How to eat an elephant


Hillside shanty, Mwanza

‘Before you came over the challenge here looked like eating an elephant – it was just too enormous. Now I feel we know how to eat the elephant.’

We’ve been working with the Cedar Foundation, a small charity that began life in Bulgaria leading the de-institutionalisation of orphanages for disabled children, and is now beginning to work in Tanzania. Urban Pollinators was asked to work with the charity’s founders to clarify their vision and approach and develop an action plan for their work.

The metaphor about eating the elephant came at the end of an intensive week of workshops, visits and meetings. Our challenge was to help people who had pioneered a service for exceptionally vulnerable people in challenging circumstances in Eastern Europe consider how they would approach working with a whole community in Africa.

Cedar Tanzania will be based in Mwanza, Tanzania’s second most populous city and an international crossroads. Though it’s expanding and natural resources are plentiful, poverty is widespread and the infrastructure is fragile. Outside the city, the infrastructure is poorer still: we visited the town of Sengerema, where the hospital is the only medical facility within a thirty-mile radius – yet it only has mains water supply two days a week.

For people in villages like Kamanga, a settlement across an inlet of Lake Victoria from Mwanza, pregnant women have a choice of trekking to the overcrowded hospital at Sengerema, an hour’s drive along a dirt track, or taking the ferry to the main hospital in Mwanza. Women in labour have been known to die on the ferry crossing because they haven’t received medical attention in time.

The challenges for communities like Kamanga are numerous: a fragile economy that’s highly dependent on access to markets in Mwanza; overcrowded schools; poor healthcare; lack of access to clean water and the risk of bilharzia from fishing or bathing in Lake Victoria.

Yet this is also a community with strengths and potential. Part of our work was to consider these strengths, thinking about the assets of the place and people as well as the perceived problems. We used our visits and meetings to begin building a picture of these assets, examining what people value and take pride in, and considering what makes a thriving community in the context of the local economy and culture.

From this initial analysis we worked with the Cedar Foundation to articulate its values and aims, consider the resources needed, and draw up an action plan for the coming year based on working with the strengths of the local community and to protect the natural environment.

There’s much to be done, but important contacts have been made and the first steps have been taken to turn the charity’s vision into action. The elephant is still there, but we have a much better idea of what to do with it.