Planting Seeds for the Future of Tanzania
by Rae Lynn Mitchell
Students of Public Health: Voices & Profiles focuses on research projects and other contributions students are making to advance public health.
STUDENT PROFILES–In a small town mainly comprised of houses made of mud and tin, Texas A&M University School of Public Health graduate Jill Jahns spent eight months without running water, speaking a language she had started learning only a month previously, in order to help Tanzanians in the town of Kijungumoto learn different ways to supplement their income.
The trip was part of a Washington, DC-based charity called 2Seeds Network, Inc., which is currently overseeing nine different projects in nine Tanzanian towns. Each project aims to create profitable small businesses among individual families to increase their income security. Jahns’ project focused on providing residents with honey production capabilities and home gardens.
“We’ve been working on changing the way things are grown in Kijugumoto for quite a while because there’s really irregular rainy seasons,” Jahns said. “To combat that, the villagers and I have tried home gardens, as opposed to large field gardens, because it’s much easier to control the elements.”
As project coordinator and the only American in Kijungumoto, Jahns had no electricity until about halfway through her time in the country, when she received a single electrical outlet in her house. The lack of electricity meant that Jahns had to cook with a propane tank and a camping stove and used flashlights to navigate her house when it was dark. Even obtaining water could be a hassle.
“The town’s water spigots were not on consistently, so the best time for me to get water would be in the middle of the night,” Jahns said. “Sometimes water was cut off for a week at a time, which posed serious problems.”
The lack of consistent water supply directly impacted the home garden project. To help address this issue, the 2Seeds team purchased water tanks to store water for the gardens. Each tank had a spout at the bottom and rested on a brick stand tall enough to fit watering cans underneath.
Jahns’ education from the Texas A&M School of Public Health in Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences helped her in several ways during her time in Tanzania.
“Some of the concepts that were most helpful were different ways to work with a community group, knowing theories concerning what drives people to make decisions about what to eat and what to grow, and the experience I had at the school in working with people from many different backgrounds,” Jahns said. “I don’t think I would have been nearly as effective without my education at the school.”
Jahns’ project aimed to have each of the partners who participated in home gardens and beekeeping earn an extra dollar each day just from those activities. But Jahns thinks there may be more difficulty with improving those profits in the future.
“We’re currently at the point where we can get two or three times the amount of money for the honey if we don’t sell it locally,” Jahns said. “So in order to get that higher profit, we would need to develop a much larger market.”
After arriving back in the US, Jahns found new habits she had picked up due to her stay in Kijungumoto. She is much more aware of how much trash she produces and how much water she uses than ever before.
“Through this experience I learned a great deal about working with a diverse group of people towards a common goal,” Jahns said. “It was full of challenges with many bumps along the road, but enthusiasm and commitment to the work remained strong. I worked with a great group of people, and I have faith that they will continue to grow the business and reach the financial goals we set together for the benefit of their families.”
Rae Lynn Mitchell, MA, is the Communications and Alumni Affairs Director for the Office of the Dean at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health.