Volume 4 Number 4
Catching the Rain in Tanzania
01 April 1991

However little we Westerners thought we possessed, we were living like kings in comparison to those around us.

For two months in 1990 I had the unforgettable experience of living in a small Tanzanian village, Tunguli. I was one of only two `Westerners' there.

I had felt a calling for a long time to use my training as an engineer for development work, and here was my first chance. I was a `partner in development' in a small village health centre established and run by the Anglican church in the nearest town, 180 kms away. The clinic was conceived as an expression of God's care for the people of Tunguli and I felt privileged to be a channel for this care through helping set up water and electricity supplies for the clinic. I had already lived in Tanzania for seven months so I was reasonably conversant with the language, KiSwahili.

It is hard to describe how it felt to be completely stripped of the infrastructure we are used to in Europe - roads, communications, a ready supply of materials, information, power, easy food, piped water. Here was life at its most basic.

My first job in the village was to work with a team of skilled local builders to construct 10 medium-sized ferro-cement water tanks to harvest the plentiful rainfall. As a result the village women would no longer have to spend several hours each day carrying water from the village well up to the clinic. Men and women worked hard in all weather conditions - burning sun, torrential rain, early morning cold. Children spent all day crushing rocks with hammers, and men supplied the workers with bananas, sugar cane and sweet potatoes from their fields.

In Tunguli I experienced Tanzanian hospitality and welcome in a new way. In a village where famine is a constant threat and malnutrition ever present, it meant immeasureably more to me to receive gifts of fruit, chickens, eggs and beans than it could ever mean to receive the most expensive gifts back home.

Living like kings
However little we Westerners thought we possessed, we were living like kings in comparison to those around us. We had no means of keeping food supplies fresh, but the vegetables that we bought in town every two weeks and frequently ended up eating stale were often ones that the villagers had never even seen. We had no form of organized entertainment, such as TV. But we had a limited supply of power, courtesy of a solar battery charger. This allowed us a short period of radio/ tape recorder use per day and a few hours of light at night to read our books. Even our wealth of literature was a constant source of amazement to our village friends. How much we take for granted!

Most of all, we take survival for granted. The other job I undertook in Tunguli was the installation of a solar powered blood and vaccine fridge. The Tanzanian doctor in charge of the clinic has estimated that this will help them to cut infant mortality significantly. Simply by distributing chloroquine over the past 18 months the clinic staff have reduced by 90 per cent the number of child deaths from malaria. The fridge should extend this to over 95 per cent.

My year in Tanzania seemed to strengthen and confirm the calling I feel to overseas development. Now I intend to get further qualifications in energy technology with a view to returning to the two-thirds world with more to offer in this `partnership in development'.