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I came across this interesting article of a centuries-old tsunami warning system in Japan.

(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

These tablets, over 600 years old,  dot the coast line warning people to only build their homes before this point.

This one reads (source AP):

“High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants. Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.”

Apparently others mark past tsunami “high water marks” to warn people of the risk in certain areas. Some even warn if there is an earthquake, a tsunami may follow.

As the article describes, even today the tablets proved as an effective method of disaster preparedness. In one town, Aneyoshi, many residents built above the tablets, uphill, and their houses were spared.  The residents recall learning about it as children:

“Everybody here knows about the markers. We studied them in school,” said Yuto Kimura, 12, who guided a recent visitor to one near his home. “When the tsunami came, my mom got me from school and then the whole village climbed to higher ground.”

Interesting how centuries later, it still is saving lives.

Rainy season has started and the streets flood with every rain.

Luckily, for work, we haven’t had to move that much outside, and have been focusing mostly on high level meetings with other UN agencies. We (UNICEF) are in the midst of planning for a “One UN” project called UNDAP (UN Development Assistance Plan).  Without boring you with the details, it is where all the UN agencies are beginning to make one big country plan together where there is a division of labour of activities in key sectors. This differs from before, as every single agency would submit their own plans to the government and each agency did not communicate to each other what these plans and activities were. To just give you an idea of what this means, for example, UNICEF submits over 30-35 work plans that need to be signed by the government (and were originally planned with the government), times that by the 19 other UN agencies in Tanzania, and that means there are over 300 work plans that the government has to sign from just the UN.  I am sure it is not that many, but if you think about all the activities, costs, plans, time that is overlapping, this new plan could potentially be more efficient and save a lot of time and money. Believe it or not, Tanzania is one of the first countries in the world to pilot this project.

Now, that was an extreme over simplification of what is happening, but it gives you the main idea.  For more information, look here and here.

Although this is incredibly interesting process, this also means now a lot of meetings which can really be daunting.  It is hard to find time in the day to even write emails.

As for my personal life, I was also able to travel to Moshi again for Easter. It was an amazing experience as I was able to live with Selina and her family for almost a week.  I can’t even begin to tell you about the experience, as it would flood into pages and pages…  but, I can provide a few pictures and captions:

A few days ago, the whole international development blogosphere began a counter campaign against the “A Day without Shoes” commercial. This seems to be the latest of many mass efforts to stop people from starting campaigns to gather in-kind donations to send to developing countries.

What all the blogs are saying: in-kind donations (giving goods like old tshirts, shoes) overseas is ineffective aid, so please stop.  Bloggers have aptly given it a catchy acronym SWEDOW (Stuff-WE-DOn’t-Want) (Not the poorly named charity).

Why is it ineffective aid, you ask?

Just to name a few reasons:

  • The cost of transportation/shipping/sorting/etc.  of in-kind donations is cost ineffective compared to the questionable benefit
  • There is a lost opportunity (aka cost) of providing long term development initiatives that are proven to help people’s livelihood (water and sanitation, medicine, etc.). A lot of the communities receiving in-kind donations lack basic services; I doubt the first thing they would want is one of your used t-shirts or shoes. What people need is to be empowered so that they can buy the things they actually want.
  • It’s not as if all people in developing countries don’t have shoes, or that people can’t buy shoes or t-shirts in developing countries. In fact, most of your stuff was probably made there.
  • Even if they do want them, these goods usually don’t reach the poorest of the poor. Often in-kind donations  just end up flooding local markets,  making it harder for people to sell goods from their own countries. Or, worst case scenario, if people do receive them,  it puts people who do sell t-shirts/shoes/whatever out of business.
  • In-kind donations can increase local communities dependence on free handouts and deter income generating activities
  • In regards to this campaign:  People in developing countries are reduced to a problem, rather than seen as people. If you really wanted to do people a favour, you would campaign about how making foreign investments in these countries is a good investment, rather than spreading a stereotype of poverty and insecurity which deters investment.
  • People think that they are actually contributing to make the world a better place by buying or giving menial things, without putting in any real effort to combat global poverty/issues.
  • Aid is complex, political, and hard. People dedicate their lives to trying to understand it. These kinds of campaigns reduce it to something simple and easy, which it certainly is not.

Despite these arguments, in-kind donations seem to be a lesson that people just can’t learn (e.g Japan; Haiti1 million t-shirt guy; the recent World Vision debacle).

To read more about it, click on a few of  these:

I just found this on youtube. I think it really gets to the heart of what Loliondo is in Tanzania. A must watch if you are interested.

Part I:

Part II:

Only a few months ago, in small village in Northern Tanzania, rumors began to spread of a retired Luthern pastor with a  miracle cure. For 500 shillings (or 25 cents), just one dose of his concoction was said to cure those afflicted with incurable diseases, from HIV/AIDS to Cancer.  It wasn’t long before the news spread across the district, region and country of  Loliondo. In what seemed like overnight pandemonium, sick people from across East Africa flocked to get the miracle cure; a cup of a boiled liquid made from local herbs. In just a few weeks, the village which was originally only inhabited by a few hundred people, was suddenly flooded with thousands of sick people waiting in line for the cure.  Now, 3 months later, there are over 24,000 people waiting in line, and a queue of cars over 15km long, as people take the near impossible journey in the raining season, down a one way road to reach Loliondo.

Thousands are now claiming to be cured by the healer, and the news seems to have travelled across Southern Africa.  There are rumours that the rich and famous are even flocking to see him, with eye witnesses claiming to see the helicopters of political leaders such as Mandela and Mugabe entering the small village.

However, the situation is growing more dire by the day. The small village has no capacity to handle such an influx of people: there is not enough food, not enough water, no sanitation systems, and only a small clinic that can’t handle the sick that have suddenly appeared at their doorstep. There are some claiming that hundreds have died just on the journey to get to the village, and more as they wait for days in line without food or water. With the sick and dead pouring from the village, there is no way for villagers to minimize the spread of disease, or properly dispose of the bodies. The situation seems to be catastrophe waiting to happen; as the rain increases so does the likelihood of a cholera outbreak and the spread of other diseases.

The only positive news of late is that the government has assessed the plants he uses (rumoured to be from the same trees used to make poison darts) and determined that it is completely safe for human ingestion. Whether or not it is actually working, is yet to be confirmed.

Because of the backlog of people waiting, the pastor has now appealed to the public to stop travelling to see him as he provides the cure to the 24,000 currently waiting in line.  Given the rate that people are headed to the village, I doubt it will slow down anytime soon.

I will save my personal opinions for another time, as this is quite a sensitive issue for my office. What I can say is that this is clearly a sign that people are in desperation of basic health care in this country. So much that they are willing to travel thousands of miles for a bit hope that they will be cured.

If anything, lets hope that this is a chance for the government to reach the most vulnerable of the population and fulfil some basic health serviceswhile people wait in the village.

Some more information:

I will keep you posted on the progress.

*Pole sana. Kwa wale wanatafuta kupata Loliondo, sina taarifa.*

Because I am feeling particularly generous today, I thought I would post some of the job sites I use when I’m searching for international development jobs.

My favourites

In Canada

Others I peruse from time to time

Organizations I often check for updates (these link straight to the “careers” page)

I also often check country offices (for example, UNDP Tanzania Country Office or OXFAM Tanzania Country Office) for updates. Sometimes they have more job listings you won’t find anywhere else, in the place you want to work.

I also just recently joined a job sharing google group that a few of my former classmates from the University of Ottawa created. Feel free to join! It’s open to all.
Other links you might like
And, although I have come to realize people are generally not so good about sharing job resources, please let me know if there are any other job sites you use. Remember, all of us have different backgrounds and experience and probably aren’t trying to get the same jobs. And if you are and are more qualified, you should get it.  I have no qualms about that!

It is an odd feeling, coming back to a place you haven’t been in years. Stepping off the plane and on to the tarmac, I was flooded with memories of my 17 year-old self walking into the same airport, wondering what was in store for me.  The room in front of me is empty now, but as I walk I am filled with those memories from seven years ago: a group of people waiting for those arriving, me scanning the crowd looking for the “Cross Cultural Solutions” sign. There is no sign waiting this time, and for a moment, I almost feel lost. Luckily, I am with a UNICEF colleague, who quickly shuttles me towards the car waiting to take us to Moshi. The drive isn’t long – only 30 minutes. But as we drive down the highway, I see myself standing on the side of this very road, posing for a picture with my Mom in front of Kilimanjaro. I can still hear the driver asking me, as we drove to drop off my friend, whether I would be his girlfriend. It is a surreal feeling; like I am on my way home.

After arriving in Moshi, we did not have a lot to do. My colleague, Stella, suggests that we go to the Cross Cultural Solutions home base, so I can ask about my old school. A little flustered, I direct our cab driver outside of town in search of a building, down the red dirt paths, steering closer toward Kilimanjaro. Right away, I manage to surprise myself : I have found my way back to the same building, seven years later. Of course, the building is now empty. I go to the tailor across the street and ask if they knew where the wazungu have gone. No idea.

A bit defeated, Stella and I go back to the hotel.  I start to get nervous about not finding the school. I vaguely recall where it was, but I still have this lingering doubt that I won’t be able to find it in the middle of the rain forest. But of course, in true Tanzanian fashion, the taxi driver gets back to me with news that he has found the Cross Cultural Solutions office.

Once again, we set out down the bumpy roads outside of Moshi. We finally arrive at the office. Of course, I open the gate, and there is Moses Polepole (meaning “slowly slowly,” because he took a long time to be delivered as a baby), the Director of Cross Cultural Solutions – Tanzania. His formerly skinny face is a bit plumper, and a bit more wrinkled, but he is exactly how I remember him. Right when he sees me, his eyes light up and he gives me a big hug.

“How are you?”

“Kate, you were here in — what, 2004?”.

I couldn’t believe he remembered me after 7 years! I quickly updated him on my life, how after volunteering in Tanzania, I enrolled in school to take international development. “I am now working for UNICEF in Tanzania.” His face lit up again. He had the look of a proud parent.

He showed me the new base and introduced me to all the volunteers. It felt a bit odd; here I was talking to a group of people my age about how I had been here 7 years ago.

“I can’t believe you were here so young”.

“Neither can I, really.”

Moses is wonderful,  eventually he shows me how to get to my old school, Kimaganuni. We promise this time to stay in touch; now that we have cell phones and email, it will be a lot easier this time around.

The next morning, we head out to visit the warehouse, the reason why UNICEF sent us here. It went really well, but I was much more excited about going to see my school afterwards. After we finished at the warehouse, I called the same taxi driver and we were off down the dusty, red dirt road. We had to stop a few times for directions, but before I knew it, there it was: the church steeple, peaking over the trees. I had reached Kimaganuni.

The kids, in their blue sweaters, are spread around the court yard. Ifelt feels like I am 17 again. I look around, obviously I don’t recognize any of the children; seven years is just enough time for all the children from the grade 1 class to have finished school by now.

I recognize a few teachers, but all of them were clearly perplexed by my presence. I walk into the staff room and a teacher I don’t know greets me.

“Hello, my name is Katherine… I used to volunteer here, back in 2004.”

“Oh, okay. Welcome.”

It is only at this moment that I begin to realize how ridiculous this is.

“The headmaster is just right here.”

I move into the old staff room, still with the same desks, and the same faded paper plastered to the walls. I realize right away that the headmistress is the same women , 7 years later. My face lights up, but hers doesn’t change.

“Hi, my name is Katherine…. I used to volunteer here, 7 years ago.”

I put some pictures down on the desk; I suppose to prove to her that I wasn’t lying.

“Ahhhh. Okay. Yes.”

I can tell she doesn’t remember me.

“Welcome. Welcome. Come to my office.”

I see a few faces I remember around the room, “Hello. Do you remember me?” A few faces smile back, clearly not understanding what I am saying.  “Unanikumbuka?” They all start to laugh. Obviously my attempts at Kiswahili are hilarious, something I am still getting used to.

I follow the Headmistress into her small office. Children stare but give the polite greeting to an elder “Shikamoo” (literally, “I hold your feet”).We step in, and she sits down.

“You know I do remember you. You were a teacher from Denmark.”

“No, Canada.”

“Ok. Ahh. Canada. It is warm there?”

“No it is know for being quite cold.”

“Ohh.”

“I was actually looking for this teacher that I knew here. Her name was Celine or Selina. Do you know her?”

“Most of teachers you knew, have died now.”

She taps the figure of a teacher in one the pictures I gave her. I feel a twinge; this was a big mistake.

“But I think I know the teacher you are talking about. She was transferred.”

She starts to write something down on a piece of paper. She then gets up on her chair and puts her head out the window. I soon realize she is getting a student to run to the next school over in the forest to find Selina’s number. We wait maybe 15 minutes, until the student comes running in with another piece of paper with two numbers on it.

I leave feeling satisfied. I realize something that I guess I always knew, even at 17: that my volunteer experience was not an attempt to save the world, but more to be apart of it. Even though I believe I had an impact while at the school, I expected that after 7 years and no contact, I wouldn’t be remembered. That trip was more for me than it was ever about making an impact.

I unfold the piece of paper, and throw it back into my bag. I didn’t want to have another awkward conversation where I explain myself and only get polite but blank stares. I didn’t want another conversation in which I’m not remembered. I didn’t even know if this was the right person. The taxi driver looks at me.

“Where will we go now?”.

“I have no idea.”

It is a horrible feeling. Where would I even go? Back into town to have some coffee? Maybe. Or maybe catch up with a few of those volunteers I had just met? But that felt hollow. I pick up the piece of paper again, and take a deep breath. I dial the number. The phone rings. Right away I recognize the voice.

“Hello?”

“Hi, my name is Katherine. I was a—–”

“Oh my God! Katherine! I missed you so much! I didn’t have your address or any way of contacting you! I was just talking about you last week with a friend! Wow! Where are you?”

I suddenly feel as if I could just break down into tears. I take a deep breath:  “Wow. I am in Moshi! Selina, Where are you? I will be right there.”

It isn’t long before we see each other. I have this amazing feeling, like finally find a piece of myself that has been missing for so long. She looks so much the same, although a bit rounder now, compared to her former stick-thin self. But her smile and laugh are exactly the same. It doesn’t take long before we sit down and begin to tell each other about the last seven years. It is surprising how much we remember about each other.

“What happened to those coffee beans my parents gave you?,” she asks.

“Oh, my grandma and I tried to roast them in the oven and we burnt them.”

We both laugh.

“What happened to your fiancee?,” I ask.

“Oh, we ended that. He was horrible to me. But we had a child, she is five and a half now. Her name is Ester.”

It isn’t long before I am at her house, meeting her daughter and house girl. They live just a few miles away, in a house with a small room, cramped with a bed, couch and small TV. All three sleep in the same bed.

“I moved to town so that Ester can be closer to school.”

Selina, however, has to walk over an hour every morning just to get to her school. I meet her best friend next door, who is nearly 80 years old, and her neighbours. Everyone we pass, we tell the story of how its been seven years since we’ve seen each other. How we are long lost friends, finally reunited.

We then make our way back into the forest to meet Selina’s family; she is taking Ester to stay with them. I remember meeting all of them a few years back, but her brother and sisters were very small then. But as I enter their yard, Grace and Amos come running out.

“Katherine! Do you remember me?”

They are both so tall. Grace is a young women and Amos is handsome young man.

“I remember you.”

“You have gotten much fatter and prettier.”

“Haha, I am going to ignore the first thing you said!”

Everyone laughs. I think just because we are all so happy, rather than them understanding my sarcasm.

I enter the house and see her father and mother. It was amazing to be sitting on their couch again, scanning the empty walls.

“Last time I was here, there were Christmas decorations everywhere.”

“Yes, we had to take those down.”

Everyone laughs. We go outside to take a few pictures. I take a family photo and we begin to discuss when I will be back again. Easter, we decide, for a family dinner.

After the photos, Selina says to me: “I was just talking about you last week with another teacher, Mrema. She misses you so much.”

She calls Mrema, and soon we are all together, laughing and nearly in tears about how we missed each other. “Naraha! Ninafurahi!” I am so happy.

Selina, Me, and Mrema (2004)

I insist to take them out for dinner, and we sit down to eat, they only eat a small portion of their meals, saving the rest for their families. We start to go through pictures and they start to tell me what happened to the students. For most they would say, “Oh, I see him begging on the street.” She gestures her hands as if begging. “Saidia. Saidia.” Help. Help.

2004


I begin to feel horrible. All these years I have had these pictures of happy children, and I never figured out what happened to them. I feel all of a sudden incredibly guilty, like I have exploited them. Like I missed an opportunity to at least make sure they made it to secondary school. Years after my first trip to Moshi, I set up a scholarship fund for children in Tanzania to go to secondary school, but because I had no way of contacting the school, the money went elsewhere.

Later, Mrema takes Selina and I to her house in the middle of town, a small, one-room house, with about six chickens running around. We sit down in the darkness. Mrema lights a lantern so we could see each other. After an hour, Selina and I head back to my hostel and stay up all night talking.

For the rest of the weekend we are inseparable. I end up getting all of my pictures printed, and the picture of Mrema, Selina and I framed for each of us. I also have Selina’s family picture enlarged and framed, which they put on the only nail in their wall –  extremely close to the ceiling. Everyone had to stretch their necks upward just to see it, all laughing at each other’s expressions and clothes.

When I left, it felt like I was leaving my family. Selina does not own a computer or have an email address, but the explosion of cell phones in Tanzania (and Africa) will make it easier for us to stay in touch (she has two). And since I have come back to Dar, we have already spoken on the phone a few times.

I can’t help but think as a development academic, about the naysayers of “voluntourism”. I have heard all the cons, and I have no doubt, that in a lot of cases voluntourists can do more harm than good. But my experience as a volunteer seven years ago changed my life. I owe all that I have accomplished since then to that first trip. That experience went beyond just volunteering, beyond just making friendships. I feel like I have extended my family.

I am off to Kilimanjaro for work today!  I am going to be monitoring a emergency supply warehouse in the region with the Prime Minister’s Office.

The most exciting part about this trip is that I get to go to Moshi. When I came here 7 years ago for the first time, I was based in Moshi where I was a “voluntourist”, as they say.  I worked at a school where I taught English in the middle of the rainforest. It was my first experience abroad, and it really changed my life for the better. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for that trip.  I haven’t been back in 7 years… so its going to probably a roller coaster of emotion when I visit the school again.

Here are a few photos for nostalgic purposes:

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I will report back Monday.

I know blogs are supposed to be an instantaneous source of news; however, given that I work in emergencies— the likelihood of me getting to a computer and blogging about it is pretty limited. None-the-less, I apologize that this post is coming a couple of weeks too late.

If you didn’t hear, at around 8:30 at night on February 16th, an accident at a military dump in the south of Dar es Salaam caused over 23 barracks of ammunition to explode (rumor has it that over 10 tonnes of munitions exploded, which I am inclined to believe, given the fact that the blast lasted for over an hour).

Within hours of the blast, over 5,000 people were displaced, nearly 1000 children went missing, 388 were injured, and just last week, 27 civilians were confirmed dead (military personnel deaths were not reported). Given that this is not the first time that a military munitions dump has caused extensive injuries and death, there was an instant widespread panic.

In terms of emergency response, I think it went really well. Red Cross volunteers were deployed in a few hours after the blast — trying to gather people (specifically, mothers and children) to the national stadium which was called as the focal point for victims. I was there the next day and some of the volunteers had been there since 1 am, and didn’t stop until night fall the next day. Radio and TV messages were broadcast by 10pm that night, instructing a 10km radius of Gongo la Mboto base to be evacuated, citing the national stadium as a safe haven. By morning, supplies of biscuits, water, food were distributed to the thousands that gathered at the stadium.

Within days, everyone was moved back into the affected area. Nearly 100 homes were completely destroyed, but they were given tents, and other facilities to cope before they begin to rebuild.

As for the children that were missing parents, of the 850 that came to the stadium, all were reunited with their families within days. Of the 200 parents missing children, the process took a bit longer. People scattered in the night, some children were taken into other people’s households. There is a fear now,  that these children will be absorbed into households and be used as domestic workers. I do no know the exact figure of the children that are still missing, but I know that Save the Children and the Red Cross have been continuing to canvas neighborhoods to find them.

What I was really impressed with was at the national stadium the Scouts stepped in to help disseminate food and water. I saw them a few days later and they were there playing with the children who were missing their parents.  The scouts themselves could not have been older than 13, and I think they really played a vital role in the response.

This was my first real emergency that I was able to be involved in. Due to the relative lack of emergencies in Tanzania, we mainly focus on preparedness.  It was a really interesting experience to how the UN is able (or in some ways) unable to respond. The government didn’t ask for international assistance (which is needed before the UN can be involved), thus UNICEF largely played a coordination role and gave support where it was needed.  I was fortunate to be apart of a later assessment by the UNICEF and an emergency meeting where all international/national NGOs, government, and UN agencies were involved to resolve any continuing gaps. I won’t go into details on this here, but if you are interested, I’d be more than happy to fill you in on the process.

What I found most interesting frustrating  is how the news portrayed the blasts. It didn’t take international news organizations long to throw up head lines like, “Tanzania rocked by explosions”  or “Explosions cause mayhem in Tanzania”.  When I felt the explosions in my room and was getting phone calls about the blasts, I went straight to the internet to see what was happening. Your mind automatically goes to “terrorism” and you feel this panic.  I really didn’t think the media was very helpful (expect for some local media that helped in the response phase).  I mean, yes this is a horrible event, yes, people were affected, but they reported it as if it was much worse than it really was and there was no useful information on there, such as where exactly it was, who was affected, what the response was. They make it seem like no one is helping and give no information that really helps you. They like to report on missing children, but provide no follow up story on what happened to them. I have no idea why this surprises me….

It will be interesting to see is how the government intends on preventing this again. Seeing as this sort of thing seems to happen around the world, especially when states are no longer in conflict, I think am going to have to brush up on munitions risk management.

A few links:

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