Note to readers: EL PAÍS offers the Future Planet section for its daily and global information contribution on the 2030 Agenda. If you want to support our journalism,
Saing'orie Sangau knows well what it means to be born in a place where there is nothing.
He came to the world in Lendikinya, a Maasai village in the Monduli district, located in the Arusha region of northwestern Tanzania.
Her mother was the youngest of 14 wives of her father, a man who beat her.
His family was poor, one of those that adds to the statistic that states that half of the Tanzanian population, a nation of about 58 million people, lives on less than two dollars a day.
“When I was very little I went with my grandparents.
It was the only way I had to go to elementary school.
They were from a town called Lashaine.
I had to walk 16 kilometers to get to school, but it was worth it, ”says Sangau.
What if the solution comes with a cloth compress?
Samia Suluhu Hassan, the president with FFP2 who succeeded a denialist leader
The elderly, that great forgotten of the coronavirus crisis in Africa
Like Lendikinya, Lashaine was (and is) a town devoted entirely to herding and agriculture. And, like those two places, also 80% of the country, which makes the second of these activities its main and only way to earn a living. Sangau, therefore, grew up in a rural and agricultural environment and saw from a young age that his people need what the land provides to earn a living. It is even more vital in the case of the Maasais, a people who have been characterized by their resistance to traditional education, making it difficult for them to access university and more comfortable and better-paying jobs. Still, Sangau was lucky. It was the exception that proves the rule. He remembers it like this: “I didn't even have a light at home to study. But when I graduated from elementary school,I saw on the board an advertisement for some scholarships offered by the IEFT (Indigeneous Education Foundation of Tanzania, an organization that offers the opportunity to study for children and adolescents in Monduli). I introduced myself, they interviewed me and they selected me. I was lucky; they caught 40 out of 400 ”.
By then, she had already lost her father, her mother had to live on barely a few euro cents a day and she saw her two older sisters burn vital stages that were too similar to those of almost all the women in her village. Marry young first, perhaps to a man with more wives, and then have children and dedicate themselves exclusively to housework and an almost subsistence agricultural economy. “At school, I started to worry more about my future and that of my family. I wanted to help my little sisters not to have such a horrible life, ”says Sangau, who became one of the best students at her school. So much so that he was even chosen in his third to last year of high school for a cultural exchange program in Boston, United States. “I was there for 10 weeks and I was able to learn a lot.When I returned, I decided that my thing was to continue studying ”.
Gathering of Maasai women under an African acacia tree in Lendikinya, a village in the Monduli district of northwestern Tanzania.José Ignacio Martínez Rodríguez
No sooner said than done.
At the end of high school, and after three months of mandatory military service, Sangau was able to enroll at the University of Dar es-Salaam (the economically most powerful city in the country) to study for a three-year degree in Agricultural Sciences.
“Agriculture was the best way to improve the lives of the people in my community.
Also, that career can open many doors for you here.
You have the option of specializing in fertilizers, in organic production… ”, he says.
It was the time when he began to understand and delve into the main problem (and also to think about solutions) that the land he inhabits presents: deforestation.
Tanzanian forests are depleted by more than 480,000 hectares per year, bringing their deforestation rate to 1%, just twice the annual global rate.
The demographic explosion experienced in Tanzania, which has seen its population go from almost 11 million people in 1960 to more than 58 million today, has also caused indiscriminate felling of trees for various uses, among which manufacturing stands out. of charcoal, necessary in the kitchens of so many houses.
In fact, Tanzanian forests are depleted by more than 480,000 hectares a year, bringing their deforestation rate to 1% (just twice the annual global rate, anchored at 0.5%).
In the last 30 years, this African country has lost more than 10 million hectares of forest mass and there are voices that place it at the head of nations with the highest rate of deforestation in the world. Sangau adds: “People also need to cut wood to make houses and patios. And there are animals, like goats, very destructive to vegetation. And another big difficulty that we find is the drought, the lack of water. That complicates everything ”.
With all these precedents, when the Masai Saing'orie Sangau graduated five years ago, he decided to direct his professional life to create a program that would allow him to use the knowledge acquired in the faculty with the possibility of eradicating poverty in his community of Lendikinya .
And so the Women's Agri-Enviro Vision (Waev) was born, a local NGO that uses the planting of trees and the germination of seeds that can generate wealth to empower Masai women, like Sangau's own mother, precisely where everything is very complicated. more.
Being a Maasai woman, a difficult question
As in other parts of the world, women find in Tanzania more problems than men and far fewer solutions. For example, a button: despite the fact that 80% of Tanzanians are engaged in agriculture, the United Nations estimates that only 19% of the land in the country belongs to them. This difference (and also other factors such as the high rate of child marriage, with 31% of young women married before turning 18, or the government law that prevents girls from going to school after the wedding or after becoming a mother) makes that, while the men here obtain slightly more than 3,000 gross dollars (2,500 euros) per capita per year, the women barely reach 2,300 dollars (about 1,900 euros).
Lea, one of the beneficiaries of the Waev project, in one of the meetings that the local NGO holds with the Maasai women of her town José Ignacio Martínez Rodríguez
And if it is already difficult to be born a woman in such an unfavorable place for it, doing it within the Maasai people (made up of some 880,000 people distributed between the north of Tanzania and the south of neighboring Kenya) complicates it more. The Maasai are governed by a traditional system where the man stands as the leader of the community and the family and the woman, with practically no social representation, is limited to taking care of the children and housework. The darkest parts of some traditions are also baited here with them. An example: despite the fact that, according to Unicef, genital mutilation affects 15% of the female population in the country, this percentage is almost always above 50% in the northern territories, those inhabited by this ethnic group.
Nemburis, in her early 30s with a shaved head, is one of those Maasai women who lives in Lendikinya. Today, a sunny afternoon in which the rainy season has taken a break, she has attended a meeting of women from her manyatta, the name given to the settlements of this ethnic group, made up of huts made of branches and some, most of them, with a palisade yard included to fence livestock. Sitting under the shade of an African acacia tree, their purpose, and that of all the others, is to discuss the issues that affect them and their children. And, among these subjects, they want to evaluate how the new businesses that some have opened a short time ago thanks to Waev, that organization that convinced them a few months ago now to plant 20 trees each.
“We saw it, we talked about it among ourselves and we decided to send a letter to see if we could participate. I, in particular, now have three children, 25 plants to tend and a small shop where I sell beans and corn and, when the demand for these products is low, I also have sugar ”, adds Nemburis. This is how he speaks of the project that is being carried out with the support of Waev. Saing'orie Sangau explains it this way: “We are looking for groups of about 30 women to organize themselves and, in a first batch, each corresponds to 25 trees. All native or fruit species. They must watch over them the first few months, during the rainy season. If they manage to keep at least 10, to the next wet season we give them another 25. And so on for months. When someone is trained to keep these trees alive for an extended period of time,It shows that he cares about them and that he can move on to the microcredit program, which allows him to open his own business ”.
Sangau highlights the double aspect of the program. On the one hand, it helps hundreds of trees to flourish in a territory that suffers from notable deforestation. On the other, it gets women like Nemburis to open businesses under favorable conditions. Or like Lea, older and with more children than Nemburis, but just as capable of running her small business. “I sell cooking oil. I buy in bulk and then go house to house selling it. So far not bad; so we don't have to go to the market to get it, ”he says.
Yet the Maasai women of Lendikinya still say they are far from living an easy and comfortable life. Lea speaks: “The worst thing is the water. When it doesn't rain, the stream dries up and we have to walk for hours with a bucket on our heads to bring it home. Many families don't even have a donkey to transport it, ”he says. And there is data that supports their complaints. The NGO Water.org claims that four million people in Tanzania lack access to an improved source of drinking water and that 30 million cannot even enjoy decent sanitation. And Lea, Nemburis and their companions also mention other daily problems such as the poor condition of the roads that connect their town with larger urban centers to where they need to go to provide themselves with food and other basic utensils.
80% of the country's population lives from agriculture, but only 19% of the land belongs to women
Waev has managed to get some 145 women to organize themselves into six groups to access the microcredit program.
Although many are still in the first phase, the planting phase of the first batch, up to 40 of them have already started their small business (one of the most diverse, including one, Sangau says, has opened a small restaurant where she sells
and other sweets) and have been able to use the benefits to buy food in these times of coronavirus crisis, to pay for their children's school uniforms and for a long etcetera.
In addition, the Maasai villages around Monduli also have almost 5,000 more new trees in the last two years.
And both figures, that of the beneficiaries and that of the plants, will increase in future times.
Sangau concludes: “At the beginning, I gave my mother 20 trees and, of those, she successfully conserves 12.
It is just an example.
I hope that with them we will be able to solve, little by little, the problems of our community ”.
FUTURE PLANET can follow on
, and subscribe
to our 'newsletter'