December is actually the summer in Tanzania, so the weather can reach upwards of 100 degrees farenheit. The mornings, however, are nice and cool (lovin’ the jetlag!)
After a brisk morning walk and breakfast, it was time to go to our volunteer placements. We stumbled into the van, and were slowly dropped off at our respective assignments. After an hour of rounds, I was the last one to exit the van.
I entered through a metal door into a small u-shaped courtyard and was quickly introduced in Swahili to Mama Mrema, director of WEECE. I could tell immediately that Valeria Mrema is a rare breed of woman in Tanzania . She is never afraid to speak her mind, offer her opinion, or tell you exactly what she wants. She also has a heart the size of Tanzania. It takes a very special woman like Mama to help found an organization like WEECE, inside of a country where women have been second-hand citizens for decades.
WEECE’s basic mission is to support marginalized women in the Kilimanjaro region to achieve economic stability and gender equality through micro-loans, education, and counseling/advocacy.
So what does this mean?
Well… essentially, it means that women in tough situations (abused, divorced, widowed, outcast, geographically isolated, single mothers, financially challenged, etc.) are given opportunities to become educated, self-sufficient, empowered citizens. On their own, this wouldn’t be possible, but with WEECE’s programs, they have a chance at a decent life.
Here are just a few examples of WEECE in action….
* A woman’s husband passes away and she must find a way to support her three children on her own. She gets a micro-loan from WEECE of $50 to purchase plants and garden seeds so that she can start growing and selling produce at market. She receives advice & workshop training from her fellow WEECE members and is able to make enough profit from her business to pay for her living expenses as well as her children’s secondary school education. Once her initial micro-loan is re-paid, she qualifies for a larger loan to expand her business (perhaps buying some chickens so she’ll have eggs to sell at market too!)
* A young woman whose family was never able to afford secondary school has a desire to learn valuable skills that will enable her to get a job in the community. For a nominal fee, WEECE offers vocational classes that teach each student basic conversational English, sewing, and computer/typing skills. Once her studies are complete, she will have doors opened to her that never existed before as well as a new-found confidence in her own abilities.
* Believing she is in love, a young girl gets pregnant before marriage (giant taboo in Tanzania). The father decides to leave her and the girl is now “unmarriable” with no future source of income. Certain laws in Tanzania provide for the mother to receive some funds from the biological father; however, these are rarely enforced. Through counseling and advocacy, WEECE can work with governmental commissions to ensure these girls receive at least a portion of the money due them to care for their child and will educate them on child welfare.
In addition to addressing individual needs, WEECE also works with larger communities of women to enhance their standard of living.
For example, Mama Mrema worked with the government to provide free mosquito nets to a community of Masaii tribe women who were contracting malaria at an alarming rate.
The organization has also developed multiple projects in a village called Nganjoni to educate women on their rights, reduce domestic violence, decrease malnutrition, renovate the local schools and provide a new health clinic so that they can go to the doctor without having to walk 15 miles! I’ll share much more on Nganjoni later.
Speaking of health issues, WEECE also does its part to educate women on communities on the HIV virus. Currently, 8% of the Tanzanian population is HIV-positive. That’s roughly 1 out of every 12 people. Many individuals (especially in rural areas) do not realize this disease is passed through sexual contact. The Tanzanian culture is such that husbands […]