We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Seasons. Preparing and Growing


A new school year begins. A new "season." We missed joining the FB crowd last week with those "back-to-school-by-the-front-door" photos, but both girls are excited to be a year up with new teachers! Growing up.

Routine resumes. Or so they say. To be honest I'm not sure I really know what routine is... I think it is possibly over-rated. Our first week back to school, which was a quite a busy week, was thrown out of routine on the very first day when school was cancelled due to nationally planned political protests and rioting. Which didn't happen. We enjoyed the day off anyway. Planned schedules (not such a great idea here) were thrown with changing meetings and Bible college timetables. And a planned meal failed to materialise, so fried eggs for dinner it was. Then there was an unexpected earthquake; that didn't actually throw our routine here, but it did make one pause for sober thought and prayer. You can't actually prepare for everything.

It is the end of "summer" (yes, for lack of knowing what else to say, we still call it summer) and a new season begins. We miss the summer-autumn seasons in Tanzania, but there is definitely a dry season desperately waiting to turn into a rainy season here at the moment. It is consistently hot in the low to mid 30's here and evenings are still and humid. The ground is hard and dry and brown; the dust is constantly sweeping and covering while the cracked earth cries for rain. But in this harsh hot, dry season we are eagerly anticipating and planning for the rains. And this is the exciting part of our work here in agriculture!

It is always exciting getting ready to plant! Planning the crops and preparing the fields. The anticipation of the rains, of new growth, of seeds sprouting and fruit appearing. Tim has completed writing and translating our own manual for teaching groups of farmers the basics of Conservation Agriculture from a Christian perspective! Now printed (and widely available on Amazon for a grand sum - just kidding!), these manuals have been copied and given to all the new farmers training in this next phase of the project.

The new manual in English and Swahili
It is particularly exciting this year to see Peter and Esther taking increased responsibility for the whole agricultural project. Tim has taken a step back as Peter and Esther, together with help from Pastor Amon and Amos (a keen participant from last year's group in Kayenze), are doing all the teaching. Peter and Esther have been teaching the two-day seminar each week in a different village for the past three weeks - and done a fantastic job!

It is also exciting to see the project growing and spreading out. We have started working in a new village, Nyamililo, and are training fifteen farmers there. A third season of training is being held this week in Kayenze for a group of about 20 new farmers. And with the help of the village agricultural officer, we have extended the project to sub-villages of Kayenze; a new group of 21 farmers was trained last week in Lutale.

Also exciting for us this year, is to see local church members in Kayenze taking the work on in their community. They are inspiring others to try the new methods and now, after our two years of rather hard slogging, it seems to be catching on! People in the village are noticing and trying things in their own fields, even without the training! Peter, Esther and Tim can only teach in Swahili, but the church is now teaching in Kisukuma (the local language of the tribe), and next year we plan for them to do the whole training by themselves.

And now with classroom training coming to an end, the hard work begins. All the participants now need to prepare their fields; gathering composting and mulch material and laying down the mulch to capture and hold any early rain to soften the ground for planting. And then we wait for the rains...and new growth.

Amos teaching in Lutale
Meanwhile on our practice farming plot at home, we were delighted to eat our first home-grown bananas! We planted a little seedling banana tree a year ago and last week chopped off our first "bunch" of bananas. The whole hanging cluster (or bunch) is known as a banana stem and made up of tiers which are called hands. We had three hands on our stem, each with numerous fingers, or bananas as we tend to call them! And another banana stem is already ripening...

Ripening on the tree
Small but sweet!
After three attempts at growing sunflowers, this year we managed to get some huge sunflowers! They were enormous, up to 15 feet high! As you can imagine, our bees just loved them! Unfortunately so did the birds. We lost lots of seeds, but with the thrill of success, we will try again!

Bees enjoying the sunflowers
We are finally doing well with our roselle plants now and have harvested
 and dried some calyces for juice or jam!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Hope of Mother's Love

Things have really been moving with the mamas! In these past eight days, we have met three days as a group and then also been part of a two-day women's seminar on "Understanding Albinism." It's been a pretty busy week for the Mongers, also with guests for meals, agricultural training days, other project meetings and of course, that "back-to-school" rush (I think both girls managed to pack themselves a lunch every day!)

Upendo wa Mama Group


First of all, the best thing for me about this week, was moving with the Mamas Group into their new working space! It is fantastic! For so long, we have prayed and hoped for this day! We are incredibly grateful to Standing Voice for their help and support! We have a beautiful room with a large table to work at with chairs to sit on. We have a sink with running water and an electric kettle and can share chai together! We have a shaded outdoor space to work in and a beautiful garden to look at!
Outside "our office"
(I love that this property was recently loved and lived on by good friends of ours!)

So with orders mounting, the mamas are now increasing their working hours! Meeting every Saturday and Wednesday, they are busy making cards, soaps, jewellery and beeswax products. We are currently looking into the possibility of getting an oven and sewing machines now that we have a place for them! With that, we are excited about starting more training (and therefore hopefully more products) in tailoring and baking. It all sounds exciting and wonderful (and it is, really) but it is also rather overwhelming! Trying to maintain quality control in the chaos is exhausting! Trying to maintain a focus on the One who holds all things together and a priority on relationship when surrounded by the distractions of money-making projects is not always easy. But evident this week was the gratitude of each one of us to God, for this place, and for what, through Him, we can do together. There is so much hope for the future!

I love this photo! It sums it all up ... the Word of God surrounded by cups of chai
and a colourful mess of creativity working around it!


We were all involved in a seminar on Monday and Tuesday on "Understanding Albinism." This was organized by Under the Same Sun for thirty women who either have albinism or have children with albinism. It was an excellent time for the women to learn about the genetics of the condition they face, the scientific truth which combats the lies and curses they have heard. It was a wonderful opportunity for them to share with one another; sharing their stories, their fears, their troubles and their hopes. It was well attended by social welfare and community development officers and also lawyers who deal with the terrible cases of attacks and murders of people with albinism. The women were given contact numbers of people who can help; they were taught about human rights and social justice; they were encouraged to start groups and it was encouraging for the other women to see what the Upendo as Mama group has been able to do. It is such a wonderful thing to see hope and excitement in women who have faced so much stigma and pain!
Group discussions

Members of the Upendo wa Mama group sharing

Esther gives out valuable suncream for the mamas and children 
The Upendo wa Mama Group with a number of our children!
This photo was taken by UTSS at the Summer Camp!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Rural Island Health Teammates!

So after a rather "bee-intensive" month, and before you think beekeeping is all we do now, here's a bit of what's cookin' outside the hives. The good news is....

Our team is growing! Our family of four arrived in Mwanza in 2014 and we quickly realised we would need help with the agricultural project. We are so pleased that Peter and Esther were able to join our team and make six (yes, we definitely count the children!), and are thrilled with how they have grown increasingly into their roles. This year (our third in agriculture), Peter and Esther are doing all the agricultural training for new groups in respective villages and taking on increased management of the project. We are also joined by Joseph, who started as our night guard and has grown increasingly into new roles and is now managing the demonstration farm at Kisesa! 

We also soon realised that we needed some specialized help with health-related projects. We are so aware of the huge potential for transformation on the islands and are keenly interested in helping the church develop a rural island health project. We are thrilled that the Ewing family in the UK has responded to our plea! Simon (who will apply his skills and knowledge particularly in renewable energy to the stoves project) and Victoria (who will focus on the health project) and their two children, Tabitha and Reuben, will make us a team of eleven! They are currently preparing to move (hopefully in January) and are raising the necessary funding.
Kome Island
Read on in the recent Down to Earth Magazine to meet them and read about the work they are going to be doing! And you can also meet them here on their blog! It is exciting to see how God is drawing people together and growing the work here in Tanzania!

The Ewing Family

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Wild Swarm Catching

Last week I did something I have wanted to do for a long time! During our three days of beekeeping training with Julian Willford and David Colley in Malya, we did some swarm catching!

We had walked out through the very hot, dry bush to see Credo's beehives and came across this large swarm of bees in a tree. It was very close to one of the un-colonised topbar hives and we debated whether to let the bees naturally move in (there were already scout bees at the hive and they had every reason to go and waggle dance to the swarm to point them in the right direction) or whether to move them in ourselves. With nervous anticipation we decided to take the swarm in!

The swarm
I was actually amazed at how easy it was. The books all said it was easy. I had told myself it was easy, but never really believed it! We rehearsed the whole procedure with each person's role from knocking the swarm to catching it, to moving it and getting all into the hive and hanging the hive back up. All with Queen Bee intact. It was rather exciting, and incredibly to me, went smoothly according to plan!
Knocking the swarm into the bucket
David was hanging upside down yanking the tree which knocked the swarm cleanly into Julian's bucket. The bucket was placed upside down on the ground and all the stray bees marched calmly and orderly inside it. It was incredible. Some bees were directing traffic, fanning their wings. While we waited for them to march into the bucket (which was good evidence we had the Queen inside), we rehearsed the procedure at the hive. 
And the swarm is in the bucket! Bees everywhere!

Bees marching into the bucket
Then we were ready. The bucket was secured on the lid, we carried it to the hive. The bucket was tapped and the swarm knocked cleanly into the hive, the few remaining top bars rapidly replaced, roof placed on and it was lifted to hang back in the tree. Mere seconds! Bingo!

We watched as the bees who didn't make it in, were directed by the fanning bees to find the entrance and get inside! (Credo checked the next morning and the bees were happily residing in there!)

After catching the swarm, as darkness was rather quickly approaching, we went on with Credo to his colonised hives. It was wonderful to be able to harvest some of the honey ... just in time (to Tim's huge relief) to get back to the land cruiser before the sun set!
Ready to harvest from Credo's box hive
Carrying the honey home before nightfall
We took the honey back to our guesthouse. And in the rather tight confines of David's small room, sitting on his bed, trying not to make a sticky mess, we strained the honey through our filter into a bucket. As you do! And the following day, with the perfect visual aid, the group learned how to filter and jar honey. Delicious!

Squash and a squeeze to filter the honey

Next day's teaching

Credo gets his honey!
Also great to be back with the Malya Mamas Group!
They had made more honey soaps and beeswax balms since the last time we met!
There is really just so much more I could say about all the bee (and other!) activity we've had, but I'd better stop soon! It has been great to see the beekeeper groups moving forward as well as other people being trained and plans discussed for future groups. We had a great time with Mama Minja (who runs the Console Nursery School for orphaned and vulnerable children) who has now learned to harvest honey and process wax. On Friday we were able to harvest her first honey! So wonderful for her and her work with these precious children!
Mama Minja
At Mama Minja's hives

Cutting off the honeycomb
It has been a real confidence-building, learning time with Julian and David... as well as a sticky mess in the living room. It's been full of much dirt road bumping about as well as a lot of fun! They have given so much of their time, money and energy and it is hugely appreciated by us and many others!

Dinner out
More about the beekeeping project on our Beekeeping Page

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Our Life as Beekeepers

Bees in tires, bees on containers, bees in trees. Cow dung experiments, bucket adapting and red torch night lights. Ant invasions, honey badger demolitions and water shortages. It is impossible to sum up and adequately describe the ups and downs, the excitement, the despair, along with sweet taste of honey in one blog post. It's been a full-on few weeks!

With our expert beekeepers, Julian Willford (from Bees Abroad UK) and his mate, David Colley, we have been as busy as the bees. They arrived on Sunday, September 14 and we were straight in at our hives on Monday. All looking good there which was a huge relief after my saga of disaster a few months ago... But patience needed now to wait a little longer for our honey.

Louisa the Beekeeper

Julian, David and Joseph drying the cow dung
Making a honey filter

Julian again in his "supervisory" role!
We went to Kayenze last Wednesday to do a two-day training seminar with the Beekeeping Group. It was a great time of training (theory and practical) and although there wasn't much honey ready yet, we were able to harvest a little for teaching purposes ... ok, and tasting purposes! So delicious! Fresh honey dripping from the honey comb! Driving out into villages and up into the rocks until we had to continue on foot, we were quite the beekeeping entourage.

We were gutted to find one of the good hives demolished with all honey scoffed, by a honey badger. That was a first for us. But we worked quickly to rectify the situation out there in the middle of nowhere, getting swinging hives hanging higher. We were also gutted to lose another hive to the ants. But again, worked on rectifying the situation by greasing all the wires the hives hang on. A constant learning game.

After Kayenze, we were in Kisesa ... and this was pure excited delight. Our first honey was finally harvested! Julian, David, Amisadai and I (in the heat of the afternoon sun!) climbed precariously up on the top of a container where the hives were placed. It was such a thrill to find the beautiful capped honey lined up straight on the top bars! We collected a bucketful which we took home to process in our awesomely adapted buckets. The next morning, the honey had filtered through and we filled our first jars! As Tim said, we were beginning to think we were doing a "honey-less bee" project! Words cannot describe how encouraging it was to see this honey pouring out! This is just the beginning!
Honey harvesting on containers

Julian busy filtering the first honey in the living room
The first honey in the jar!
Get a taste of the action (sorry, not the honey!) here with some photos from Kayenze. And I'll update again soon with more stories of Malya bee adventures with wild swarms and stories from the Dancing Rocks, of Rachel the "strong, fierce woman" who can kick...
Preparing to go to the hives
Out to the hives in Kayenze
A good comb of brood, nectar and capped honey

Preparing for the women to go out to the hives in Rangi (near Kayenze)
Quite an audience from the local school children!
The Mama Beekeepers!
Disaster of the ants
Disaster of the honey badger

Our Funeral Procession carrying the coffin (demolished hive) of the lost bees.
A Sombre Affair

The hive brought back

The hive loaded to return for re-baiting

Admiring the honeycomb as we learn to process

Fresh honey on the comb to share!

A bit more honey to taste when we go to process the wax