September Update

I may as well just admit to myself that I struggle to do anything more than a monthly update. So, here is the monthly update:


Another exciting month has passed for TPM. We have been overwhelmingly focused on growing the garden program. When we started the program back in April I told Mary and all of our other employees to be saving their earnings because I could only guarantee the project would continue through 2014. After that, I couldn’t make any promises about the future of the program. Over the past month that plan has changed, and we couldn’t be more excited.

You may remember from my last update (or maybe it was too long ago) that an organization called Better Lives visited our project. At the time they mentioned that they were very happy with the progress we had made. We were happy with that, because they are working on similar projects elsewhere in Tanzania as well as in the Philippines and Cambodia. The next week I met with Better Lives again and got even better news. A lot of good news actually.

First, Better Lives offered to support TPM by purchasing a small vehicle to help us transport materials and visit families efficiently. I hope to post a picture soon, but the vehicle is a motorcycle in the front and a truck bed in the back. They are great for the difficult mountain roads and very fuel efficient. A bag of compost weighs around 100kg. A full size garden requires between three and four bags of compost depending on soil quality. While we made a great caravan – me pushing a wheelbarrow, Mary and her sister carrying half bags on their heads, and Gilbert with a bag slung across his back – we are grateful not to have to repeat this trek too many more times – especially as the gardens we work with get farther away. And don’t forget we’re on a mountain.

We will also use this vehicle to make family visits. Currently it takes us about three hours to visit the four families we have planted gardens with. Three more family gardens should be completed around the end of the month, and then we’ll be doing a new garden every two weeks after that. The vehicle will make this task go a lot faster and will keep it manageable as the program expands.


Finally, we are getting ready to open up a stand at the local market. From the stand we will sell the families’ vegetables as well as seedlings, pesticides, booster, and other garden products. All of this moving back and forth would be a huge task without a good vehicle.

So, that was the first piece of good news we received from Better Lives – a new vehicle. Pictures are coming soon. I plan to pick it up on Thursday.

The next piece of good news was even more exciting. Better Lives liked our project so much they offered to make it one of their supported projects. This means that, as long as Mary and the team keep up the good work, the garden program will continue indefinitely.

Excitement, relief, gratitude. It’s hard to put into words how amazing that was to learn.

Learning that Better Lives wants to support the gardening program (the garden program runs under the name “Lishe Bora” or “Better Food”) also means a bit of a change of concentration. Previously, we had been focused on coming up with ways to make the project financially sustainable by the end of 2014. While we still want it to become financially sustainable as soon as possible, we now have time to build a stronger foundation and experiment with various ways the program can add value to the community.

One way that Better Lives is interested in using the gardening program to add value is to incorporate a microcredit program into the gardening program. Much of this is still in the works, but I can try to offer a broad overview of the strategy. The idea would be that through the gardening program Better Lives would build relationships with the families – that will be a huge part of Mary’s job. She will see how people take care of their gardens and will be able to tell who is really responsible and willing to make sacrifices to improve their lives. After a family has proven their reliability through the garden, they will be eligible for small loans. The loans will start out small and grow larger as they are repaid.

An important aspect of the program is that the gardens should be generating small incomes for the families. That income can be used to repay the loans.

However, in order for the gardens to generate incomes, we will need to make sure the families are able to sell their vegetables. The process of finding a market for vegetables warrants its own separate post – one I hope to write soon. Already it has involved a trip to Arusha to meet with some experts, a trip to the local market where we will set up a small shop in the coming weeks, and visits with hotels and restaurants in Marangu to get an understanding of the value chain for small farmers and vegetables in Tanzania.

On top of all of this, we have been continuing on with the families we are working with. Soon, there will be a link on the Better Lives website with regular updates on each family. Below, you can see pictures of how all the families are progressing. So far we’re pleased with every one of them!Image



Soon, we will be falling into our two week schedule where we put in a garden every two weeks. We hope to increase this pace to two gardens every three weeks after a few months.

Lots of updates to come and exciting news to share. It’s hard to believe I have just over two months until I go home. I hope to pick up the pace and get some updates up about the entrepreneurs we have worked with, our trials with our new water pump, our work finding markets for vegetables, and a number of other subjects.

Thanks as always for the support!


April Update

It has been too long since I was last able to post an update about our progress in Mkyashi. I have been kept away from the internet by a wicked bout of food poisoning, hassles by immigration, network outages, power outages, a rainy season that sometimes shuts down transportation on and off the mountain, and a lot of really great progress here on the mountain. Still, I apologize to everyone who has donated their money, time, expertise, advice, and all other forms of support to TPM. I owe it to all of you to keep these updates more regular and I will do my best going forward.

Since we first met with Deo – leader of the gardening project in Kahe – to start training and begin implementing the project in Mkyashi it has taken over our efforts. In fact, I have decided to put the other projects we were working on – working with entrepreneurs and community banks – temporarily on hold to ensure the success of the gardening program. My team and I are very excited about the potential of the gardening project and I want to make sure it is given a solid foundation. If we can support this program sufficiently from the start it can continue for years under local leadership. That’s the kind of program we like at TPM. However, a solid foundation requires funding and time. Thus, I am dedicating the next few months to the gardening project to ensure it receives the time and funding required for it to be outrageously successful for years to come. After a few months I should have a better idea of how much of our budget is still available to work with entrepreneurs and community banks.

There is a lot of training and labor that goes into the gardening program at the start to set the foundation of infrastructure, knowledge, and organization. Before I get into our progress so far, let me give a recap of the program to make sure everyone fully understands exactly what it is.

The gardening program (we have been speaking with people locally to create a formal name for the program in Mkyashi) is all about helping families begin and maintain organic vegetable gardens. The program begins by setting up a gardening center. The garden center contains a show garden that can be used to educate and display the benefits of organic gardening. It also has a nursery, a compost making operation, and a garden shop. I will get into each of these components more in a bit. For now, the important thing is that after a couple of years of funding from TPM this whole operation has the potential to operate independently as a profit-generating social enterprise in Mkyashi. The garden center promotes organic gardening and spreads knowledge about its benefits and best practices. Mary is currently being trained to run the garden center.

The other important role of the garden center is to help selected families start their own gardens. Families are selected based on economic need, ability and willingness to maintain a garden, and ability and willingness to spread what they learn to other families. For select families TPM will provide funding and other resources to help families start their own organic vegetable gardens. The gardens are designed using the FAITH (Food Always In The Home) Garden method. The idea behind the gardens is that they provide a constant source of food and income for families. Most farmers in Mkyashi plant crops that they will harvest all at once. This means throughout the year their food and income is very volatile. FAITH Gardens provide daily food sufficient for a family of six throughout the year.

Selected families will receive full training on how to start and maintain their gardens and Mary will make regular mentoring visits to check on the progress and status of gardens. The beauty of the program is that while each family we assist gets a vital source of food and income, they also become customers at the garden shop, ensuring its sustainability. They also become excellent word of mouth marketers for other people interested in organic gardening.

So what have we done to date?

We started off with a number of visits to Kahe. Kahe is a village just outside of Moshi that has already started a FAITH Garden program. In Kahe we learned the basics of how to make great organic compost, how to plant a successful garden, how to select the best families to assist, and everything else we would need to begin the program in Mkyashi. Undoubtedly we will tweak the program – what works in one village doesn’t necessarily work in another – but the foundation will be the same. After a few visits to Kahe we went down for two days and actually planted a full garden with a family. It was a great experience and left us excited to start planting gardens in Mkyashi.

Finishing up planting a garden for Kimiti and his family in Kahe.

Finishing up planting a garden for Kimiti and his family in Kahe.

Got a bit dirty getting the car unstuck in Kahe.

Got a bit dirty getting the car unstuck in Kahe.

The first step in starting the program in Mkyashi was to begin our own compost making operation. Compost requires 6-8 weeks to go from individual inputs to quality decomposed compost. So before we could even start our show garden we needed to start our compost. Right now we are about three weeks away from our compost being ready. Then it’s full speed ahead with the show garden. Meanwhile, Friday has become Compost Day. Every Friday we turn over and water our existing compost piles and make between two and six new piles. Each garden requires at least six piles of compost 2-4 times per year. We want to make sure we always have enough compost on hand for the show garden and for the families who we will be helping to plant gardens. Any extra compost will be for Mary to sell in the garden shop.

Compost compost compost!

Compost compost compost!

Along with starting to make compost we have also started a nursery. Some plants are more successful when they have been started in the safety and controlled conditions of a nursery. The nursery is covered to shelter young plants from harsh sun and rains and the soil is burned to kill any bacteria that will challenge the young plants. After 2-3 weeks nursery plants are transferred to plastic bags for another 1-2 weeks before they are ready to be planted in gardens. Some of the plants in our nursery will be for our own show garden and any extras will again go to the garden shop.

Our nursery - covered to protect young seeds from the elements.

Our nursery – covered to protect young seeds from the elements.

Baby plants.

Baby plants.

Even though we are still three weeks away from planting our own garden, we have already begun cultivating, aerating, and otherwise preparing our garden plot. It’s early, but we want to make sure we have time to deal with any unforeseen issues so that we can stick to our timetable. So far there have been plenty. We had to build a bridge over a small stream to make transport of water and other inputs easier and we had about eight tree stumps that needed to be removed. That’s a big task when your only tools or shovels, machetes, and axes. We also had a lot of work to do to level the area so that rain would reach each plant equally. Things are looking good now and we are anxious for the next few weeks to pass quickly so we can begin planting.

Babu Lyimo directing the bridge making operation.

Babu Lyimo directing the bridge making operation.

It's claimed that this bridge can hold up to half a ton. Any want to try it out?

It’s claimed that this bridge can hold up to half a ton. Any want to try it out?

Finally, we have also begun making some other important inputs into the process. Organic pesticides and boosters help ensure that organic crops look just as healthy and hearty as their chemically enhanced counter parts. Their production requires the collection of things like ginger, aloe vera, fish guts, molasses, vinegar, and other strange ingredients. Again, these can be used for the show garden and family gardens as well as sold in the garden shop.

We are still a month or two away from the opening of the garden shop, but we are really excited for its potential. The garden shop will be what eventually sustains the whole program and makes organic vegetable gardening possible in Mkyashi. It will sell organic compost, pesticides, and boosters and will also sell their inputs for people who want to make those products on their own. It will sell healthy organic seedlings from its nursery and will also sell basic gardening supplies like watering cans, shovels, and spades. Currently those products are not available locally. The garden shop will also be a place people can go to receive advice about their gardens.

So, it has been a very busy month of preparation and the next month promises to be just as crazy. On top of the gardening project a few other issues – both good and bad – have come up.

First the bad: immigration. The Office of Immigration is known throughout Tanzania as one of the most inefficient and corrupt offices in the country – which says a lot given the other offices. My three month tourist visa expires at the end of April, so we need to have everything sorted out before then. I first went into the immigration office here a week after I arrived in February. Since that time they have thrown every expense, delay, and other inconvenience they can conjure up at me trying to induce a bribe. With just a week left on my visa, we have one more meeting which they are saying will be the final necessary meeting before they will begin processing my Volunteer Permit that will allow me to stay in the country through November. A group of six people from Mkyashi are currently in the meeting as I write this message. Hopefully everything goes well.

Next the good: You can declare that you are temporarily slowing down the entrepreneurship program, but the entrepreneurs will keep on entrepreneuring. Mama Regan, whom we helped securing funding from her employer to start a small business selling mndazis, is expanding her business. Mndazis are like large doughnut holes and are a cheap and popular breakfast food in Tanzania.  Currently Mama Regan cooks at home, puts her mndazis in a bucket, and sells them on the side of the road. She now has funds to build a small shack on the side of the road to cook mndazis in. That means she will be able to sell hot, fresh mndazis. The smell coming out of the shack will be her marketing.

We have also worked with Babu Lyimo to help him figure out if a new enterprise he wants to start could be profitable. He is considering getting rid of all of his large livestock – cows and goats – and replacing them with a rabbit farm. Cows and goats require a lot of input and their value has been decreasing. Rabbits are more rare and may generate more profit for him. They require much less inputs and are much loved for their tender meat. After a few weeks of discussions Babu Lyimo has decided he wishes to move forward with this new plan and we are now working with him to determine the best way to make it a success.

Finally, a third entrepreneur, Cynoc, is interested in experimenting with growing vanilla. Vanilla can be an excellent cash crop in the right conditions. We are working with Cynoc to run a small pilot program to see if vanilla is a viable crop for Mkyashi. If it is he is ready to expand his small operation and it could be something we incorporate into the vegetable gardens. Many of the growing techniques are the same.

Hopefully the next update won’t be for an entire month and thus will run much shorter. Thanks to everyone for the continued support.

3/12 Update

It’s been a while since our last blog update. Blame it on the rolling power and network outages as well as a very busy schedule as of late. In any case, a lot has happened so I’ll try to give a brief run-down of recent progress.

First, on Thursday I returned from a trip to Dar es Salaam. It was a whirlwind trip. I left Mkyashi early Tuesday morning and arrived in Dar some thirteen hours later. The Dutch Embassy had invited a member of TPM to come and share about our work. The meeting was at 9:30am on Wednesday so I went to the meeting first thing in the morning, spent a few hours afterwards taking advantage of internet access in Dar, and then spent the afternoon and evening exploring what turned out to be one of the most unique cities I’ve ever been to. More on the city in another post, for now I’ll focus on the meeting.

It turns out that the Netherlands is pulling its funding from Tanzania. Budget cuts and other austerity measures have forced it to narrow its focus in Africa significantly. It will maintain a small team at the embassy focused on economic policy and foreign affairs but will no longer provide foreign aid. But all was not lost.

As it turns out one of the embassy’s Policy Officers, Theresia, is actually from Mkyashi. Mkyashi is a tiny village. Even a few miles away people won’t know what you’re talking about if you say Mkyashi. As such, she was very surprised to see a project focused on economic development in Mkyashi come across her desk. We talked for a couple of hours and she shared with me that she knows a number of people who have family roots in Mkyashi but have moved away to pursue opportunity. Theresia believes there is an enormous opportunity to engage the knowledge and expertise of these people who have gone on to become doctors, business people, and development experts.

This was an exciting connection and one that could truly get to the ideal of “Tuko Pamoja” – “We Are Together.” Theresia and I plan on keeping in touch and starting a serious dialogue about how we might be able to get people who have left Mkyashi to come back and assist with projects related to their areas of expertise.

Second, the FAITH Garden program is set to go for this tomorrow (Wednesday).  We have secured a plot of land in the village for a training garden and a small shop from which to sell garden supplies. Today I went down to Kahe alone to meet with Deo, who runs the garden program in Kahe. It was exciting to see the program and to begin thinking how we can adapt Mkyashi. Mary and Lyimo are excited to come down tomorrow and begin learning. Our first step will be  making high quality compost. Should be fun, right?!

The future home of our garden shop! Hoping to post some good before and after pictures.

The future home of our garden shop! Hoping to post some good before and after pictures.

The future garden site! Again, it will be more impressive in the before and after pictures.

The future garden site! Again, it will be more impressive in the before and after pictures.

Third, our entrepreneur program continues to make progress. On Thursday Emmanual finally purchased his pigs! We had spent a long time building a business plan and learning about best practices for raising pigs and he was so excited to finally be getting started. This marks the second entrepreneur in just over a month we have helped to start a business. We will continue to monitor the success of Mama Regan’s chapatti business and Emmanual’s pig project as well as working with a number of other entrepreneurs to work towards their goals. Emmanual is hoping to expand to chickens next.

Emmanual's pigs! He got give in total. Two females and one male. Don't worry, these little guys are for breeding, not bacon.

Emmanual’s pigs! He got give in total. Two females and one male. Don’t worry, these little guys are for breeding, not bacon.

We have also been exploring other ways to help expand the local economy. VICOBAs (Village Community Banks) may end up being a key partner in this mission. For those who have kept up with this blog, you will be familiar with VICOBAs. We have been trying to find the best way to partner with these locally initiated projects for a while now.

We’re still discussing options but one idea that has come up is for TPM to help VICOBAs implement profit generating projects as a group. These projects would be looked after by members of the VICOBAs (each VICOBA has about 30 members) and profits from the projects would be deposited into the bank to help increase capital and enable group members to take out larger loans. By the end of the month we hope to have determined exactly how TPM can help these projects get started.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been a month and a half since we got started on the ground! Much has happened and even more has been planned. The next month or so should be very exciting as plans start to be implemented and projects take shape.

Progress Update

It’s been an exciting week! We welcomed Mary, her new baby, and Mosses back to the TPM team. Mary has returned for good from Mtwara in the southern coastal region of Tanzania and Mosses is just back for a couple of weeks before returning for his last trimester of college. It’s great to be back and we are already making more progress because of their presence.

On Monday I offered Mary the job of being in charge of the vegetable gardening programming we are hoping to begin in the coming weeks. She accepted enthusiastically and immediately hired Babu Lyimo as her assistant. This will be a team that does great things! Mary is hardworking and energetic and she brings an entrepreneurial energy to everything she does. She also has a huge heart and is excited to be given the opportunity to help some of the poorer families in her community.

Lyimo brings experience, professionalism, and language skills to the team. He was a team leader for a contracting company for many years before losing his leg and he knows about project management and village politics. It will be exciting to see what this team can accomplish!

Mosses and I have some meetings lined up with various local organizations that we are hoping to support. Mosses started a youth group a couple of years ago that seeks to create local employment opportunities, so we will definitely be meeting with them. We are also hoping to continue meeting with Mama Betty.

Just yesterday I finally worked through the last step in the loan process with Bosco before actually applying. He now has his business plan, his bank account, and his Tax ID #. This was a very valuable learning experience. Once we know the process we can help more entrepreneurs – and we do have many more in the pipelines – to secure financing for their projects, big and small. I believe that it is very important to get people working in the formal financial sector. The government of Tanzania has recently passed legislation making it much easier for small farmers and other business people to access capital for their projects via low interest loans. Getting into the formal financial sector provides much quicker pathways to growth and prosperity. Local microfinance can help people get started in business and learn the basics, but most local organizations aren’t able to provide funding for more than around $100 per loan. Bigger loans mean bigger businesses and more jobs. Additionally, working in the formal financial sector means entrepreneurs build credit and relationships at banks that they wouldn’t build with small microfinance institutions. Our goal is to create a solid microfinance organization that produces entrepreneurs capable of taking out banks loans within a few years.

So it’s been a busy week and no doubt next week will bring more challenges, opportunities, and progress. Thanks for the support!

Out and About in Mkyashi

Some things never change, like Scola's ability to chug soda.

Some things never change, like Scola’s ability to chug soda.

A typical Sunday in Mkyashi - bibis hanging out after church drinking Mbege, the local banana beer.

A typical Sunday in Mkyashi – bibis hanging out after church drinking Mbege, the local banana beer.

Asante (left) and his sister Haika after Asante received his First Communion last week along with about 100 other kids in Mkyashi.

Asante (left) and his sister Haika after Asante received his First Communion last week along with about 100 other kids in Mkyashi.

Just a little Saturday afternoon fun.

Just a little Saturday afternoon fun.

It's nice to live in a place where even a casual walk to a friends house can be beautiful.

It’s nice to live in a place where even a casual walk to a friends house can be beautiful.

Mary's baby! So happy to finally meet her.

Mary’s baby! So happy to finally meet her.

Getting a bath.

Getting a bath.

Progress with perks.

Progress with perks.

Did we mention about the waterfalls? Here is the bottom two thirds of Ndoro falls. It's about 80 feet tall.

Did we mention about the waterfalls? Here is the bottom two thirds of Ndoro falls. It’s about 80 feet tall.

I really can't explain other than to say that I love Haika's onesy.

I really can’t explain other than to say that I love Haika’s onesy.

Babu Lyimo's new baby cow, just two days old.

Babu Lyimo’s new baby cow, just two days old.

Valentine’s Day Progress Update

Simon meeting with one of the landowners on the proposed TPM building site.

Simon meeting with one of the landowners on the proposed TPM building site.

We are continuing to make progress towards the goals of our 2013 program. To be effective in Tanzania, one has to be able to make the adjustment from American speed to Tanzanian speed. That can be frustrating at first. It feels unproductive and slow. However, it is the only way to build solid programs and institutions that can be successful long-term.

Just this morning I was telling Babu Lyimo about making this adjustment and he advised me to be like a chameleon. He explained to me that the chameleon moves very slowly. It can’t outrun predators and it takes a while for it to change colors. It should be easy prey. However, the chameleon can reach branches that no other animal can reach. It moves slowly because it tests each branch and twig as it moves further and further out. Thus, it always knows the branch will be able to support it. Other animals move quickly and cannot travel with this same confidence. So, we must move forward slowly and build upon foundations of trust.

While the day to day can feel frustratingly slow, I am quite pleased to look back and report on our progress to date. We have received continued interest and support for the vegetable gardening program we are aiming to begin in March. Local leadership has shown resounding support for the project and many people have asked how/if they can be put on a list to receive training and supplies to start their own gardens. The next step will be for me to go down to Kah’e and get trained on the program for a week. I will visit again the next with a small team from Mkyashi. After that we will be ready to implement a garden shop and three gardens here in the village. We hope to do one garden per month for the rest of the year and then evaluate the program’s success and potential for the future.

I have also met with a number of local entrepreneurs working on an array of small businesses they hope to begin or grow. With most I am still working on business planning and financial management, but a few are beginning to seek credit from banks. I am working with Bosco – village chairman and entrepreneur – to learn more about the lending process for small businesses in Tanzania. Recent legislation has made it much easier for people to get small business loans in Tanzania. However, the changes have not been well-publicized. If we can learn more about these changes – and if they play out as they are supposed to – we will be able to help a number of local entrepreneurs receive credit.

Along this same line, we have made an exciting connection with Mama Betty. Mama Betty is a former bank employee who has worked for the past year to start a series of Village Community Banks (ViCoBa) in Mkyashi in surrounding villages. ViCoBas function as community help groups as well as banks. A group of 20-30 local people (mostly women) get together and agree to each deposit 2000 Tsh (about $1.25) per week into the bank as well as 500 Tsh into the self-help fund. During once-per-week meetings group members discuss any difficulties they are having and can receive money from the self-help fund to take care of these difficulties. Then members make pitches asking to receive loans. Loans are given out Grameen Bank-style to groups of five people who are all accountable for ensuring other group members pay. It’s basic microfinance and it helps people build credit and business acumen so eventually they will have the assets and the knowledge to take loans from banks.

In the past year Mama Betty has started six banks serving 130 members and holding around $30,000 in deposits. She has done it all without a salary and without any donations. We are currently working with her to develop a sustainability plan for the project that would allow her to continue to grow current banks and start new ones. We hope to create a plan that would allow her to take a salary from her work with the banks within two years. During those two years we would give her a small salary to compensate for the time and energy she spends working on the banks.

It could truly be a powerful partnership and would fit perfectly into our goal of supporting local initiatives and local visionaries. Still, there is much work to do before anything formal can be agreed upon. Perhaps we will find it is best to let the banks be and stay out of their way!

We have also visited the proposed property for the eco-lodge and confirmed our agreement with the landowners. It was great to stand their again and take in the incredible view, dreaming of what could one day be!

Great to be Back!

It’s great to be back. The anxiety and exhaustion that had built up after 36 hours of travel and six flights was washed away quickly with the familiar sights and sounds of Kilimanjaro. The night time orchestra of crickets followed by the predawn wake-up call from roosters whose internal clocks have been destroyed by electric lights, the faint and ever-present smell of smoke drifting out of houses hidden by banana trees, and the constant chatter of life hit you pretty hard when you’ve been away too long. It’s amazing how much life we block out in America. Here in Tanzania you are reminded with all five senses that you are surrounded by people, animals, and plants who are busy living.


My living quarters have been established at least for the time being – although I may decide to move later on. I’ve been given a room by Dr. Tumaini and his father Mbando. Dr. Tumaini is only 24 but he’s a very well-respected doctor who makes the two-hour commute to Moshi twice day a by dala-dala. His father, Mbando, is an out of work mechanical engineer who has taken great interest in TPM’s projects. He has excitedly offered to introduce me to as many people as possible and help spread the word that we are looking to connect with entrepreneurs.


The house is a modest cement house with corrugated iron roof. It has a nice porch set about 20 feet back from the road, a living/dining room with a few chairs and a coffee table, and separate rooms for myself, Dr. Tumaini, Mbando, and Mbando’s mother. My room is about 8’x8’ with a single bed and just enough room for me to squeeze my suitcase in and open the door.  There is no plumbing but there’s nothing like a nice bucket shower at the end of a long day and I’ve been told that squatting into a “choo” (a hole in the ground toilet) is actually better for you than sitting on a western style toilet anyway.

In just a few days we’ve already had some great meetings and met some inspiring entrepreneurs. Over the next few days I hope to post some updates about all of that. So make sure to check back soon!