Tanzania: Budding businesses in Moshi

Among my top priorities in returning to Moshi I wanted to visit a handful of the women I had grown to love during my time volunteering with the Give a Heart to Africa (GHTA) business school. These creative entrepreneurs had gone through the free 12-month intensive course -- which covers english, mathematics, and business skills -- and successfully pitched their ideas to the school's owner and manager. Upon graduation, they presented detailed budgets and plans, and sponsors have an opportunity to fund their ideas.

When I came in 2016, these businesses were already launched, but several volunteers and I had worked closely with these women to build their businesses into more viable operations. For weeks we visited these women, carefully examining their goods, providing constructive feedback, and drawing upon each of our unique entrepreneurial skill sets to mentor them and help them obtain success. This was a part of the alumni program I helped establish.

Now that we had returned to Moshi, Lauren and I woke up early one morning, slapped on some sunscreen and walked from our bed and breakfast -- More Than a Drop boarding school for girls -- and took off down the long dirt road towards GHTA. There we would meet Rhiannon, the school's diligent and dedicated manager who had been working to help both new students and past graduates for the last three-and-a-half years.

Rhiannon was busy in her duties when we arrived, so I spent some time chatting with the Tanzanian staff -- Tausi the bright translator, Margaret the beautifully joyful cook, Gabriel the kind security guard, and Zessi the silent but sweet housekeeper. We played with Rhiannon's happy street-rescued pup, Mush, and laughed about life until she was ready to hit the road. Today, we would be visiting two well-established businesses owned and operated by a handful former GHTA graduates. Both were conveniently nuzzled next to one another in a little courtyard at the heart of bustling Moshi city.

First up was a stop at the Lala Salama day spa. Lisa, a confident and smart GHTA alumni, had brought this concept about several years ago but had since transformed the business from a tiny dark room in an apartment complex to a well-oiled machine. Taking notes learned from the business curriculum, she moved her spa to a more central and accessible location, crafted bright signage, and implemented a few welcoming touches.

Most notably, she had a simple but charming mural painted on the wall underneath her company logo: 'Lala Salama', which means 'sleep well' in Swahili (the principal language spoken in Tanzania).

Lisa had also included a few western touches to cater to tourists and visiting volunteers, like pop culture magazines that one would find scattered across the tables in North American day spas and hair salons. Unfortunately, due to costly import restrictions and corruption at the mailing offices, it meant she was forced to rely on magazines that GHTA volunteers could donate after their travels. Many of the issues were outdated by several years...but (always trying to see the silver lining) it was like a little time capsule taking us back to the funny headlines and celebrity drama that we had long since filed away in our memory!

We wanted to test out some of Lisa's services. She had started the business with three women --who she trained personally -- and had since expanded to five with three additional trainees who sat and carefully observed as we got our pedicures. First, we each had a massage. The two women delivering the services were professional, kind, and thorough, kneading into our knotted muscles tightly formed in our necks during our long plane ride to Tanzania.

Then, we each had a manicure and pedicure. Again, we were impressed with how each woman carefully scrubbed, massaged, and pampered our dusty and dry hands and feet. In Canada, a mani-pedi would take an hour-and-a-half, but these ladies carefully soaked, scrubbed, sanded, and scrubbed again until all of our skin was silky soft and the muscles were massaged into submission.

Rhiannon said she was still teaching the women to stick to a tighter schedule when it came to their services (further business skills she was attempting to impart as a part of the graduation follow-up program) -- so they could keep to a schedule and get more bookings in a day...but we weren't complaining! We had a limited selection of nail colours as, again, importing anything that wasn't readily available (like a funky variety of polish colours) was costly and difficult. Rhiannon explained that many of these items gets caught and taxed during airport screenings, or she's forced to pay heavy duties if they're shipped through the mail...just to get customs inspectors to even hand over a small package can be a three-hour negotiation!

By the time we were finished, our hands and feet were baby-skin smooth and we felt like relaxed balls of dough. 'Lala Salama' was certainly accurate! Lauren, Rhiannon, and I were all thoroughly impressed. I paid the bill, included and nice tip to ensure they knew we appreciated their efforts, and we began the long journey to the next business...next door!

The next business we visited was called "Moshi Mamas" -- a craft cooperative started by three GHTA graduates: Lusarie, Pricilla, and Beatrice. They have since brought on two more women. The group of ladies create colourful crafts and keepsakes for tourists to memorialize their visit to Tanzania.

Before attending the school, and long before the business, all of the women came from impoverished and disadvantaged backgrounds, with little to no education. Lusarie, for example, is now 49, but came to the school with nothing more than a primary school education and was supporting her three children by raising and selling chicken.

Now, they have a profitable and stable business to support themselves and their growing families. The store is brimming with brightly coloured beadwork, paintings, patterned pants and aprons, children's toys, and creative keepsakes -- all handmade by the Mamas themselves.

Out back, there are sewing machines, crafting supplies, and beading tables where the women sit throughout the day to make stock for their store and complete orders.

They also offer custom-made pieces. If a customer sees something they like but want it in a different colour, size, or style, the Mamas would arrange to have it ready for them to take home in less than a few days.

As another source of revenue, the ladies regularly host jewellery classes to teach tourists and locals how to craft their own Tanzanian-style necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Lauren found a bright orange pair of paints with a butterfly pattern and a layered necklace, and I purchased a bracelet and teal pair of loosely fitting pants with an elephant print. They carefully folded our items into handmade fabric bags -- another wonderful little embellishment -- and we were on our way.

Approximately 40 women graduate from GHTA every year. After completion of their studies, the women are entered into an alumni program which ensures regular follows-up to monitor their progress and continue their education through mentorship. It is entirely run by volunteers and a small permanent staff team, which can be difficult in slow seasons and often leaves Rhiannon struggling to manage a consistent curriculum. I personally believe more needs to be done to ensure financial stability and that Tanzanian women should be employed to teach the curriculum, with support from volunteers. Their budget is entirely made up of volunteer fees and donations, meaning 100 percent of the profits (beyond what goes back into the cost to run the school) goes to supporting the women in their entrepreneurial endeavours.

It was amazing to see how the program and the hard work, from both Rhiannon and the volunteers over the last three years, has culminated into stability for women who previously had none. Each woman was smiling ear-to-ear with pride as they showed us around their business and you could see they were truly happy to have found a gateway to independence.

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