The Rafiki Village Project’s founder, David Newman, first visited Dumbeta Ward in 2016. Brought there by a love of foreign travel and a curiosity about cultures different from his own, he was immediately drawn to the warmth and hospitality of the people he met. He stayed with a Barabaig family and learned about their lives. While out walking, he met a local school teacher who invited him to visit the Gijega Primary School. Excited children swarmed around him but the condition of the school was heartbreaking. It had no running water or electricity. The dark and overcrowded classrooms were bleak and lacked basic supplies like books, art supplies, pens and paper. The student and teacher toilets were unsanitary and in disrepair. Despite the obvious dedication of the teachers and the students’ eagerness to learn, the challenges faced by the school seemed overwhelming.
As he walked through the beautiful African landscape and saw young children herding goats instead of attending school, David thought about the contrast between the lives of the people he was meeting and his own. Struck by the disparity of wealth between Portland, Oregon and rural Tanzania, he pondered questions of economic justice and thought about solutions to problems that seemed insurmountable. Realizing that renovating the Gijega School classrooms would cost less than the price of a new car, he resolved to do what he could to help the school. Back in the United States David connected with Don Stoll and Marianne Kent-Stoll, the founders of Karimu, a small non-profit working with the community of Dareda Kati, thirty miles from Dumbeta. Using a collaborative grassroots model of development that engages the local community at every level of every project, Karimu has had an extraordinary and transformative impact on Dareda Kati.
Don and Marianne’s advice was to ask the community what they wanted and what they would contribute before offering to remodel Gijega’s classrooms. When the community gathered to discuss their priorities in what would be the first of many meetings, to David’s surprise, they requested help to bring potable water to the school and neighboring village. When children are not in school because of waterborne illnesses, renovated classrooms serve little purpose. Although this seems obvious in retrospect, it demonstrates the problem with the typical approach to development, which assumes that donors know better than recipients what communities need. The community offered to provide the labor to dig a two and half mile trench to bury a water pipe that would connect the village to a treated public water supply if David provided the funds for the materials. With Marianne and Don’s encouragement, David formed a non-profit and called it the Rafiki Village Project, using the Swahili word for friend. Back in Oregon the needed funds were raised and in less than a year Gijega Primary School and the neighboring village had clean water for the first time.
Other projects soon followed. Another barrier to learning is hunger, so it was not surprising that the community eventually asked the Rafiki Village Project for help to build a school kitchen. Some food was being served at the school, but it was prepared outdoors on an open fire, which was hazardous, and viable only in good weather. The community agreed to supply the bricks and labor and the Rafiki Village Project paid the remaining costs. The community also pledged to supply the beans and maize needed to feed their children. The project was completed in 2018 and now Gijega students receive a nutritious, hot lunch every day. This not only promotes learning, it provides an incentive for parents to send their children to school.