After a trying or rather mixed week in Dar (in terms of research-UDSM, Costech, Emmanuel Tayari &I book project, a sick “friend”, fun with sis and friends, etc) I scheduled myself to put five days of work in late January and early February in rural villages of Kilimanjaro. At our company BUMACO Ltd with support from Cordaid Netherlands, we have a brilliant program known as RUFIP (Rural Financial Institutions Programs) through which we mobilize rural community to establish their SACCOS and then providing technical help and advice. The program has been very successful with 20 SACCOS commanding membership of 14,000 people. We introduce new products to these SACCOS. For example, since last year we have introduced Mt. Kilimanjaro Climbing Porters training for youths, handicraft training for youths and women, and also social security (this we borrowed the idea from RUMACO in Kigoma). As those in development industry can testify, rural development is challenging and results are gradual. It requires patience more than anything.
Well, there are lots of things that I learn from working in rural settings be it for RUFIP or external consultancy assignments. I have come to appreciate the knowledge and insight gain and would never trade it for any classroom lecture on rural development. There are also lots of interesting things that happen and they always awe me…somehow.
Let me share with you those interesting encounters these last days…don’t take them so seriously…. I’ll go by headings…informally!!
Village Chairmen… so as we were driving towards this village called Mbwera in Masama where we were invited to attend the public village meeting for the social security agenda; we passed by my home village (Nshara). As am very passionate with what is going on there, we decided to briefly stop by the village centre…where we also have a very vibrant SACCOS, which started under RUFIP program. Sadly there was an issue. A woman was there with her two children and their schoolteachers. For some reasons, which they were trying to find out, the two children are known for truancy and the school was fed up with them. The schoolteacher and the mother were there to look for solution or rather to discuss the matter. Of course, there was not much that I could do…especially because our time was very limited. But luckily we saw the village chairman. I don’t think he likes me much…and since he went behind my back a few months ago, he couldn’t let his eyes meet mine. Well, my team and I asked him to address the issue with the children…you can’t believe what his response was “today is not my working day”…and he was there walking around!!! This is how rotten our politics right from the grassroots. I was extremely annoyed, but one very wise colleague asked me to keep calm. I did.
As if that was not enough…with the village chairmen, read the next story…as we arrived at Mbwera…we found the meeting had just started. As we were walking towards empty seats at the second front row, the village chairman stood up…very defensively…saying, “Who are you? We are here to discuss our internal secrets…. No outsiders” We were like…wow, wait a minute! My colleagues are super experienced and wise, they boldly went straight up, telling him “your office invited us”…. he then said “am not aware…am the father of this village, I own this village…but am not aware of your coming” mark the words reader! “Who can tell me what in this village? Am the father…can strangers tell the man about his own house”… “is that so my people? Didn’t you elect me as your father?”…I was wooow…in my mind but I think my soul sighed as well. I didn’t know whether to laugh, smile, or allow tears down my bone cheeks. We showed him the letter…. and explained to him that it was probably his office’s communication fault. He then said, “ok I’ll give some few minutes to introduce yourselves and speak”…we didn’t need to introduce our selves really as everyone in that village knows BUMACO…and the SACCOS there was established under RUFIP Program. It was all drama and a show of power. But we took the opportunity to talk about social security to farmers. He liked the idea. I must admit, he is very sharp…may be more than the former village chairman we met. So he asked us to continue speaking about this excellent idea. May be because he loved the idea or because the people were very positive. I can’t tell. But we wanted to respect his “secret” agenda and we asked him to give a special day when he’ll call the public meeting for this single agenda. He happily agreed together with his “children”…. remember he is the “father” of that village. We then moved on to another village for another planned activity.
Walking around village-market, bongoflava, etc: I went to this village in Rundugai area near Chemka and Kikeletwa. There is a SACCOS there that covers several villages known as MKALONGO. The area is beautiful and blessed with water. There was an annual meeting for SACCOS and as we were waiting for the quorum, one of the board members, who was very happy to see me offered to walk me around the village towards the market. It was very hot…lol. He explained to me lots of what is going on and the progressed made. This one village is doing much better than other villages covered by the SACCOS because they got electricity. That is the main explanation. I was then disheartened as I remembered a sad story about a plan to install a power station and electricity generating plant at Kikweleta (a nearby village)…but it didn’t happen… the story is long! Well, it was very lovely of the old man to take me around. In the market a barbershop -“VIP Barbershop”- was playing old bongoflava including Profesa Jay Zali la Mentali, and Juma Nature stuff. I enjoyed. It was morale before getting into serious business of SACCOS annual general meeting. We were there with CRDB officer and COASCO. Banks are now in the villages…!I can’t go into details…but rural development is challenging. I only had one hope- I said, when I go back home, I’ll pray for these situations.
Exploitation through micro-financing loans: When RUFIP started in 2005/06 most people in rural areas had no access to financial institutions. This was why BUMACO came up with the plan to mobilize the establishment of SACCOS in rural Kilimanjaro. Access to credit services was non-existing. The rationale for choosing SACCOS model was to encourage saving culture and providing access to low-interests loans. However, as time goes, we have seen proliferation of banks and micro-financing institutions with the single aim of making profit out of rural people. These institutions DO NOT encourage saving culture, they only want people to borrow excessively with very high interest rates. Due to poverty and urgency, most people get tempted to take these easy access super high interests loans. Some of them charge up to 48% interest. As a result, people, especially women (as they are the main target) find themselves working for these institutions instead of their own development. All the money they get service the loan, while the debt remains there (just like the national debt…oouch, pinch). Our role as BUMACO is to educate these women and rescue them out of such exploitation.
So yesterday we had a whole day meeting with 95 women in Lemira village. These women are in group-settings and belong to SACCOS. However, at some point they got tempted to take loans from BRAC and also from a certain bank. Both of these loans did not require them to save prior to borrowing. Thus, they preferred them compared to those from SACCOS that are given in proportion to the member’s saving. Well, the women’s lives had not changed and they agreed to come to the training because they want to improve their lives. Mind you CCM was next door celebrating its 37th anniversary and they had lots of food and drinks. But these women forgo those and came to the meeting. Some choose the celebrations, (around 60), but I commend those who made a right choice although celebrating is also their right. Anyways, we emphasize the importance of saving and introduced two things- (1) Group Lending and Compulsory Saving (GLCS), a product designed by BUMACO for very low income women to enable them to save and borrow. (2) Social Security – NSSF initiative. They like the idea but the saving culture still disturbs them. It was very challenging for me as they were asking many questions, I must admit, I got very frustrated. But my team was very good and they could wisely tackle those questions. 16 women agreed to enroll into NSSF plan immediately and others are going to check out their ability to contribute. NSSF will provide these women with low interest loans, and other benefits such as health services.
Well, that’s what I can share…I will now rush to the beauty saloon to wash my dusty weave, do pedicure & manicure, look fresh…and see if my demanding writing commitments will allow me to spend the weekend with my sort of “Professor Hunk”…. #love u all- my readers!