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11 Jul 2022

Idealism vs. Realism

More than 1.5 years ago, Net4kids started a collaboration with initiators Rex Vermeulen and Paul Joosten for a project in the Tanzanian village of Kiruani. The target? Making the Kiruani community self-reliant through education, entrepreneurship and collaboration, in collaboration with local partner FT Kilimanjaro (FTK).

What is the role of the Board?

In the first quarter of 2021, the two enthusiastic entrepreneurs have found thirty passionate entrepreneurs / enterprising people to participate in this adventure. By becoming a member of the 'Town Advisory Board', each participant commits to a three-year collaboration and contributes funding, time and knowledge. They help the local experts with resources, knowledge and skills to make Kiruani in Tanzania a self-supporting community.

But can we really help? What knowledge can we use? What is the role of the 'board'? Over the past year, the group came together at various board meetings to explore this together. We asked the participants to think along, to make a pitch with an idea of how we can bring about change in Kiruani, Tanzania. One of the participants, Hylke Visser, talks about the 'Dragons Den' pitch night that we organized in March of this year. He is one of three winners, chosen unanimously by the group itself. Hylke does his pitch online, on the way in the back of his car via Teams. “I received the message that my project proposal had been selected. Happy and honored, yet still unsure. Can my ideas be realized?”

The trip to Tanzania

Time to discover the answer to this question during an impressive trip to Tanzania. Last June it happened. With 11 entrepreneurs, full of idealism and enthusiasm, Net4kids traveled to Tanzania for a week to experience what works and what does not have to be a solution. With a mission: What are the biggest differences in experience and where are the possibilities to help? Which lines should we use to think and act in order to provide the best possible service to the community in Tanzania? Hylke; †Together with eleven enthusiastic people (including 5 former Oracle colleagues) we are going on a trip to Tanzania. The coffee at Schiphol is a lot about the African experience. I haven't gotten further than Marrakesh and Cape Town yet, and the experts are quick to say, that's not Africa. Curious as I am, that naturally fuels my curiosity even more. How normal traveling via Schiphol is normal for me, today it is different. The unknown of what awaits me, I can do something with my ideas, but especially we can make an impact in Kiruani

With a carefully constructed program by Net4kids in collaboration with local partner organization FT Kilimanjaro (FTK), we take the board members step by step in the working method of our local partner. How do you turn a village into a self-reliant community, together with the residents? We first visit other villages in the area (Lower Moshi), such as Londoto and Mawala, where FTK has already taken several steps, such as a well, a dispensary (clinic) and improvement of school buildings. Paul Joosten: “The projects are very visible. Nice water source/filter where one can 'buy' drinking water. 4 cents for two jerry cans† Then we visit the successful self-supporting community of Mtakuja, surrounded by a thriving agriculture, the pride of our local hero Gerbert Rieks, who was director of FTK for many years.


The arrival at Kiruani, 'our village', gives the group goosebumps. Paul Joosten: “First impression; many more options than expected. We are received so warmly and everyone really knows FTK. It is so nice to see that in the first year the foundation is being laid here for what we have seen in the other villages. It's SO concrete.” We walk together through the village whose name we have mentioned so often in the past year and a half, but which it was so difficult to visualize from a distance. Kiruani is beautifully situated on a riverbed on one side and close to beautiful rice fields, but less than 500 meters on the other side it is extremely dry and warm. Part of the group visits the rice farms in boats, while others walk through the village with villagers. What a special conversation you can have, sometimes with hands and feet, about your family and your children, but also about how trade is conducted in Kiruani, and what the needs for change are here.

Thanks in part to funding from our Kiruani board, FTK ensures that we improve education, healthcare, infrastructure and employment for Kiruani. FTK does not just do that. The role of the community is great. They are responsible for their own change. In addition, the local government plays a major role. Once a health clinic is in place (according to the otherwise illogical building requirements of the government), the government provides staff. The same goes for the schools. The classrooms are renovated and teaching materials are purchased with the FTK budget. Teachers are placed in the school by the government. Thanks to FTK, extra 'volunteer teachers' can be recruited. Students who have just finished their 'pabo' can gain work experience for a small salary. Tablets have also been purchased to enable more interactive teaching. Both developments are essential to improve the quality of education.

Ideas from the Board

Hylke uses his knowledge as an IT expert to help FTK further develop in IT. †The idea is to allow children to learn more digitally and online through the internet. But there is little or no internet in Kiruani. People who know me a little bit will not be surprised that I like new technological developments. One of them is Starlink. An innovative satellite technique that makes it possible to make internet available at low cost in areas where it is not obvious that a fiber optic cable will be installed (…) The idea is to launch the Starlink internet as soon as possible (licence is expected in 2023). technology available in Kiruani.”

In conversations with FTK staff members, we talk a lot about the role of the entrepreneurs on the board. In addition to IT & education, groups have also been formed around the ideas of two other participants from the group; Rieteke Roelofs (is it possible to set up a purchasing combination for the street/small shops sellers?) and Erik Broekhuis (is there a form of ecotourism possible that helps Kiruani?). Rieteke Roelofs explains how a meeting with a local expert, a wholesaler owner, provides good insight into the situation in Kiruani: “mr. Kennedy is hesitant, he thinks we're going to compete. In the end we have a good conversation with him, he gives us insight into life in the village. (…) He tells us that every shop owner does his own shopping and spends a whole day on the road to Moshi. We thought we could do something about that, but during the conversation with him we realize that money must first roll in Kiruani, that an economy must be created.”

What have we learned?

There is a lot of room to explore and learn about the challenges of getting started in a village like Kiruani. One of the greatest achievements for the board's participants is in fact the awareness of how a 'self-supporting' community is set up and guided in a country like Tanzania. FT Kilimanjaro, with their years of knowledge and experience working with these communities, gives us an important lesson in realism. And at the same time, we as a group of idealists also have something to offer FT Kilimanjaro. As Paul Joosten and Rex Vermeulen sum it up after a special conversation with Gerbert: “One cannot exist without the other. An organization, a team, needs realism and idealism. FTK has realism and our idealism comes together nicely.”

The journey has brought a lot to everyone. Once at home, the process often really starts: what have I seen and experienced? It is sometimes challenging not to judge from our Western culture how they develop at their own pace. FT Kilimanjaro's way of working is essential for long-term success and at the same time, the board provides a large number of resources so that the local team in Tanzania, in which project manager Ahmed plays a fantastic role, can continue to carry out the projects. A wonderful collaboration that we will deepen in the coming years.

Are you interested in participating in the Kiruani Town Advisory Board, or do you have other ideas on how you, together with Net4kids (and possibly your network) can make a difference for our next generations? For the youngsters and their families in Kiruani or elsewhere? We would be happy to talk to you!

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