the Tabora Project

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It is hard to believe that Quarter One is almost over. Emma and I were lucky enough to have four very clear and strategic Quarter One goals set for the Tabora Project. A lot of exciting things have been happening as we continue to try and accomplish these goals. Our calendar is quickly filling up with meetings and dates and we have some stories to share with you all today.

The Tabora Project aims to focus on income security as well as food security, and human capital development. The business, which has had a very successful month of orders, is an activity focused on income security. The hope is that the business will continue to flourish, and that Emma and I will be able to continually strengthen the business while we are here in Tabora.

One of our next big activities on the horizon, that we are both really excited about, is solar drying! The hope is that this activity will begin to tackle issues of food security in Tabora. One of our Quarter One goals has been to build home solar dryers for each one of our partners. Emma and I have been able to read the research from Hailey and Eliza to help discover what solar drying is all about! These homes dryers have the intention of allowing each of our partners to have access to more nutritional foods for themselves and their families, as well as provide a way to store nutritional foods for up to 6 months at a time. We have spent a lot of time this month thinking about this next step for the project and what it will look like for each individual partner. We have been discussing the best ways to finance these solar dryers as well as figuring out how to construct these individual driers. As you can imagine, there is a lot that will go into this process. Just to give you an idea, we are considering different designs, materials, security of the dryers, placement, etc.

We had a meeting with a solar drying expert and a “fundi” (or handyman) as well as two of our partners to begin to talk logistics about the construction phase. We took a trip into Korogwe to have a meeting and were able to bring everyone together to discuss the construction of these small solar dryers. The fundi had seen a large dryer in Korogwe and had taken measurements of the machine as well as drawn up a sketch. He understood that we were looking for something about half the size and will be contacting us next week with a list of materials as well as a price estimate for each dryer. We hope to schedule a time for him to come to Tabora and help us build our first dryer with all of our partners. With the help of the solar drying expert we will hold a training on how to properly use the dryers. It was really great to see our partners take initiative in Korogwe and include them in the discussion about the type of dryer we hope to build. Mama Mwaliko and Mama Salome both expressed their happiness and excitement when the meeting was over. Even though we were not able to bring all of our partners to the meeting, we wanted to generate excitement and ownership in this process. These dryers will be part of each partner’s family and home life and we want each of them to be invested from the beginning.

For the human capital development piece of the project, our partners are getting ready to teach local Tabora shop keepers three business curriculum classes. Each partner completed the 10 step business curriculum this past spring and are now ready to bring their expertise to the wider Tabora community. We are having a session with Ana (the Country Director of 2Seeds) in the coming weeks to plan the sessions and help our partners feel prepared to teach others about record keeping, profit calculation, and revenue. We know our partners are going to be great teachers and we cannot wait to see them tackle this next task.

As you can tell there is a lot on the horizon here in Tabora, but we are feeling confident in our next activities and ready to take on the challenges and victories ahead!

The Tabora Project

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Emma and I had a very exciting week in Tabora! We are feeling more at home in the village and have really enjoyed getting to know our partners, neighbors, and community members who often greet us and invite us in for a meal. We have been delighted to share in meals (such as ugali and maharage) with the people of Tabora, as well as mastering our small kerosene stove. We were lucky to inherit many spices and seasonings from past PCs that make even a simple dish of rice and vegetables exciting and satisfying!

Emma and I found letters from past PCs, as well as a small package from Hailey and Eliza, full of colorful inspirational quotes to hang inside our house. It is really starting to feel like home as our routines become more stable, and as we continue to decorate our space.

This week Emma and I were able to participate in our first profit calculation and distribution with our partners! We have been anxiously waiting to find out how much profit the business generated for the month of August. August was crucial because the women handled the business on their own before we arrived and after Hailey and Eliza left Tabora. In August, the business received some of the largest orders ever, and the demand for Tabora products was high in Korogwe and in Dar.

On Thursday Ana and Cam (the 2Seeds Ground Team) came to Tabora with the Tabora profit books as well as all the Tabora “banks”—including personal savings accounts, group savings accounts, money for kitchen maintenance, and all the profits from chips, peanuts, and popcorn.

Mama Asha and Mama Mwuliko, two of our partners, are in charge of calculating profits and figuring out important information like revenue, profit, number of work days in the kitchen, all sales costs, percentage of money for the group savings fund, and ROI.

It was very rewarding to sit and watch our partners calculate profits on their own. These two women are handling crucial details of the business that are even difficult for Emma and I to understand. We watched quietly as our partners did the math for each product separately, and then calculated the overall profits from the month to be divided among the eight group members based on attendance at cooking sessions. Once the calculations were complete, and all the individual bundles of money were assembled, we had a group meeting with all of our partners. Ana announced that August generated the 2nd highest profit in the history of the Tabora business! Everyone was excited to hear the news! Emma and I are thrilled that the business is thriving!

Over 100,000 shillings were added to the overall group savings and each partner received profits between 25,000 and 37,000 shillings for the month!

It was another small victory for Tabora and we are hoping September will be even stronger.

Now that Emma and I feel confident in our partner’s ability to teach us the details of the business and the market in Korogwe, we are ready to begin researching solar drying and other Tabora project activities we hope to act on this year. We are still trying to wrap our own minds around the process of drying fruits and vegetables, but we are hoping to begin the testing phases of some leafy greens currently in season.

Stay tuned for more Tabora updates in the coming weeks!

Our First Week In Tabora

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Emma and Siobhan on the mic! We made it to Tabora and have had a whirlwind of a week so far! We will take a brief minute to introduce ourselves before updating you on the exciting news of Tabora. Siobhan is from Chapel Hill, NC. She graduated from George Washington University in 2013 with a degree in Anthropology, with a focus in Public Health and Women’s Studies. She spent this past year in Portland, OR, working for a non-profit that focuses on helping at-risk families transition out of homelessness. Emma is from Mansfield, CT. She graduated from Providence College in May of 2014, with a degree in Public and Community Service Studies with a concentration in Community Economics. We are both really looking forward to spending this year with 2Seeds in Tabora.

We arrived on Friday morning, to a group of screaming, smiling children. We spent the morning with Cam and Ana, taking a tour of the village. We got a chance to meet all of our business partners, and to see the kitchen where group cooking sessions take place. We spent the rest of the day exploring and getting settled into our house. In the evening we decided to visit some of our partners, ending up at Mama Hasani’s house. To our surprise she escorted us into a community drum circle, where we were pulled into the middle to dance. We had a wonderful time, even though our dance moves made us the laughing stock of the village! It was a fabulous welcome into life in Tabora.

Yesterday we joined our first cooking session with the women, working from 10:00am until 7:00pm to cook 100 bags of chips. We have never peeled so many potatoes in our lives! The cooking went smoothly, with each woman taking lead on a specific task. Thanks to their patience we learned all of the steps necessary for cooking these delicious chips. These 100 bags were sent on the back of a pikipiki (motorcycle) to shops in Korogwe, the nearby city.

Today we spent half of the day in the kitchen cooking candied peanuts, popcorn, and chips for an order from the capital, Dar Es Salaam. It was great to see how all of the individual products are made. We were able to take part in the business transactions such as transportation and record-keeping. Through broken Swahili, we were able to get a better idea of how the business is run and contributed to the process.

In the coming week we are really looking forward to continuing to develop relationships with our partners, as well as challenging ourselves to strengthen our Swahili and our knowledge of the business.

Wanawake Wanaweza!

Final Updates and Closing Remarks

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Greetings from the U.S.! When our year as Tabora Project Coordinators ended on July 11, we parted ways to pursue new and exciting adventures! Eliza traveled to Nairobi and London to visit friends before returning to Troy, NY and Hailey went straight home to Plymouth, MA to visit friends and family before returning to Tanzania for another year as a Senior Project Coordinator. Now that we’re both settled at home we’ve had a chance to reflect on this past year and we’d like to give you all a brief recap of our last few weeks in Tabora. We are also excited to formally introduce the new team of PCs!

New Product Labels

We worked with a graphic designer in Dar es Salaam to design new sticker labels for our products. These labels feature a description of the Tabora business as well as the ingredients in each product. We are excited to give these labels a trial run over the next few months!

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Personal Savings Plans

In 2Seeds we often use an analogy that portrays all of us, everyone in the network, on a bus heading towards Maisha Bora, or the Good Life. Maisha Bora is not a physical destination, but rather it is a higher quality of life. We used this image to frame our conversations with partners about goal setting and personal savings. Each group member shared their goals about how they want to improve their lives and we worked with them individually to develop savings plans, which will hopefully help them achieve those goals. We were humbled by this experience, as it gave us deeper insights into personal financial challenges as well as the aspirations that each group member has to create a better life for themselves and their families.

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(Mama Mwaliko evaluates her monthly cash flow and set the goal of building a new house)

Mama Mwaliko, Mama Hasani, Mama Tabia and Mama Salome all want to build new houses while Mama Asha wants to expand her restaurant business in Tabora; Mama Agi wants to purchase a motorcycle that she can use to buy inputs for her business of selling clothes and Mama Kitojo has dreams of building a small structure where she plans to show soccer games that community members can pay to watch; and Mama Mudi plans to save money for her two oldest kids to complete secondary school.

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(Mama Salome wants to save up for a tin roof for her house!)

After evaluating their individual cash flow and assessing how much money they need to meet the daily needs of their families, each group member committed to putting away a designated amount of their monthly profit into savings until they reach their goals. We are impressed with their level of dedication and we are confident that they will all achieve their goals!

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(Mama Agi fills out her personal savings plan with the goal of purchasing a motorcycle)

Solar Drying

A standing ovation is in order for Eliza for completing the Tabora Solar Drying Handbook, a comprehensive document that includes information about which fruits and vegetables are available in Tabora, the specific ins and outs of drying and storing, and the nutritional information for each food item. This will be a great resource for future teams and the group as they pursue individual and group solar drying activities in the future!

Business Curriculum Graduation

We are pleased to announce that, on June 22nd, all eight group members graduated from the 2Seeds Business Curriculum! We couldn’t be more proud of all of their hard work throughout the curriculum and the construction of the Tabora Business Plan. Concepts such as return on investment and cash flow are difficult to grasp, but the Tabora group members excelled at retaining the information they learned and applying it to their business. Congrats!

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(After everyone received their diplomas!)

May and June Profits

In May, five partners earned 37,000 shillings in profits, a new record high! And in June six partners earned 28,000 shillings! Over the course of the year, the group has seen a profit increase of over 700%!!!

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(Group members after receiving their May earnings!)

New Shops

In June, the group’s Sales Coordinator, Mama Tabia, built relationships with new shops in Korogwe and we started cooking for them the very next day! We were so impressed with Mama Tabia’s ability to connect with shop keepers, spread information about the work we are doing, and ultimately find new markets for Tabor products. We can attribute the decrease in profits between May and June to the slight dip we saw in orders that were coming in, particularly from the shops in Dar es Salaam. During June and July many shops in the ex-pat areas are closed, including the ones where we sell our products. However, with these new shops in Korogwe, we are certain that profits will stay consistently high!

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(Mama Tabia on her way to Korogwe with piki piki driver Alikoka to deliver products to the new shops she found!)

 

New Group Members!

This year the Tabora group expanded its membership as we welcomed Hali ya Hewa and Timi. Mama Mwaliko gave birth to Hali (left) in April and a month later Mama Kitojo had Timi (right)! Both partners eagerly jumped back into work after several weeks of helping their newborns adjust to their new environments. We like to think that Hali is going to take after her mom and be the next chairwoman of the Tabora group and we know that Timi’s first words will be “Wanawake wanaweza!” (yes, women can!).

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And with that, we are concluding our term as Project Coordinators in Tabora and we want to sincerely thank you all for your support over the past year. There aren’t enough words to adequately express how much it has meant to us to have so many people–friends, family members, co-workers, coaches, and professors—actively following our social media pages, expressing a genuine interest in the progress of the business, and investing themselves in the work that the Tabora women are doing. At times the work was challenging, but overall the year was filled with many successes, playful moments with the kids, and the construction of strong relationships that will last a lifetime. We want to thank you for being with us through it all. We hope you will continue to support the 2Seeds Network and especially the Tabora Project, as the work is not over and the business will continue to grow and reach new heights. Stay tuned for future updates from next year’s team about solar drying, new products and new markets!!

 

And now, without further adieu, we’d like to introduce the new Tabora Project Coordinators! Siobhan McGowan, a recent graduate from George Washington University will be joining Emma Lane, a Providence College grad and together they will continue the work that Eliza, Hailey, Ashley, Jamie, Ros and Rachel have started! We have the most confidence in their abilities to infuse creativity into the project and to continue to make lasting change on this journey towards Maisha Bora. Welcome to Tabora, Siobhan and Emma and best of luck next year!

Amani na Upendo,

Eliza & Hailey

Year-End Investor Report

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To investors and stakeholders in the Tabora Project,

As their term drew to a close in late June and early July, Hailey and Eliza put their heads together and prepared a year-end investor report.

Tabora Project Year-End Investor Report, July 2014

Accountability and transparency are priorities for Project Coordinators and for 2Seeds Network as an organization, as is showcasing success. Take a good look at this document because it’s full of great info and insight.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Hailey and Eliza, or us, with any questions thoughts.

From the 2Seeds Ground Team

Ana, Colleen, & Marc

To Dry or to Sell? How to Move Forward and Finishing Strong

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As mentioned in our previous blog post, we have made great strides as a group of businesswomen. We have expanded the business and increased profits. Not a day passes when they do not ask when and where we have our next orders, as well as where and how we can find more! Our partners have begun assuming more roles and responsibilities in the business. They are beginning to not only show, but shine in natural business roles. Through many discussions and the small group rotations, we can see who is beginning to fill which specific roles. This ties in nicely with our yearlong (January 2014-January 2015) goal of having each partner control a specific role in the business such that all operational roles are fulfilled. We believe this will increase both partner confidence and ownership in the project.

Over the last few weeks, we have been able to begin decreasing our presence in the kitchen. We hope, that by October, our partners will be running the business on their own, so that next year’s project coordinators will be able to focus on food security. These past nine months we have strongly regretted that we were not able to make more progress with solar drying. When the idea was brought up, we could not have been more excited. We have lots of sun in Tabora and fruits and vegetables are readily accessible in nearby markets. What more could we need right? What we quickly realized is that it is not quite that easy. How do you cut the fruit? How do you know when it’s done? Why do bananas always turn a grayish, blacky, brown color? How do you prepare vegetables? Why do you need to “blanch” vegetables before? How do you even do that? What happens if it’s humid outside? What do you do for storage after you finally have dried something?

As the questions continued to role in we began to realize what we were faced with. A mathematical scientific art form that required much more research than we initially expected. After long hours of staring at computer screens, reading through books, and numerous trial runs with our partners, we have cobbled together most of the answeres we had been searching for. Now we can finally say that we have the answers and information we need, it is the vegetable season, and we have the experts to support and fill in any gaps. All said and done, we now have all of the ingredients we need to make some serious progress with individual partner food storage, but what we lack is the time.

With May upon us, we find ourselves with just over two months left in Tabora, 68 days to be exact. Now don’t get us wrong, we could easily select a design for individual home dryers and begin construction, but what state would they be in come July? Would our partners understand how to use them? Also, what state would the business be in? If we split our remaining days so 34 total are dedicated to the business and 34 total to solar drying, how can we tell if either will be strong enough to stand during the intermission months before the new project coordinators arrive? Is 34 days enough to make our partners feel truly confident in their roles? Would they then be able to completely assume those roles in time to achieve our yearlong goals? 34 days may prove a good start for solar drying. Sure, we may be able to get eight individual machines built, but would there be time enough to know how to use the machines we had built? Time enough to facilitate the trainings needed?

We approached this problem from both sides. For nine months, our partners have been testing out solar drying with our support. They understand the general process. They have seen individual dryers and think they are a great idea. They are excited to bring those ideas to life in Tabora. The motivation and enthusiasm is here as our partners have become more invested. We too, have become invested after all of the hours of researching and connecting with experts. After all of our successes and hardships together, we are finally in a position to see this through and get some big results. Nine months of preparing and false starts, and now we finally find ourselves at the starting line and ready to go.

On the other hand, we are gearing up to cross the finish line with the business. We have gone through nine months of tremendous learning and growth with our partners. They are more prepared and confident than ever to assume control over all business operations. We have short, three month, quarterly goals that have slowly been addressing this shift of responsibilities. Every partner has been exposed to every role and they began showing natural strengths and weaknesses, which we will begin to build on more specifically. As a group, we are in a spot where, with one more final push, partners could easily assume those leadership roles.

We can either start one race or finish another, but we are afraid that if we try to split our remaining time, both will suffer. The business would not be at its best point and the solar drying would be cobbled together. Next year’s project coordinators would arrive in Tabora and be pulled in two different directions.

Our strategy for moving forward with this last quarter revolves around this last idea. We want to set up next year’s project coordinators the best we can to ensure their success. We have tried the best we could to put ourselves in their shoes. As new Project Coordinators, we arrive in a new place with an incomplete and uncomfortable grasp on the language. The partners, who we do not really know just yet, are in an “ok” place with this business that we do not yet know how to run. It is clear that they still depend on us to arrange orders, purchase supplies, keep records, and distribute individual profits. How can we possibly do all of that when we don’t know where the Kimaro Shop in Korogwe is let alone how to get products there? At the same time, our partners would be asking when we could start solar drying with these new machines they just got and how they would store that food for later. How in the world would we be able to answer that having never dried anything except laundry?

Of course this may not be the actual case. Maybe next year’s project coordinators will be business experts that specialize in solar drying and nutrition. Based on our experience upon arrival last August, even that expertise and knowledge would not make the process painless, nor is it realistic to say that solar drying business knowledge is easily transferable across cultures and countries. Would this potential success be worth the potential failure?

So, rather than creasing a sticky situation for next year’s project coordinators, we have decided to focus on finishing up strong with the business. In doing so, we will have to reduce our time spent solar drying; however, less does not meant that we will stop completely. These last few months, we will finalize and organize all background research and information needed for solar drying. This includes the compilation of all research into a comprehensive “how to” handbook, with specifics to Tabora. We will also be recording the daily food intake of a control group of four partners to better access the food and nutritional needs of our partners and their families.
Additionally, we will research potential designs for home dryers complete with a detailed construction plan and itemized budget for each selected design so our partners can make an informed choice as to which machine they would be most interested in when the time comes.

Next year’s project coordinators will be able to review all of this information, so all people involved will be as prepared as they can be to move forward. With more direct and comprehensive support over the next couple of months, our partners will more easily assume business roles to remove that responsibility from the future project
coordinators.

This was not an easy decision to come to. As previously mentioned, we have finally reached a place where we can actually take action, but what we realized is that sometimes not taking action is a harder and better thing to do than taking it. We are invested in this process with our partners and in many ways, we are just as excited as they are to see how this all turns out. At the end of the day, we remembered that this is not our project; it is our partners and we are just one step in a much longer process. We know that by moving forward and focusing on the business, we are setting our partners up for greater success down the road.

Solar Drying Business Experts Specialized in Nutrition

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For the past nine months, (time flies!) we have seen incredible changes to our small business in Tabora. Profits have increased over 400% since November. Our partners have assumed more responsibility and are more invested. Our products have improved in both quality and quantity. All those month ago, we started with just one product, chips, and now…we have five! We are selling regularly in Korogwe and Dar es Saalam. Each of our partners has completed the Business Curriculum and we are all currently in the process of writing a business plan together. The business has the potential to both increase and stabilize our partners’ incomes.

Income security, however, is not the only objective on our plate in the Tabora Project. As a group, we have made great strides to increase profits and build up the business, but we have not been able to focus on food security. Back in October, we broke the Tabora project down into three main objectives: income security, food security, and human capital development. Under each objective, we have certain initiatives and activities that we have been chipping away at as the year progressed. For example, food security, we broke down into two initiatives, food storage and nutrition education. Going a little further, we have broken both of those down into small activities, like solar drying and nutrition trainings. We have yet to see any substantial progress in this area with our partners.

In October, when our solar dryer was delivered everyone was excited and could see numerous possibilities! This machine would mean our partners could store more food for the hunger season; however, that time is now upon us and the solar dryer sites mostly unused. The few occasions it has been used have turned out mainly sub-par products. This is the result of both internal weaknesses in our group, and the external threats that are out of our control. An example of the latter is the early rains we experienced to varying degrees in February and March. These early storms have made solar drying all but impossible. This external issue however, is out of our control as we are not Mother Nature, but we have developed a plan to mitigate this threat. A plan, that will allow future project coordinators to know all of the information, i.e. weather patterns, fruit and vegetable seasons, etc., that they will need to make the most of the sun on days when they do have it. What we are currently still faced with at this point is our own internal lack of solar drying knowledge and expertise.

Our partners have limited experience with traditional sun drying methods and we have absolutely no experience how to actually use a solar drying machine. Through hours of researched we came to respect solar dehydration as both a science and an art form; one that we don’t know how to teach or instruct to our partners. When this became clear in December, we began trying to connect with experts who would be able to train all of us in the Tabora Project in how to solar dry.

A second activity that we have been actively pursuing for some time now that we have yet to tackle is nutrition education. Initially, we held off on this, because at the time we did not want it to distract from the work we had stared with the business. That changed when we installed the solar dryers and began talking about food security more often. We realized, that in order to get all of our partners on the same page with food storage and security, we had to start at the “why?”. Why do we want to focus on storing food? Why these specific fruits or vegetables? Nutrition, like solar drying, is not something we are experts in. Maybe we took a class or two in college, or we remember the food pyramid and how to eat a balanced diet from grade school, but that information would not necessarily translate or be relevant here in Tanzania. We do know for a fact that there are trained experts here in Tanzania who have both more general and local nutrition knowledge, but who also hold more local authority.

For some months, we have been focused on contacting these kinds of experts. Through our network, we have met people in Dar es Saalam, Zanzibar, and across Tanzania who all had varying degrees of information. It wasn’t until early this month that we were finally able to connect with Mwananisha Mfinanga, our local nutrition expert based in Korogwe. We know she has worked closely with Ros and Rachel, the first class of Tabora project coordinators, back in 2011, and again last year with Jamie and Ashley, to some extent. We knew she has a wide source of nutrition education and we had been trying to set up a date to meet with her for some time. When we eventually did meet with her, we realized why it had been so difficult…she is the only Bibi Lishe (nutrition expert) in the whole Korogwe district! While preparing for this meeting we thought she might have a connection to someone who knew more about solar drying and by the end of this day we would have a nutrition training set up and we would be on a new path for solar drying.

On April 4th, when we walked into her office it became very clear how passionate she is about nutrition, but also post-harvest storage. As it turns out, she is specialized in solar drying as a method of post harvest food storage and she has even conducted trainings on the process of how to dry fruits and vegetables and its bigger connection to nutrition! When we expressed our interest to her and informed her of the new direction of the Tabora project, we could actually see the excitement light up on her face.

We had a successful meeting and were not only able to plan for an introductory nutrition training after Easter, but also how we could also move forward with solar drying. As we talked at some length about a potential solar drying training, it became clear that Bibi Lishe is truly connected with the Tabora Project and the network as a whole. She believes it is more important for our partners to understand the process of solar drying, why it is important, and how they can dry with local materials. Rather than having materials sent up from the city, Bibi Lishe, believes it is more important for people to know how to build solar dryers out of kinyeji (local materials). This way, our partners can pass this information to their families and friends in the larger community.

Although Tabora is technically outside of her area, she is looking forward to working with us for free. She will not be compensated for facilitating a training, but she is still excited to be a part of our network, because of the possible opportunity to share information and ideas. Looking back at the past several months I can honestly say that it would have been easier if we had been experts in nutrition or solar drying, or even in business! Had we come into this year with that knowledge we most likely would not be facing a hunger season without a cache of stored foods. We probably would have seen greater, more efficient success. However, the way we approach our work within 2Seeds is with humility and partnership. We do not have all of the answers and neither do our partners, but together, we can find the people who do. The people who have not only the local knowledge, but also the local authority, that we as outsiders, can never hope to possess. Mwananisha Mfinanga, Bibi Lishe, is a part of our wider 2Seeds Network. We believe here, that every person who joins our network has something to teach all of the others. In Tabora, we are all looking forward to seeing this in action. We cannot wait to learn more about nutrition and solar drying with our partners. And we will be sure to keep you all updated as the process continues.