Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Two Decades of Support Leaves Legacy of Success in Tanzania  

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, April 21 / 14

Zack Gross

Easter is a time of reflection and remembrance.  Passover is a time of family and renewal of spirit.  They are the same thing.  People get together and recall what is good in their lives and what they believe in.  They hopefully also think about what they can do for others.

We received a call this morning from someone coming to our Easter Dinner.  They wondered if they could bring a family that is “stuck” in Winnipeg from the North due to a child's medical emergency.  My wife quickly said Yes.  She told me how her family always had people they didn't really know at their Easter Dinners, often new to the area and lonely or displaced due to some emergency situation.

I remembered – and still value – my family's tradition at Passover of setting an extra place for the prophet Elijah.  No one sat there but the idea was that if a poor stranger showed up, there would be a place at the table.  Hospitality and a welcoming attitude has always therefore been an important part of what I believe in.

The Brandon-Westman area has been that source of giving and sharing for 20 years in relation to an area of northwestern Tanzania on the edge of Lake Victoria around that country's second city of Mwanza.  Numerous people have come from there to study at Brandon University and Assiniboine Community College and many of us have travelled to Tanzania to participate in development projects and ultimately to visit the friends we've made through our activities there.

Staff from Manitoba Agriculture, ACC and the Marquis Project along with volunteers and interns from BU, groups called People to People and CARES, local churches, 4-H and schools have participated in this work.  Funds have been raised, trips have been taken, people have been hosted. Leading the charge has been Dinah Ceplis, a now “retired” horticulturalist and adult educator living in the Minnedosa area – so much so, that a cafe was named in her honour in Tanzania, “The Minnedosa Cafe”!

With provincial funding support coming through the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation, numerous small projects have been initiated over the years.  These have focused on developing efficient cook stoves so that people will burn less wood and have less smoke pollution in their homes.  As well, there was been work done on creating entrepreneurial opportunities for young people, to get training and start their own small businesses which might range from plant nurseries, to hair shops to repair shops. 

Some projects have focused on improving agricultural production.  Others on supporting primary education where students and teachers now have few resources to work with.  A current project will impact on getting young destitute women off the streets and into dignified and sustainable employment. One project done was to work with women's and youth groups to help them become more active as contributing citizens in Tanzania's relatively new multi-party democratic system.

Of course, international development isn't and shouldn't be a one-way street.  People who have friends and colleagues from a diverse and world-wide background can only benefit from that opportunity.  People who travel to work in “another world” as Africa really seems to be can only grow from the experience. 

When we are there, we are constantly learning, constantly having our preconceptions challenged and are always being treated “like royalty
.”  In my case, three of my children have been able to travel, study and work in East Africa and spend time with our colleagues in Tanzania, opening up the horizons in their world.

Has any of this “done any good”?  Judging this is the purview of something called “longitudinal evaluation
.”  That is, how has a small society changed in real, positive ways over a long period of time, in this case twenty years?  Dinah Ceplis addresses this by describing conditions when she first visited back then compared to now. 

People who had no means of transport now have some pick-ups, cars and certainly small motorbikes and bicycles.  People who had little means of communication now have cellphones, computers and access to do research and connect around the world.  People who once lived under great pressure to survive economically and had little food security, now can put something away.

Mwanza, once more of a backwater when I visited in 2000, has grown quickly due to a booming mining industry which has both good and bad consequences.

This coming July, my family and I will travel to Tanzania to renew acquaintances and I'm sure be witness to the progress made.  After that, I will report via this column on the important impact that Manitoba and Brandon-Westman has had in one small part of our world.

An author I am currently reading who documents the many ways that Africa is changing and improving, talks about the “fat world” and the “lean world
.”  At this time of year, it is good to know that we have set a place at the Easter/Passover dinner table for those who might need it.


Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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