The Diocese of Mara
The Diocese of Mara
The relationship between the Church of Christ the King and Tanzania, East Africa, goes back to 1988 when a formal link was set up between the then Diocese of Wakefield and the newly created Diocese of Mara.
An early expression of this link was the establishment of a secondary school at Issenye by Christ the King parishioners Maureen & Bill Jones. Maureen & Bill lived and worked in Issenye from 1989 to 1996, developing the school and a rural health centre. The Church of Christ the King has continued to support both projects.
Tanzania has Africa’s highest mountain, largest and deepest lakes – Kilimanjaro, Victoria & Tanganyika.
It is a multi-party democracy, with peaceful elections, presidents who retire when their term expires, and an apolitical army.
Tanzanians are linguists, often speaking more than one of its 126 tribal languages, as well as Swahili.
The country has a largely rural population with many living at near subsistence-farming level.
Mains services such as water and electricity supply are generally restricted to the towns.
Health and education facilities are thinly spread.
‘Mara’ is Tanzania’s most northern administrative region, and derives its designation from the river of the same name. The Anglican Church’s ‘Diocese of Mara’ originally occupied the same geographical space, but has since been divided into Rorya and Tarime in the north, with a reduced size Mara in the south. Issenye remains in Mara, being situated in the south and close to the world-famous Serengeti National Park.
The Serengeti eco-system, which includes Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Olduvai Gorge, Serengeti National Park, Grumeti Game Reserve and the Maasai Mara, covers 12,000 square miles. The more widely publicised Maasai Mara section, in neighbouring Kenya, contributes 583 square miles to that total.
Ask anyone in Mara Diocese what its priorities are, and the answer is invariably ‘evangelism’, but the way in which that is understood is enlightening. From its grassroots help with agricultural development, through its vocational training courses, primary and secondary education centres to its rural health centre on the edge of the Serengeti, and tireless work to counter and reduce the effects of AIDS, FGM and malaria, the Church in Mara responds to the real, daily needs of people, regardless of religious or tribal affiliation. Its approach to evangelism calls to mind the words attributed to St Francis of Assisi; ‘Preach the Gospel always – use words if necessary.’ Very often in Mara, words take second place.
Mugumu Safe House
Rhobi Samwelly is the charismatic Warden of the Mugumu Safe House and she has the biggest smile in Africa. As head of Mara’s Discipleship and Mission Department, Rhobi was instrumental in establishing the Safe House, which is a refuge for girls fleeing the practice of female genital mutilation, FGM.
Though illegal in Tanzania, some tribes still subject their young girls to FGM. Girls trying to escape it now have a safe place to go where they are cared for and protected, free of charge. As well as receiving food and shelter, the girls attend classes where they learn English to help them enter secondary education, and also tailoring and craft skills which will help them make their way in the world whether or not they later become reconciled with their families after running away from home.
The long-term aim, however is to re-educate the families who still favour FGM and persuade them that such an outdated and barbaric practice has no place in the modern world. To this end Rhobi and her team spend long hours in the community talking to tribal leaders, parents and even the ‘cutters’ who make a living out of what they do.
Our picture shows her in a village many miles from the Safe House, patiently trying to bring about a change in traditional belief and practice – never an easy job. But she and the team are making serious headway in this uphill struggle. Many parents, tribal elders and even cutters themselves have come round to the new thinking
Mobile phones are transforming Africa. Families can keep in touch without the expense and difficulty of long bus journeys on problematic roads; small-scale farmers can check wholesale prices and make sure they get a good deal for their produce; money can change hands at the flick of a switch instead of a journey to a distant bank.
But what happens when your battery runs down and the nearest socket is a five hour walk away?
The Church in Mara has stepped in to help entrepreneurs in this village install a solar panel on the roof of the local ‘duka’ or shop. There is no shortage of customers for a top up so that they can reconnect with the world. There is also a ready market for portable solar lights. Our picture shows Issenye students’ ‘homework lights’ on charge in the very reliable sunshine.
Everyone in Mara grows food. Many have no other form of employment, so getting the best out of what you have is important. The Church in Mara has responded to this in many ways and our picture shows Asha, who is proud of her cow, and grateful to the Church for providing it. The Church has been active in promoting the practice of ‘zero grazing’ in which cows are kept in an enclosed space and food is grown for them, rather than allowing them to range across the countryside. The cows are specially bred crosses between local zebu and larger European breeds, ensuring the best qualities of each. The result is improved yields and Asha now has a steady income arising from sales of surplus milk. With this she has been able to send her child to school and even start on the building of a new house. The deal with the church is that the first calf her cow produces will go back to the Church, and eventually be passed on to another small-scale farmer.
Ploughing with oxen may look a bit low tech, but it’s a great improvement on using a hoe and it enables this farmer to cultivate a lot more land than before. The Church encourages intermediate technology of this sort. Africa is littered with broken down machinery of every kind which has been introduced with insufficient thought about maintenance and repair or access to spare parts. Tractors and other farm machinery will come to Tanzania as it continues to develop, but in the meantime this farmer can feed his family and send a modest surplus to market as a way of improving his family’s life. Mara’s Rural Aid Centre takes local farmers in for short, practical courses which have the potential to change their lives, and those of the whole village, as profitable practice is always copied.
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© 2017 Christ the King, Battyeford