Posts Tagged MEDA

“I’ve been workin’ on mosquito nets, all the live long day”

Hello internet, Whatcha knowin’? I’ve come to watch your flowers growin…’

Over the last 5 months I’ve had people ask me about how work’s going and what it is exactly that I am doing over here this year. Well, I will aim to appease fan request(s) and give a little glimpse into how I spend my daily 8-5. Boring! Alas, you asked and I wrote it. Hope it gives you a quick glimpse into my weekday working world.

“I’ve been workin’ on mosquito nets, all the live long day”

Well, that’s not really so true. Despite working on a mosquito bed net program, I really barely ever see any mosquito nets in any of my day-to-day work (but I do actually sleep under one every night. Malaria Haikubaliki!) Also, to the disappointment of some people I meet on the street and tell them where I work – I can’t get you a free one. More accurately – the change to the classic children’s/folk song would be along the lines of  ”I’ve been working on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets/mobile phone applications & databases/4 hour partner meetings, all the live long day…”.

The first piece of my job is essentially program/project management stuff for the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme (TNVS). I spend a lot of time writing reports, memos, and letters to the Ministry of Health, the Donor agencies, and our public and private sector implementing partners. I keep an eye on how the program is doing in the 21 regions across mainland Tanzania through voucher and net sale statistics and try to find ways that we can help things along by working with our net distribution partner and our Regional Managers in the field.

The other piece of this role has been a rather massive data entry, clean-up, and digitization exercise of our program’s paper records into a central database/Management Information System. This database is the basis for enabling and launching some very cool mobile phone reporting tools (which our in-house (literally, he’s my roommate!  haha, lame jokes rock) technical guru Zach  has built) using SMS messages and GPS coordinates from the net distribution company and shop owners to better track and GIS map the program activities as they unfold in real-time. Ambitious and a bit scary to do country-wide but underway.


A second piece of my role is entitled – Business Development and Communications. Thus far, this has been an interesting but much smaller component of my work. I’ve been updating and printing promotional materials, re-designing and writing our new website, and been involved in the search for new projects and partners for the organization in the future. If you are interested in learning a bit more check out our shiny new homemade website at http://medatanzania.org

Soft skills are for ‘team players’

Life is a blast when you know what you’re doin
Best to know what you’re doin ‘fore your life get ruined
Life is a thrill when your skill is developed
If you ain’t got a skill or trade, then shut the hell up

Hieroglyphics -At the helm. Again…a very random insertion of music lyrics into the post. But a great song…and sometimes when I hear this verse I think to myself…I need to get myself some skills! (I mean I know I have mad rap skillz but) …it would have been easier if I would have just given up on enjoying life and become an Accountant (joking! please don’t audit me) and at least had a hard skill/trade/set professional path. I know I am learning and gaining good experience but…Everyone is a team player, good communicator, and thinks outside the box on their resume. How will working on a mosquito bed net program in TZ be viewed on the future resume?…time will tell I suppose.

Breaking News:  Mobile phones will not ‘save Africa’

Rant: Technology can do a lot of great things for development and it should be used where it can help in simple, practical, and achievable ways. But I think it isn’t the answer to everything and can dangerously eat up valuable project resources when forced unnaturally into situations. All this said, as I described above, a part of my work here this year has been working with the integration of technology into the TNVS program so this is an area that I go back and forth on often. There are plenty of success stories and we are working to make this project one of them… but I do get a bit worried when I see everyone and their neighbor in this field rushing headfirst to integrate mobile technology into their projects cause it’s the next hot thing that those controlling the money want to see.

I am far from being on top of the field in this topic but it can seem clear from here. Design solutions in the most usable way for the people that are targeted – don’t design to get a project to be ground-breaking or to get  funded (easier said than done and naively idealistic? just perhaps). Check out a really cool Human-Centered Design Kit here which was passed along to me if you are interested in this kind of stuff!

An office with a view or a view with an office?

One thing I would never ever dare complain about is the view I am looking out across from my desk each day.

Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen.

Are we speaking the same language?

Acronyms are a way of life in a lot of industries, but I feel like they are especially prevalent in the international development field. With all the different Governments, Donors, Organizations, Accords, and Agreements  put together it makes for a steep acronym learning curve.  Heck, I have apparently gotten into the spirit myself given the job title TL, TNVS, BD & C.  Here is a sample which I read this past week from a publicly available United States Agency for International Development document called ‘Feed The Future (that’s USAID FTF for those of you counting at home) – Tanzania 2010 Implementation Plan’ ;

When NEPAD adopted CAADP (2005), the GOT was finalizing ASDP for implementation in 2006. The GOT began the CAADP process, but progress stalled based on a consensus that ASDP articulated the CAADP pillars. Following the G8 L’Aquila meeting and 2009 multi-donor CAADP meeting, the GOT revived CAADP by inviting the NEPAD Secretariat to assess ASDP compliance with CAADP requirements.

Are we speaking the same language? Progressing with Swahili continues to prove challenging enough thank you.

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Most sequels suck – but hopefully not this one

Hello again and welcome back to the another dusty foot philosopher blog!

First off, all apologies for the major gap since the last post. The last post came from Zambia during the self-declared epic trip down to South Africa for the World Cup. Certainly had every intention of making some more updates since then but surprisingly enough, finding an internet cafe and writing a blog post wasn’t so high on the priority list during the World Cup.

I don’t have such a good excuse for why there was nothing done in the month and a half spent back  home visiting -thats just laziness I guess. Had a much needed time relaxing and seeing family and friends back home though and very thankful for that opportunity heading into another long stretch away.

If you don’t know yet – I am back in Tanzania already for round II. At the very end of the last contract here I agreed to return to Tanzania for a one year contract beginning end of August. In the end, it came down to a great job opportunity here and experience that I don’t think I would be able to get elsewhere at this time. I would love to share more about the new job, but a few things need to clear up yet and I will try to keep this one relatively short so that will have a future post.

What Hollywood has taught me about life (besides the bad guy is wearing black, the high-school outcast can still get the girl, and that animals really can talk) is that, when it comes to sequels, they mostly suck…especially if they try to do the same thing.  The list of horrible sequels is not a hard one to compile; Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, Jaws II: The Revenge, Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Son of the Mask….it gets ugly.

I definitely thought a lot about this before coming back – this year won’t be the same as last year and it can’t be the same. Probably shouldn’t be the same. Need to approach it with a different storyline, different expectations (or maybe no expectations?), and different goals. I mean, most obviously, Zach and I are back but we’ve lost the third musketeer. Who will the thieves target now that Jer is gone?…I think I am in trouble.

So, I guess what I am saying is….let’s make this particular sequel more of a “The Dark Knight” kind of refreshing goodness and a little less of a “The Next Karate Kid” failed imitation.

I am definitely planning on keeping up the blog again for the year ahead. I really didn’t like the idea of it at first – but have really come to enjoy sharing some stories, pictures, and occasional ramblings with the friends and randoms that visit. I have about 7 drafts of new posts either started here on my computer or sitting in draft mode in my brain which I hope will someday see the light of day. I can’t promise anything but I will try to make some more regular updates in this year ahead.

Until next time (but hopefully not too long),

Dan

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Some ramblings on “doing good” in this crazy world we live in and then what’s next for this guy

Alright, so the topic of this post was originally meant to be the very first or second post on the entire blog back when I had legitimate hopes that this would actually include some kind of deep and philosophical posts -hence the blog name. Well, that didn’t so much happen but I have still wanted to get a chance to bore you with these incoherent thoughts and I heard somewhere that the first shall be (almost the last?) blog post so here we go!

Disclosure: I do not and don’t claim to know what I am talking about when it comes to the hugely complicated fields of international development and foreign aid. What I know and what I will proceed to ramble on about is a little bit of my experience and personal feelings at the time of writing. I hope we are all cool.

Secondary Disclosure. This post is pretty much one fluid stream of consciousness and writing – pretty much raw and possibly not making too much sense. Once again my homies, I hope we are all cool.

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In the beginning…

How did I find myself here working in the international development sector? While, I think that  interest goes back awhile to a childhood growing up in Bolivia and some belief because of this that I wanted to have this international experience of my own – but that’s a whole different story. More recently, I found myself attending an international education conference in Los Angeles in April 2009 where Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Nobel Peace Prize winner for his amazing efforts at eradicating poverty through micro-finance efforts was the main presenter. I would highly encourage you to check out some of his talks or his books if you are interested. Needless to say, it was an inspiring speech – a kick in the arse if you will – to get up and out and do something a little different.  And so I looked at what my options were and decided that I could probably put my “skills” to use by getting into the business end of the international development field. After all, profit or non-profit, the need for business aptitudes and good people is all the same so applied to a posting with MEDA which was looking for someone for an 8 month assignment in Tanzania in the area of business development and communications. Yada, yada, yada and a few weeks later I had myself a serious “should I stay or should I go” decision on my hands.

Some ramblings on apparently “doing good things” over here in Africa

When I accepted the position here with MEDA Tanzania and began to tell friends and family that I would be taking off to work in Africa for the next year and received a wide range of responses but often a common theme involved a “good for you”/”you are doing something good in this world” kind of line of thinking. Every time someone would make a comment like that I felt a twinge of guilt. What if I am just doing this for purely selfish reasons? I want to travel, I want to try some new work, I want to see the world, I want to get the hell as far away as possible from a mortgage and its locked in responsibility in Toronto before its too late to just pick up and take off like this.

The view from the balcony of 35 High Park...A hundred thousand mortgages twinkle in the Toronto night

I mean, I assure you there was much more to the decision – I have always been interested in international development and wanted to gain some experience in the field, I was a member and involved with MEDA for several years prior and always admired their work, and I did also have a legitimate desire to put some of my efforts towards some kind of a greater purpose than the pleasing Board of Directors and shareholders. (Not that there is anything wrong with working for private sector – I know countless people who give much more to greater causes through other efforts than most people working in non-profit sector). But despite these more legitimate reasons – I definitely felt quite uncomfortable with this line of thinking. Maybe it adds a bit more pressure on you or maybe I just don’t like these kind of conversations but the uneasiness certainly existed.

And what have you learned?

As I mentioned earlier, this post was supposed to be at the beginning of my time here and talk a bit about some of my thoughts and concerns around this topic before I started. But now I have been here working away and my contract is coming to an end  - so what have you learned Dan?

Well, for one thing I haven’t exactly had to make a lot of sacrifices in my life living in Africa. It wasn’t what we expected at all, but life in Dar es Salaam is not always so different than back home for us so the level of personal sacrifice is definitely not that high.  I mean, if you’ve seen some of the photos from my many travels around this beautiful country – you know that it hasn’t always been so rough. We also happened to end up living near our work offices in what we would end up naming ‘Mzungu Paradise’ – not exactly an accurate sample of the average Tanzanian standard of living. (p.s. Stay tuned for the exclusive publication here on the Another dusty foot philosopher blog of the lyrics of the soon to be hit single “Mzungu Paradise” based off of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise (which itself was a re-working of a Stevie Wonder song- (i just learned that now. (If you haven’t noticed yet, I love tangents)))). I do very much have mixed feelings about this side of the experience and how we have often really not had to make those sacrifices and experience a bit more of the real life over here but that’s really a whole new topic for discussion and debate so I’ll just leave it at that and move on.

Life is a sometimes literally a beach...weekend trip to Mafia Island, Tanzania

The day-to-day and the bigger picture

Another thing that I suppose has surprised me a bit but working in development isn’t really all that different than my work before in a lot of ways. It’s very much like every other business I have worked in and that’s likely because international development is very much a business. There’s no shortage of work, of late nights in the office, of stress, and of waking up in the morning and not wanting to leave your bed for work. It’s bloody competitive to win new tenders and you have targets being set and projects to execute or your organization will fail – just like in the private sector. I regularly go days without my mind even thinking of the “greater goal” of these projects, of how it will help Tanzania meet the Millennium Development Goals, or of the beneficiaries who will sleep protected under these mosquito nets. Probably a bit too often, it seems to all just be purely numbers.

One day, the “bigger picture” did indeed hit home during a particular taskforce meeting last year. It was a bit of a tense meeting as all of the malaria partner organizations met and dealt with one issue or another which was popping up and effectively laying waste to well made plans. As things became more heated one of the head people just stopped the discussion and reminded all of those in attendance that…yes, we will have our challenges such as this but what we cannot do is lose sight of the bigger picture. What we are all a part of here in the malaria sector in Tanzania is something unique. The world is watching what we are doing here in Tanzania and it is by and large a massive success story that will be used as a blueprint in many other countries to fight this endemic.

It was one of those moments that helps put it all in perspective and yeah, it does feel good to know that whatever tiny, tiny part that I have managed to play while over here has contributed to some small part of that success story in the making.

One friend told me before leaving (jokingly..but true enough) - you are just what Africa needs, another white guy going over to help. This picture is for you Mark.

And where do we go from here?

So what’s next? Well, that is something that I need figure out. I’ve been looking seriously at both options – staying abroad and working in the international development field  and also returning home and likely heading back to some unknown private sector job. Some of us over here have been doing lots of reading and talking about the development sector itself and whats done wrong and what is going right. If it’s part of the problem as some people seem to be arguing -than that is something more to consider, especially joining the ranks of the many expatriates working here in Dar and being paid with the aid money. But that’s a whole different discussion once again so I’ll just leave that be. I do honestly think I would be at peace with either path – sometimes you can’t always try to answer or tackle these bigger questions and need to figure out whats best for yourself too.

Okay, so this has been a decently long ramble now and perhaps I should wrap-up but I hope it’s been interesting to you. I know just writing some of this out has been somehow useful to me as well. So, are we all cool?

Thanks for listening,

Dan

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Never say you’ll never end up in Mwanza rock city

It’s not as though at the time, sitting in my 4th year Business Policy class at Wilfrid Laurier University, I actually had the exact thought cross my mind, but I certainly didn’t think the opposite either.

I don’t imagine I will ever end up there…

We are watching a clip from the Oscar nominated documentary, Darwin’s Nightmare, and the clip is being shown in this particular class as we have been discussing some of the issues and problems that result from international trade and globalization. Hell, we all know our business schools could use a little more of this well rounded perspective so kudos to the prof on that point. On the screen, although I don’t know much about it at the time, is the city of Mwanza on the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania.

The symbol of Mwanza...the rock city

The movie isn’t exactly showing a flattering portrait of Mwanza or Tanzania (in fact, the documentary caused quite a bit of outrage here in Tanzania and even caused personal rebuttals from the president of Tanzania). It’s an examination of the introduction of the Nile Perch species to Lake Victoria and theorizes that the local population has benefited little from the globalization and has largely experienced only some negative affects such as imported of conflict arms and the continued spread of HIV while the expensive fish fillets are flown off to Europe. I think in the end both sides of the controversy are a bit correct – the Lake Region is a beautiful area and in the end the film did not do justice to the people, the natural beauty and likely hurt it even more through lower fish sales and tourism. That said, I have no doubt that many of the points the Director makes about how the effects of the global fish and arms trade have also negatively affected the local population. All this said, I only watched a piece of the documentary that year and still haven’t seen the whole thing so I will leave it up to you dear reader to watch the documentary and make your own judgement.

Caught the culprit in question

Just about 4 years after this I found myself arriving in Mwanza. It was this past Janaury and I was coming to the rural areas just outside of Mwanza urban to run a pilot of MEDA Tanzania’s new program the Universal Coverage Campaign (UCC). Sometime this spring, the Government of Tanzania’s Ministry of Health will launch this Global Fund to Fight Malaria, AIDS, and Tuberculosis funded campaign which will aim to provide a free Long Lasting Insecticide Treated bed net to cover every sleeping space across Tanzania. It’s a daunting task, to accurately coordinate the logistics of registering every household in the country and then procuring and distributing the bed nets in every single one of Tanzania’s estimated 12,500+ villages. Something like running an entire national census combined with organizing a distribution network in every village, hamlet and metropolis back home. Phew.

A UCC village healthworker registers sleeping spaces during the Mwanza pilot

Anyways, I am getting off track. Zach, Jer, and I were tasked with planning, organizing, and executing a small scale  launch of this UCC program to test out a number of our proposed policies, procedures, materials, and technologies. Very cool stuff and so after a month or so of planning we find ourselves arriving in Mwanza to go live with the pilot.

Mock volunteer training exercise tests the variables

I won’t bore you with too many of the details, but I think everyone felt it was a success all around and we learned lots of things which are now going to be implemented when the full program launches in the months ahead. It may be stating the obvious but…don’t try and launch a project of this magnitude without taking all of your ideas (which seemed to make complete sense sitting in the office) and trying them out in practice in the real world.

Not sure why this is here....just liked the photo I guess

In the end, it was a work trip and although we got to see some of Mwanza, take a little dip in Lake Victoria, and even eat some of those controversially delicious Nile Perch – I didn’t really get the opportunity to see if the side of Mwanza portrayed in Darwin’s Nightmare is out there as well.  Another time perhaps…

Colourful boats tied up but waiting to go on the Lake Victoria shoreline

I guess it’s not really that outrageous of a connection finding myself on the same shores that film depicted 4 years later.  But all I am trying to say is…. never say you’ll never end up in Mwanza rock city because one day, if you’re lucky, you might just find yourself there.

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Mama Kikwete and Me

This is the story of how I met the first lady of Tanzania….and then what happened next.

The setting of this story is during my field trip in the beginning of November to witness the Under 5 Catch-Up Campaign (U5CC) mosquito net issuing exercise in the Southern Highlands region of Tanzania. I had headed down to the Ruvuma region to get some field experience and see one of MEDA Tanzania’s major programs in action. I hoped to get a chance to see how some of the theory and policies I was working with on a day-to-day basis were really playing out in the field. I also aimed to get some good pictures of the program in action for future promotional material use and maybe even collect a few good stories from the beneficiaries and the program stakeholders to publish.

dance

It started when we arrived in Songea town on the second day and spoke with another program partner who let us know that they just learned that the first lady of Tanzania, Mama Kikwete, would be coming to the district to officially launch the program in this region. I was excited to hear that a special launch event was being planned in a village about an hour north of us and that my colleague and I would be attending as the MEDA representatives but didn’t think much more of it.

Dancers greet Mama Kikwete at the clinic

The day arrived and we headed out in our trusty white Toyota truck for the village. Upon arrival, as the picture above suggests, we find out just how unoriginal we really were as the village was absolutely invaded by an army of white Land Cruisers/Land Rovers from all the government representatives and NGO’s there for the launch event.

A convoy of white SUV's make their way to the launch event.

After an uneventful lunch event with local dignitaries and the first lady, we all headed to the village health clinic where the launch event was to take place. As I understand it (and everything happened here in Kiswahili – so my understanding is likely a bit flawed…) the organizing group had planned for Mama Kikwete to give a speech and issue the first nets of the campaign inside a tiny room in the clinic which could only fit the invited dignitaries and partners but left out the crowd which had gathered to welcome Mama Kikwete.  After we all entered the clinic room and were seated to begin her speech  – she, in a  noble move, requested that the event be moved back outside so that the shut-out crowd can watch as well. So, all the people in the room file out ahead of Mama Kikwete but at this time yours truly was fiddling with his camera and not understanding the Swahili instructions so just stayed sitting. By the time I realize that everyone has left and I get to the aisle I run directly into Mama Kikwete herself who proceeds to give me a big smile and (in English) says “hello, how are you?” and we shake hands. Now, I wish that I had at least tried to break out some of my Swahili and give a nice response in her language. Greet her with “Shikamoo mama” (a proper greeting to your female elder) or at least say something funny that would have made a better story for my blog like “Poa kachize kama ndizi” (some Swahili street slang literally translated meaning Fresh like a crazy banana). Needless to say, I end up just replying in English “very good, thank you” and she was on her way. Boring.

Arrival of the guest of honour

Now, because of this late exit and meeting, I end up filing out of the clinic and right onto the new stage directly behind Mama Kikwete and her entourage and find myself facing out to a gathered crowd of around 500 or so people…I clearly am not supposed to be up here on the stage standing directly behind the first lady with all of the other regional politicians but there wasn’t exactly an easy way out except pushing my way past her and into the crowd so I just decide to stay put and try to look like I belong..

Why am I on stage right now?

As the official ceremony begins with the speeches in Kiswahili I try as usual for the first 5 or 10 minutes to pay attention and see what I can understand but I quickly begin to lose that focus. By the time Mama Kikwete takes the stage I have completely lost my ability to focus and have slipped more into the back of the stage with the security guards and am just taking photos of people in the crowd. It’s in the middle of playing around with the camera that I suddenly look up to see Mama Kikwete turned around at the podium looking right at me as she speaks in Kiswahili. Oh crap. The few people standing in front of me part to make a path to the podium and someone beside me tells me “It’s your turn, Mama Kikwete asked for you”. Oh crap, Oh crap. I tell them that it’s a mistake and that I am not supposed to say anything during the event but they all seem quite convinced I am wrong and start pushing me towards the podium.   At this point I am still about 75% fearing having to take those last few steps and embarrass myself and there is a smaller 25% that is already finding this pretty hilarious and thinking that this should make an entertaining story if nothing else. I continue to resist and tell them I am not supposed to be up there and I don’t speak Kiswahili but they tell me that everyone is waiting and I should just go up and wave and say a simple greeting. Oh crap, this can not turn out well.

Now we are at the point where a further delay starts to make things awkward and I have pretty much resigned myself to going with the flow so I slowly start towards the podium and try to decide on what I am going to say. The best I come up with (time and language being the major constraints) is “Mambo vipi Madaba? Malaria Haikubaliki! Asantini sana.”  Roughly translated “What’s up Madaba? (Name of the village we were in)? Malaria is not acceptable! (A campaign slogan) Thank you all very much.”  Wouldn’t that have just been special? Just in the nick of time another person pushes through the crowd to reach the stage and take the microphone to respond to whatever the heck is going on and I manage to slip back to my original place avoiding having to get on the microphone in response to a question I don’t know and in a language I am just learning. Phew, close call. Thankfully, the rest of the event goes without incident and we issue the first ceremonial nets of the campaign successfully.

Mama Kikwete giving the speech shortly before my moment of fame

As I later find out from my co-worker, Mama Kikwete asked a question in her speech directly to another one of the partner NGO’s, Engender Health, about whether they could provide solar power units for the village hospital since they were often without power. Apparently since I was standing there on stage and since I was a white person, the people beside me figured that I was there as the representative for Engender Health and hence the whole big misunderstanding. Good thing the real representative decided to step in when he did. It would have been pretty bad if I went up and said my piece above in response to the first lady’s challenge to the NGO to provide the solar power!

faces in the crowd

As we make the one and a half hour drive back to Songea through the rolling hills and the scrubby forests that blanket the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, our MEDA truck is about 5 minutes behind the first lady’s vehicle and her convoy. All along the road home school children have lined the road to greet the motorcade and they wave freshly cut tree branches and the colourful green and gold flags of their political party. When another big white truck appears on the road they begin to wave,  jump up and down, and cheer loudly as we honk our horn and wave back. The sun is setting in that most wonderful East African manner that lights up the whole sky in bright pastels of pink, purple, and orange and it’s giving the whole scene a bit of a surreal feeling to end yet another surreal day here in Tanzania.  I’m sitting in the back of the truck soaking it all in and I tell you that you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I’m wondering to myself how I manage to get myself into these crazy situations but then I realize that this just seems to happen more over here and the ordinary has just become extraordinary on a more regular basis.

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Red. Green. Blue.

Well this post is running about three weeks behind schedule and the actual events since I returned from my U5CC issuing trip on November 9th – but hey, better late than never I guess.

It was a real cool trip and definitely lived up to my expectations. It was also a bloody lot of driving. It was just over 1000 km each way from Dar es Salaam to the city of Songea where I was based. Including all of the driving we did on each day and the amount of the province of Ruvuma that I saw over my 9 days there I could easily add another 500-1000 km onto that. This puts me around a third of the way across the Trans-Canada Highway to put things into perspective and I can assure you that the roads were nowhere near as smooth.

The other main thing that stuck out to me has to be the colours in this part of the country and hence the title of this blog post. Honestly, it was like someone had taken the Colour and Highlights tuners on a television set and cranked them up way too high and I was looking at the world through this RGB colour-distorted viewfinder. At almost all times I can think of one or more of these three colours was dominating the landscape.

Somebody please turn down the RGB

Green. The rain seemed to fall a bit more regularly here in the Southern Highlands than elsewhere in the country that I had visited and this was most evident in the many bright shades of green foliage found everywhere as pictured above.

Red. The soil in Ruvuma was unbelievably bright red – everywhere I looked had some sign of the bright red dirt. The soil is also used to make the brick and mud for many of the buildings which results in the same neon reddish-brownish-orange tone in the majority of the buildings. It’s also fairly dusty the city of Songea (where I spent much of my time) and on the country roads. This results in pretty much everything else (including all my clothes and the aforementioned dusty feet) being covered by a coating of this colour.

You can see the red soil in the region from high above in google maps!

Blue: The colour blue also holds a dominant place in the memories from this trip. Maybe it was just being out of the city and (relatively) tall buildings, but the sky seemed enormous here. Blue is also the colour of the mosquito nets being distributed as you will see in some photos below so this played a pretty major role in my days.

Observations and a few things I learned:

  • This is U5CC Campaign MEDA is running is a huge operation. It really blew my mind to think that I was witnessing this mass distribution of free Long-Lasting Insecticide Nets (LLINs) in action in just a small handful of issuing points at the village level and imagine this happening across the country. To give you a better idea.. there were about 1-4 issuing points in each village. There are about 5-8 villages/streets in each Ward. There are about 10-20 Wards in each District. There are 133 districts across the 21 Regions of mainland Tanzania that the U5CC covers. To efficiently plan, organize, and distribute close to 7 million of these LLIN’s to a population so spread out across the country and hard to reach is just an amazing logistical achievement.

4 of the 7 million LLIN nets distributed through the U5CC program

  • This guy can be a scary thing too little kids in areas where mzungu’s don’t often tread. I had it mentioned to me by parents in a few situations where I made kids run away or cry that I was probably the first white person that their kid had seen. I was honoured.

Would you just look at the pure fear in those big brown eyes...

  • The real work is getting done in the field. These are the troops on the ground and the staff that really know what is happening with the program. Just from being in the field for a week and a half I was quick to realize a number of misconceptions that I had been operating under while working away at HQ and areas where communication can really be improved. It’s a pretty basic observation I guess – but one that should always be kept in mind in any job and any organization – if you want to know what’s really happening be sure to keep in open communication with the front lines.

Line-up for nets at a Issuing point in the city of Mbinga

  • I really don’t know much swahili yet. I had felt like I was making some steady but slow progress while in the safe confines of our swahili lessons, english speaking work, and the big city of Dar. Going out to Ruvuma where there is very, very little english spoken and not much of an effort made to accomodate the english speaker – you realize just how little you really do know.

A LLIN from the U5CC program in use

  • I would be much more effective if I did know the language. It was a great trip and I accomplished everything that I had hoped coming into it. I observed the program in action, took notes, asked questions, interviewed stakeholders, and snapped lots of good pictures for future promotional use – BUT I did really feel quite helpless and useless a good portion of the time as I sat there lost in a verbal sea of swahili… managing to pick out and understand only every 4th or 5th word. If nothing else it was very motivating to try and speed up my learning (Editors note: I’ve been back for 3 weeks and this has not yet happened).

And now for a small sample of the 500+ pictures that I took on the trip…

Tea fields at sunset on the road down south

Goofing around for the camera in Songea

Fish from Lake Nyasa drying in the sun with Tanzanian coast in the background

Looking down a fish drying rack to the world's 8th largest lake

Children on wooden canoe with Lake Nyasa/Malawi in the background

A recent mother laughs at my request for her to model her recently collected mosquito net

Waiting in line with registration card

The Tanzanian way of life is full of colour whether kangas, flip-flops, or dirt.

Learning to carry things on her head early

Hope you enjoyed the pictures!

I will aim to have Part II of my posts from this field trip up soon which will tell you a story about one particular afternoon of my time down in Ruvuma.  What happens when Dan meets the First Lady of Tanzania? A new episode in detail called “Mama Kikwete and Me”.  Stay tuned.

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The story of my first ‘professional’ photo shoot (warning: hot models involved)

your photographerThat’s right, I had a pretty cool day earlier this week and made my debut as an official photographer! It wasn’t the call from Maxim or Sports Illustrated that I might have been hoping to receive – but it was still pretty cool stuff so I thought I would share. One of the coolest parts of my job here at MEDA is the Communications area. MEDA Tanzania is a great organization with a lot of really amazing successes behind and in front of it –  the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme which MEDA TZ has built since 2004 is often used as a model for other nations to build their malaria prevention and sustainable mosquito net distribution programs. Part of the role of the Communications area ( I was going to say ‘team’ but I am the only one officially on it and since there is no I in team….) is to tell these success stories to donor agencies and the rest of the world. As such, I’ve been tasked with helping get this success story out through pictures, articles, promotional materials, this blog, etc.

A note on the whole ‘professional’ tag – I believe that definition of a professional consists of the fact that they are being paid for their services – does this now mean I can call myself a professional photographer? Nah, I think I would rather just keep the expectations low and occassionaly surprise when things turn out well.

So how did my first photography assignment come about? This past week was apparently the first time that MEDA had a good portion of all of it’s field trucks back at HQ and it would only last for another day or two. As such, our Country Manager came up with the creative idea to see if I might want to sieze the opportunity and get them all together for some photos since it might never happen again. After scouting some locations, I found a hotel parking lot overlooking the Indian ocean that would work well and organized the 14 or so trucks parked at HQ to head there that morning.

all the pretty trucks...all in a row

It was a pretty cool experience thinking of set-ups, directing the trucks, standing on the roof  to get different angles and trying my best to get some good shots that we might be able to use in some future promotional materials. After the group pictures we even did some one on one portraits with each driver and their truck which was a lot of fun and something to pass along to all of the drivers for them to take home.

bada$ MEDA flame decals

Read the rest of this entry »

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So what’s this all about?

Welcome (“Karibu”) to my blog about travels, development work, and everyday life here in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Here in Tanzania, the daily greetings are just about the most important thing to know in Swahili so I figure I better get these formalities out of the way right away.

I arrived safe and sound here in Dar es Salaam, where MEDA is located, in mid- September. Apologies for the lack of a quick start on the whole blog thing – somehow it’s not always the most exciting option to choose when deciding what to do over here… Dar is Tanzania’s largest city with a population of about 3 million and is the centre of commerce and administration for the country. I figured for this first post it might be helpful to just do a quick overview about the organization and work that I am doing here. I’ll be living and working in Dar for an 8 month internship contract with an organization called MEDA. There are three of us in total here with MEDA Tanzania and I live, work, and travel with Zach and Jeremy (whom I am sure will be further introduced in later stories).


MEDA is a leading Non-Governmental Development Organization (NGO) headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada but working in over 30 countries around the world. MEDA is known internationally for it’s unique approach in providing business and market-based solutions to problems caused by global poverty. I’ve been very impressed so far with the innovation and out of the box thinking that MEDA has applied to Check out their work on their website here (www.meda.org) or watch YouTube videos on their many global projects here.

Hat Punguzo project on YouTube

We work within the Production-Marketing Linkages (PML) group which (lifted right from the orientation materials..) assists small-scale producers to increase their incomes and build their livelihoods through improved production and pathways to effective markets. PML also supports the development of distribution networks that reach disadvantaged consumers with appropriate and affordable products.


MEDA Tanzania is the country branch operating the local Tanzanian operations and projects and has been in country on a number of different micro-finance and business of health areas since 1986. Once again, I’m going to just take the lazy way and paste in some more official lines to help me better explain the work. Our mission is to bring hope, opportunity and economic well-being to rural and urban communities of Tanzania by building the capacity of the economically active poor and linking them to production, marketing and financial infrastructure.

MEDA Tanzania manages two different but closely related projects:  The Tanzania National Voucher Scheme (TNVS) and the Under Five Catch up Campaign (U5CC).  The goal of both projects is to increase the coverage and use of insecticide treated [mosquito bed] nets (ITNs) among specific target groups (pregnant women and children under five, the population most at-risk for malarial mortality).  MEDA’s work focuses on management, logistics, and the delivery of ITNs to each target group through a unique public-private partnership (PPP) which strives to build a sustainable private sector distribution network in the country for long after the aid dollars have disappeared.

hati punguzo logo


I’ll be working on the project in the area of Business Development and Communications. From what I know so far that will involve some work with project management of some of these programs, researching new funding opportunities, writing and submitting funding proposals, building relationships with donors, reporting, and a host of other tasks where needed. They’ve got some pretty ambitious targets set for us during our time here – both a good thing but also a little intimidating…more on that line of thinking next time.

Alright, that’s more than enough for now.

Cheers,

Dan

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