Volunteering as a Christianson Fellow in Tanzania
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I arrived back in Tanzania in the middle of August. This is the beginning of my second year as a project coordinator at 2Seeds Network, a nonprofit whose mission is developing the human capital of Tanzanian smallholder farmers so that they can gain the skills, confidence, and opportunities to achieve income and food security.
Last year I helped coordinate a project in a rural village in the Tanga region of Tanzania. The project worked with local stakeholders at a primary school to build and run an integrated agricultural system, which would produce a school meals program for more than 700 students. I lived and worked in the village for over a year, building lifelong friendships with people in the community, learning Swahili, and gaining an immense appreciation for the Tanzanian culture and way of life.
On the face of it, my return to Tanzania to work with 2Seeds appears to be a similar experience to last year, but this time around I will be working in Dar es Salaam, the sub-Saharan metropolis, second only to Nairobi in sheer size and population on this side of the world. With the same goals of assisting rural farmers to seize control of their livelihoods, I am now working on a project with significantly different scale and impact.
In Kariakoo market, the largest agricultural market in East Africa, 2Seeds, in close partnership with the Kariakoo Market Corporation, a local tech start-up, and several cellular companies, is developing a system to democratize access to market information for Tanzanian farmers and consumers alike. This freedom of information helps small farmers' reliance on middle men, who collect crops at low prices in rural areas and sell them at high prices in urban markets. In the status quo, neither farmers, who toil on their farms for very little revenue, nor urban sellers, who only make enough profit to continue selling produce in less-than-ideal conditions, benefit.
The ultimate vision of the project is to use SMS technology to make this crop information available to farmers, and even further down the line, create technological platforms for farmers and sellers to make transactions from many miles away, eliminating the middle man and improving the livelihood of farmers and sellers.
On the ground, my job is to coordinate a diverse team of web developers, cellular companies, and market employees. Keeping everyone on task working toward their individual goals within the team — collecting accurate price information on a daily basis, developing software that allows collectors to input the information to the cloud wirelessly, and negotiating deals with cellular companies to provide services that spread this information to users throughout the country — is my responsibility.
Outside of work, I am infinitely interested in the organized chaos of my current environment in Dar es Salaam. Since moving here a week ago, I have found myself wide-eyed and curious at all of the cultural and social dynamics that I encounter at every turn down a winding city street. From a Masai tribesman in full traditional garb parking cars at an expensive beach resort, to the expat-run farmers market that may as well have been in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to the nominal democracy that will be challenged in October’s presidential elections, I am thrilled at the adventure and novelty of my new scenery.
If my first week in Dar is a litmus test of this experience, the following year will be fascinating, challenging, and tremendously growth-promoting. I am deeply grateful to the InterExchange Foundation’s Christianson Fellowship for providing me with an opportunity to do meaningful and stimulating work that will expand the scope of my knowledge and understanding of the world. I look forward to each day as it comes, and to blogging occasionally to provide you with a lens into this experience.
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