What the heck have we been doing?

The wifi’s not working (again), and I’m trying to do work on a Saturday morning because I was tired yesterday so I neglected doing all the things I should’ve been doing. So I’m a little cranky.

That being said, I’m also (probably self-righteously) upset with my society. Nothing really new here, I know. One of my favourite pass-times is complaining about the problems in my society and then doing very minimal things to change the system, if I do anything at all. I try to have a sustainable, ethical outlook and be aware of the effects I have on the world. But I am a millennial that loves comfort and doesn’t really like it when things change. So I guess I can be a huge hypocrite half of the time.

So this is going to be a self-righteous post that’s allowing me to stall (yet again) when it comes to doing the work I should be doing for MikonoYetu, and is probably flowing out of me more because of my current headache than any real ideas.

I’m reading the MikonoYetu Center for Creativity and Innovation organization profile. I want to include a page about MikonoYetu in the information package that I’m slowly putting together for the fundraising event in August. Since MikonoYetu doesn’t have a website or anything written about them on their Facebook page, I asked Maimuna if I could have the written profile for a bit. Reading through it, I’ve learned a lot about the organization (that I’ve technically worked for for an entire month already), and have a whole new respect for this organization and the organizations and people that partner with, are affiliated with, and are influenced by organizations like MikonoYetu.

It’s about economic empowerment for women. But it’s about so much more.

MikonoYetu branched out from Kivulini Women’s Rights Organization and became a registered, women-led non-profit organization in 2011. Kivulini focuses on curbing domestic and sexual violence; Maimuna and a few other current MikonoYetu staff members used to work at Kivulini. An evidence-based study discovered that when women are economically empowered they have options; they can step out of the vicious cycle of violence, realize their rights, become leaders in their communities, support other women in similar situations, and they can also send their children to school and invest in their children’s development. I asked Maimuna yesterday at our meeting why she created a whole new organization to promote economic empowerment; why didn’t Kivulini just form a new program to run under their already-established umbrella? Maimuna told me that Kivulini is focused on domestic violence, and it would split that focus if they began to also address economic empowerment. So Maimuna branched out and created MikonoYetu. Which is a brilliant organization.

In Tanzania, women don’t receive the same opportunities as men. Poverty statistics are worse for women, violence against women rates are sky high, and Nuri has discovered in her research that Tanzania has one of the highest teenage pregnancy ratings in the world; one in three 18-year-old girls will get pregnant (I don’t have the source, but believe this information was in the 2011 UNICEF study that Nuri found).  I’ve also found from reading MikonoYetu’s profile that less than ten percent of Tanzania’s population have formal certificates of their farmland ownership. While this works out fine for an informal economy, especially agriculture based majorly in rural areas and villages, this makes it very easy for those who operate in the formal economic sector (mainly international investors and East Africans that are of higher economic classes) to exploit these people and take their land with no compensation. What the profile doesn’t detail are the specific repercussions of this: whole communities losing their livelihood and becoming displaced, families breaking down, family members leaving to look for work, abuse and violence in the home and in the community, heightened poverty, lack of literacy and education for children, crime, and I’m sure I could go on.

MikonoYetu’s four programs include land rights education, equal rights advocacy, economic empowerment, and natural resource management. They inform the masses on how to seek legal action and give assistance on how to acquire title deeds and lawfully sell land. Women and girls specifically are educated on their equal rights to own land under the Constitution of Tanzania and similar legislation. Advocacy on equal rights between men and women in other areas is also a part of the organization. Economic empowerment projects include promoting fair trade, high value, nutritious agricultural practices; livestock breeding for milk and yogurt production, meat, and leather; taking advantage of Mwanza becoming an emerging touristic city and seeking to provide opportunities for women’s involvement in cultural tourism; and forest management that motivates communities to grow trees. Women are also trained to be entrepreneurs through training programs as well as mentorship programs. MikonoYetu has even helped establish community banks and linked farmers to microfinance institutions and programs. Farmers now use waste and cow manure to fertilize soil. Communities have planted trees to combat climate change and promote biodiversity. Individuals have been supported to own property.

I realize this is a profile written by the MikonoYetu staff. It doesn’t give the roadblocks or the gaps in the programs. But in only a few years (I’m not positive when this profile was written) MikonoYetu had brought rabbit-keeping programs in two village primary schools. They had increased the income of more than fifty women and young people. They had supported more than fifty women, girls, and young people to own property and land. They had mobilized rural women, young people, poor men, and children to plant 7,000 trees to combat global warming. They had established food banks and had strengthened communities.

This is a really cool organization.

So while I have been sitting in school with my iPhone, overstimulating my brain and trying to figure out what I’m going to eat next on campus, there have been organizations that are combatting climate change, resource inequality, and gendered poverty. And they’ve been successful and will continue to be successful. They are partnering with local governments and are building strong communities that see the fruits of their labour. They are alleviating systemic violence by targeting full communities and making individuals realize that these issues are community issues. They are planting trees and composting to combat the very desertification that will hit Sub-Saharan Africa hard, even though under-industrialized nations have little to do with the bulk of the pollution that is causing it.

I don’t mean this to be self-loathing or overly critical of how North Americans spend their time. We live in a different context and address our own societal issues (poverty still being one of them). I’ll still use my iPhone and when I go back home I doubt I’ll spend all of my time planting trees to promote biodiversity and fight climate change.

I’m just struck by how they’ve gotten it so right, when there are still people in Canada that don’t even think climate change and resource scarcity is a thing. Tanzanians are investing in solar energy, yet Canada released a statement a few years ago that because it’s so cold in our country, we can’t reduce our emissions like we promised in the Kyoto Protocol (two side-notes: 1. Canada’s emissions actually increased after they promised to take action to lower them and 2. most European countries significantly lowered their green-house gas emissions, which basically means that our country being cold is a silly excuse).

Why am I so whiny lately? I’m tired and a little stressed and if I’m honest with myself I’m a little homesick. But I’m also kind of upset. About a lot of things. I’m a lower-middle class Canadian girl that has packed her bags and made the trip to Mwanza, Tanzania for three months because I wanted to help out with a Western initiative that I have a lot of faith in. I also wanted to gain more practical knowledge and open my eyes to how it really is in the world, or at least in this little corner of the world. I encountered a vibrant space that is breeding systemic inequality. I encountered street kids, abused women and children, uneducated masses, and people that know I have more than them by virtue of my skin colour. It’s been a lot to take in.

Yet they’re getting it so right in some aspects. I’ve always admired African movements that address sustainability, resource management, agriculture, and environmental issues. In a world where the solutions to poverty and “underdevelopment” are loans, structural adjustment programs, aggressive industrialization, and economic decentralization (thanks, capitalism), many nations and communities have rejected these approaches and turned to grassroots microfinance, local business, and sustainable farming. These communities still have to fight against exploitation and calls for stronger top-down approaches. They still face poverty and issues associated with small economies. There will still be exploitation from industries and businesses that refuse to leave poor people alone.

But, reading this profile and trying to figure out how I can put all that MikonoYetu does in a couple of short paragraphs (and also trying to figure out how I can blame the lack of wifi to stall some more), I am dumbfounded that they can do what environmental activists are still trying to get through to us back home. I’m sure there are dozens of theories that seek to explain this (I’ve studied a few of them). My overarching point in all of this is not that I believe Canada should be more advanced in every aspect including environmental responsibility. We have our problems too, and the last thing I want to do is enforce any views of African nations as perpetually behind. My point is that our views of “underdeveloped” countries and regions stunts these very spaces. They are focused on community initiatives right now. But why shouldn’t Tanzanians become more of a voice in the climate change dialogue? Why shouldn’t they become leaders in the environmental sustainability movement? Because it’s not just MikonoYetu that values these sustainable approaches; I’ve noticed that it’s a big topic here. It’s a very real topic. Renewable energy is being widely used (particularly solar energy).

I think we’re too comfortable to really do anything in the West. So maybe countries that can’t afford to be comfortable yet need to start shaking things up and pointing fingers.

This has turned out to be another dry post. My apologies. I promise to be cheery and colloquial and uplifting next time.

[Note: this post was originally written on Saturday, June 18th. The wifi hasn’t been working this weekend (as I mentioned at the beginning of this post) so I decided to write down my thoughts and worry about posting later. Reading this a couple of days after writing it I realize that I sound really cranky, but I’m not going to change that because I want this travel blog to be as true-to-life as possible. And sometimes I’m cranky]

One thought on “What the heck have we been doing?

  1. Amara

    You don’t have to be cheery, you just have to update regularly. No one can be happy all of the time and its especially easy to become cranky when you see an unjust, backwards wrong system present, with no evidence or foreseeable method to cause change.

    You are right developed countries are incredibly comfortable, we are reaping the rewards of the capitalist society we live in and therefore don’t want change, even if that change is better for the world overall.

    Don’t feel bad about being cranky, it makes reading your experience feel more authentic. Although I hope by the time I have posted this you will be feeling better. (I am a little behind)


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