Day 1 of Cooking!

After our exciting first couple of days we decided it would be best to get to know the women we are working with. Over the next year these women will be a huge part of our support system and will become like a second family to us. So we spent the last week visiting our partners, having tea and chapatti with them, de-kerneling maize and picking veggies, all while slowly getting to know these women.

  • Mama Mwaliko is the group’s chairwoman. We have come to learn that she is a natural born leader. During the 2Seeds summit, this past year partners from all eight project sites came together to discuss important issues relating to the projects. Mama Mwaliko was not only one of the few women in attendance but she was also the youngest partner there, but neither of those discouraged her. When the topic of what characteristics a leader should have came up at the summit, Mama Mwaliko spoke up with the most incredibly advice that a leader should first know their self so they know what they can and cannot do.
  • Mama Asha is our neighbor and group treasurer. She is the first face we saw in Tabora and she is generally the first person we see every morning. She runs what may be the most popular spot to eat in the whole village where we discovered her amazing potatoes and spicy tea. Mama Asha is a strong and independent woman who, given her experience of running a restaurant and a duka (small shop that sells basic cooking essentials), is a very strong asset to our team.
  • Mama Tabia is a natural businesswoman. In addition to being a part of the group, she operates her own water bomba. This keeps her constantly busy, but she somehow understands the trick to time management in a way that we find inspiring. She is also involved with everything in Tabora! She played a prominent role in organizing both the wedding and funeral and you cannot go to an event or a gathering without seeing her.
  • Mama Hassani is one of the hardest working women we have ever met. She is constantly doing a different job. One morning she’s out in the shamba (farm) and then she’s back cooking food, or out fishing. On our first day, here she realized we had no idea how to carry water buckets on top of our head, as is the standard here. So instead of just laughing at us, she brought us to the bomba, gave us each a bucket half filled with water and taught us how to walk with it. While we were far from pro’s, she is certain by the end of the month we’ll be able to carry a full bucket! We think this is a little optimistic but we will be sure to document the process with pictures.
  • Mama Aggie is very dedicated and excited to expand the project. On one of the first days meeting Mama Aggie, she already had a bunch of ideas for how we can expand and what new products we should try. She is optimistic that the future will hold countless opportunities and cannot wait for the project to grow.
  • Mama Salome is one of our quieter partners, but we have been careful to not mistake her quiet demeanor for indifference as she has offered valuable input and it is clear that she is engaged and excited about the project. She is a fast learner who is exceptionally attentive to details. We enjoyed the most delicious scones with her one morning when getting to know her outside of the group meetings!
  • Mama Kitojo brings a calming and peaceful presence to the group and during times of stress, whether it’s trying to communicate ideas in Swahili or test a new recipe, her smile is always reassuring. After cooking sessions she is always willing to stay a little later to make sure everything has been completed.

Although our heads were spinning with questions and new ideas after our first day of cooking, we can tell that we are working with a strong team of dedicated women who want to create change both in their own lives and in their community.

Before we arrived in Tabora, we had a breakfast meeting with our country director and one of the senior project coordinators. They updated us on the status of the project and gave us our goals and metrics for the first couple of months. We were excited to jump right into cooking and the women were just as excited for our arrival and new ideas. On our first day cooking we quickly realized just how energized everyone was. We have only been in Tabora for five days and already the women were suggesting we sell more chips in new and bigger markets. They also wanted to look into expanding the products. They are adventurous and ready to keep progressing forward. They problem was, we were still playing catch up, still trying to sift through project notes and learn about how to run a successful food processing business. We knew after that first meeting that we had to get things moving on our end, because we were moving too slowly for the women who are eager and ready to expand their business.

On the first cooking day we peeled and cut about 3 kilos of potatoes, which made 94 bags of chips that were to be sold in Tabora. The bags are about 2×2 inches and they sell for 100 shillings (about USD .06) in the village. They are a popular snack throughout the community and they are sold at two dukas, including Mama Asha’s. During this session it became clear that we need to find ways for everyone to have a job at all times so that they feel committed and feel needed each week. The process of cooking potato chips is relatively simple and since our supplies are limited to 3 peelers, 3 slicers, and 1 big frying pan, there isn’t always a need for every single group member at every stage of the process. With everyone having their own kids and other responsibilities to tend to, we started to worry that people might become disengaged. Whether or not they receive a share of the profits is dependent on their attendance and participation, so we have to find ways to make coming to work fun and exciting. We left this session feeling energized by everyone’s optimism and excitement but also overwhelmed by the amount of work that lies ahead. We’re hoping to meet with Ana and Colleen soon to brainstorm ideas and think of ways to expand the business in ways that keep the women engaged while increasing profits.

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