Antonia Tingitana

About ten years ago, we left the city of Dar Es Salaam to return to the community in Kilimanjaro where both my husband and I were born. Our goal was to add value to the lives of the community members. We started with the most basic need: clean and safe water. With help from our friends within and outside our community, we spearheaded a fund drive and raised enough money to sink a well, 92 meters deep. The water quality turned out to exceed WHO standards.


The impact of that project was immediate. It literally saved lives especially of young children. The lives of women and girls changed and improved overnight. They no longer had to walk to the spring and carry buckets of water on their heads. They now had a little bit of free time to do something more profitable. School girls too had more time to do their homework or simply have a rest.


The second project had to do with taking an idea from school and delivering it to students’ homes. We constructed modern toilets (water closets) for our village’s primary school. Again, this was made possible with help from family and friends both inside and outside the country and our community. We were hopeful that after using those facilities, the children would take the idea of having modern toilets to their homes—and from then on they would insist on constructing modern toilets in their homes if not at the present time, then in the future.


As days went by, we decided to grow most of our own food like everybody else does in the village—food that was free of harmful pesticides and harmful fertilizers. We ran with the idea and also decided to eat like our ancestors did. There was plenty of heritage nutritious foods to choose from; bananas, a variety of yams, fruit like avocados, mung beans and nuts—oyster nuts. Some of the yams had been ‘lost’ but we were determined to find them and grow them.


When we successfully grew those food plants, we invited the community members to use our expertise and our seeds for growing their own. The older generation pointed out the re-discovery of the oyster nuts for example was a godsend. Oyster nuts were a must have food for lactating mothers when we were growing up. Now they were available again and just as nutritious. 


After we managed to grow a surplus, a group of us started promoting the heritage foods for sale and some hotels including tourist hotels are now buying produce from us.


In reviving the growing of the lost heritage foods, we also revived some of the ‘lost’ culture. For example in our culture seeds are given free: they’re not sold. This practice shows cooperation and generosity towards each other and nobody goes hungry.


In Kilimanjaro, irrigation is important and for hundreds of years the people have dug and taken care of furrows. This is a cooperative effort that instills togetherness in the community. We provided leadership for maintenance of the system and now the community is not dependent on rain to grow food throughout the year. 


Even more important, our ancestors had a culture of tending the soil to preserve its fertility for the next generation. So we managed to learn and to show the young generation how it was done. We recalled our grandparents instilling the importance of taking care of the land for the next generation. In fact they told us that, although land passes from one generation to the next, it was not an inheritance as such, but it was borrowed from our children.


As we look back during those last ten years, we feel confident that what we started and the systems we have put in place is sustainable and will live on and continue to add value to our community.


I would like to thank all the members of CIE past and present for making CIE an inspiring institution where we learned to make change—change that adds value to communities throughout the world. [12-20]




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