Guest post by Megan Raisle.
My name is Megan Raisle. I am a student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. My long-lasting interest in East Africa and systems surrounding food insecurity brought me to Tanzania, and the kindness of Alex and Beatrice brought me to Seed Change for a week to learn about their organization.
The intonation of a Tanzanian voice that must have articulated this four syllable response thousands of times filled my ears with a familiar ease and comfort as we, myself and two trainers I joined in the field last week, sat down in Mkwanga village for tea. I came to the field to watch, listen, and learn from the approximately 30 farmers who gathered to attend a lesson about common palm oil diseases. Unlike other extension-type lessons from NGOs I’ve attended, I was presently surprised that all of the students (most well over the age of 40) were actually very engaged, asking questions for at least a half hour after the trainers had finished speaking.
And that got me thinking about how this work, Seed Change’s work, was different than lessons I’d sat in where the students barely looked up. I ended up coming back to this single word, marahaba. At least in my mind, it seems this classic respectful Kiswahili greeting proudly exchanged – the younger person says, “shikamoo” and the elder responds, “marahaba” – has a lot more to do with Seed Change than I thought.
The greeting has become a meaningful reminder. This one beautiful Kiswahili word is a fundamental acknowledgment. An acknowledgement that there is respect in a relationship, that respect is appreciated and expected, and with acceptance of that respect, you are welcome. I find this word incredibly distinct in this manner, and also analogous to the mission of Seed Change that is carried out every single day; that is what makes Seed Change unique.
Today, development work is, in all honesty, an industry. And the evolution of this industry has come with the evolution of dozens of theories about how to best improve the livelihoods of the people you are trying to serve. I’ve found Seed Change to be different in that they aren’t trying to change the behavior of a society or people for their “betterment”. They recognize that palm oil is fundamental to farming culture in Kigoma, and they’re sticking to it. These farmers are already a path; Seed Change is just working to make this path smoother and more beneficial by offering trees with higher yield and training. They are maintaining and recapturing the respect these Tanzanians deserve, and with tree technology no less. Now that’s worth respect.