Published: Oct. 14, 2013

Creating resilient communities

The majority of Tanzanians live in rural areas, where their communities face a number of obstacles, including a lack of access to education and to clean water. Now, MSU leaders of the Tanzania Partnership Program are working side by side with universities, foundations, and residents of the villages of Milola and Naitolia to create sustainable solutions that will bring academic and economic opportunities to the African country.

The Tanzania Partnership Program, established by MSU’s International Studies and Programs, works to improve the overall wellbeing of communities in Tanzania. Michigan State has deep ties in the country, where dozens of faculty have conducted research and educational programs over the years. MSU program leaders have partnered with the University of Dar es Salaam and the Aga Khan Foundation to build a new preprimary school in Milola—reducing the long and often dangerous walk children make each day—and to provide professional development opportunities for teachers.

The partnership also is making possible new water pumps and rainwater harvesting equipment to ensure safe sources for drinking, cooking, and washing. In addition, program partners are working to bring clean water access points closer to villages like Naitolia, where water is very scarce and residents find it difficult to sustain livestock and crops. By installing new water tanks and taps throughout the village, locals can look forward to more stable water supplies and will be able to manage their own resources after receiving education and training.    

Ultimately, the program in Tanzania aims to foster resilient communities that can better adapt to change and improve their circumstances. In Milola and Naitolia, residents of all ages are beginning to reap the bounties of these efforts.  

Diane Ruonavaara

Diane RuonavaaraDiane Ruonavaara was a young girl when she made a commitment to do work that would help people improve their lives. Now, as the program manager for MSU’s Tanzania Partnership Program, she’s living that promise.

“I think when I first made this commitment I was 13, and I was very naïve at that time,” Ruonavaara says. “I didn’t understand what it meant to be poor, what it meant to live without water, what it meant to live without food. But I made a commitment, and I have pursued degree programs that helped me develop an expertise and understanding that I needed in order to do this work.”

The program, which began in 2008, engages marginalized communities in Tanzania that don’t have a lot of outside interaction with nongovernmental organizations or other groups that could help improve their lives. One part of the program involves working with the village of Milola to improve access to education for children. In another village, Naitolia, program staff and partners are working with residents to improve access to clean water and to provide education and training so villagers can manage resources in the future.

“The overarching concept that we’re using is resiliency—fostering resilient communities,” Ruonavaara says. “What that means is helping communities to bounce back from external stressors and shock. We are working toward helping to foster the ability of communities to envision a better future and helping them to move toward that. We are not doing that as outsiders, but the communities themselves develop the capacity and ability to move their development forward in their own vision.”

Ruonavaara previously worked with marginalized communities in Latin America doing similar work to what she’s doing in Tanzania.

“The people there told me that I was a bridge, an echo, and a mirror,” she says. “As a bridge, I was a connection to an outside world that they could not access. As an echo, I carried their voice to that world. And as a mirror, I reflected back to them a vision of themselves, but from a different perspective so they could think about who they were and what they were doing. Since then, I have taken that idea and tried to play that role in other settings.”

Ruonavaara earned her master’s degree and doctorate from MSU—in what was Resource Development and is now the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation, and Resource Studies—and specialized in international development. After she graduated, she began working for MSU Extension with a 4-H migrant youth education program.

“I made that choice not to go into academia very intentionally because for me, the practice and the application of knowledge is what is important,” Ruonavaara says. “Generation of knowledge is good, but I want to be a part of where knowledge is applied to improve people’s lives.”

The Tanzania program is doing just that with the opening of the preprimary school in Milola and the new rural water systems in Naitolia.

“There are about 100 kids who have never gone to school before who are now in school,” Ruonavaara says. “Those kids will now have an education. And in Naitolia, it used to be a four-kilometer walk to get water for their school—something the children would do. The water was contaminated. With the reservoir, they now have easier access to clean water. These things help open up the world to them.”

Field Note: Building Stronger Communities Through Better Education

Mary MalekelaMary Malekela is the in-country program officer of the Tanzania Partnership Program

As the in-country program officer for MSU’s Tanzania Partnership Program (TPP), I work closely with the Milola community and the district council to identify projects and facilitate implementation. I work closely with the District TPP team that implements projects at a local level. With the preprimary school project, I served as a catalyst to help the community understand the importance of education and to solidify support for the construction of a preprimary school in Ngwenya.

As the community developed trust in TPP and confidence that better quality education would come to Ngwenya, two village elders donated 100 acres of land for the school so that community members could live closer to the school and school-related activities. During the process of building the school, I was responsible for maintaining accountability, communicating progress to MSU’s TPP program manager, and serving as a bridge between MSU and Tanzanian partners.

I believe anything is possible. With only a few resources and a little bit of goodwill, we can do a lot. I feel bad when I see malnourished mothers and children who just need a little help to learn how to take care of their babies using the resources they have around them. With such a young population in Ngwenya, many do not know how to read and write, and I wonder what will happen with them, as everything comes from education.

When I saw all the children who have never gone to school, I asked myself, ‘What will happen to their lives without education?’

Building the preprimary school will be helpful because these kids are very far away from any other school. They are not big enough to walk the long distance of about seven kilometers to a nearby school until they are about 10, and then they are already behind and too old for being in a standard school. They may never go to school because they have missed the opportunity. The district has accepted the school into the government system and will build a primary school there in the near future. The children will be able to live a better life with education.

I hope that the school project, the water project, and other projects that we are doing will help communities become stronger. Children will have a better education, access to water, and will be able to participate in school farms and other activities where they can acquire knowledge and skills, change their attitudes, and improve their lives.

Field Note: Helping my fellow countrymen

Claude MungongoClaude Mungongo is the country coordinator of the Tanzania Partnership Program.

I have been involved with the TPP water program in Naitolia ever since it began in 2008.

This project is very important to this region because water scarcity is the problem. This is a semi-arid area and rains are very, very erratic and very scarce. So any project that improves the supply of water is very important resource in this area.

I grew up here in Tanzania. This project is very important to me personally because I’m one of those people who had the opportunity to get an education. I have access to almost all the resources I need to live a comfortable life. But when you visit areas like this, you realize how many of our countrymen face difficulties in life. So we have to do something to help our fellow countrymen live a better life.

We are working under the concept of creating resilient communities. What we mean by community resilience is that people should be able to come back to their normal lives when they’ve faced some stress. It could be climate change; it could be any other natural catastrophe. But they should have the energy, the possibility, and the capacity, to come back to their normal lives.

The overall goal is at least to reduce some of the stresses felt because of the shortage of water and generally of climate change.

I want someday when I come back to this community to see that we did something that improved, somehow, their lifestyles and their living capacity and the capacity to be resilient to stressors.

Click to enlarge

Milola is a rural village of about 9,000 people in southern Tanzania that is a focus of the Tanzania Partnership Program. Along with several international partners, MSU is working toward implementing a sustainable community development program within the village by addressing challenges such as the lack of access to education and clean water. Photo by Gabby Kleber

Milola is a rural village of about 9,000 people in southern Tanzania that is a focus of the Tanzania Partnership Program. Along with several international partners, MSU is working toward implementing a sustainable community development program within the village by addressing challenges such as the lack of access to education and clean water. Photo by Gabby Kleber

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