In Focus: Alpha 4

15th March 2014

Last week I deployed for five days with Alpha 4, who are based in the village of Endashang’wet in the Karatu district in Northern Tanzania. It’s a 760km drive from Morogoro, so on deployment day we were packed off at the crack of dawn on our coaster bus, ready for day one of travelling: nearly twelve hours on the road. It was a day spent in close proximity to our fellow volunteers, listening to the familiar sounds of Tanzania’s current number one hit Kuchi Kuchi, and talking through our hopes about what was in store. The roads are long and straight. Sisal plantations give way to maize, in turn giving way to coffee plantations the further north we travelled. Large open plains stretch for miles; mountains rising out of the parched landscape in the distance. At lunch time on day two we arrived at the Alpha 4 camp. A sigh of relief from our VMs Lizzie, Penny and Sokoine: despite the constant winds on the ridge of the campsite, the tents were still standing from the previous phase! Endashang’wet is a sprawling village made up of five sub-villages: Waghasi, Kati, Chemchem, Yudeki and Sigenge. It spreads wide over an arid landscape. For ten months of the year the rainfall is minimal; strong winds blow from the North, sending up dust clouds in the baking heat. Cacti and spiny Acacias dot the landscape. At first it can seem like a hostile place to live, and with a population of over 2000, maintaining food production and obtaining water and food security is a challenge. Half an hour’s walk from the Alpha 4 camp irrigation channels run from two springs feeding the local farmland. The natural water sources are located approximately two kilometres from the centre of the village, and last year an ICS team spent time installing distribution lines so that taps were available around the village. The original irrigation channels were installed in the 1970s, and may well have been a by-product of Tanzanian Leader Julius Nyerere’s villagisation policy of 1974, which resulted in 80% of Tanzania’s population being relocated to the countryside to increase agricultural production in a socialist structure. Forty years later Alpha 4 are in Endashang’wet to extend the current irrigation channels by over 2kms, working alongside local fundi and community members. By extending the channels, more land can be used for growing crops, thus increasing the ability of the community to have secure food access year round. Some of the current farmland is owned or farmed by community groups and the local primary school as well as individuals. FARM LAND RESIZE Raleigh’s involvement with projects in Endashang’wet is down to a partnership with DMDD, the Diocese of Mbulu Developmental Department. DMDD are funded in part by WaterAid, and their work covers a broad scope of services and support under the umbrella of community resilience and sustainability of water sources. This is especially important in northern Tanzania, where marginalised nomadic tribes are forced into increasingly small areas of land as the size of national parks increase, thus decreasing available water sources. In Endashang’wet, DMDD runs a mix of awareness raising and physical infrastructure projects from promoting gender equality and water and sanitation health, to projects such as the one Alpha 4 are involved in.

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Alpha 4 settled in to their camp quickly, and it wasn’t long before Oska, Alex and Odaine were building a new palatial bucket shower and long drop, complete with views over the hillside. International Women’s Day fell over the weekend, and it got us thinking about gender equality, both in Tanzania and at home. Our day was spent talking over moving bags of sand on the worksite, discussing the importance of change, what can be done to raise awareness, and the women in our lives that inspire us every day. On Sunday, we attended the local Lutheran church to meet our neighbours and find out the community’s views on gender equality. We were bowled over: we had inadvertently joined a three hour service, curated by prominent female members of the church, dedicated to international women’s day.  As we stood up to introduce ourselves, Olivia delivered a short speech on how we believed International Women’s Day was a time to celebrate, inviting community members to share their views with us. Post-service, a lively discussion ensued: the local nurse detailing how female attendance at her clinic was on the rise due to changing attitudes in the importance of women. As a result children are also gaining better healthcare. And the church leader who stressed the importance of spreading gender equality through community networks. I left the group on Monday morning, complete with venturer suggestions of faking illness to stay longer and requests for the latest rugby scores when I got back to fieldbase. For all of us it was an eye-opening first weekend on project, and I’m looking forward to sharing with you how they have got on in a few weeks time.