Sunday, July 31, 2016

Connection to Ecotourism

Some of you may know, the whole reason I went to Tanzania was for an Ecotourism class with my school, the University of Maine at Farmington. Eco-Tourism, also known as Responsible Tourism or Sustainable, is tourism that brings sustainability to the community. This can be done in a variety of ways, and many ecotourism companies hit most of these "qualifications": employing local people and paying them a fair wage, preserving land, taking care of the wildlife, and also giving back to the community.

During our trip, we met with multiple ecotourism groups. While all of them were fantastic to meet with, I had a hard time making the connection to disabilities in Tanzania. While we didn't meet with any groups that benefited people with disabilities directly (Shanga isn't an ecotourism group), there were still many groups that benefited the community as far as education and children goes.

On one of our first days, we visited a local coffee cooperative, through an ecotourism group called Honey Badger. While we didn't stay at Honey Badger, we did have an opportunity to visit, talk to one of the owners Joseph, and eat dinner there. While talking to Joseph, we learned that they greatly support the school that is next door to the lodge, due to Joseph's mother working there. One of the ways that they benefit the school is by selling souvenir items (jewelry, clothing, etc.) to the guests at the lodge, and giving all of the proceeds directly to the school. Needless to say, I bought a few items there!

Obviously, if you read my last post, Rhotia Valley Lodge and Children's Home is also a clear example of an ecotourism group that benefits children. Not only do they have teachers on site for the younger children, but they also send their older children to secondary school and pay for their fees. Also, if the student takes full advantage of what the home is offering and does well in school, they will also pay for them to attend university. Although Mary isn't yet receiving schooling, due to the lack of teachers with experience working with children with disabilities, they are looking into programs that might still benefit her.

According to, "Tanzania: Whose Eden is it?" by Martha Honey, tourism in Tanzania "has become the country's most important foreign exchange earner ... [and] is now viewed as one of Tanzania's best hope for development" (Honey 249).  However, too many tourist industries are based in North American or European countries where very little benefit is actually given to the visited country. Through ecotourism, tourists are still able to get the great experience of visiting another country, while also being assured that the company they are going through is sustainable to the community.

Before going on this trip, I never gave much thought to the exploitation of workers or damage to the environment many companies allow. Now, I am sure to only go through ecotourism certified companies. I know that they will be taking care of their workers, while also taking care of the environment and the community. That, is something I think more people should care about, and I hope that I can take what I've learned and educate others.


Honey, Martha. 2008. “Tanzania: Whose Eden is it?” Ecotourism and Sustainable Development. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 215-255.

Link to Honey Badger's Website:

Link to Rhotia Valley's Website:

Rhotia Valley Lodge and my friend Mary

One of the last lodges we stayed at during our trip was called Rhotia Lodge. It was located on the outskirts of the Ngorongoro Crater, which is where we went on safari the next day. There were many reasons why it was my favorite lodge of the trip. First of all, it was absolutely beautiful. The view from the lodge was stunning. Second, and most important, not too far from the lodge was Rhotia Valley Children's Home. This is a home for children in the area who are either orphaned, or only have one parent who is not able to care for them during the day.

Since part of the proceeds made by the lodge go directly to supporting the Children's Home, the lodge offers small tours of it to the guests. However, the tours are only given once a day at the same time, and are only offered to guests, not to the general public. At first, I thought this was strange. I was a little disappointed, because at the time I was thinking of how great it would be to some day come back to Tanzania and potentially volunteer there. After speaking to my professor on this, she brought it to my attention that it was to prevent the Children's Home from becoming a tourist attraction. While it was appropriate in our situation, because it was a part of the lodge we were staying at and we weren't intruding on anything, too often orphanages seem to be put on a bucket list of places to visit while in Africa.

During the tour, we were shown the living quarters, the classroom, and the garden that the children worked on (fun fact - a lot of the meals at the lodge came from food in the garden!). We didn't get a chance to interact with the kids, though, because by the time the tour was done they were eating dinner. On the way back to the lodge, I was able to ask if there were any children with disabilities. I learned that there was one girl. I asked if I could come back and potentially meet with her, and with the help of my professor, I was able to go back the next day.

Mary came to the Children's Home about 5 years ago. She was found on the side of the road by one of the workers at the Home. She had great hypertonicity in her hands, which is why they believe her family abandoned her. In a society where farm work is so essential to survive, and Mary unable to fully use her hands, her family viewed her as nothing else but an extra mouth to feed. Mary also seems to have a developmental delay, which can't be determined if she was born with it, or it occurred due to malnutrition from her neglect.

Since coming to the lodge, Mary has received endless love and support. She's 12 years old, but sleeps in the quarters for the younger children because she likes to play with them best. I had the opportunity to walk around with her for a bit after initially meeting her and asking questions, and everyone we came across smiled and said hi to her. The other students treat her the same as they do any of the other students, which I think is especially great. Even though she doesn't receive any formal schooling, she still sits in on lessons with her peers, because they feel it gives her great social skills.

I asked if there were any homes or schools in the area specific for children with disabilities. They did say that there was one opening in Dar Salaam, and they were doing some research into it. However, they are afraid that if she does, she will be just a number amongst the other students, and not have the same loving environment she has at the children's home. They are still going to look into it, though, and are ultimately going to do what is best for Mary.

Here are some pictures from the Children's Home, along with a picture of me and Mary! (We had permission to take pictures)


Thursday, July 28, 2016


Hi everyone!

I have to talk about one of my favorite parts of my trip to Tanzania. One of the "touristy" shops we stopped at was called Shanga. Shanga, which got its name from the Swahili word for "bead," is a store in Arusha, Tanzania that employs people with various types of disabilities. The store sells a large variety of things, ranging from jewelry to glassware, and everything in between.

Most of the products are made right behind the store itself. Upon our first visit, we were given a tour. There were a variety of stations, from beadwork to sewing to glass blowing. We were able to learn some Swahili Sign Language, so we were able to say "hello" and "thank you" to the workers who were deaf. The tour then ended at the store, where we stayed for quite a long time looking at and purchasing the items (there was SO much to see!).

A few days later, some members form my group wanted to go back to Shanga and learn some more. We were able to meet with one of managers of it, learn more about the history and ask some questions. Shanga started employing people with disabilities after the founder, Saskia Rechsteine, asked a deaf woman who worked at the coffee estate where she lived to help her make her products. She then saw an opportunity to provide an income for this woman, and wanted to help more people with disabilities. Since then, Shanga has employed more than 45 people with disabilities in Tanzania. 

There were many reasons why I liked this place so much. Obviously, I loved that their focus was on employing people with disabilities. They believe that by giving these people the skills to produce a desired product, they will be gaining respect in their community, which unfortunately would otherwise look down upon them. I also liked that there was a wide range of disabilities amongst the workers. While many were deaf, there were also many with physical disabilities and some with intellectual disabilities as well.

I also liked that all of their material is recycled. All of the cloths that are used for the necklaces are scraps from kangas (garments that can be used for clothing, table cloths, etc.), and all of their glass beads are recycled wine bottles from local restaurants. I thought that this was especially neat!

Lastly, I love the respect they have for their workers. All of the workers start at a wage that is above minimum wage, with the opportunity of it to increase over time. Also, through the work of the Shanga Foundation, they are able to continuously provide assistance to their workers. This foundation has been able to provide new medical equipment for their workers, such as wheelchairs, while also providing classes for other people with disabilities that they wouldn't be able to employ. I thought this was great because even though Shanga is not able to employ every person with a disability in Tanzania, they are still reaching out to the larger community.

Overall, this is a VERY cool place. If you're interested in learning more, or even ordering a product, here is the link to their website!



P.S. Here are some pictures of Shanga. We were given permission to take photos!

Monday, July 11, 2016

First Observations

After a week of beating jet lag and getting back into my normal routine, I finally have the time to post about my findings during my AWESOME trip to Tanzania!

On our first day, we had a "Survival Swahili" course. Our teacher Francis was excellent. He was patient with our butchered pronunciation, and while a week later I can only remember "asante" (thank you) and "habari" (a common greeting), I learned a lot during that lesson.

Afterwards, I had the opportunity to sit down with him to talk some more. Francis is a teacher at a Christian School in Tanzania, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to find out about students with disabilities. He said that very few students in his school had disabilities. One student that came to mind was a boy with albinism. While one may not think that albinism is a disability, it can have an impact on the student's vision. Due to this, it is often hard for the student to stay concentrated. Despite these difficulties, this student is still in the mainstream classroom with some adaptations.

Francis thinks there are a few reasons that so few students with disabilities are attending school. The first is the stigma that surrounds people with disabilities. Many families are ashamed to have a child with a disability, and don't want them to go to school for that reason. Also, there are so few teachers that are trained to work with children with disabilities. While it can sometimes be hard enough to find teachers for a general education classroom, it can be even more difficult to find teachers that specialize with students with various disabilities.

I did learn that there is a woman in a town outside of Moshi that runs a home specifically for children with disabilities. While I wasn't able to get her information, I'm glad that there are people like this woman who are willing to give these children a chance.

That's all for today! I'll be back soon with more information from my trip.


My professor snapped a photo of me and Francis

Photos from Istanbul Airport

Bathroom clearly not disability accessible

People with disabilities were able to board the plane first