The debate about mask- wearing rages on in the western world with many Americans still insisting that masks don’t work and that they won’t wear them.  Here, in Washington DC, I wear a mask vigilantly anytime I step outside my apartment.  I am eight and a half months pregnant and I can’t afford to take any risks.  My parents are in their 70s and they also cannot afford to take any risks.  We believe in the science and we trust the doctors and medical experts who tout the efficacy of mask-wearing.  We wish more of our fellow Americans would do the same, but we can only control what we do and not what others do.

Similarly, the mask debate has been occurring 10,000 miles away in Tanzania with some vehemently denying the practice and others adhering to it.  For Toa staff, back at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago, we held multiple workshops on how to protect themselves from getting sick and practicing good hygiene that would serve them well even in non-Covid times.  We handed out masks and set up handwashing stations.  We talked about social distancing and the ways in which the virus could (and could not) be spread.  We wanted to allay fears and to put any odd rumors and “cures” floating around to rest.

These days, the staff don’t talk much about Coronavirus because the government of Tanzania has its own agenda and, as the law of the land, the final say.  Toa has done its part in educating our staff and we hope that they will make decisions regarding their health on their own at this point.  I don’t feel it is my place, as an American, to make rules for people who live in anther country with its own rules and laws.  It may even be illegal.

Last year, we were fortunate enough to be gifted with a substantial number of branded masks from a donor, Profound Aesthetic Company.  We kept the bulk of the masks here in the States as they were much more needed (and worn) here than in Tanzania.  However, we did send a small amount over to Tz, and distributed them among some of our key partners and stakeholders as you can see below.

I’m not sure what will happen with the Coronavirus in Tanzania.  It seems that rates of infection (and deaths) are up, but once again, being a “stranger in a strange land,” I have to step back and trust that the powers-that-be within that country will do everything in their power to protect their citizens.  I certainly hope so; after all, 35 of those fine people are my colleagues and many more are my friends and even family at this point.  Tanzania, like America and the rest of the world, is always in my mind when it comes to vindicating the virus.  I look forward to the day when I can travel without worry of Covid and return, with my child, to beautiful Kilimanjaro, a place where I spent a third of my life, working in international development and having the best time ever.

Teacher Janeth Kombe of Building a Caring Community, a longtime Toa partner

Toa Deputy Director, Augustino, flanked by Abdullah and Faustina of The Songambele Initiative, a newer Toa partner

Regional Commissioner of Kilimanjaro, Anna Mghwira, a Toa supporter