Namawala












Perhaps I should give a description of the villages we are doing the water project in. This will hopefully give a better perspective of the people we are working with and the challenges they face.

The village of Namawala has a population of 5000 people spread over a broad area of around a 5km radius from the village centre. A small array of shabby shops constructed from wood off cuts and pieces of roof iron hug the main road from Ifakara, which cuts through the centre of town. Behind are the houses of the village people. They consist of varying building standards, typically either mud adobe huts with makuti (grass) roofing or local fired brick and iron roof huts. The houses (huts) are spread randomly throughout the village, with winding paths connecting people. The houses are surrounded by large shade giving trees – dominated by mango, avocado, coconut and cashew varieties (not surprising they are all food producers). The ground is brushed dirt compacted by years of walking.

The village centre is around about a 500m radius. Outside of this people live in scattered rural collectives. People living from say 1km-5km distance from the centre of the village could be considered to be residing permanently in the shamba (farm area). Here facilities are nonexistent -no roads, no power, no water points, not many people. A walk to town could take half the day! In the Idete and Namawala villages the Sukumu tribe are often found in these areas. The Sukumu are a strong proud cattle people and often live in large family groups. They are distinctive in their traditional dark purple robes, beaded jewellery, scarification tattoos and enlarged holes in their earlobes.

In my times visiting I have found the village people to be very friendly. They have a tight community spirit and seem to know everyone. There is no virtually no crime. A typical street scene consists of women sitting around their jikos (charcoal ovens) cooking, young men loitering and talking away the day, and small children of varying degrees of dress and dirtiness playing, or collecting water. The town is not very appealing on first inspection, but on spending time there I can say there is a special appeal to the place. The vibe is very relaxed, friendly and welcoming.

The people in general are poorly educated. Educated children usually have to leave the village to find work – creating a permanent education and skilled labour void.

The main source of income is from subsistence agriculture. Rice is grown in the wet season and maize in the dry season. Each family has a “shamba” or farm. The land is allocated by the government and is usually around 2 hectares in size. Often the family’s shamba is a very long way from their house. Families relocate to the shamba to live and work whilst planting and harvesting – living in small mud huts. Jobs in town are hard to come by. The average wage for unskilled work is $150/month. Studies by the Ifakara Health Institute found that on average a household is supported by one worker. For a 5 person family, that is an average of $1/person/day.

During the months of March to May rains are heavy averaging around a staggering 1m/month. Whilst productive for rice, the heavy inflow of water creates health issues in the village. Malaria rates soar. The water table rises to the surface in some areas. The drinking wells become contaminated from water infiltrating septage pits and surface water pollution. Last year there was a severe cholera outbreak, this year already there are increasing numbers of people falling sick to typhoid. Mobility within and outside the village is restricted as the wet season progresses. Large areas flood and/or become impassable. The 50km road to Ifakara can take all day.

In the dry season the temperatures soar, you literally melt, and the dust clogs up your pores making any whitey looking semi-African.
The cost of living is very cheap (comparatively). Meals are 50c to $1.50 and are filling. The staple is ugali (a mash like bland food made from cornflour which expands and fills any stomach), maharagi (soya beans cooked in coconut milk), mchicha (spinach), kuku (chicken), ngombe (beef), kitimoto (pork) and samaki (river fish).

The main mode of transport is by foot or bicycle. The price of a bike is around $70, yet only around 1 out of 3 families own one. To get to the main supply town of Ifakara there are two mini-buses each day. They cost $3 one way. If you miss them then for the same price you are on the back of a lorry – a practical yet often dangerous way of getting to town (often they roll and cause lots of trauma).

If you are sick you have not many options. The clinic in town has no facilities or skilled workers. They don’t even have the capacity to check for malaria. If you are sick you can go to the Ifakara hospital, a daunting task as you likely have a $3 and 2-3hour trip on the back of a lorry ahead of you. Reporting of health illness and death is poor in the village. I expect a lot of people die in their homes from simple things like diarrhoea and malaria. The sad thing is that without reporting nobody knows and nothing is done.