Another installment from Brad in Tanzania, on a new Cycle Challenge route!

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After the huge success of the Maasai Cycle Challenge in Kenya, COCO has begun searching for another cycle ride below the Tanzanian border. Plenty of routes had been scouted out before it was decided that a route from Lake Manyara to Lake Natron had the potential to be a winner.

To ensure that the route was tip top before the challenge was agreed upon, I had a recce along the route. The one concern going into the recce was that the route may not quite be challenging enough for experienced cyclists. However, given that the route managed to obliterate our truck, these concerns have been largely alleviated!

Unfortunately due to an early mechanical issue with the truck, and the Tanzanian police’s insistence on checking insurance and tax documents every fifty yards, we were held up on our route to the start point at Mto wa Mbu. Undeterred, we had a quick pit stop for some mbuzi choma na ugali (barbequed goat with ugali) and set upon the route.

We started with a route through banana and rice farms, before the land opened out into a vast savanna meeting Lake Manyara. Much of Lake Manyara is a national park, however, this part was open to the community although with hunting and other disruptive activities not allowed. The local Maasai community were using the lake as a drinking hole for their cattle, who were sharing the water with thousands of pink flamingos.

From Lake Manyara, we looped around and entered an opening of land enclosed by the Ngorongoro crater on one side, and a similar landscape on the other. The guide explained that this area acts as a corridor for animals to hop between Tanganyika and Manyara national parks.

The crater provided a spectacular backdrop as we drove past zebra, giraffes and ostriches. Upon reaching what would be the campsite for the first night, the guide also explained that for those cyclists who wished to stretch their muscles after a day’s cycling could go for a walk into a wooded area to meet elephants that tend to graze within.

As we were doing an express tour of the route, we didn’t spend a night in the campsite and continued onto what would be day two of the challenge. Having bumped around in the truck for a few hours, by the time we landed at what would be the second campsite, I was very tempted with a drink from the bar… Though I dare say the cyclists staying here will have earned their tipple a little more than I had!

As the route had got a little more hilly on day two, it wasn’t altogether surprising to see a mountain on day three, locally known as the Mountain of God. We also came across a huge crater in the ground, locally known as the Valley of God… Clearly plenty of imagination went into naming these landmarks!

One thing that no one would argue was made by God, was our 4×4’s radiator which blew shortly before we reached the Valley of God. Thankfully, we were able to nurse the truck to a campsite on Lake Natron, where we set up camp for the evening.

As a pleasant surprise, the campsite had running water so I was able to have a shower to wash the layers of dust off. I was also treated to a delightful meal by some of the Maasai hosts, though the starter was suspiciously like a Cornish pasty which was rather unexpected.

The truck was taken off to be fixed, but the mechanic had closed shop for the night so we settled down and waited for the morning before it could be fixed and we could continue our journey. Unfortunately the problems with the radiator were a little more complex than we’d hoped. I’m no expert in mechanics, so I don’t know exactly what was up with it, but I do know that it took six hours to fix… Six hours is quite a long time when you have no phone signal, or idea of where you are!

I was told that there were some waterfalls nearby, so I set off to visit them. Predictably I got lost and decided to turn back as the midday sun beat down on me, however, on the cycle challenge (with a guide to direct) I’m sure it would be a lovely excursion!

Unfortunately, by the time our truck was fixed, it was well after 1pm and we’d have no chance of reaching the main road before nightfall if we completed the cycle route. We were also a little skeptical about just how healthy the truck was and wanted to get it as far as possible whilst it still worked. Thankfully the radiator held out until we reached the main road, although the steering alignment did break on the way back.

The cycle challenge route goes from Lake Manyara to Lake Natron, the journey which flamingos take between breeding and eating. What flamingos manage with ease, three men and a 4×4 couldn’t. Over to you cyclists…

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An update on the fantastic research our volunteers have been conducting in Tanzania, and a conversation about FGM education in Lekrumuni

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Having defeated Mount Kilimanjaro, six of our student trekkers decided to stick around in Tanzania to complete some voluntary placements. As COCO is committed to sustainable volunteering placements, the volunteers put the analytical skills the students had gained from late nights in the library to good use by performing some research on new and existing projects.

Not only will the data received help COCO to measure impact, but having volunteers in the country using such skills will build capacity of local communities so that in the longer run, this research can be performed directly.

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The first week of the volunteering placement was spent in Lekrumuni, a Maasai community sandwiched between Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. With such an impressive view, you would expect land in the village to be prime real estate, but in contrast the community has gone largely neglected with students having to walk approximately 13km to the nearest secondary school.

In response, COCO is planning to partner with the community to construct a secondary school within the village. The school will also be the only boarding school in the area, which will ensure that even those students living a long walk away will be able to attend school full of energy!

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The research consisted of health assessments of primary school students, interviews with members of the community and a group feedback session with ‘local’ secondary school students. The secondary school students were asked to shout out reasons why education was important, before discussing which of these reasons was the most key.Interestingly, it was decided that ‘education removes ignorance’ was the most important reason for education.

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FGM Education

This sentiment was echoed in our interviews with the community, in which the issues of polygamy and female genital mutilation (FGM) were frequent topics. Encouragingly, I spoke to one member of the community who had previously been a FGM surgeon, but had discontinued her work having received education, which had disproved the myths she believed about the practice.

The education was provided by an organisation called NAFGEM, who informed me that in spite of their success there had still been 12 reported instances of FGM in the village in the last year. The members of the community whom still supported the practice, tended to be in support because they were ill informed; citing reasons such as health benefits and a fear of their daughter struggling to find a husband. If a parent genuinely believes that it is of medical benefit for their daughter to go through the procedure, it’s easy to see why they would push ahead with it.

Whilst in the long term, the solution to the problem seems so simple, there are still girls here and now having their lives ruined due to misinformation. With this in mind, our partner organisation in Lekrumuni, Hope, has taken on a dedicated project coordinator for the secondary school to ensure that the school and the resultant benefits can be experienced as soon as possible.

By facilitating the younger generations to receive education, we can help to disprove the myths that fuel FGM, and the practice will die out.