On the slopes of Tanzania’s remote Pare Mountains, climate change is no longer a subtle threat. It can be seen in the arid croplands, the polluted rivers and the worried faces of four local men who have grown tired of watching the land wilt before their eyes.
Seraphine, Kateri, Orest and Gerry are the founders of the Kilimanjaro Hope Organization (KIHO), named for the melting snow of Africa’s highest peak. In a region devastated by years of drought, KIHO was established to help rural villagers cope with their changing environment. The organization employs time-tested techniques to revive and protect their environment. In just under a year, KIHO has established tree nurseries, sustainable irrigation practices and rain water catchment systems throughout Northern Tanzania to alleviate the region’s need for water. As a result, KIHO’s presence in a village can be the difference between crop failure and a vibrant agricultural economy.
The Pare village of Gonja presented a more complex problem. A tribal people ravaged by drought and nestled high in remote mountain villages, many of the Pare entered the illegal gold mining market when their crops began to fail. The mining process polluted the village’s only water source, a single mountain stream. Metallic sediment and mining effluent have rendered it completely useless for agricultural and domestic use, let alone human consumption. Still, children as young as eight-years-old have dropped out of school to work in the mines.
KIHO co-founder, Seraphine Mngullu, grew up in Gonja. His first concern was getting clean water to the village and soon a simple system of pipes and wells connected Gonja to a nearby spring. His next challenge: providing sustainable and alternative income sources that could wean the villagers off the lucrative but dangerous gold mining industry. Seraphine established beekeeping workshops, solar fruit drying classes and a local tree nursery. After training the villagers to make the project profitable, he leaves it in the hands of the villagers, creating self reliance in a land where aid culture runs rampant.
In the summer of 2011, Madeline Cottingham and I joined KIHO in Tanzania. Our volunteerism, though genuine and energetic, was largely useless. From the jet fuel burned to the space occupied in our hosts’ homes, we were, like most western philanthropic efforts, likely more burden than aid. My ineptitude was in no small part caused by my American/urban lifestyle, wherein few things of importance manage to rise above the trivial. I knew little of ecological time and nothing of water conservation techniques or the migration patterns of bees. No matter how many rocks I carried or banana farms I weeded (not much by the way), I could never escape my inherit ignorance for solving the environmental crisis in Tanzania. Instead I listened. And if I do anything to combat the environmental crisis, my actions will always have their roots in the Pare Mountains of Tanzania where I witnessed four men wage an effective and responsible campaign against despair, greed and self destruction.
Explore the interactive website: Field Notes From a Warming Land