By Meritt Buyer
This past Saturday marked two lesser know holidays. While not widely celebrated, World Soil Day and International Volunteer Day represent key aspects of BCC. Volunteers contribute immeasurable quantities of time and energy to our organization. We are so grateful for the physical and occupational therapists, the special education teachers, and the speech therapists that choose to share their time and talents with the children of BCC. They bring so much to our program. Nor would we function without the people who give monetarily, who send us therapeutic supplies, organize fundraisers, and provide us with ongoing support and encouragement.
Because of our new farm, BCC is also making note of World Soil Day and other relevant environmental issues. Environmentalism is not widespread topic here in Moshi. Although this region is heavily reliant on farming, and therefore soil, there is not a lot of technical knowledge about environmental stewardship.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my husband, Teke Taylor, is here with me in Moshi. International volunteer extraordinaire and environmental engineer, he just happens to illustrate these two holidays remarkably well. Teke is helping to design and install an irrigation system for the new farm, as well as support several other projects for BCC. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about his experiences.
1. You have a lot of experience volunteering both in the US and internationally. Why do you think volunteering is important? What do you feel are some of the differences between volunteering locally and volunteering overseas?
Volunteering is important because although many social problems could benefit greatly from more money, most also suffer from a lack of man/woman-power. But historically, I’ve had more time than money to contribute to helping. Plus, when you contribute time you get to see the people you are helping and witness your impact directly. As for the difference between volunteering locally and overseas, I think the main difference is that the populations I’ve volunteered with overseas have been consistently less well off than their American counterparts. Additionally, I think there’s an added benefit of them seeing that the rest of the world cares. In America, that is not so important because most Americans feel that any/all of America’s problems can be solved by America. Whereas I think many people in developing countries look to the first world to help solve their problems – for better or for worse.
2. How did you become interested in working on environmental issues?
After getting my chemical engineering degree, I started a career in computer programming. During that time, I also developed a love for outdoor activities and a stronger appreciation for natural beauty. After a few years, I decided to combine my chemical engineering education with my affinity for the environment.
3. What was the most interesting/important soil clean up project you have worked on?
One of the most interesting projects was an investigation of fuel tanks on various South African farms. Historically, a major fuel company had given the farmers tanks in exchange for buying their fuel from them. The company didn’t maintain records of the tanks they gave and provided no maintenance services. Thus, they had little idea where all these tanks were and what they were currently used for. The project allowed me to tour the South African countryside, meet many farmers, and see how many tanks currently had uses different from their initial purpose – something typical of the African ingenuity.
One of most important projects was the design and implementation of a permeable reactive barrier (PRB) to treat a volatile organic compound groundwater plume in Northern California. The plume was migrating beneath a residential area and through volatilization causing vapor concentrations in some homes to be above health screening levels. The PRB was able to reduce concentrations to below screening levels and resulted in indoor air concentrations falling below critical levels in all homes in the community.
4. How do environmental principles in Tanzania differ from those in the US?
I don’t know much about environmental principles in Tanzania. However, based on general observations, it seems to be similar to the out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality that dominated the US until the mid to late 1980s.
5. Can you talk a bit about the importance of environmental education and lack thereof in developing countries?
The main importance, as I see it, is so that they will not make the same mistakes as many of the more developed countries. Pollution prevention is much less expensive than cleanup. And sometimes it’s not feasible to return a resource, such as a groundwater aquifer, to its original condition. Additionally, poorer populations rely disproportionately on natural resources, such as surface water (streams, lakes, etc) and groundwater. When those resources are threatened, it also threatens their livelihood and survival. Without pressure to restore those resources, those populations are exposed to all types of adverse health effects.
6. What have you enjoyed most about working with BCC thus far? What about living in Moshi?
Meeting the kids that the farm will ultimately benefit, working with the BCC staff, and the planning/design that the project requires. In the States, you’d just go to Home Depot to buy some equipment, hook it up to a tap and off you go. Here, there are so many more levels to it.
As for living in Tanzania, I like that everything is an adventure. Finding basic items, negotiating prices, communicating simple ideas. It’s kind of like being born again, or some kind of survival game where you are dropped into a place and have to survive on your wits. I’ve also enjoyed meeting Tanzanians and other foreigners and learning their interesting stories.
One thing I particularly like about Moshi as opposed to other places I’ve visited or lived is there seems to be a disproportionate number of people who come here to volunteer. For one, it means they are here longer so there’s more time to develop a lasting friendship. Secondly, I find people who would travel to a place to volunteer more interesting than many I’ve met that are just travelling/partying their way through a place with no real desire to learn about or experience the culture.
7. In what ways do you think/hope the farm will benefit BCC?
Mainly, I hope the kids enjoy building and working the farm. I also hope we can provide the majority of the food for the centers and a small income for BCC. The BCC staff and other local people are much more knowledgeable on how to grow the commonly found crops here. I’m hoping to add value by introducing less frequently found crops that command higher selling prices and may open up markets for BCC. One good example is basil, which is not currently found in markets, but most of the guesthouses/restaurants/hotels offer pizza on their menu. If BCC can grow basil it may allow them to tap into a currently under served market, rather than having to compete with everyone else selling commonly found crops.
We look forward to updating you on our progress on the farm!