On September 16th, 2020, acclaimed journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times: “We think of Covid-19 as killing primarily the elderly around the world, but in poor countries it is more cataclysmic than that…. Many of those whom Covid-19 kills never actually get the disease. Instead, they are children who die of measles because they couldn’t get vaccinated in a time of plague…. Or they die of malnutrition because their fathers lost jobs as rickshaw drivers or their mothers couldn’t sell vegetables in the market…. This indirect impact has economic and social consequences for vastly more people—with jobs lost, families hungry, domestic violence up, more children leaving school, and costs over generations.”
We at The Toa Nafasi Project have seen this to be true in the 14 months that the pandemic has ravaged the globe. While Tanzania – and the African continent generally speaking – has fared well in terms of sickness and death in comparison to the rest of the world, their economies have suffered and thus, their livelihoods, taking with them general health, nutrition, education, and basic quality of life.
Kids who pass through The Project are often hungry and, as a result, perform poorly in school. Sometimes it is due to an underlying condition like HIV which demands a lot of a child nutritionally, sometimes is is simply because there is not enough to eat at home. Now, in Covid times, these conditions are even worse than before with heads of households out of work and scraping to make do. Especially in tourism-reliant Kilimanjaro, folks are struggling with the rest of the world on lockdown and few visitors spending money on safaris, mountain treks, or beach vacations.
When the fundraising crew at Toa made its annual ask of friends and donors back in December 2020, we had planned to start a food support initiative to address these concerns and our original thought was that to be sustainable we would have to figure out a way to grow our own food. So far, that has turned out to be untenable as keeping a shamba or plot at each school site is a bigger venture than we had previously considered, requiring such provisions as hiring a guard to keep watch overnight to make sure it doesn’t get raided. Not having raised enough yet to undertake such a project, we settled on providing a small meal to the students before each lesson. Though it’s not a self-sustaining process, it does provide some livelihood for the mamas who make the uji (porridge), also greatly in need of a bit of income these days.
We hope to be able to revisit the shamba project at some point in the near future but until then, it’s a relief to be able to help feed the hungry kids with whom we work and to know that after filling their bellies, we are then able to fill their minds.