The Anglican dioceses of St Asaph in North Wales and South West Tanganyika are linked. Consequently the parishes of Bala in St Asaph and Milo in SWT have also become linked. The purpose of our first visit to Milo in April was fact finding and establishing contact, building relationship and communication, and exploring how the link might be developed to the mutual benefit of the two communities.
This second visit was opportunistic, like the first, because of being in the country for the LSTM Life Saving Skills courses, and has unexpectedly widened our connection and influence. Bala is part of a Deanery with 5 parishes and so is Milo, we discovered. Our deanery in North Wales wants to be part of the link with Milo and as our visit coincided with a conference in the village attended by the priests and members of all 5 parishes we were able to extend the idea of the link to the DSWT deanery also. The idea of 5 white digits interlinked with 5 black digits in a gesture of friendship and cooperation is a beautiful concept but it needs to have a practical, relevant expression for both partners to be of any real value. That is the current challenge – to convey the vision to all of the partners.
The needs of the 5 parishes, as expressed by the priests and parishioners are much the same, and their perceived priorities remarkably similar. We discussed these needs in Swahili and English, glad to have several capable translators.
Their economy depends on cultivation and livestock, very similar to the farming communities in North Wales. Chickens, pigs and cows are desirable but the latter are rather costly. Hand tools are mostly used in the fields, and donkey power as the tracks between fields and villages are mostly unsuitable for vehicles and machines although Milo does have a communal tractor, trailer and plough. The region is too hilly for the ox carts which are commonly seen in the lower, flatter areas of this country but ox drawn ploughs are feasible.
There are many orphans, usually HIV related, generally cared for by extended family but with no prospects for inheriting the family home and fields as those are absorbed by the extended family in payment for bringing up the orphaned children. Training programmes and equipment for practical skills such as carpentry, tailoring, knitting, weaving and shoe-making improve their prospects for independent living.
Water supply is unreliable outside the usual rainy season (which has also become less predictable) particularly for villages on the higher hills and ridges, since there are no streams or reservoirs high enough to provide a supply. Some villages have wells and others with streams providing drinking water cannot abstract water for irrigation because it is needed for a new hydro-electric scheme lower down the valley.
Sunflower and pumpkin oils are used for cooking but extraction requires an oil press, usually diesel-powered although electricity is now coming to the district.
Many of the church buildings need repairs especially to the roof and that is beyond the means of poor rural communities although they have been saving towards some of these bigger projects. It is interesting to watch the offerings during a church service, as much maize, eggs, potatoes, etc. is given in lieu of money. Bricks for new or extended buildings are very cheap as they can be made by hand from mud and water in wooden moulds and fired outdoors. The mortar is made from the same raw material. Door and window frames cost a bit more, as do timbers for roofing before the tiles go on. Tin sheets are more practical for roofing (if less attractive) and cover quickly and more cheaply, as well as being more durable.
Some of the requests for help are less obvious to our way of thinking. The lack of a church bell is very important to them although they did accept the challenge that most people now have a mobile phone and know the time, so should be able to attend church without a bell to remind them. Maybe they should consider a loudspeaker instead, and so be on a par with the local mosque, and the crowing cocks. Musical instruments including keyboard, electric guitars and amplifier/speakers are also very much desired despite the fact that we love to hear and see the unaccompanied voices, rhythms, dances, drums and clapping of the choirs here. Their perception is that young people (anyone under age 40) love these instruments and will continue to attend the choir and church because of the music and dancing. Maybe that is an important consideration.
It is a challenge to understand the needs in the local context, to find ways of meeting the needs which involve local initiative and sustainable sources of materials and funds, and to inspire two very different communities to find ways of working together which will enrich and develop the lives of both.
The next phase is to convey something of this back home, in Welsh and English, and to translate the information we have gained into concrete plans and actions. That’s the challenge…