Farewell to Ilima, Lubanda, and Ushirika

Sadly, my time in Tanzania has come to an end. It had definitely been an adventure, a challenge, and an incredible learning experience.

Some of my last few weeks with the project were spent building coops for some of the older farmers of the village (mostly elderly widows). The village chair, James, and my two interpreters Baraka and Juma, were a huge help with this endeavor and did all the hard work by cutting bamboo for hours each day. I did my part tying bamboo pieces, digging holes, and holding posts while James nailed pieces together. The farmers were incredibly appreciative and we were rewarded with many a delicious meal! We’ve done a lot of teaching over the course of the summer so it was a nice change of pace to accomplish something so tangible.

Last month we had a three-day training session for those chosen to be teacher farmers in Lubanda and we had asked them to choose their students. A few weeks ago I met with these students in groups and discussed the requirements for participation in the program (they must have chickens, must be willing to build a coop, must attend weekly meetings with their teacher, must vaccinate their chickens, and must keep records) and the importance of these requirements. Then I recruited field extension officers Henry and Gaga to help show the teachers how to vaccinate chickens. We got some vaccine and practiced on chickens belonging to one of the teachers before the teachers started vaccinating their students’ chickens. The teachers really liked the hands-on training and I was also happy to do my first-ever poultry vaccination!

I said my good-byes to the teachers of Lubanda and had one last meeting with the teachers of Ilima, during which I thanked them and said goodbye. But the farmers of Ilima “weren’t going to let me leave quietly.” They had a big send-off party for me two days later. Field extension officers Henry and Gaga, Juma the interpreter, Kibona the Village Executive Officer, the teachers of Ilima, and I gathered in the village “movie theater” (a small building with a tv) and had a feast of wali (rice), nyama (meat), Chinese (a spinach-like leaf), and soda. We watched Bongo Flava music videos, exchanged gifts, and thanked one another. The teachers gave Shona and I each a kanga (fabric worn by women as dresses, shawls, and/or head scarves). Along with prints of flowers or animals, these kangas have messages written in Kiswahili. Ours say “ Kila Muomba Mola Hakosi Fungu Lake.” I learned what that meant, but then totally forgot.
I think that Shona and I have accomplished a great deal this summer in the villages of Ilima and Lubanda. We’ve established an in-country support system for the farmers with the help of poultry expert Chris Chalangi and field extension officers Henry and Gaga. We’ve also successfully expanded the Ili ma Poultry Project to the neighboring village of Lubanda, built coops for elderly farmers in Ilima, and revised the vaccination system in Ilima.

Along the way I’ve learned a lot about Tanzania and its people. There are 120 different tribes in Tanzania, each with its own language. I’ve gotten to know so many Nyakusa people in the villages and I now know enough of the Kinyakusa language to make the necessary 10-minute long greetings. I’ve also met people from the other tribes in my travels and learned a bit about their cultures. I’m still working on my Kiswahili and hoping to be fluent sometime in the future. But I think that by far my greatest accomplishment has been learning how to cook like a Tanzanian!

But let’s not forget about the chickens! Coming from a mainly small animal background my knowledge of small-holder poultry farming was very minimal prior to this internship. I know Shona and I were the ones doing the teaching, but I think we ended up learning quite a bit ourselves about poultry management! Veterinarians have so many different career options – small animal, large, mixed, wildlife, research, academia, public health, the list goes on and on. But no matter what your interest is in veterinary medicine, I think it’s important to have a variety of different experiences and that those experiences ultimately make you a better veterinarian.

Lastly, and most importantly, I’ve learned what a powerful tool teaching can be. I was a bit hesitant about the Ilima Poultry Project at first because of its lack of hands-on work with animals. Alternately, the aspect of working so closely with people drew me to the project. Shona and I did not have the opportunity to do much with the chickens, and our work was not as tangible as treating a cow for mastitis, for example, but we did do a lot of teaching. And teaching helps people help themselves – it empowers them. If what we’ve taught these farmers about poultry management helps them raise more chickens, healthier chickens, improves their diet, and provides them with much needed cash by the selling of chickens and/or eggs then I think that the project is a success.

For the past few weeks I’ve been experiencing a reverse culture shock being in the much more touristy part of the country. I’ve enjoyed the delicious food and beaches of Zanzibar, made it to the summit of Kilimanjaro, and have seen hyenas and lions from only inches away in Serengeti and Ngorogoro. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet some really cool people along the way. But although I don’t so much miss the bucket showers and nightmarish public transportation of rural southern Tanzania, I do miss my Ushirika housemates and the farmers of Ilima and Lubanda. We’ve only just begun in Lubanda, but I can tell that these farmers are a great group of people so excited to learn. And my Ushirika housemates as well as the farmers of Ilima have been like family to me during my stay in Tanzania. This country has become like a second home these past three and a half months. I’ve met so many incredible people and I hope to come back and visit sometime soon.

I’d like to thank CFIA, Iams, and Merck for their financial support as well as my friends and family who donated money towards the project. Your generous donations have made a significant positive impact on the lives of farmers in Ilima and Lubanda. I would also like to thank our Ushirika family for giving Shona and I a place to stay, showing us how to cook like real Tanzanians, and worrying about us whenever we travelled anywhere or got sick. And of course thanks to the farmers of Ilima and Lubanda for being so generous and welcoming!