A community that looks after itself – in Tanzania

On my recent travels to East Africa I was invited to a small town just outside Dar Es Salam by the name of Kibaha. I went to aid in the setting up of an extension of a hospital. I would never look back and it has changed my whole outlook on how a charity and society should be run and managed.

WiPAHS was initiated by a few passionate individuals in the 1980s. They recognised the need for local sustainable support to improve the living conditions of the indigenous community, who had been suffering severely from poverty, disease and illiteracy. After visiting the villages and assessing their needs including water, education, sanitation and living conditions they set out to create a foundation.

Down a dirt track off one of the main roads leading out of Dar, it is the first town you will come across. Although geographically it is not more than 30Km from the centre of Dar, it could take over three hours by private transport (God knows how long it will take by public) to make that journey and, more importantly, reach any kind of meaningful medical attention.

The locals describe it like a campus, with gated entry and security guards 24 hours a day. It accommodates the needs of the local children from the age of four to sixteen. This includes housing, education, places for worship, food and health, all within a number of buildings which also include a nursery, girls and boys schools, an orphanage, hospital and a farm. There are also plans for a university and hospital expansion currently in progress as well as the development of additional dorms. The current population of all the students is approximately 1500.

It is a fully self-sustainable system that relies on the income from the private girls and boys school, and farm. They have a well and a water purification system and even produce their own bricks and biogas. The farm has cows, goats, sheep, chickens, full set of greens, fruits and even herbs to spice and flavour the food.

All of the above have led to a self-sustaining system in terms of finances, water and food but the hardest thing to recruit in Africa is human resources, volunteers and skilled workers. The legacy the whole complex leaves is much larger than that. Stories have emerged years later of previous students/orphans who have come back to volunteer, help, teach, fundraise, supervise or support the foundation simply because of the support they received when they were younger.

The story that echoes in my memory is when the foundation was being chased by the tax authorities on the basis of an unusual legal loophole. After many meetings and negotiations involving tens of thousands of dollars, the tax collector sat down with the board and explained to them how he was once an orphan, how the foundation took him in and were the only people willing to do so, how they paid for and provided his education and this being the reason why he has a stable job and family now.
Living in the community for almost 2 months I felt a togetherness I’ve not felt anywhere before, from the community call for prayer which everybody attends, the recital of prayer by almost 200 children, then eating in the communal areas and having that African cup of tea together. You would always get a genuine greeting from everyone as you passed them. I would be invited to all my neighbours houses every evening with no agenda and it was not because I was a guest, I was part of the community.

Further to this, WIPAHS has a number of other projects including the construction of more than 600 wells for local communities. This involves feeding over 50, 000 individuals annually including women, children and the needy. Economic Development projects such as an interest free loan to more than 400 indigenous women, supply of agriculture tools to more than 300 farmers at subsidised rates. In my two months there I was actively involved in feeding the blind campaign, which saw a group of volunteers package and distribute beans, rice and salt. Although it was a simple day out for the volunteers, it took much administrative work to organise and find those that have visual impediments. The most recent development involved the extension of the hospital allowing for cataract surgery, giving so far hundreds of people their vision back.

Another project involved the purchasing of two luxury villas on the east coast of Zanzibar. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, stunning white sand beaches (where the sand is so fine you could mistake it for flour), private pools, palm trees and a garden where the rear gate is right on the beach. You ask how that aids the community? In between the villas is a small building, with a few offices, living quarters, a small playground and 3 classrooms. It’s a primary school that teaches children from the age of 6 to 12. The only one in this part of the island. It is free of charge and is funded by the revenue from the villas. Children here would never have got an education, but not only that, it also allows their mothers to go and work (although they would often do so and take their children with them).

It has been very fashionable and trendy to go to the far reaches of Africa and do some charity work for those less fortunate, may that be building a toilet or donating some money. This has slowly evolved to more long term projects like building schools and educating the locals. Now almost all charities talk about sustainable projects. WIPAHS has superseded all of these and created a community that truly looks after itself and those that need it.