The following blog post from Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) features UI graduate Stephanie Enloe, the director of sustainable projects for Travel for Change International, a small group of committed volunteers who are building an eco-lodge near Njombe, Tanzania.
This project was also discussed during the February 2011 WorldCanvass program on East Africa.
By Julie Wasson
ENLOE: The term for what we’re doing at Travel for Change is “fair-trade cultural tourism.” In East Africa, quite often, tourist initiatives are foreign-owned — the hotels, resorts, safari companies, and climbing companies. This is the case in a lot of developing countries. Travel venues and services are foreign-owned and really expensive. People go over there thinking that they’re getting an “African experience.” They pay huge amounts of money, which goes to foreign bank accounts and is not even remotely beneficial to the people in the area.
The first goal of our organization is to create a community-owned travel initiative, where, once the business model is intact and sustaining itself, it passes into community hands.
Volunteers Lindsay Keller and MaryGrace Weber learn to carry water like the Njombe women do. Photo: Stephanie Enloe
The second goal of our initiative is to provide a cultural travel experience. When people go on a safari or see a lion, they think they’ve “been to Africa.” But maybe they’ve only talked to one Tanzanian the whole time, which is not really a cultural experience. Just seeing the animals and not meeting the people is like taking a trip to a glorified zoo. It doesn’t give a true experience.
We want to facilitate travelers interacting with Tanzanians. They can make some Tanzanian friends, maybe take a Swahili class, take a cooking class, tour small- and large-scale farms, or visit a traditional healer.
BPGL: Describe the land on which your facility will be built.
ENLOE: We’ll have two connected plots of land near Njombe, Tanzania. The first two acres we bought contain a lot of lumber. The second five acres that we’ll be buying were farmed in the past; they’re more grassy. Our reasoning for buying the second five acres is that we don’t want to have to cut down all our lumber in order to build the facility.
BPGL: How were you able to purchase land in Tanzania?
ENLOE: We’re working with a Tanzanian woman, Blandina Kaduma Giblin, whom we call Kaduma. She is a Swahili teacher here in Iowa City, married to a professor of Tanzanian history at the University of Iowa. They travel to Tanzania frequently.
The reason we chose to locate our facility in Njombe is because that’s where Kaduma is originally from. She purchased our first two acres from a family there who inherited a lot of land, but can’t farm it all. They are trying to sell it so they can have some income.
Volunteers learn to cook Njombe style in the open air. Photo: Stephanie Enloe
Because we’re not Tanzanian nationals, we can’t actually own land, though we can lease it for a long time — possibly 99 years. We’re in the process of writing up a contract for Travel for Change to lease the land from Kaduma. Then, through her, we’ll purchase the next five acres from another family.
BPGL: What will the project look like in terms of the physical facilities?
ENLOE: We’ll have five bandas, or guesthouses, and a larger lodge, which will be a bit more hostel-style. The lodge will house several people to a room. We may place bunk beds in a couple of the rooms. The main lodge will be designed to house study-abroad students, backpackers, and budget travelers, while the bandas will be more private.
We will have an outdoor kitchen with a roof and open sides. It will be a good community meeting place for cooking meals and giving cooking lessons. We’ll also have a fire pit and, if Kaduma gets her way, we’ll have a bar, too. We’re planning to hire a cook, once we get to the point where we’re employing people.
BPGL: Describe the bandas. What are those like?
ENLOE: The word banda means bungalow. It’s a traditional round house made of brick with a thatched roof. Once we’re up and running, and at the full capacity that we eventually want to meet, the guesthouses will be private, for singles or couples. Each banda has a choo, or bathroom, right outside.
One of Ken Msemwa's employees thatches the first choo, or bathroom. (The photo is tilted to the right.) Photo: Stephanie Enloe
BPGL: Is the choo an outhouse, or does it have running water?
ENLOE: There’s no running water yet; that’s something I’ll be working on when I get there. There’s a nonprofit in Tanzania that helps communities get connected to fresh water. If we build the basic infrastructure on our site, they will let us connect to their pipeline so we have running water. We’ll just have to pay a small fee every month. That should happen a couple of months after I arrive.
We’ll then become a source of clean, running water for the community, which will not only be good for the community, but also for travelers. We’ll become a gathering place.
BPGL: You were the president of the Environmental Coalition at the University of Iowa, and you’ve been heavily involved with several sustainability projects on campus and off. In fact, we interviewed you early in our first year of publishing. With that kind of background, I’d expect you to be involved in making your new venture as green and sustainable as possible. Is that the case?
ENLOE: Yes, we’re trying to be as sustainable as possible. I’m the director of sustainable projects, and I’m in charge of doing all the research for how to make the project ecologically sound. Pretty soon, my title will change to onsite director, because I’ll be doing all the things that need to be done over there.
We’re buying most of our resources to build the bandas and the lodge from right within the town. For example, the bricks are made in Njombe. We’re harvesting lumber in the most sustainable way that we can on land that we own. We’re using lots of bamboo, which is fast growing and can be replanted almost immediately.
We’re also trying to do some sustainable technology projects, such as building a rocket stove/mass heater in the first banda. A rocket stove has a vertical cylinder and a smaller, horizontal cylinder that feeds into it. Because of the way the air draws, a rocket stove is a lot more efficient than most stoves, so it uses less fuel.
Even burning small twigs, it creates really intense heat that’s well contained. There have been a lot of tests done with rocket stoves, especially in third-world countries, because deforestation and smoke are such problems.
Stephanie Enloe tries out a small rocket stove, one of the sustainable technologies to be implemented at Lukelo Lodge. Photo: Courtesy Stephanie Enloe
You can also use the basic principle of the rocket stove to create a heater. You build a rocket stove and place a lot of thermal mass around it, like bricks and clay. The thermal mass contains the heat and releases it slowly as radiant heat, rather than conduction heat — which is really inefficient.
BPGL: What else do you expect to accomplish in Tanzania in the next year?
ENLOE: By the time I leave, we should have a lot more infrastructure done, and maybe a couple more bandas built. Our first one is already finished.
BPGL: Do you have guests staying in the first banda already?
ENLOE: Volunteers are living there now. They’re wiring us for electricity. We just got connected to the grid, which is very exciting. That means I’ll have electricity when I get there.
I’ll be living in the guesthouse for the next year. And I get to decorate it, which I’m very excited about. I’ll purchase some art from around the area, as well as some kangas or kitenges, which are pieces of fabric. Kangas have proverbs on them. Kitenges are just gorgeous cotton cloths that are dyed with incredibly vibrant colors. They often have intricate designs. We’ll use those for curtains.
BPLG: Did you hire a local contractor or are the volunteers doing the work?
ENLOE: Our contractor (or fundi in Swahili) is from Njombe District. Ken is a local man who tries to help people out by providing work the best he can. He pays fair wages, which happens sometimes over there, but not always. We’re making sure to work with someone we trust, who does a good job, and who cares about his community.
Ken is a great guy. We’ve been working with him pretty closely, and he’s going to be doing all our building projects. He does his best to employ workers who have been having a hard time financially. There are not a lot of jobs in Njombe, even for people who have gone to school.
BPGL: How did you find your contractor?
Blandina Kaduma Giblin with onsite project director Allan Kaduma. Photo: Stephanie Enloe
ENLOE: Allan Kuduma, who is Blandina’s brother, is a very influential member of the community in Njombe. He found Ken for us and will be our contact over there. Allan will be really helpful in telling us who to talk to in the community, who to stay away from, and whether we’re committing any horrible cultural faux pas.
We’re trying to work closely with Ken and Allan to make sure that we’re doing the job we want to do. We don’t want to be seen as odd Americans who think that they’re doing good but are really making mistakes.
BPGL: How will you communicate when you’re in Njombe? Do you speak Swahili?
ENLOE: A little bit.
BPGL: Do they speak English?
ENLOE: A little bit.
BPGL: So, you will be able to communicate a little bit. Do you know much about the culture in Njombe?
ENLOE: Yes. Alan speaks English almost fluently, which is very helpful. And there’s a woman we’re hoping to hire as my interpreter/cultural guide. She speaks English pretty well. I’ll help her with her English and she’ll help me with my Swahili. That way it’s a mutual learning, and it provides employment for her. She’s supporting a couple of children and has a job that is pretty exploitive of her time and energy. So we’re hoping to be able to employ her in a way that’s mutually beneficial.
Because I’ve been to Tanzania before and to Uganda several times, I have at least some idea of how to operate in this culture. But, obviously, it takes a long time to become fluent in another culture.
Volunteer Nate, who is a registered nurse, administers vaccines at the children's clinic in Njombe. This will be one of the volunteer opportunities available to travelers with medical experience.
BPGL: What did you do in Uganda?
ENLOE: My high school, Ames High School in Ames, Iowa, plans a Uganda trip every summer for about a month. The first year, we built classrooms for a girls’ secondary school. The second year, we built dorms for the school. The third year, we built the science lab and library for the school.
We raised all the funds for the buildings. We were on the work site every day, helping make the cement and carrying the bricks, and that kind of thing. It doesn’t make that much sense, in some ways, because the workers could probably have used the additional days of work. But, at the same time, it was a really great way to learn from the workers and the girls who were going to school there. It was life-changing.
Ames High has graduated more activists and Africa enthusiasts than any other high school in the nation, I can almost guarantee you. This program has been going on for 7 years, taking between 15 and 30 kids every summer. After going to Uganda, almost every one of them is committed to spending a good portion of their life doing work over there.
I’m an example of one of those kids, and I could name dozens of others who are going to spend their lives doing work over there. $3,000 for a high school kid to spend a month in Uganda seems kind of silly in some ways, because that money could do a lot of good over there. But, at the same time, investing in a kid’s world view being completely altered has, over the long term, a lot more effect.
BPGL: You mentioned at the start of the interview that your goal is to hand over operation of the facility to the community once its sustainable. What will that look like?
ENLOE: Once we are sure we have a sustainable model, the people in the community will get to decide how to direct the funds. They will determine what the salaries are for the people who are working at the lodge, what micro-lending projects they will approve, what community development projects they want to do — whatever the community needs. Hopefully Travel for Change will get them some resources to be able to do these projects.
We don’t want to step on any toes or be redundant in any way. For example, if there’s already a micro-lending institution there that’s doing a great job, that saves us the work of setting up our own micro-lending organization.
BPGL: Is Travel for Change a nonprofit organization?
ENLOE: Right now, we are registered as a nonprofit in Iowa. We’re working on the final legal touches to our 501(c)3. Once I get over to Tanzania, I’ll be negotiating the legalities of getting us registered as a nonprofit there. One of our board members is in contact with a person who has started some nonprofits in Tanzania. He’s going to be giving us some direction.
Students from PIBV (Penn International Business Volunteers) work with TFCI to develop business and marketing plans to sell hand-woven baskets as a fundraiser.
Obviously, we also need to finish getting our nonprofit status cemented in both the U.S. and Tanzania. We want to build a board in Tanzania and network with all the other nonprofits and NGOs in Njombe. That way, if volunteers come over, we’ll know who they can volunteer with, exactly what our niche can be, and how we can collaborate with nonprofits in the area.
BPGL: If people want to support Travel for Change, can they make tax-deductible contributions? Or is that not the case yet?
ENLOE: We’re not tax-deductible quite yet. Hopefully, we will be very soon. We have a PayPal account set up on our website for people who want to make a goodwill investment. The term “investment” implies a more sustainable use of the money. And that’s what we’re trying to do, create sustainable incomes for people, rather than be a charity.
We have a catalog on our website, where people can donate a specific amount of money to buy ten bricks, or donate another amount to buy a share of a banda, and so on.
We sell seed bracelets made by Maasai women. You can see those on our website. We also have baskets and kangas and kitenges to sell. We don’t sell those through the Internet, because the diversity of what we offer is too much to put on there. But we occasionally have fundraisers where we sell those.
In fact, we’re in the process of trying to set up a fundraiser now. If your readers are interested, they can find out more on our Travel for Change Facebook site or the Travel for Change website. All of the handcrafts we have for sale make great gifts!