely, right?!

The atmosphere at Londoto seemed completely different to how it teacher maybehad on previous visits. Of course, the kids were always laughing and playing and the teachers were always performing to the best of their ability, but it felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off everyone’s shoulders. One teacher explained how tough it had been to work in the school and even said he wasn’t sure what would have become of the school without COCO’s support.

By sheer coincidence I read a quote in my book on the journey to Londoto which explained that “the best charities know how difficult aid is”.[1] I certainly didn’t have to wait too long for an example! Inevitably different projects present different challenges, but with perseverance and skill these problems can be overcome.

Thanks COCO  Big group Londoto

[1] Giles Bolton – Aid and Other Dirty Business