Since its founding in 2008, Karimu has worked primarily in the Babati District of Tanzania’s Manyara Region. Districts in Tanzania are divided in large administrative areas, called Wards. Initially, Karimu focused mainly on the village of Dareda Kati - the largest village of the Ayalagaya Ward, but, slowly, Karimu expanded its operations into the other villages of Ayalagaya: Haysam and Gajal. Ayalagaya Ward encompasses some 50 square kilometers (20 square miles) that are home to roughly 4,000 families.
In 2018, Karimu developed a 5-year strategic plan describing how it will fully alleviate poverty in Ayalagaya Ward, how it will successfully exit the Ward, and how it will start applying its successful model to the communities of two other Wards: Arri and Secheda.
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The Ayalagaya Ward has three villages. Villages in Tanzania represent large areas of land which are administered together. These villages are subdivided into sub-villages which, in turn, tend to represent an identifiable set of households. Together, Dareda, Haysam, and Gajal have 13 subvillages. Subvillages as well as villages are democratically structured. The people elect representatives to serve on the subvillage and village councils that deliberate before making most of the decisions for their communities.
Dareda Kati villagers at a village council meeting
Population and Language
The population of Ayalagaya Ward is dominated by a people known as the Iraqw. The ward includes a huge Catholic congregation and much smaller numbers of Lutherans and Pentecostals, yet the Iraqw Christians have had a reputation among their fellow Tanzanians for stubbornly mixing Christian faith with traditional tribal beliefs and practices often dismissed as “primitive”. Closely related to this stigmatization is the fact that the Iraqw have also had the reputation in Tanzania of being among the most resistant of the country’s 120 tribes to what in Swahili is called maendeleo: development or modernization.
Like so many claims made about minority populations everywhere, these dissolve upon close inspection. For close to a decade, Karimu has consistently enjoyed warm hospitality and eager cooperation by the Iraqw.
The population also includes tiny numbers of Sunni and Shia Muslims. The troubling rise in interfaith tensions observed in parts of Tanzania—as throughout much of the world—is not evident here.
Swahili is spoken by all but the most elderly of the Iraqw. The great majority of the Iraqw also speak their own tribal language.
Traditional singing and dancing to welcome the Karimu volunteers
Making a Living
Most residents live as subsistence farmers. They also raise chickens, cows, and pigs to help feed the family. Even teachers, whose salaries—extremely modest by the standards of developed countries—greatly exceed the earnings of most locals, devote many hours to raising crops and livestock on their small properties. Maize, beans, bananas and tomatoes are grown. But the warm and intermittently humid climate and rich soil will accommodate almost any crop, and the more prosperous or ambitious farmers also grow many tropical fruits. Crops are transported by oxcart.
Subsistence farmers prepare the soil
Water as such is not lacking in Ayalagaya Ward because of the generous seasonal rainfall that is most easily collected on or beneath the wall of the Rift Valley escarpment that forms one of the ward’s boundaries. The daunting problems for the ward are distributing the water and ensuring its cleanliness. The overwhelming majority of residents do not have access to clean water, impacting their health and the agricultural production on which they depend.
Kids must walk long distances to fetch water for their families
Almost everyone must travel by foot. It is not unheard of for a child needing to get to school or for a pregnant woman needing medical care to have to walk for two hours.
Women carry things on their heads
As in poor agricultural communities everywhere, families are large so that many hands can share the work. Attending primary school (grades 1-7) is mandatory and free, but many families struggle to cover the costs of school uniforms and material and to compensate for labor around the house or on the farm that is lost when a child attends school.
The elderly command a level of respect that astonishes visitors from the West. They are vital to maintaining stability in the family. When parents want to see their children educated, the elderly understands that education, as a leading edge of modernization, may ultimately bring changes that go far beyond the need to make up for a pair of hands lost to farm work.
The elderly pass on to the young not only a depth of commitment to the community that is likewise startling to Western visitors, but the traditional songs and dances featured in every public gathering. These include even the small gatherings in local homes to which Karimu volunteers are often invited and which reinforce the bonds of community.
Many families struggle to compensate for labor when kids go to school
Lack of Resources
The relative failure of the Tanzanian government to address poverty is described by Karimu’s great friend Julian Page, of Livingstone Tanzania Trust (http://www.livingstonetanzaniatrust.com/), in this YouTube clip.
What Julian does not have time to say is that the Tanzanian government is ultimately dependent on the wealth of its people as a tax base. However, according to the International Monetary Fund’s October 2017 estimates (http://www.imf.org/external/datamapper/NGDPDPC@WEO/OEMDC/ADVEC/WEOWORLD), Tanzania’s per capita GDP slightly exceeds one thousand U.S. dollars, which is almost double Afghanistan’s—but barely one-sixtieth that of the United States.