Resilient Smiles

Written by Carlie Young

Whoever said I was going to Africa to help was wrong. In the last couple weeks I have discovered that I am probably one of the most helpless people here. I am educated, but I do not have their skills; everyone I have met here is incredibly capable.

My first weekend in Tanzania, my fellow volunteers and I had a chance to go to Pangani. It is a small town a couple hours outside of Tanga. It is located on the ocean and has some amazing sights. Our morning was spent at one of the schools doing another HIV awareness session, though we found the children were far more knowledgeable than we had anticipated.

However, it was the afternoon’s activities that truly impressed me. We rode our rental bikes 4km out of the city to meet with a local farmer. While I was barely able to make the short trip, our guide Simba does the trip with no problem every day. I felt like I was dehydrated and suffering from heatstroke while the locals just kept on going.

When we arrived at our destination we met with Gurishael, a local farmer and former member of 4H (the organization I’m working with here). We were welcomed into his home, where we discussed his business and some of the challenges he faces as a farmer. He is able to produce plenty of food for his family, but he explained the problem was getting his products to markets and selling them at a fair price. He spoke English well and was able to express many of the complicated issues surrounding small business trade. I found I was getting many ideas from him about how to run my business sessions at the schools. With all the research I had done on the internet, I still felt ignorant when speaking with him.

After our discussion, Gurishael took us on a tour of the 13 acres that he cultivates. He grows many things, including mangos, oranges, limes, grains, and he keeps chickens. And, he does this all himself. While he receives help from his family, he must maintain his entire property and move all of the product himself. With only dirt roads going to Pangani town, I can only imagine how difficult it would be.

As we were being shown his plots of land, we stopped to visit an old friend of Simba’s. While he was not able to speak English, Simba was able to translate. His land was much smaller than Gurishael’s. He had a small garden and kept cows. He built his own well, and must pull buckets of water up 20 meters in order to water his plants and provide it to his animals. He’s 70 years old and continues to do this work with only the help of his two grandsons, who spend most of their days in primary school.

These men work so hard to provide for themselves and their families, but have an almost impossible time making a profit at market. Yet they still offered us their food and hospitality. The work they do is incredible, especially in this heat. However, the most impressive thing I saw was their resilient smiles. They were so grateful to have visitors and share what they had. They told us of all their work, but they also showed such pride when telling us about their families and friends.

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