15 September 2014

on the street, in the village, and back again.

The core work I do is teach entrepreneurship and the process of starting and running a group business, and then help Tanzanians establish and implement their business ideas. Primarily I do this work with young mothers - girls who dropped out of secondary school due to pregnancy - struggling to provide for their child and stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty. But from time to time other organizations ask me to impart this same learning and methodology on their beneficiaries, or to consult on business management.

Most recently I have kicked-off the group enterprise process with a new batch of young mothers, led business skills training for young men living on the street, and facilitated a five-year strategic plan for a local nonprofit organization. The past month has been quite busy, so I thought I'd share an update.

michael introducing a topic on the reasons that many small businesses fail.

Young mothers

The local NGO where I am based in Mwanza, Tanzania is called Education for Better Living Organization (EBLI). It is here that I work with young mothers, each of whom is between the ages of 15 - 23 with one or more children of their own. Tanzanian law mandates that these young women leave school when they become pregnant. Stuck at home with children to care for, a man who has left them, and no education leaves these young mothers in a very vulnerable position. My work aims to bring them economic emancipation - that by starting their own group-based entrepreneurial business they might be able to earn a reasonable income in order to meet their basic human needs.

young mother with her child sharing in front of the group.

This past month a small group of Americans visited the Maryknoll Lay Missioners community here in Mwanza in order to see the work that we do and learn more about the local culture. Every year a group such as this, known as Friends Across Borders (FAB), visits the small communities of Maryknoll Lay Missioners currently working in six countries on three continents. 

michael and the fab participants with the young mothers at ebli.

On the day that FAB visited my work, I was kicking-off entrepreneurship training and the process of starting and running a group enterprise with a new batch of 58 young mothers. It was wonderful to share this work with the FAB participants, and the young mothers (like all Tanzanians) really enjoyed having guests in their midst.

michael translating for fab participant laura in front of the young mothers.

michael explaining the group enterprise process with a new batch of young mothers.

small child listens as michael presents in front of the group.

Young men living on the street

You never hear a Tanzanian described as "homeless." It's not that they don't exist - they do. But I think culturally, it's such an outrage to consider one to be homeless given the social fabric is constructed by an ever-expanding, interlocking web of family members who care for every man, woman or child regardless of how "distant" their relationship may be. For one to be homeless, it means they have been, for whatever reason, seemingly irrevocably separated from their familial ties. So instead they are labeled as one who lives on the street. 

Ashley and I encounter youth living on the street constantly. Every single day, in fact. There are a few local organizations dedicated to providing for the basic needs of street children, but the work is far from over. Recently, one of these organizations asked me to provide business skills training for 50 young men. So, just the other week, I led a four-day workshop teaching these young men living on the street how to be an entrepreneur, and helping them establish and manage small, group-based businesses.

a group of young men living on the street forecast the start-up costs of a second-hand clothing business.

Standing up to address the group, I was intensely cognizant of the smell around me. Though we were outside, the scent of unwashed bodies and clothing filled every inch of the space. The eyes of fifty young, Tanzanian men instantly met mine. Each young man's face showed the scars of life on the street, marked by a weathered and rough exterior. Yet, after briefly introducing myself in their local language, every face in the crowd was beaming and I was welcomed with a celebratory applause. Talk about a confidence boost!

one young man living on the street presents on behalf of his small group.

Half of the group was illiterate - entirely unable to read or write, let alone do basic arithmetic. When I asked them to provide reasons that many small businesses fail, alcohol was cited as a leading contributor, which only spoke to the substance abuse problem that several of them had. Despite their lack of education, the group was eager to learn, eager to acquire knowledge and tools that would have the potential to better their living situation. And they worked hard. After four days together, working in partnership with three social workers, seven small group enterprises had been formed, aiming to start businesses such as a car wash, livestock keeping of pigs, merchandise delivery, second-hand clothing, and a vegetable garden. Continuous follow-ups will be done with each group individually to ensure the business gets up and running and is managed well. 

seven group enterprises of young men living on the street meet to discuss their business plans.

The organization that asked me to facilitate the training let it slip to these young men that each would receive a loan of 100,000 Tanzanian shillings ($60) to provide the capital to start their chosen businesses. Upon hearing this, one of the young men pulled me aside and said in Kiswahili, "Michael, we sleep outside. Every one of us. If given that money, we'll just fill our stomachs with food or maybe rent a room for a few nights. That money isn't enough to start a business when we live on the street with nothing but the clothes on our back." It was a humble reminder of the destitute poverty that encircled their lives. 

Strategy planning

This past week I took my first "business trip" in Tanzania. No frequent flier miles were earned, nor were hotel points accumulated. Kind of a bummer. But the scenery that awaited me was well worth it.

I drove eight hours to Nshamba ward, located in the Muleba district of the Kagera region in Tanzania, not too far from Uganda. It was there that I spent two days with Humuliza Organization, an NGO that has been providing psychosocial support (PSS) to orphans and vulnerable children for the past 17 years. Now I know absolutely nothing about PSS, but that wasn't why I was there. The organization had grown stagnant and was looking to develop a five-year strategic plan to reinvigorate Humuliza with the vibrant energy and creativity that marked its founding many years before. Hearing that I had experience in strategy development, they asked if I would make a visit and guide them through the process. 

We looked at their current strategic plan. We talked about their vision, mission and objectives. We assessed the effectiveness of their current activities. We talked with the current beneficiaries, children and youth living in vulnerable circumstances due to the pain and suffering caused by HIV/AIDS, to better understand their wants and needs. And, together, we built a new five-year strategic plan. Of course that means the work is only just beginning.

Aside from the business reason for my visit, the landscape surrounding Humuliza Organization is spectacular, and the cooler and cloudier weather was a welcomed change from the hot sun of Mwanza where Ashley and I live. Check out some of the photos below!

a look at the hillside surrounding nshamba, tanzania.

the red dirt road approaching nshamba, tanzania.
a typical home in nshamba, tanzania consisting of mud and stick walls and a tin roof.

sunset among a field of banana trees in nshamba, tanzania.

bunch of bananas growing in nshamba, tanzania.

pig standing up in the middle of a banana tree forest in nshamba, tanzania.

gargantuan piece of unknown fruit that i brought home from nshamba, tanzania.


  1. Jackfruit?!?!?! Good work Michael! So fun to read about what you are doing! Give Ashley a hug for me!

    1. Yes! That's what it was - jackfruit, or fenesi in Swahili. We need to catch up in the near future. Been following along your adventures as well. Keep up all the great photos.

  2. Hi Michael,
    Ashley and you have done a very good job! Keep doing it!
    That is a very nice jackfruit! I ate a lot of them in Vietnam (My mother used to boil its seeds or nuts and I ate them, too).
    Thank you very much for your card. I am doing OK in St. Louis but it is still scary for me when the winter coming.
    Take good care of yourselves, guys! Keep praying for one another.
    God bless,
    Tino Nhan

    1. Hi Fr. Tino! I could not figure out the proper way to cut or eat the jackfruit. It had a white gum-like substance that was nearly impossible to clean off of the knife or cutting board. Good luck with the approaching winter. Cooler weather sounds like a nice change to us at the moment!


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