Realities of being a student-led organisation: challenges and rewards

As fans of this blog (and CDI) may know, CDI is a student-run organisation based at the University of Cambridge. This means that students lead, ideate, implement, and evaluate the projects – all in collaboration with (you guessed it) more students from universities based in Dar es Salaam.

Being a student run organisation comes with its challenges and rewards:

Being based in Cambridge

CDI volunteers are Cambridge-based for most of the academic year leading up to the 2-month project summer, because of academic commitments (and mysterious University residence requirements).

This sometimes limits our understanding of how we can align project activities to the local context before the two month summer.

As an example we can refer to the publicity for the Into Business (ITB) Seminar Series. In Summer 2018, the Entrepreneurship Project piloted the ITB Seminar Series which consisted of stand-alone seminars during which high-profile Tanzania-based businesspeople teach business skills from writing a CV to business registration law.

To advertise each seminar, the team initially relied heavily on paid Facebook and Instagram adverts – few attendees found out about the seminars through these. Instead, most found out through WhatsApp. This may be down to how WhatsApp dominates Tanzanian communication. Had the Entrepreneurship team more time in Tanzania to pilot social media publicity strategies, they could have realised this sooner and streamlined publicity earlier.

Experiencing genuine cross-cultural collaboration with KITE Dar es Salaam

CDI’s volunteers collaborate very closely with KITE Dar es Salaam (KITE DSM) – another student-run charity consisting of university students at university across Dar es Salaam. Together, both CDI and KITE DSM ideate and implement the summer projects.

The level of cross-cultural collaboration between UK and Tanzania based volunteers is very unique and rewarding. Yes, your standard 3-month corporate internship will probably see you working with people from different cultures and countries. However, we are a student-run organisation. When something goes wrong during the summer, we can’t turn to our ‘line manager’ to fix the problem – we are our own managers. When we visit high-level stakeholders such as government ministries, we do it together, without the safety net of a ‘supervisor’ watching us in the corner. What’s more, we are working on high-stakes issues: during the summer we aren’t simply doing ‘presentations’ or ‘secondary research’ or ‘consulting’ from a desk like you may find even in the most competitive internships – we work with real people every day and their welfare is at stake. This level of responsibility creates a genuinely collaborative working relationship between us, as the pressures of the situation make us genuinely rely on each other to make things work. What’s more, this often creates genuine friendships between UK- and Tanzania-based students.

The Education Project is based on a foundation of collaboration between CDI and KITE DSM volunteers, as well as with local partners. Since its inception, the project’s direction and strategy have always been defined as a team – whether a school visit or survey is being conducted, you can be sure to find both UK and Tanzanian volunteers standing side by side to achieve the goal of radically improving the impact of education for young children across Dar es Salaam.

Annual changes in Executive Committee and volunteers

Every year, almost all of CDI’s volunteers change as we recruit a new Executive Committee (August-September) and new volunteers (December-January). This is because, inevitably, us students will go on to do other placements or graduate from university.

Doing our best to make sure that the next volunteers know the history of their projects (a process we call ‘handover’) is therefore crucial, and is taken very seriously as many handover documents meticulously detail previous decisions, meetings, recommendations for the next year etc. (my handover document was a total of two months in the making!)

Ensuring a seamless handover can be difficult because of its time-consuming nature, especially during the busy end-of-summer period when we are interviewing Executive Committee candidates, ramping up the Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation (MEL) of projects, and doing other necessary preparations to make sure our projects can continue running after the summer.

However, we always find a way to make it work, through the help of our peers and sometimes a coffee (or two, or three…) from our favourite cafe haunts in Dar es Salaam.

A steady supply of innovative thinkers

Student turnover, however, brings a major advantage to CDI as an organisation: annually, we recruit new cohorts of volunteers with fresh perspectives. Beyond bringing in unique project ideas, it allows us, as an organisation, to retain objectivity and clear judgement about how projects can be improved and when they should be decommissioned.

For example, in 2015 the WaSH team piloted the Flexigester, a flexible biodigester. The idea behind this was to produce biogas from waste produced by the simplified sewerage system. This biogas would be stored and sold back to the community as cooking fuel, while the sludge output would be processed into biofertiliser that could then be returned to the land. This was the world’s first integrated simplified sewerage and biogas network; in December 2015 we confirmed that a small amount of combustible biogas was being produced by the Flexigester. As successful as it was at that time, the 2018 team was also aware not to be swept up in focusing too much on the novelty of the combined simplified sewerage-biodigester system without considering the real benefits it brought for the community, and, in light of such an assessment, the Flexigester and the Biogas Project itself were decommissioned in Summer 2018. 

The ability to take risks and learn from them

In being run by students who are guided by advice from experts and stakeholders and who have not yet been jaded by the world that exists around them, CDI as an organisation has the ability and the nerve to take risks. Through the monitoring and evaluation inherent in our organisation’s model, we have the ability to continually improve our project and shift our focus year on year to better impact the lives of the beneficiaries and communities with whom we work.

For example, in 2016 the Health Project implemented the Afya Yetu project, which aimed to improve the health of the Vingunguti community by providing access to health products such as sanitary pads, water-purification tablets, and fortified flour at subsidised prices. However, in 2017, we found that Afya Yetu did not make the health products significantly more affordable than those which could already be bought at local markets and government pharmacies. Some health products offered by Afya Yetu such as sanitary pads were already easily affordable or distributed for free by the local government. 

But that’s okay – now that the Health Project team knows this, it has begun to narrow its focus onto areas where it can make a significant impact, like non-communicable disease awareness: in 2018, following recommendations provided by volunteers on CDI’s Research Team, the Health Project launched a non-communicable disease TV and radio awareness campaign with Tabibu TV and Sibuka FM.

In 2019, the project decided instead to focus instead on female sexual and reproductive health, as the KITE DSM team felt that this was a better route to follow this year. Although the project has changed its aims many times, the Health Project is a good example of one of CDI’s strengths in being a student organisation – considering voices on the ground in Tanzania, shifting the focus to accommodate the findings, and implementing a project that will have the largest positive effects that we can achieve.

Limited time to train volunteers

Being very (very, very, very…) busy with academic commitments, CDI’s volunteers can commit only little time to volunteer training before the project summer. This restricts opportunities to learn new skills that are immediately crucial for project implementation from day 1.

Sometimes, volunteers can feel overwhelmed once they arrive in Tanzania, maybe even unprepared. However, many quickly find that what they learned in the volunteer training workshops is useful in equipping them with prior knowledge and skills that is useful to navigate them through their first few weeks in Tanzania.

Leveraging the University of Cambridge

CDI volunteers, being University of Cambridge students, have access to an impressive network of contacts within the University of Cambridge. We have been able to leverage these contacts for fundraising and consulting purposes.

For example, the founders of CDI worked with Cambridge Judge Business School to produce the Entrepreneurship project’s flagship initiative – the DAREnterprisers course. Also, Trinity College Chapel has also kindly allowed CDI to host its epic annual fundraising concert there!

The willingness of these other University bodies to collaborate with us in part stems from a belief in the power of students to drive forward positive changes in society. Indeed, in the words of the founders of CDI – ‘university students…can offer more than free labour – they can bring fresh solutions, kickstart new initiatives and become a reliable partner for governments and communities in the developing in the developing world’.

In conclusion, what can we learn from my long (and bracket-laden) ramblings? Yes, we face challenges as an organisation, and yes there are limits to what students can do. However, we have no shame in admitting this; we run on a culture of honesty. Nevertheless, the rewards are far greater than the challenges because as young, driven, and ambitious students we have a certain energy and determination to push through these challenges that (at least I believe) is unfortunately lost as time goes on.

In a world that seems to pessimistic nowadays, be it about climate change, politics,  whatever, perhaps it takes the starry-eyed optimism of students to see us through the darkest challenges society faces.

CDI is just one example of the power of students to do this.

By Anand Talwar, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Officer 2018/19
Anand is a second-year student studying Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) at St. Catherine’s College.

Meet the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Officer 2018/19

My name is Anand Talwar, the CDI Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) Officer 2018/19.

As a humanities student (in Politics and International Relations) with a scientific brain (having dabbled in Psychology and Mathematics) I developed an interest in international development during my first year of university. Ironically, I knew that didn’t want to pursue a career in international development by becoming a politician. Therefore, my inner scientist was drawn to the field of MEL.

At the same time, I’ve always wanted to live and work in a multicultural environment. This stems in part from the multicultural world that I grew up in, and my keen (and amateurish) interest in foreign languages (before coming to Tanzania I was shamefully trying to learn 5 languages at once… Which inevitably failed… I have now limited myself to 2…). CDI therefore appealed to me as a development organisation because of its operations in Tanzania and collaboration with Tanzanian university students.

Lastly, I admit that I’ve been involved in some pretty ‘voluntouristic’ charities in the past which have involved flying out UK volunteers to a developing country to take away local labour then disappear after a few weeks, leaving nothing behind. CDI is completely different to what I have experienced, given its much more sustainable model of creating projects that are then handed over to Tanzania-based partner organisations for them to run all year round.

So, you’re probably wondering: what does being a MEL Officer actually involve? At the beginning of the last academic year I, alongside my awesome KITE Dar es Salaam MEL Officer counterpart, had to come up with a focus for MEL this year. We decided to give MEL a long-term focus which meant following up on previous cohorts of beneficiaries to see if the impact of previous projects has lasted. This involved a lot of research into appropriate theoretical frameworks to guide this follow-up. We decided on a nifty technique called Outcome Mapping – I will not bore you by describing in depth the function of progress markers or boundary partners or contributing factors and actors… (an example of our approach can be found here)

Each of CDI’s projects has a volunteer focused on the MEL of the project – in advance of the summer, I helped the MEL volunteers develop their MEL frameworks. The beginning of the summer has involved checking a lot of surveys and interview questions. This is much more complicated than it sounds. You have to think really carefully about the comparability of the answers to the questions – can we compare the response to this question to responses of future questions that assess the same outcome? You have to exercise a lot of cultural humility – is it culturally appropriate to ask certain questions? Will there be a perceived power dynamic that will make participants give ‘expected responses? How can we overcome this? You have to remain focused on long-term projects whilst at the same time be ready to think on your feet when things escalate quickly. This happens a lot: People can be unpredictable, and respond to your surveys and interview questions in ways that you completely did not expect. Whether that be through not completing a tick box system as you expected or not having as much time for an interview as they originally anticipated or a survey getting no responses. In these situations, I have to think and work rapidly with MEL project volunteers to think of ways to modify surveys and interviews to fix these errors in good time to allow information to roll in.

Despite these difficulties I really do love my role because I’m always thinking on my feet and responding to unexpected challenges. These situations also give me insight into the culture and worldviews of our beneficiaries – what they deem appropriate to talk about, their daily challenges which prevent them from being able to dedicate time to complete surveys, etc. There is so much more to the role than sitting behind a desk and rolling out an ‘on a scale of 1 to 10’ survey in 5 minutes!

I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in development, and my experience with CDI so far has given me the confidence that I can actually be effective in responding to the challenge of working in a development career abroad. I am now eager to find a development job overseas whereas before CDI I honestly lacked the confidence and courage to work abroad. Admittedly, I think graduate job overseas is an unachievable dream. But hey, isn’t the whole field of development built on a bunch of dreams of a better future that, with a little hard work and patience, slowly become reality?

By Anand Talwar, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Officer 2018/19
Anand is a second-year student studying Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) at St. Catherine’s College.

Meet the WaSH Project Director 2018/19

I’m Micheala and I have just graduated with a MEng in Engineering from Trinity Hall. I am the current Project Director for the Cambridge Development Initiative’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) project. I first joined CDI last year as a volunteer on the WaSH Project, working on the now-decommissioned Biogas Project, and continued because of the core beliefs and mission of the WaSH Project.

The WaSH Project was built on the idea that entrepreneurship in WaSH can produce multiple knock-on benefits. A special report on Engineering a Better World from the New Civil Engineer (April 2017) noted the positive multiplier effects of investment in WaSH in rural areas and urban slums: “if you spend £100 per family on water and sanitation infrastructure, it increases literacy by 30% and doubles family income within five years.” [Priti Parikh – Director of the MSc in Engineering for International Development at UCL].

Simplified sewerage, the central vein of the project, has been shown to be a success in other developing contexts such as in South America and Pakistan. This utilises systems more appropriate to informal settlements, in which the infrastructure and layout are unplanned. Using smaller diameter pipes buried less deep underground than conventional sewerage, this system is cheaper and thus more applicable to the community-focussed project run by CDI. From here, the idea expanded to include a biodigester, which would produce biogas from the sewage. This biogas would then be stored and sold back to the community, providing funds for the expansion of the simplified sewerage networks. A further addition to the cycle was a solar cooker, which would dry out the waste exiting the biodigester, producing a substance which could be used as a fertiliser. This model (as seen in the image below) produced a cycle in which waste losses could be recuperated as economic benefits to the community.

The SimpliSafi model was the original plan for the WaSH Project but it has undergone many changes over the past five years to reach the point where we are now.

The thing about the WaSH Project is that it takes risks where no other CDI project ever has. It aims to tackle issues not only on the community level but also on a structural level. Through regular conversations with the Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Authority (DAWASA), CDI and KITE Dar es Salaam (our partner organisation based in Dar es Salaam, also known as KITE DSM) bring to centre-stage the issue of sanitation in informal settlements – areas not generally considered by a government that is sometimes accused of enriching themselves off the backs of the poor. Unlike other NGOs, CDI endeavours to engage all stakeholders, especially the government, in fashioning a world in which we are all responsible for bringing about positive, sustainable change.

Studies have found that Tanzanian officials don’t proactively build water facilities in areas where water is not yet available and I believe this is also true of sanitation facilities. Currently, around the world, 4.5 billion people are still without safely managed sanitation and 892 million people still practise open defecation. These numbers reflect the situation in Dar es Salaam. I remember walking into Vingunguti, the informal settlement in which the WaSH Project works, for the first time and noticing the raw sewage running in the streets in areas not yet served by the WaSH Project. These are the very conditions under which diseases like cholera can thrive. Cholera is caused by bacteria and spreads very rapidly under the right conditions (over-crowding, poor sanitation and hygiene) and can cause severe diarrhoea and death within hours if not treated. With 3 to 5 million cases of cholera per year causing between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths each year, it is clear that this is an issue that needs to be solved, not necessarily by external NGOs like CDI but by the local government who bears responsibility for the well-being of their people. In all surveys, interviews and questionnaires carried out by the project, community members of Vingunguti have always maintained that they are happy to be connected to the network, having seen a decrease in waterborne diseases – in fact many more wish to be connected in the future. This is a clear demonstration of demand, one which DAWASA has been keen for us to address in the future.

In a stakeholder meeting recently, Eng. Wilhelmina Malima – the Tanzanian National Coordinator for the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) – asked if the WaSH Project’s beneficiaries (latrine users) were customers of DAWASA. It was at this point that it became clear to me what another benefit of our project is – generally, people in informal settlements are not considered as legitimate residents and they do not own the land that they live on. In fact, some people may prefer to think of these people as non-existent instead of tackling the issues they face head-on. However, in being users of CDI’s simplified sewerage networks, these people became customers of DAWASA and thus gain a new level of recognition from the government. This may be just a small detail to some but can mean the world of difference to the one person whose life has been changed.

The WaSH Project is the first project in CDI to fully hand over a current project stream to KITE DSM. Last year, the network team (which constructed the of simplified sewerage networks) was comprised solely of Tanzanian volunteers, something which has remained the case with this year’s team. Operationally, this is strategic as a Tanzanian university education in engineering provides the practical know-how to efficiently carry out construction of latrines and networks (unlike the more theoretical and general approach taken by the one at Cambridge). Moreover, the year-round presence of the team in Tanzania facilitates maintenance and monitoring of the networks even when the CDI team is back in the UK. This year marks the first year that the Community Engagement team has been a KITE-only team and I hope that future WaSH Project Directors will recognise the importance of Tanzanian voices in this endeavour. Since many community-members do not speak English, it is strategic for the Tanzanian volunteers to be the ones carrying out workshops, surveys, focus groups, etc. with the CDI volunteers supporting from the background. Further, the WaSH Project wants to dispel the myth that progress only happens when “the mzungu” (how foreigners are referred to in Swahili) are present.

These are lessons I learned from my predecessor, Yasmine Shafiq, who regularly still guides me through decisions and I am lucky to still have such an engaged team of alumni behind me, offering advice, context and a generous ear through what sometimes are tough moments.

My two years working with CDI have allowed me to better understand that although life is all about the big picture the magic is in the details. I’ve worked with many people from all over the world who have all brought to the table brilliant ideas, enthusiasm and a genuine passion about the issues we work to tackle. These people are constant reminders of who we are working for, why we started doing what we are doing, and why we will never stop trying to change the world.

I feel honoured and proud to have been able to be part of this initiative which gives students and young engineers the ability to change the world, one latrine at a time, leaving no one behind.


If you’d like to get involved with our fundraising, visit our JustGiving page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/cdi-wash or email wash.director@cambridgedevelopment.org for more information!

By Micheala Chan, WaSH Project Director 2018/19
Micheala is fourth-year studying Engineering at Trinity Hall.

Find your belief

“What do you know about development, exactly?”

“What do you know about Tanzania or its people?”

“What do you know about the domain of Education / Entrepreneurship / Health / WaSH?”

“What do you know about managing projects?”

“Can you really run an organisation of 30 people?”

If there’s one feeling that characterised my CDI experience, it was disbelief. This came from all sides – development professionals aghast at our ignorance about development, business leaders doubtful about our experience and competence, academics disappointed by our nosediving grades and desertion of their discipline, friends confused by our disappearance from social events, and family anxious about our safety and our future career.

Worst of all, this feeling of disbelief came from within myself. What if they’re all right? What if I’m really driving into a car crash in slow motion, and destined for failure: in CDI, in my degree, in my early career – and therefore in life?

Coping strategies

First, it’s worth stating the obvious here – none of these issues can be resolved overnight. You can’t just ‘know’ about development, Tanzania, or project management tomorrow. These skills or pieces of knowledge typically take years to develop or acquire. So at the time we could only resort to coping strategies in response to criticisms like these, of which several come to mind.

The first: the stonewall. Ignore all of them, and trudge on. Yes, they have a point, but whatever. I’ve already been doing this for the past year, so I’m going to just keep doing it. Because that feels more comfortable. Kicking the can down the road, and hoping the can will roll into a bin by itself.

Clearly, not an effective strategy. But a surprisingly common one among all of us, dare I say, when faced with difficult problems. And certainly one we frequently employed ourselves.

Another strategy was to admit defeat and throw in the towel. I know I certainly wasn’t alone among past CDI leaders to have given serious thought to just quitting. It just seemed like such a beautifully easy way out – if I just stop, I will be free! There will once again be balance in the universe.

But some part of me wasn’t willing to go down so easily. I’d done so much already. Giving up now would erase all my previous hard work. Plus, I’d be letting down so many – all the volunteers I recruited to my team + promised a summer opportunity, our donors, our partners, stakeholders who generously supported us.

Mostly, I trod somewhere in the middle of all this. I knew these were legitimate criticisms, and we even tried to address some of them e.g. did reading, organised some training, found mentors. And then afterwards we would carry on business as usual (“right, that’s Project Management training done. Project Management skills: checked.“). But deep down I knew these were cosmetic fixes, so I’d continue to let the feeling of inadequacy gnaw away at my existence.

This is otherwise known as Imposter Syndrome. And it was exhausting.

Let your belief co-exist with criticisms

So what to do about this all? In the face of such difficult questions, it’s easy to forget that the absence of criticism isn’t a precondition for belief. It’s possible to both accept criticisms as legitimate and believe in yourself.

Enough of this self-help BS, I hear you say.

Here’s how I think about belief. In my experience, it can come from three sources (not an exhaustive list by any means):

1) Success stories / role models, especially those who were once in a similar position

“If he or she did it, and I’m just like them, then I can do it too.”

Seems to make perfect sense, right? It’s a powerful line of thinking – it’s why biographies can be so inspiring, and why exposure programmes for the underprivileged can be so impactful. Having successful role models, who once struggled just like us, can work wonders for our belief.

And in CDI, we can lean on a reservoir of ~200 alumni role models. They’re all just like you, and it’s worked out OK for them. Find a way to be on the phone with the team member in your position in the last few years!

2) Small wins

“I’ve already done this thing, which is just a smaller version of this bigger thing, so I can probably do this bigger thing too.”

Statistical sampling, if you will. Perhaps your project is divided into a series of weekly goals, and you find yourself worrying about whether you will actually make an impact by the end of 7 or 8 weeks. One way to proceed is to focus 100% of your energies on delivering on your goals for this week only. Or, scope it down even further and just focus on delivering on your goals for today. Check in on yourself at the end of day, and you’ll probably feel a good deal more confident about delivering for tomorrow.

Confession: I didn’t do this. At least not intentionally. When we ran the DAREnterprisers entrepreneurship course for the first time, I had minimal confidence about whether we’d really be able to help Tanzanian students launch viable businesses. It was only after we started running day after day of workshops, and found the participants genuinely engaged with our exercises and style, when my confidence started to grow.

If even that seems daunting right now, then aim for even smaller wins. Start your day by knocking out a few of the easier tasks that are on your plate – maybe a quick phone call to a stakeholder, a short message to a teammate, or coming up with an agenda for the next meeting – and feel your newly gained momentum pulse through your veins.

OK, this won’t solve all your problems. And there’s a fine line between chasing after small wins and procrastination. For me, though, there were many a day when I woke up feeling totally helpless, but after a few small wins, started to gain some confidence to take on the bigger challenges.

3) Moral belief

“This is the right thing to do for the world, so I’ll keep doing it no matter the result.”

Sounds like something Elon Musk would say, and that’s probably where I got it from. Probably a bit hard for many of us though, if we haven’t developed this level of conviction about anything yet.

But there’s a smaller version of this that could work. Go and talk to one of CDI’s supposed ‘beneficiaries’, and try to understand how (if) our work has impacted their lives. Of course, don’t go in with the assumption that it has – it may not have – but if it genuinely has made their lives better in any meaningful way, I promise that’ll make your day.

At this point it’s worth noting that none of these sources of belief should be categorised as blind faith (i.e. “I want this to be true, therefore I believe it’s true”) – that would be some real self-help BS. There’s an element of logic within them, and that’s why they can work.

Yeah, but about those criticisms…

I know none of this actually directly resolves the fundamental criticisms that are sometimes levelled at CDI. Some of these fundamental criticisms will never be resolved. But the thing is, you have chosen to commit at least 2 months of your life to this work, and you’re planning to see it through no matter what. What’s more useful – to employ flawed coping strategies like I often did (and probably be quite miserable most of the time), or find a source of belief that sustains you through this journey?

To me, it’s perfectly possible to accept those criticisms as legitimate, and yet believe that it’s still possible to make an impact. After all, that’s what others like you had done before, what you’ve already started doing, and the right thing to do for your target beneficiaries.

So, go forth and find your belief!

By Kelvin Wong, CDI Co-founder and Member of CDI’s Board of Trustees

A morning adventure: CDI’s simplified sewerage in Vingunguti

Last week I had my first adventure out of Ardhi University, where we sleep and work, and into the centre of Dar es Salaam, to visit the informal settlement of Vingunguti where the WaSH simplified sewerage project is implemented.

It was an eye-opening experience right from the moment I stepped onto the bus (daladala). The conductor seemed to permanently hang halfway out of the bus entrance as it drove around, yelling the bus route at passers-by in case they wanted to hop on, whilst inside the bus, we all stood like hot and sweaty sardines, swaying and bumping into each other and the few people that were lucky enough to be sat on sticky, padded plastic seats. Outside the window, the roads were lined with dusty paths full of makeshift stalls selling a variety of fruits, street food, furniture and bags of pulses. The traffic was also manic, and all cars seemed to be silver or white with sizeable dents all around their metal bodies, as though everyone was a car crash survivor. Every so often, the conductor managed to push his way through the crowded bodies on the bus, shaking coins in one of his hands to indicate that anyone that hadn’t paid now had to own up and deliver the 40p cost of the bus journey. Transport here is SO cheap!

Once off the bus, it was a short walk along yet another street lined with stalls (this time with loads of electronic stores blaring out recordings of men advertising their products at an extremely unpleasant volume from hidden speakers), and across an unexpected railway line with no barriers or warnings about its presence (I’m not sure if its still in use…). And then, finally, we reached Vingunguti. At its entrance, we were welcomed by the sight of two large lorries there to take away sewage from cesspits, and a massive pond that looked quite peaceful, but I soon learnt was a Waste Stabilisation Pond. For those who don’t know, this basically means I was staring at a massive body of sewage and water, waiting to be broken down by bacteria (anaerobic) after which it would be fed into two other ponds (facultative, and aerobic) as a cheap method to treat the waste releasing it into the environment.

Walking around the settlement itself was a real experience. Vingunguti is an informal settlement in which lower-income individuals have come to live, with housing often not complying with planning and building regulations. Without being led by the KITE DSM Tanzanian members of our team, I would have got completely lost as we picked our way through the rabbit warren of brown-walled housing blocks with corrugated iron roofs. Women sat outside their houses, washing clothes in buckets as we walked past, and young barefoot children danced around us with curiosity. The ground was uneven with unexpected hills, random walls, junction boxes, and the occasional ditch full of rubbish with makeshift bridges made from wooden planks.

Throughout the settlement, well-made latrine blocks stood out, painted white and blue with the CDI logo printed on. I was impressed with how many there were (and how they’d managed to find space for them in between the houses!). Their clear presence demonstrated how much of an impact they were having on the lives of the community, who could now have flushing toilets to take their waste hygienically and effectively to the waste stabilization pond for treatment. Previously, these people would have relied on pit latrines which commonly overflowed during the rainy season, and required emptying by hand as there was no way the waste collection lorry would have fit between the houses to carry away the waste! At regular intervals along the path, concrete junction boxes marked the connection point for pipes on the simplified sewerage system. Again, I was so impressed with how well-made everything was, and how much thought must’ve gone into ensuring the height of the pipes would allow a constant flow down to the waste stabilization pond. Exposed pipes had been carefully sealed off with concrete walls to prevent people damaging them. Everything was so well thought out!

All-focus

Latrine

Later that week, members of KITE DSM (Our Tanzanian partner organisation) went into Vingunguti again to conduct monitoring and evaluation questionnaires. This was important to ensure that the community was happy with the system we had implemented, and that it would be sustainable to continue to grow the sewerage network (currently 54 latrines have been built, serving 475 people, with another 20 latrines planned this year which would add 200 more people to the network). The response was overwhelmingly positive, with every interviewee saying they would recommend investing in a latrine. They felt the latrines had helped make the community cleaner and improved people’s health, with much fewer occurrences of diseases than had been prevalent before the system was implemented. Success!!

I would like to give a massive thank you to everyone that has donated to the WaSH project so far this year and made the construction of more latrines a possibility. Seeing first hand where the latrines are built and the community’s response to their installation, I can honestly say that every small donation is making a real difference to the lives of the people in Vingunguti. If you still want to donate, it’s never too late! Just head over to our JustGiving page 😉 £10 will help pay for supervision of one day of construction, £50 covers technicians wages for building one latrine, £100 pays for the delivery of all materials, and £235 covers the cost of materials to construct one latrine.

I’d also like to thank the iMechE for helping make it possible for me to finance the personal costs of flying out to Tanzania to work on this project. I would highly recommend all young and budding engineers to look into the huge variety of grants and scholarships they have available to support your studies and extra-curricular engineering-related activities. They’ve supported me so much throughout my degree and opened up opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Check them out!

By Natasha Wilson, WaSH Project Volunteer 2018/19
Natasha is fourth-year studying Engineering at Emmanuel College.

Impressions from my first week in Tanzania: life outside of the project

I’m Emmanuel, a second-year chemical engineer from Homerton College, Cambridge, and I’m this year’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Officer for CDI’s WaSH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) project. There are three of us from Cambridge on this team: Micheala, our Project Director, Natasha, a member of the Innovation Team and I, and we’re working with eleven volunteers from KITE, the partner organization of CDI in Dar es Salaam. My KITE counterpart is Chagu, and most days we work together on assessing the impact of the project on our the people of Vingunguti, the rural area of Dar where our project is based.

On a typical day, we wake up around 8 and get breakfast at the canteen (we’re staying at the accommodation of Ardhi Uni) which is the best and also really cheap: they got mandazis, which are like doughnuts and chapatis, which are like crepes (and you can buy Nutella from the supermarket!!). Then we need to be at work around 9, work from one of the classrooms until 1, when we have a lunch break until 2. The lunch options are rice with beans (every day) or rice with meat or chips with eggs (called chips mayai!) or bananas boiled in tomato sauce. We then get back to work until 5, and then in the afternoons we are free to do whatever we want.

So far the highlight was watching The Lion King in the largest cinema screen in East Africa (just five minutes on foot from the campus!) and then going to this karaoke bar which was so much fun (on every Thursday).

Natasha, George and I on the daladala to Vingunguti

We also visited Vingunguti, the WaSH Project’s site, the other day. We got the daladala from the campus: daladalas are small buses which get way too crowded, the people get on and off while it is still crowded, the people get on and off while it is still moving, and can take ages to get through really small distances because the traffic here is crazy but is actually not as bad as it sounds. I thought it was rather fun, maybe not every day though. I found the conditions in Vingunguti rather shocking, with sewage often running on the streets; really made me appreciate all the things I often take for granted back home.

During our first weekend here, we decided to go clubbing. After buying some Konyagi – a really cheap type of Tanzanian alcohol which tastes a bit like gin – and some really strong red wine (16.5% !!) for predrinks, we went to Havoc, a club near Oyster Bay with very strong and cheap cocktails. On Sunday, some people went to church to listen to gospel and then we all met and got Indian food. We then walked across the beachfront to the fish market which was my favourite part of Dar – it feels very local and everyone seems very welcoming.

Ready for Havoc

Overall, my first week in Tanzania has been both challenging and rewarding, and while it certainly gets some time to adapt to the very different conditions here and to learn how to work efficiently with the Tanzanian volunteers, it is such a great opportunity to meet new people and develop new skills, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the summer.

By Emmanuel Angelidakis, WaSH Project Volunteer 2018/19
Emmanuel is second-year studying Chemical Engineering at Homerton College.

Entrepreneurship in Dar – challenges and opportunities

The CDI and KITE Dar es Salaam (KITE DSM) Entrepreneurship Project is currently running two projects, Youth Business Challenge (YBC) and InTo Business Seminar Series (ITB), to encourage local entrepreneurship and increase entrepreneurial skills among young people in Dar es Salaam in an effort to reduce youth unemployment. This week’s Entrepreneurship blog post will give some background as to why we are doing this, both through providing some insight to the general employment situation in Dar es Salaam, and through providing some personal testimonials from KITE DSM volunteers with first-hand experience from seeking internships and employment in the city.

Youth unemployment in Dar es Salaam is a large and growing problem. A growing population and consequently growing labour force is competing for employment opportunities. There are approximately 800,000 young Tanzanian professionals competing for 416,000 formal jobs. However, a significant proportion of economic activity in Dar es Salaam is highly informal in nature and the informal sector accounts for about 85% of employment in Tanzania. This is very much in line with the experiences of the KITE DSM volunteers;

“It is difficult in Dar es Salaam, in fact not only in Dar es Salaam, people look for work all over Tanzania but it’s still really difficult,” Collince, who just graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and statistics, says. Bryson, a Bachelor of commerce and finance student, further adds that “Very few students get internships and work during the summer after completing their education, it’s a big problem these days in Dar es Salaam because of the current situation – there are lots of graduates and very few employment opportunities available.”

While Tanzanians struggle to find employment in the formal sector, employers also testify that they struggle to find applicants with the right skills, mainly mentioning English proficiency, communication skills, problem-solving ability and innovation. Both YBC and ITB focus on bridging this gap between skills gained through the formal education system and the skills that employers request. This is done partly through placing young people within start-ups where they get to gain first-hand experience participating in the type of activities that builds these skills. Because the start-ups are fairly small in scale the role of each person is also more versatile, which optimises the learning process. It is further done through inviting young people to learn from more experienced entrepreneurs who, through a series of seminars, will communicate the type of skills that will increase the employability of young people, or even encourage them to start their own enterprise.  

Many of the KITE DSM volunteers mentioned that rather than taking a job in a sector that was unrelated to their field of education or interest, they would be happy to start their own enterprise. In fact, several are already running their own small-scale businesses. Bryson, for example, supplies electronic cell phone appliances and helps fellow students with software problems on their PCs, a skill he has gained from his first year of study that he is now putting to use, and Fatma, a Law student, is selling clothes and cosmetics to fellow students and members of her community, using her knowledge of where the informal marketplace for such goods is situated and marketing her products through WhatsApp.

So is Tanzania fertile soil for entrepreneurship then? Tanzania ranks 118 of 137 countries globally in GEDI’s 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Index, with the strongest area being product innovation and opportunity perception and the weakest being start-up skills and risk acceptance. There surely seems to be no lack of innovation, at least not amongst the KITE DSM volunteers, but Collince raises an important issue as the most important reason to why he has not started his own business yet, “Sure, I would like to, but… where is the capital?”

He is correct to ask where the capital is; more than half of Tanzanian MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) state lack of capital as the main constraint to growing their business, and for entrepreneurs who wish to start a business, access to capital is likely to be a complicated process. MSMEs in Tanzania typically lack access to finance from local banks, partly as a result of regulations and strict requirements from banks. Only 12% of SMEs currently own a credit line at a financial institution. This limits the ability for entrepreneurs to source capital and venture, expand their enterprises and to bring them online. For entrepreneurs operating outside of major cities, financial inclusion is another obstacle, as financial services are not as accessible, and most banks’ branches are concentrated in Dar es Salaam.

We therefore consider access to knowledge about how to navigate this situation through learning from experienced entrepreneurs key to success, but also to gain entrepreneurial and start-up skills that are vital to secure and manage capital, and through our projects we are trying to communicate and spread such skills – and we have an optimistic outlook on the future. The KITE DSM volunteers share some of the skills they personally feel have benefitted their entrepreneurial activities: Fatma mentions that communicating and networking has opened up a lot of opportunities for her, Edward mentions digital skills and Bryson emphasises the importance of planning ahead for the future to make the most of available opportunities.

They all took part in organising the opening event for this summer’s projects, which took place on Monday. We are looking forward to tackle some of these challenges together with a bunch of ambitious participants, experienced entrepreneurs and motivated volunteers!

By Sofia Elvira Persson, Entrepreneurship Volunteer 2019
Sofia is a first-year studying Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) at Lucy Cavendish College.