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Have you heard about the enormous goal the U.N. has set for itself: cut world poverty in half over the next nine years. Africa is getting special attention and women there even more so. They are among the poorest, although they produce three quarters of the continents food.
For her series Portraits of Poverty, NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault travels to the East African Nation of Tanzania.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT reporting:
If you want to see the face of poverty, take a turn off the highway about an hour and a half outside of Tanzania's main port city, Darussalam and drive down a rocky dirt road that shakes up your insides as you roll over it. Soon, you meet Ayesha.
Ayesha is 29 years old and sick. She's also nursing her 23 day old baby girl, who's also sick.
AYESHA (Darussalam Resident) (Through translator): I'm just (unintelligible) progress, just sleeping and waking, and if I get things, I continue waking. If not, I go back to sleep.
HUNTER-GAULT: By things she means food and medicine, which sometimes neighbors help her obtain from a nearby tiny clinic. But its cupboards are almost bare. Most of the time Ayesha is bound to this house, just as she is locked into an endless cycle of poverty, and that keeps her bound to the kindness of neighbors, like the one who allowed her to stay in her small mud house, in a tiny dark room with a bed to sleep on and a leak in the ceiling.
Ms. AYESHA: (Foreign language spoken).
HUNTER-GAULT: Ayesha tells a familiar story of a boyfriend who got her pregnant and is gone, leaving nothing behind but suffering.
Ms. AYESHA:(Foreign language spoken)
HUNTER-GAULT: The rest of the story is also familiar in rural areas all over Africa, where 60 percent of woman live in absolute poverty.
Ms. AYESHA: (Foreign language spoken).
HUNTER-GAULT: Like many poor woman on the continent, Ayesha's parents, now dead, were to poor to send her to school.
VICTOREEN KEYANORE JETRANEW(ph): You keep in mind that in Africa the woman are not allowed to learn. You will easily understand why they are poor.
HUNTER-GAULT: Victoreen Keyanore Jetranew knows. She is an African woman from Benin who's worked among poor African woman all over the continent through the U.K. based non-governmental organization Action Aide.
Sanaboo Ali(ph) is a widow, also a face of poverty. We find her at the back of a compound of mud brick houses, standing next to her own, beside a large wire enclosure that was once a chicken coop. The chickens provided by a local NGO were supposed to throw her a lifeline to help provide for her children, twin boys and their three younger siblings.
But no sooner had the NGO left than the chickens died. Sanaboo has no idea why.
MS. SANABOO ALI (Darussalam Resident): (Foreign language spoken)
HUNTER-GAULT: Sanaboo tells me that there is a government program for one parent families. It provides school uniforms, shoes and books. But that doesn't put food on the table.
At this point all Sanaboo knows is...
MS. SANABOO ALI: (Foreign language spoken)
HUNTER-GAULT: ...you have to struggle.
(Soundbite of chopping)
HUNTER-GAULT: Struggle means living with child like Doto(ph), who sits for hours digging a hole in the ground, putting in and taking out a rock, over and over again. Struggle means not being able to afford to find out why he behaves as he does, or why he won't eat for days at a time, retarding his growth, leaving him smaller than his twin brother.
Elsewhere in the village, in a nearly bare mud house, we found Sali Mon Kama(ph), the local government official. He says one of the biggest problems in the area is lack of support for the many woman alone like Sanaboo.
Mr. SALI MON KAMA (Government Official): (Foreign language spoken)
HUNTER-GAULT: He says there is no longer enough land for them to farm. Kama says that even when the government provides small grants to help the women plant on what land there is, monkeys and other wild animals destroy the crops. I asked if he has sought help from the central government.
Mr. KAMA: (Through translator) We asked the government to come and kill the monkeys, but we get no response.
HUNTER-GAULT: Tanzania followed a post-colonial path called Ujamaa, encouraging a return to their traditional roots. That, combined with a defiant nationalism, left Tanzania one of the poorest of the many poor African countries emerging out of the period when colonialists drained them all dry. Political economist Rok Ajulee(ph).
Mr. ROK AJULEE (Political Economist): The rural areas are now much poorer than they were about 40 years ago. So increasingly, as Africa falls or Africa seems to be falling out from this global economy, there are lots of people in the rural areas, and the women, particularly.
HUNTER-GAULT: The women, says Ajulee, are the backbone of the rural economy, farming small plots, selling fruits and vegetables and other items in the villages, and providing basic necessities like food, medicine and clothing for the family.
They toil often in the absence of men, many of whom work in the mines or other migrant labor far away from home. Often they take second wives, create other families, and some never return, or these days, return infected with HIV.
(Soundbite of rooster crowing)
HUNTER-GAULT: Still, some women in rural areas are moving out of poverty.
Under a giant, leafy tree in Soga Village, coins are being tossed into a bucket: contributions from women who have earned enough money to pay back, not only money they borrowed, but to the community they live in. The women, joined by a few men, have even set up education and social funds, in addition to either starting up or expanding existing businesses.
Their good fortune has come from their village savings and loan program, a modified version of micro-financing designed for rural areas where there are no banks or other lending institutions. It was introduced by the NGO CARE International. Groups in the rural areas pool their money into a fund from which members can borrow, paying back with interest. Profits, including interest earnings, are shared by the individual members.
HUNTER-GAULT: One of the most successful businesses belongs to 31-year-old Hadija Kibwana.
Ms. HADIJA KIBWANA (Business Owner): (Foreign language spoken)
HUNTER-GAULT: Kibwana proudly shows off her stand, filled with dried fish and vegetables, just off the town's block-long main drag.
Ms. KIBWANA: (Foreign language spoken)
HUNTER-GAULT: She tells me that since joining the project two years ago, she has expanded her business three-fold. Kibwana tells me that her new-found wealth has enabled her to send her children to school, and also to buy clothes and medicines for them when they're sick. Kibwana is convinced this is the best way to get women like herself out of poverty, and she says she owes a lot to CARE and Abubakaray Othman Masoud, who facilitated a year-long training for the women in Soga.
Mr. ABUBAKARAY OTHMAN MASOUD (CARE International): We train people to do things instead of giving them a fish and then they eat and then they say okay. Now we've eaten the fish and then we need another one. But here, what we do is to give them training and then - now they know how to fish.
HUNTER-GAULT: There is a view that such projects only ameliorate poverty, but those critics also acknowledge that even if an agrarian revolution takes place in Africa, it's a long way off. Something needs to be done in the short term.
(Soundbite of chanting)
HUNTER-GAULT: Meanwhile, this is the sound of revolution among the rural women of Soga Village, stressing unity, discipline and commitment in their efforts to make a dent in the poverty that surrounds them now.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Soga Village, Tanzania.
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