Wednesday June 30th 2010

Lusaka – Dar es Salaam

Benedictine Dinner

I flew early in the morning to Tanzania and was picked up at the
airport by Brother Kizito, a Benedictine monk who drove me to the
Irish Embassy where I met with Nigel Clarke, the Second Secretary. I
wanted to make a courtesy call on Nigel and Anne Barrington (the
Ambassador) to thank them for the support they had provided to Camara
last year following a serious incident involving one of our volunteers
in Zanzibar. I also wanted to let them know about our plans in
Tanzania and to start building our network of contacts in the country.
Anne had just left for a meeting but Nigel spent a good two hours
giving me ideas of who I should meet and how the education sector was
structured and managed in the country. Ireland’s influence in Africa
is highly disproportional to the country’s size, due primarily to the
Irish Missionary movement but also to our strong network of embassies
(and diplomatic staff) scattered around the region.

At the embassy I met Dr Ibrahim Kabole, Country Director of
Sightsavers (www.sightsavers.org) who was taking me to meet one of his
clients Amon Anastaz. Amon is 28, a registered public advocate and
legally blind. He started to lose his sight at aged three but despite
this setback had managed to study Law at university and register
himself as an High Court advocate. In March of this year, Camara had
supplied 30 laptops to Sightsavers to be used by people with visual
impairment to continue their education, and I had wanted to see what
type of impact these laptops were having. Unfortunately three months
on all the laptops were still sitting in Sightsavers offices waiting
for the software to be loaded (I’m not pointing any fingers but Camara
is not completely blameless in this matter). The good news is that
Amon was able to demonstrate a technology he was using on his laptop
called the ‘Dolphin Pen'(www.yourdolphin.co.uk), that translates
written pages into audible sounds – allowing him to access documents
during his court work. In his words, this technology meant that now
‘Now no one can deny me employment’. I believe that there is huge
potential for the delivery of these Assistive Technologies (AT) to
people with disabilities in Africa and I hope that, as Camara
develops, we will be at the forefront of this movement.

I spent the night at the Benedictine Guest House, St Placidus close to
Dar es Salaam’s port. As was their custom we all assembled for
dinner at 7:30pm, Benedictine Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and lay
guests at the long refectory table in the dining room where we served
ourselves rice, beans, greens and some very tough meat. As we were
helping ourselves to food I decided to start up a social conversation
with the Father opposite me who smiled politely and emitted a short
monosyllabic grunt, but no more. Next I tried my luck with Brother
Kizito beside me, who seemed a friendly talkative guy when he drove me
from the airport but who now, after a few words turned his attention
back to his food. Undeterred I continued to press for conversation
with the lay person opposite me who just smiled in an embarrassed sort
of way and continued to eat. I tried several more attempts down the
table but got nothing in return – what was wrong with these people,
you’d swear this Benedictine order had taken a vow of silence at meal
times!

Travel Tip. In addition to St Placidus House, I have been reliably
informed by a number of missionaries that the White Fathers also have
a very nice Guest House in the centre of town at very reasonable
rates. You are also less likely to embarrass everyone there by trying
to talk during meal times.

Thursday July 1st 2010

Dar es Salaam – Arusha

Irish Volunteers in Africa

Brother Kizito dropped me to the airport where I took the 45 minute
flight up to Arusha in Northern Tanzania. My first impressions of
Arusha were not favourable. It is a chaotic, dirty town which has
experienced significant population growth over the last 10 years but0
has a municipal infrastructure lagging many years behind. It houses
the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and is the gate-way for
most of the tourist safaris to the Serengeti – two hours away from
sitting in mind-numbing city centre traffic jams you can see the
greatest concentration of wild life in the world.

A taxi driver, Alex (more about him later) was waiting to take me the
½ hour journey to the house of Fr Mike O’Sullivan a Pallotine Father
from County Kerry. Fr Mike has been in Tanzania for 18 years and five
years ago was asked to help establish a church in the Baloti parish in
‘ESSO’
(http://cts.vresp.com/c/?CAMARA/9ef9c82658/74753f124a/dc20669852)
one of the poorest slums of Arusha. When I arrived at the house it
was like being in Croke Park for the All-Ireland Football Finals –
volunteers from all counties of Ireland congregating, eating lunch and
receiving instructions about what work they were going to be doing
over the next few weeks in the parish. In no particular order there
was:
1.A group lead by Tracy Piggott from Irish Charity ‘Playing for Life’
(www.playingforlife.ie). This charity has helped raise a significant
amount of money to develop the Resource Centre and Sports Hall for the
parish. One of their members, Jerome Kilkenny, from Microsoft was
providing ICT technical training to a group of local students.
2.A group from Galway led by Maura and Frank Reilly called ‘Return to
Tanzania’. This was the third year they had come out and their
members were providing music and football training to the local kids
3.A group from Cork who were doing basketball training with kids
4.Orla McGrath, a VMM from Dublin who had spent the last two years
setting up a computer training program in the parish’s Resource
Centre.
5.There were also some other non-Irish volunteers (mainly Germans)
lurking around the place but they wisely seemed to be keeping a low
profile.

I was staying 15 minutes walk away in the Jevas Hotel (good value and
clean but ask for the rooms away from the all night crowing rooster)
with the ‘Return to Tanzania’ volunteers. They kindly invited me to
dinner, as I later realised, to provide the comedy entertainment for
the evening. After the meal ended, they – Alan and Con in particular
– thought it would be a good idea to start a sing song in the
restaurant and then proceeded to hold an impromptu concert much to the
delight of the local staff. With three music teachers in the party
and Con who plays in a band they knew all the words to all the songs
that were ever written, and what’s more they could sing them all in
tune. Early on they suggested I give them ‘an auld tune from Dublin
City’. ‘Later’, I promised, hoping they’d forget, but after a couple
more songs from the group they were back, and relentlessly pursued me
until eventually it came about that I had to sing solo (as they
claimed they didn’t know the words) the only song I knew – ‘Molly
Malone’. Polite clapping followed before I escaped to bed,
emotionally scarred for life, while they returned to their party.

Friday July 2nd 2010

Arusha

The World Cup in Africa

The main purpose of my trip to Tanzania was to investigate possible
locations for Camara’s new Technology Hub in the country. Normally
our first port of call when going to a new area is to talk to the
Irish missionary groups who have been operating there for many years.
I spent the morning with Fr Mike and Orla talking about who I should
meet, where I should go and potential problems we might experience in
getting set up.

Mike’s first recommendation was The Edmund Rice Secondary School
(www.edmundrice.habari.co.tz/index.html) about 5 km from his parish
and one of the top schools in the area with 1,400 co-ed students
receiving a top quality education courtesy of Australian and African
Christian Brothers. On arriving I met Brother Bill, acting as
care-taker while the principal and vice principal were on holidays,
who explained to me that they had 25 computers to cover all the
students but they suffered greatly from lack of technical support
which meant the computers were often broken. He was delighted to know
we would be soon opening a Technology Hub in the area that would
provide this type of service to schools. My assessment: very good
school but probably not suitable for a Hub.

Then, without an appointment, I went to meet Dr Richard Masika,
Principal of Arusha Technical College (www.atc.ac.tz) a government
college with approximately 700 students. Dr Masika had been recruited
last year from Dar es Salaam (after spending 14 years studying and
working in Hungary) in order to grow the College and double the size
of the student intake by 2015. I’ve decided my sales pitch for
potential partners in Tanzania is ‘the creation of a Centre of
Excellence for eLearning’ in exchange for free space on campus. Once
he got over the shock of me barging unannounced into his office he
seemed very interested in working with Camara and from my perspective
this is definitely one of the places we will follow up with.

Then on to meet Prudence Kaijage, Principal of MS-TCDC
(www.mstcdc.or.tz) a Development Education College about 20 km from
Arusha and supported by MS Action Aid (www.ms.dk). It was a good
meeting but its remoteness from Arusha and the fact that I was told we
would have to pay some money to the College for creating this ‘Centre
of Excellence’ has probably meant they won’t make the short-list.

In the afternoon I met with Method Kimomogoro, a local advocate
recommended by Fr Mike, who is going to help us set up a legal entity
in Tanzania. The procedure for doing this is relatively straight
forward (based on the British model of registration) and the only
question still to be decided was whether to set it up as a Company
Limited by Guarantee or as an NGO. The former structure reflects the
‘Social Enterprise’ nature of Camara much better and it also comes
without many of the negative connotations being an ‘NGO’ has in Africa
today. However many government funders will only fund NGOs which we
found to our detriment when applying for a grant as a Limited Company
in Rwanda.

I had dinner (Bangers & Mash) in Fr Mike’s house before heading over
to the Church compound where he had erected a large outdoor screen
which was showing the Ghana – Uruguay World Cup match free of charge
to the locals (What a great way to attract parishioners!). As a
sporting occasion this ranks as one of my all time favourites.
Imagine the scenes of joy and happiness when on a pitch-black African
night, hundreds of Tanzanians watched their team score a goal against
the might of South American football – the dust cloud created by the
dancing obscured the 20ft high screen for many minutes. That joy ebbed
and flowed until it erupted again when Ghana were awarded a penalty in
the last minute of extra time to win the game. Imagine the scenes of
disappointment as they missed that penalty, and those of the
subsequent shoot out, before the crowd drifted away in silence to
their precarious lives with Africa’s dreams dashed for another four
years (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ut2dFwV0qFY&feature=fvsr).