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.

Updates from March

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Upendo Dinner (2nd)

While it is great that the business has been growing so quickly and the numbers look and sound amazing on paper, we have been challenged with poor group dynamics since our arrival in August. We have had a continuous concern over the lack of group “upendo” or love within the group. There have been tense moments during some workdays or trainings. One-on-one conversations have led us to the realization that our partners do not fully trust nor depend on each other. We came into this feeling that 2Seeds and all of its partners would be like another family to us. We depend on our partners to help us and support us when we need it, and we do the same for them. What is missing now is that same link between all of our partners.

We had been brainstorming ideas with some of our fellow Project Coordinators for how to increase group dynamics and build that needed trust. Our friends in Bungu had been doing a series of teambuilding and discussion activities for the past three months and had some suggestions for how to create the safe space necessary for partners to open up. And our friend Avery, in Magoma, suggested doing something together outside of work to build a different kind of out-of-the-workplace friendships. We took all of the suggestions into consideration and decided to begin a monthly Upendo dinner with our partners. We would take care of the cooking and preparing, and our partners just had to show up with open minds. We wanted it to be a time where we wouldn’t talk about chips or markets, but we could joke and laugh together.

When March 2nd rolled in, we found ourselves up to our elbows in lentils and rice which had just finished cooking with all of our partners slowly trickling in. The lentils were a recipe Eliza learned in Kenya and the rice was a gift from Mama Asha (She knew we lacked the proper rice making skills). When our partners and some of their children had all showed up, we dished out our dinner and hoped for the best. Giving a group of cooks a traditional Kenyan meal cooked by two Americans who didn’t even know how to make fried rice 8 months ago, was slightly nerve racking. Our fears were completely unfounded as they all loved the food and we had a great time talking and joking. The second half of our dinner was reserved for a teambuilding game in which we said something we liked about the person sitting next to us. It was a great start to introducing activities that foster friendship and unity. Everyone left feeling full and happy!

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Lots of Peanuts, increased orders (3-7th)

After distributing profits, we all realized how larger orders required more work hours, but they resulted in larger profits. It meant more time in the kitchen trying to find the hours to squeeze another cooking session in between cooking lunch for their families, going to the farm in the evening, and running their own individual businesses. The week of March 3rd we saw a slightly unusual cooking schedule. We began the week with a small order of candied peanuts and popcorn to sell in 4 shops in Korogwe. It was nothing too far from the standard and we knew we could easily finish the order in one day without a hassle.

The following day Hailey and one of our partners Mama Mudi delivered all of the products and recorded the sales. A few hours after they returned to Tabora, Hailey received a call from one of our buyers saying that they had sold ALL of the bags we had delivered and they wanted 40 more that same day! We explained to him that we could not cook again that same day, but we could schedule with our partners a time to cook again the following day. As a group our partners decided to cook the next day, Wednesday the 5th. It was a small order and we all knew it would take next to no time. Hailey was able to bring in bags that same day thinking that would be the end of it. She happened to pass by one of our other buyers who asked where she was going. When she excitedly told them that one of our other buyers had sold all of the bags in a few hours and had requested more, they excitedly told her that they needed more as well! So when Hailey returned to Tabora, we met once again with our partners to decide on another day to cook. They third cooking session of the week went smoothly and the products were delivered without a problem.

At the end of the week, our partners were all excited for the increased demand for our products and they knew orders like this could significantly impact our group profits and revenues. It is not an ideal work schedule, but it really showed us how flexible and fast thinking our partners are and how invested they are in this work.

International Women’s Day (8th)

Just one week later, on March 8th, we saw ourselves building off of this upendo dinner on International Women’s Day. We described what this day meant and how everyone all around the world would be celebrating women. So together, we used this day to come together as a group and munch on some snacks while reviewing the business terms and trainings we had been through together. We hosted the review session in which we went through the key concepts with all of our partners to see what they remembered and how they could help each other.

We saw that many of our partners knew the concepts, but they don’t have confidence and conviction in their answers. In smaller conversations, they know the terms and the basic principles, but they believe that we are waiting for a very specific answer. We made a concerted effort to ask individuals questions and guide them toward answers to ensure they fully understand the concept and are not simply regurgitating what we had said earlier.

Our partners are all incredibly smart women who have all grasped difficult business concepts. They may not have studied economics or even have been to secondary school, but they are strong and smart business women. They faced great challenge of people saying they can’t start a business because they are women, because they don’t have the education, because they should be doing other work. But our partners have started a successful business. They have showed great strength and courage to undertake this work in a culture that may not be as receptive as they would like. They have inspired us and can serve as an inspiration to women all over the world.

Hosted Christine from VSO Tanzania (13th)

As you may remember from a previous blog post, we connected with a number of people when Eliza went to the farmers market in Dar es Saalam. One of those groups we connected with was UWAMWIMA, a farmers association based in Zanzibar. Christine, a VSO Tanzania Volunteer working with UWAMWIMA , recently reached out to us to ask about our solar drying machine. On March 13th,she was able to visit Tabora to sit down and talk with us about our project and share stories of their successes and hardships.

After a short meeting at our house we brought Christine over to our kitchen where our partners were waiting with tea and chapatti (a flour based tortilla like breakfast food). All of our partners introduced themselves and were interested to learn about Christine’s work in Zanzibar. She was able to see first hand what our solar dryer looked like and talk with our partners about how we use it and what we might do differently moving forward.

Christine inspired us to do more planning. She was traveling around looking at different solar dryers here in Tanzania. She was gathering up resources and planning thoroughly to find the best design for her partners in Zanzibar. We both really appreciated her method and thought it could be very beneficial for the Tabora project to do more planning for our solar dryer and in future drying investments. This has significantly shaped our strategy for our remaining time in Tanzania. We want to research with experts and plan with our partners so that next year and all future project coordinators will have a strong base and foundational knowledge to build upon. They can then fully take advantage of fruit and vegetable seasons and availability. We believe this will prove invaluable to the storage of specific dried fruits and vegetables for hunger seasons.

PBS NewsHour (18th)

Some of our biggest news this past month as been the publication of a news article about the Tabora project and the 2Seeds Network as a whole on the PBS NewsHour website. When we found out someone had requested to interview us for an article on social entrepreneurship, we were shocked. It came as a complete surprise and would be the first interview for a major news station we had ever done. We wanted the article to reflect the work that 2Seeds as a whole is accomplishing by using specific examples from our project. With the exception of a couple nervous “umms,” everything went off without a hitch and we could not have been more excited to read the finished piece which can be read on the PBS NewsHour website.

Banana Bread Scones (22nd)

We made a decision this quarter to begin introducing our third product line: nutritious products. A majority of this third product line will be dried fruits and vegetables, but as we are still learning how to use our solar dryer we wanted to look at other potential nutritious products. We narrowed it down to four potentials: fruit bread, jams, granola, or nutrition flour. On March 22nd, we did a trial run for fruit bread. As you may have guessed, baking bread without an oven is difficult to say the least. We set up a time to meet with our partners where we would show them how we make banana bread and they would teach us their version of “scones”. It was not a mandatory meeting, nor did it count as a workday, but we hoped that our partners would be interested to learn how to cook something new. A handful of partners showed up, others had prior obligations, and we got to work. We began by preparing the dough for scones and the finagled recipe for banana bread. After constructing an oven like structure using multiple pots and corn husks as coal, we set to work baking the banana bread and the scones. It was not a perfect process, but we did learn a lot from it. We all think that there is a way we can combine our version of banana bread and their version of scones to make Banana Bread Scones. We are going to continue to peruse this in April.

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Dar order/Farmers Market/ Korogwe (24th-26th)

The week of March 24th rolled in and we were exhausted, both mentally and physically. The rains that we had been so excited to welcome with open arms had slowed down significantly and the heat and returned. We were feeling pressured to utilize every sunny day to solar dry something, so we could then sell it; we had been quickly flying through the remaining business curriculum trainings; and we had seen increasing orders from our buyers in Korogwe. All good problems to have, but exhausting to keep up with.

In one week (from the 23rd to the 29th) we cooked three separate times to fill four separate orders. We began the week with two orders standard from Korogwe…45 bags of regular, salted potato chips, and 45 bags of spicy potato chips. We normally divide these orders into two separate work days as it is beyond our capacity to cook 80 bags of chips in one day. We finished cooking 40 bags as smoothly and as quickly as we could have expected given its size. We had planned to cook again on Wednesday to fill the remaining 40 bags when two short phone calls changed everything. We received a second order from John Bosman, in Dar, as well as an order for the farmers market in Dar that weekend. Neither were huge orders, Bosman wanted a total of 30 bags of chips and 20 bags of popcorn, and we had decided to send 11 bags of each product to the farmers market, but it did required an additional work day.

Our partners, thinking on their feet, decided it would be best to cook all of our Dar orders on Wednesday and then cook the remaining for Korogwe on Thursday. By cooking on for Dar on Wednesday we had enough days to easily get them to Dar before the market on Saturday. Tuesday night we prepared the best we could for a midmorning cooking session, expecting this to be a monstrous couple of days of nonstop cooking. We woke early Wednesday morning to the sounds of rain slapping against our roof. We thought for sure mother nature had won this round, there was no way we could cook in the rain, the kitchen would be flooding with water. Around 10am the rain subsided and a kid who lives down near the kitchen knocked on our door and said our group members wanted the keys to the kitchen so they could start working! We had planned on meeting at 11, but they knew the earlier we started the faster we would finish and they were determined to work despite the rain. The day was just as long and wearisome as we expected. Cooking each of our products in one day is not something we do often, but it all turned out well and we did actually finish earlier than expected and in good spirits! We had also bought more potatoes to cook the next day and prepared all of the bags.

Thursday rolled in cloudy and humid and despite how tired we all felt, all of our partners in Tabora showed up at 2pm on the dot prepared to work. They divided tasks so we would finish cooking early and there was never a moment during the session when someone wasn’t working. The efficiency was there and as we finished the fourth and final order, we realized that our slogan “Wanawake Wanaweza!” (women can do it!) had never been more true.  Our partners worked very hard through those four days, and the week wasn’t even over yet!

Project Site Meeting (28th-29th)

After the long hours spent in the kitchen from March 24th to the 27th it would be completely understandable if our partners took the next few days to rest, but that could not have been more opposite than what actually happened. From March 28th-29th, we hosted the project coordinators from three other project sites, Lacey and Rachel from Kijungumoto, Avery and Kendra from Magoma, and Ross and Luca from Lutindi. Twice a year each project site hosts three other sites to provide a deeper understanding to what our projects are like. It gives every one a chance to see first hand what our lives in the project sites are like and to share ideas.

Our partners decided to cook lunch for our guests on Friday the 28th so we could all sit together and they could meet some of the other project coordinators. We planned a team building activity in which all of our guests and partners were divided into three groups and given a set of supplies. Armed with four short pieces of bamboo, a scrap of fabric, a pen, a piece of paper, a rubber band, and a single strip of tape, all of the teams had to create a structure that would protect a water balloon dropped from an extreme height. Given 10 minutes to work together, each team constructed incredible structures and prepared for launch. It was only then that we realized we had nowhere exceptionally high to drop them from, short of climbing on the roof. Instead, we found a spot on our partner’s front porch that led down hill and with the support of a low stool, we had a height large enough to launch. Each team lasted through the first round, but the second round was the danger zone. In the second round, we had our partners throw the structures up higher in the air to see what that might do, and as it turned out, that did a lot. Two out of the three rounds lost their balloons and team Simba (lion) was crowned victorious.

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The weekend was not all games, however it was all fun. As a group of project coordinators no meeting would be complete without two things, 1) a discussion about the past and future of our projects and 2) a rousing get-to-know-you-with-only-slightly-awkward-questions-game to build our relationships as a group and to see who could come up with the craziest questions. Our discussion focused around how looking back at our first 100 days, what would we do differently or what would we advise future Project Coordinators to think about. And how would that have affected the current status of our projects. As a group we came to a very solid consensus: in those first 100 days we would tell future project coordinators to trust their gut. Those first few months are when our minds have not yet become accustomed to normalities and realities of life in our project sites. It is when we can provide different opinions because we are outsiders, but we must recognize for that very same reason we must be thoughtful about how we implement ideas. By engaging and working with our partners we can learn if some of these outside ideas are good or possible.

Mango Fruit Leather

Throughout the month of March we focused our solar drying efforts on learning the process of drying bananas. Initially, we had planned on focusing only on drying bananas. Eliza had read that the process was a little more complicated because bananas have a tendency to start “browning” as soon as their skin is broken. As it turns out, with the right equipment and conditions, it will not be too difficult, which allowed us to investigate another idea: Fruit leather. By shredding mangoes with a cheese grater to make a mango puree, we could then spread it thinly on one of the trays in our solar dryer. When the water was drawn out all that was left was a leathery fruit peel. The first two attempts were thwarted by untimely rains that caused the mango puree to rot before all of the water had been removed. On our third attempt however, we had three days of uninterrupted, blistering hot sun. The result was exactly as we expected! Our partners loved the snack and think it would be a huge hit in both Dar and Korogwe, but only if we added a little more sugar.

Should we find a way to produce fruit leather on a larger scale, we believe it would have a huge market as it is not a widely known product in Tanzania, but mangoes are. It would be a unique way to explore our third, nutritious, product line.

Even Higher Profits!

The latest news coming out of Tabora is regarding the profits for the month of March. We came into the month on a high from the huge profits of February. Our partners were excited to keep the momentum, but we were slightly worried about how we could possibly increase profits given the amount of work we had been doing in February. Throughout the course of the month those fears got pushed aside as daily activities took precedent in our minds. By the end of March we realized we had completed eight workdays with our partners and three business trainings.

On April 2nd, three of our partners came by our house to begin the process of calculating the group revenue, total profits, percentage of that profit to put into savings, and then the individual partners’ profit. As they calculated the production costs for each product for each cooking session we realized that our costs had gone up over 80,000tsh in comparison to February. This was not unexpected as we had more cooking sessions in March than the month before, but still higher input costs can, in some situations, lead to lower revenues and lower profits. As they moved on to calculate the revenue from each sale of each product we realized that our revenue had gone up as well! Over 150,000tsh! Our partners then calculated that the total group profit for the month of March was over 130,000 tsh higher than what we had seen in February! Each workday was just over 3,000tsh again, but since there was eight work days rather than six, our partners who attended all workdays saw another all time high as profits reached over 24,000tsh.

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We have found some strong markets with our partners and we can see how that is reflected in this huge increase in profits. We are expecting as we reach production capacity, these increases will level off and as a group our partners will need to think about project and market expansion. Our group of eight women will grow and as they grow they will search for both new markets and products.

Updates from February

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Posted by Eliza

February

Early Rains! (5th)

February brought in a new wave of weather that no one was expecting…rain! From what we had been told by past project coordinators and all of our neighbors and partners, it was not going to rain until the end of March. The first few days of February showed us that this month was set to be much the same as January and December, hot and dry. But come February 5th, the skies opened up, as did our arms and our buckets. We spent hours on our porch dancing with the kids who live near our house and catching the rain falling off our roof in large buckets. We only took shelter inside when we started shivering from the cold water.

With these early rains, all of our community members suddenly disappeared to their farms to prepare the land and while the rain may have been unexpected, we were amazed to see how fast people responded to take full advantage of the good fortune. Now we have seen a drastic change in the landscape around Tabora. Farms have come to life with tall stalks of Maize appearing overnight!

Filling the first Bosman Order (6th + 12th)

As we mentioned in a previous blog post, we were fortunate enough to connect with John Bosman, a man who runs a large Butcher shop in Dar es Saalam. After Eliza returned to Tabora, we set to work to fill the largest order we had ever received: 30 bags of regular chips, 30 bags of spicy chips, 40 bags of peanuts, and 20 bags of popcorn, all at significantly higher prices than we could possibly sell at in Korogwe. With this one sale we received a total revenue of 266,000 tsh.

From February 3rd to the 13th, our partners faced a monstrous work schedule and the urgent pressure that comes when trying to coordination a sale of this size in Dar es Saalam (some 5 hours away). Our partners showed up each day excited and ready to go as they saw how this order could significantly impact their individual profits and our business as a whole.

Since this sale in Dar, our partners have jumped at every potential opportunity to expand our market reach and continue to look for new places and people to sell to. We have realized that we are quickly reaching production capacity, but somehow our partners continue to find time to squeeze in another cooking session here, or business training there.

Training with Wageni (17th)

With these new sales in Dar and larger orders coming from our buyers in Korogwe we began to really see partners grasping the concepts we had been learning in the business curriculum trainings. In the weeks leading up to February 17th and the days after filling this big order, our partners began asking us about our plan for our group savings fund. They understood that with these larger orders and increased revenues, we had been slowly increasing our group savings fund.

On February 17th we finished our 6th training in the Business Curriculum, which focused on personal and group savings. Through this training, our partners learned not only about the importance of having a savings “piggy bank” but also the distinction between a group savings and personal savings. We began talking about having each partner begin their own personal savings account which we will then come up with individualized plans for how that money will be used and replenished. We are proud to say that now five out of our eight partners have begun individual savings accounts and we are in the process of creating personalized plans.

During this training we had the good fortune to host several wageni (guests) James Meeks, 2Seeds Founder, Amy Baker, 2Seeds Executive Director, as well as Bridget Meigs, Farm Manager at Stonehill College (Hailey’s alma mater) and a potential project mentor. Our guests had arrived in Tabora to visit each of the project sites and see the progress of our work on the ground. The experience was amazing for our partners to see how people across the world are so fully invested in our project and work together.

Bungu Network Site Meeting (22nd)

On February 22nd we traveled to one of the mountain project sites, Bungu, for the 2Seeds Network Site visit, an annual meeting that brings together partners of every 2Seeds project. The Bungu Project Coordinators, Cam and Mitch, hosted over 50 people and showed all of the Project Coordinators and project partners what they had been working on in Bungu. In the Tabora project, we do not focus on planting crops, but that did not stop Mama Salome from asking how to create an organic pesticide. She knew that it was still something she could use on her own personal farm. Nor did it stop Mama Hassani from asking how to grow broccoli. The Network Site Meeting in Bungu created a space for the partners in Bungu to show off their hard work over the last 5 months and it gave all of our partners the chance to collaborate and share ideas.

Solar Drying Mangoes + Pineapples

Our goal for the month of February was to understand the process of drying mangoes and pineapples. We wanted to focus specifically on these fruits because it was their season. We knew that after February we would be hard pressed to find any pineapples in the market and mangoes of good size and quality would be scarce. After a couple of test runs we saw, in comparison with dried fruit we had seen in Dar es Saalam, we knew how to dry mangoes. Our products looked and tasted great and could sell in some markets for as much as 5,000tsh for a small bag!

Pineapples however proved to be more difficult. With such high water content, it became clear that they required more time in our solar dryer. The only problem standing in our way was the early rains! We had not been prepared to receive rains so early in February, but moving forward we realized that we could continue to go through the process steps to learn how to cut the fruits but recognizing the results would not be great. This had been frustrating for all of us however, because with no clear results we cannot know if our process is correct. Since February, we have been able to take advantage of hot, dry days as they come, but we have been feeling more frustrations and pressure from our partners to be experts and have the answers to solar drying.

Individual Profits hit a high!

Some of our biggest news to come out of February was that our individual profits hit an all time high of 18,300 tsh per group member. Check out our partners’ reactions here!

This increase marks a 400% profit increase since we started our profit calculation process in November. In just four months, our partners saw how much their hard work and our dedication to finding new markets could change the business. The five partners who received 18,300tsh all showed up to work all six workdays of the month. Each workday had a value of over 3,000tsh. Our partner who was away from Tabora for a few days had missed two workdays and received 10,600tsh. Still a remarkable improvement from what we had seen in months prior.

We know all this talk of “tsh” is a little confusing, but there is no clear way to describe what our partners can do with 18,300tsh. We can convert it into US dollars, but even then, money works in different ways here. To give you some perspective, when we sat down with our Country Director and Senior Project Coordinator we all decided that if each partner was receiving a consistent monthly revenue of 5,000 tsh in one year’s time (by January 2015) that would be an impressive start. Our partners and community could do a lot for themselves and their families with 5,000tsh, even though it translates to just over $3. So we created short term one year goals that reflected this conversation. Through incremental steps we planned to slowly increase individual profits so that by the end of next January they would be receiving 5,000tsh. We now found ourselves having completely surpassed that goal with 11 months left to go. We are excited to see what the next months bring, but we are also a little nervous when we think about how we need to sustain the progress and make it a consistent reality.