Here in SFS Tanzania we usually have a pretty packed schedule. We are usually either in class, camping in the National Parks, conducting interviews, or doing various exercises for our classes. But every once in awhile we have the opportunity to help out with some local projects in the area. One project that I have been able to work on is an implementation of research done last semester. The research project was about building different types of fences around privately-owned farms near a National Park to deter elephants from raiding their crops.
There were two types of fences being built on two fields next to each other in order to see what the difference was between the two. One fence was a chili-powder fence. This was the fence I worked on on our first community service day. We had to carry up all of our materials to the top of a hill where the corn fields were. First we dug holes for the fence posts, then we strung twine between them, after that we had to crush up a lot of chilli peppers into a powder, and then we dipped rags and cloth into really sticky black oil which then got a nice coating of the powdered chilies, finally we tied the spicy rags to the twine and hoped that it worked. It was really messy work and many clothes got ruined by the oil. My job was to crush the chilies in the biggest mortar and pestle I’ve ever seen. I was lucky to have the help of a few young girls who lived on the farm and were much better than I was at using the mortar and pestle. We took turns crushing up the chilies, the girls were very patient with me as I tried to learn the proper technique to using such oversized tools. It was so much harder than it looked! And once we got the peppers a little bit crushed there was suddenly a lot of spicy powder in the air. We all started to cough and our eyes began to water. It was a lot of pain to go through to put together a fence. The other SFS student who was crushing chilies with me came up with a new name for us, the spice girls, after that day because we both suffered some unfortunate incidents with the chilies. Like, the fact that we got blisters from the pestle and then got chili powder in them. Oh well!
The other fence being built, that I helped with the next community service day, was a beehive fence. The setup was pretty much the same- poles with wire between them. But this time we hung up homemade beehives (empty ones) between them. This fence had a lot less injuries but a lot of people got some nasty cuts from the metal on the hives as they carried it up the hill. But after another long day of work and confusion because of language barriers we got the second round of fences put up. The farmers told us they put things in the hives to attract bees and now they had to wait to see if the bees would come to them.
Over the next few months the fences will hopefully deter elephants from eating these farmers’ crops. But if not they will need to find another, possibly more expensive solution. It is extremely difficult for farmers to deal with elephants here in rural Tanzania, and they receive little to no support from the government and other agencies.
Another problem that we encountered while doing our community service was the fact that voluntourism is very popular in this area. And while it may seem like it is helping the people in the area, many locals are often frustrated at the lack of long-term assistance and support. Even us, we only help out occasionally with these fences, but once we leave the farmers will be on their own again. Just food for thought if anyone is thinking about traveling somewhere to do short term volunteer work. Until next time!