Report by Rob - Part 4

It has been some time since my last blog entry and much has happened in the meantime.Early in January I took the opportunity to travel with Irene and Lily to Kigali in Rwanda for a few days where we enjoyed the opportunity to eat some Italian and French food, quite a welcome change from our diet in Bukoba. Kigali itself is a fascinating city to visit. Of course, as a visitor, it is important to learn about the tragic history of this tiny country by visiting the memorials in and around the city. This was a valuable and unforgettable experience. Travelling onwards by myself for a few additional days, I reached Kisenyi at Lake Kivu, on the border with the DRC, Kibuye and finally Butare, Rwanda's "intellectual capital", the home of the National University and the excellent National Museum. I was astounded by the beauty of the countryside, particularly around Kisenyi and Kibuye, where steep mountains plunge down into the lake and some short hiking trips can reward one with the most spectacular landscapes. Travelling in Rwanda was a challenge. The stories are almost as long as the journeys themselves, but in brief; a 7 hour journey in a local minibus crammed full of 25 people plus luggage made even more uncomfortable by the endless potholes and rocks in the road and interrupted only when we had to hide ten of our passengers from the Rwandan police in the forest (bus is licences to carry 15 only) and then smuggle them back into the bus once we were beyond the police check. There was also an incident with a sliding door falling off a bus and another 10 hour coach journey where the driver played one 4-minute song on repeat for 4 and a half hours. Truly, travelling is so much of the total experience here. Despite the beauty of the countryside, after a long and arduous journey of 20 hours back to Bukoba I was delighted to return to familiar surroundings and see friendly faces.

In the last two weeks I have been busy working on my two projects, with a great deal of time spent with Sr. Adela, analysing the soap production. I have been able to recover a great deal of essential information regarding ingredients, quantities, costs, supplier locations and competitors which I have been able to share with the team in Munich via Podio. As we attempt to bring this business to profitability, this research has enabled us to focus on the distinct source of losses, notably the hard soap as being separate to the profitable liquid soap production. I'll be working with the Sisters closely to discuss the next steps. Aside from the soap production, I've been trying to find alternative profitable business activities and I have an idea which I believe has some promise, but I'll reveal that in my next blog entry as I'm going to discuss the idea with the Sisters tomorrow.

Through our contacts in Bukoba, the three of us have become members of the Bukoba Rotaract Club (Junior Rotary Club) and this weekend we made a visit to an orphanage in central Bukoba which is facing some serious challenges and so this has become a side project of ours. This week we will make another visit to assess what approach it will be best for Rotaract to take.

Otherwise, another friend, Afzal, has taken us hiking in the countryside around Bukoba and on Sunday he took us to the beautiful waterfalls, about 7km out of town.

On Friday night I'll be taking the overnight boat to Mwanza, returning on the Sunday night crossing. I'll be travelling with the Bukoba Cricket Club to play in a regional tournament over the weekend. I never anticipated that I'd be playing cricket here in Tanzania, but then again, Africa is nothing if not full of surprises.

Report by Rob - Part 3

My Christmas period at Nyaigando has been a mixture of highs and lows. Christmas Day itself was very special. By some great coincidence, Vivian, a Tanzanian friend of mine from university in London has family living here in Bukoba. After meeting up with her uncle Appollo before Christmas, I was invited to attend the family Christmas celebrations. I attended Appollo’s church at Kiteba, close to Bukoba in the morning and afterwards, along with all of Appollo’s neighbours, family and friends we ate the most magnificent feast; goat, chicken, pork and beef. Of course, I was truly grateful for such a meal but also for the incredible welcome which I received, something which is common here in Tanzania but which never loses its charm.The immediate days following Christmas Day were not so dissimilar to a typical European Christmas, as I slowly recovered from the vast quantity of food which I had consumed. Unfortunately the aforementioned low-point came a few days before New Year, when I developed the symptoms of malaria. Although this was very unpleasant, I was well looked after by Lily and Irene and of course by the Sisters too. For this, I am very thankful. Irene, Lily and Sister Gaudentia prepared countless teas and sugary syrups and I was just getting used to this fantastic waitress service when I recovered! Anxious to catch up on lost time and to make sure the 2014 budget was complete before the Munich team’s strategy conference on 4th and 5th January, I spent last week in meetings with the Sisters, going through the budget, discussing the goals for each distinct activity and from this, making revenue and expenses projections for the forthcoming year. While an essential piece of work for the organization as a whole, this also represented a great discussion platform for my own projects. It was an opportunity to introduce a new conceptual and strategic way of thinking about budget planning to the sisters and it was also a great context in which to discuss the soap business and any other possible expansion plans. Since the completion of the budget my attention has been turned towards progressing with each of my individual projects, in particular the analysis of the soap production facility. This week I have meetings with Sr Adella and Sr Redempta which will allow me to collect the necessary information and I am looking forward to discussing these findings with the rest of the team both in Munich and here in Nyaigando. Aside from work, the last few days have been notable for other reasons too; we were fortunate enough to receive invitations to visit Raymond, who works with the carpentry students and Edmond who is a friend of Sister Redempta and our driver on that original journey from Kampala down to Bukoba back in the beginning of December. Raymond took us to his home via a quick tour of his village, Igombe. It was fascinating to see his collection of photographs which showed the St Maria Gorethe organization across the previous 10 years. Before returning home, Raymond posed us with a welcome problem, by giving us a live chicken as a gift. Such generosity, but we didn’t know how to prepare it for the kitchen. Fortunately the wonderful Sister Monica was willing to give us all a quick lesson in chicken killing and the image of her holding a bloodied knife, while standing over our murdered chicken, is one that will last long in my memory! We look forward to making a return visit to Raymond and offering our own gift, carefully selected to offer him a new challenge too.

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This weekend I will take a short trip out to Kigali which will be fascinating I’m sure and on the way home, I plan to visit another organization in Masaka, Uganda which is undertaking similar work to that of St Maria Gorethe.

Report by Rob - Part 2

The 2nd week in Nyaigando has passed smoothly and I now feel totally at home and comfortable here. We have now fully explored the small town of Bukoba and regularly bump into familiar faces on trips to the market or down to the lake shore. Indeed, I even met with the family of a good friend from university who is from Bukoba and I've been invited to join them for Christmas Day. Small world! I have also got to know many who live in the villages of Kashozi and Kibengwe, close to Nyaigando, as I am playing football at the local school with the 30 or so who play their every day. Of those I know in Kashozi, one is now a very good friend, the fantastically named Papa Perfect, who seems to know everyone in the area. Of course, it's always more fun having a wider circle of friends to meet, but it's also interesting to get different perspectives on the lives of the local people, both here close to Nyaigando as well as in Bukoba.

This week has also signalled the beginning of my project work. I have had meetings with the Sisters to introduce my proposals and these were well received. With regard to the soap project, I am undertaking a full-scale review of operations in order to try and improve the financial performance. This would enable us to further safeguard the sustainability of the organisation and to invest the profits either into the VTCs or the school scholarships. It appears that there are already a number of clear ways in which we can optimise the activity and I will go into further detail on this as and when the work is completed over the coming weeks. It was great to receive the support and understanding of the Sisters for this project.

Furthermore, I have begun to conduct an analysis of alternative, newly proposed business activities into which we could enter. Sister Redempta was eager to inform me of some of the ideas which the Sisters have considered recently and I already have 14 different proposals to investigate. I think some form of prioritisation must take place here! I'll also benefit from taking a trip to Musaka, Uganda and to Mwanza where the Sisters were aware of similar projects which I should research. I'm hoping to schedule this in for mid-January.

I wish you all a fantastic Christmas period and I'm looking forward to settling down to some more of the local specialities on Christmas Day; matoke (a boiled savoury banana dish), matunda ya Bukoba (fruit of the region) and the fried grasshoppers, which I'm assured are "very nutritious".

Merry Christmas.


Report by Rob - Part 1

Hamjambo? Habari gani? After months of preparation I finally started my journey to Nyaigando on the 6th of December. Having spent the previous week in Kampala, enjoying the opportunity to see a little of Uganda, I met Sister Redempta, Irene and our driver Edmond close to the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Rubaga to begin our 7 hour drive south across the border, towards Bukoba. The contrast between the bustling, chaotic city of Kampala and the tranquil, beautiful countryside, which surrounds it, was quite startling. Before reaching the border crossing, where we had the pleasure of meeting a border official who immediately recognized us as friends of Max, we stopped at the small Ugandan village which lies directly on the equator. It seemed appropriate to take several photographs next to the sign, which marks this split between north and south. As we approached Bukoba and eventually made our way along the bumpy, dark-red road to Nyaigando, the landscapes around us became increasingly inspiring. It was a privilege to finally arrive at such a paradise.

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Immediately upon arrival at Nyaigando we were warmly received by Sister Gaudentia, Sister Monica and many others who kindly helped carry our luggage to our rooms. The visitors’ rooms here are quite fantastic and together they form a charming, green quadrangle which is set back slightly from the main road running through the village. A few metres below us, down a shallow slope is the river and further on up the rise lies the main compound of Nyaigando, the Sisters’ rooms, the chapel, many offices, the soap production centre, a sizeable shamba (orchard) for maize and banana and a small barn for some livestock. Our first few days have involved exploration of this whole area, which has also given us the opportunity for innumerable introductions. The friendly welcome of the Sisters and other residents here has been extraordinary. For each conversation we speak only in Swahili, which I have been studying for the last couple of months. It’s difficult at times, yet always enjoyable and quickly one learns that there are three words which are acceptable responses to any question, at any event or time of day, “Karibu… Asante… Nzuri”. In any moment of confusion, I blurt out some combination of these and it’s always well received.

The timing of our arrival was especially fortunate given that Monday 9th December was Tanzanian Independence Day and a great feast day of celebration. More than 2,000 visitors travelled to Nyaigando from as far away as Burundi and Arusha. The day began with a five hour-long Swahili mass, which also celebrated the anniversary of several Sisters’ lives in the Nyaigando community. Indeed, one Sister was celebrating 60 years since completion of her final vows. Following the mass we proceeded en masse, singing and dancing while following a group of musicians to some canopies, which had been erected towards the rear of the compound. For the rest of the afternoon we feasted on a Tanzanian buffet including the classic savoury ndizi (banana) dishes, which I have already become accustomed to, since they are served thrice daily. Accompanying this fine meal was a display of traditional dancing from two local schools and a troupe of travelling acrobatic dancers who put on an impressive display. At one point Irene, who dances with a hip-hop group regularly in Paris joined the traditional display, to the delight of all the Tanzanians. Such a feast day celebration also affords the opportunity to both residents and visitors to offer gifts to various members of the Nyaigando community, marking their various efforts and commitments over many years. Concluding the day was a second feast featuring many more ndizi dishes, served this time in the main hall. Again dancing was an essential component, although this time there was much broader participation, with many Sisters, Priests and visitors displaying some remarkable dancing abilities!

Tuesday was a lazy morning, with many, including myself recovering from the previous day’s party. By the afternoon Irene and I decided it was time to make the 13km journey down to Bukoba with Sister Redempta where we would also meet the third volunteer, Lily, who was arriving on coach from Kampala. Needing to change money from US $ to TZ Shilling we also had our first experience of the chaotic but terrifically entertaining Tanzanian banking industry!

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This is now my fifth day in Nyaigando. Despite the torrential, unrelenting rain which has been falling (rainy season should end mid-Dec) I am filled with great excitement about the adventures and experiences, which await me in the coming three and a half months.