Hope For A Struggling City
Tanzania — Nestled deep in the northern region of Tanzania lies Karatu, one of the seven city-districts within the city of Arusha. Juxtaposed between the immensely popular tourist destinations Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti National Park, Karatu is essentially the Tanzanian equivalent of King City: the town whose name you would never know unless you had to get gas there on your way up north on 101 to San Francisco. It’s easy to forget the trials and tribulations of a town like Karatu when all it’s known for is a city you drive past to get the place you actually care about. But if you take the effort to dig a little deeper in the place where you usually stop for gas, the reward can be substantial. Peel back Karatu’s layers and one can discover its intoxicating charm, its vast culture, its prideful community; truly, the city is a beauty to behold.
Boasting a population of around 240,000 people, the city is is by no means small. However, the lack of a tourist-boosted economy in towns like Karatu means they’re usually ignored in favor of their attention-hungry neighbors. In addition to this, Karatu, like the majority of small cities in Eastern Africa, is severely impoverished. So, in California, there’s an average of around 3,400 citizens per doctor. In Karatu, the average is a bit lower: 0.0000125 doctors per citizen. According to the Foundation for African Medicine and Education (FAME), there was a time in recent years where there were only three doctors for the entire city, and the doctors’ limited resources and education lead to countless instances of malpractice on individuals who have no other place to go.
Basic healthcare is just one of the many rights that the citizens of Karatu are denied. Education, another fundamental human right, is also in short supply. This is because good teachers are difficult to find, funding is scarce, and parents are rarely able to scrape enough money to send their children to school. It’s not like the people here are lazy; many work harder than us, but in this part of the world, hard work only gets one so far here. The people are brilliant and smart, but require education in order to achieve their potential. However, when — — -, education isn’t exactly the first thing on their minds. They are restricted, not only in resources, but by the needs of their family as well as themselves and their community.
In 2005, a man named Mr. Modest H. Bayo started the Tumaini Junior School with his wife in his living room in Karatu. Like his first name would suggest, Bayo is humble and gentle, while his presence commands an undying respect. A man of community, Bayo is blessed with a sense for social aptitude as high as a skyscraper and an undying vision of a better world for those who would otherwise be helpless. I met Bayo when I first visited Tanzania in 2007. By this time, the school was steadily growing, but signs that it was struggling were hard to miss. Ten years later, I visited the school again. By this time, the school had been open for twelve years, and when I first arrived, I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place and thought that maybe someone was messing with me. I thought to myself, where did all these kids come from? And who put that four story building there? And how do these kids have better handwriting than me?
Over 800 kids currently attend the Tumaini Junior School. These are 800 kids who have been given the opportunity to receive a truly astounding education, which, in a place like this, means everything. The school has evolved from a cramped living room into a massive center for youth education, with the campus consisting of an expansive library, a staff who have dedicated their lives to helping children, along with many other modern amenities that were once only reserved for first-world countries.
On a temperate Friday morning, the resounding chirps from countless Speckled Mousebirds and Paradise Flycatchers flooded my room through the screen-protected open windows: perfect timing. I get up, shower, put on the same pair khakis that I’ve been wearing for two weeks and a red flannel that I’ve only worn once; the blistering lower-hemisphere sun is a scorcher, so long sleeves and pants are a regretful must. I slip on my white Stan Smiths and patiently wait outside our room while my sister finishes getting ready. Our mission for the day was to take pictures of all 800 students in the school so they could make a school directory — the first in the school’s history.
Eventually we were on the move, exiting the gate of our lodge. We walk on the right side of the dusty unnamed road adjacent to the lodge. There was no shade to greet us; instead, we were acknowledged by several smiling locals to whom we responded to with “Jambo,” a common Swahili greeting. It was a fresh break from Los Angeles — here, you can smile at a stranger and be pretty sure that they’ll smile back.
We near the B144, the main two-lane highway mentioned earlier that tourists pass through; Toyota Land Cruisers rule the highways here, filled to the brim with eager tourists. Karatu’s unexpectedly diverse car culture breaks up the monotony of the highway, with customized cars standing out amongst the sea of the commonplace safari-bound Toyotas. We know better than to wait for a break in the lanes so we could cross — such a break would probably never come due to Karatu’s intense traffic. Instead, we played a game of real-life Leapfrog, waiting for the opportunity to jump front of a car and clear it without it hitting us. A few adrenaline-led moments later and we were safely across the highway, entering into a distinctly suburban area. The overwhelming smell of dust that had been attacking our nasal canals for the past two weeks is replaced with the distinct smell of burnt plastic. Patches of smoke come into view, rising from the endless piles of trash that line the side of the road.
And, what else should I expect? A starving city with a weekly trash disposal service? I realize the blissful ignorance of my western cocoon — “40 percent of the world’s garbage is burned in such fires, emitting gases and particles that can substantially affect human health and climate change.” (National Center for Atmospheric Research [NCAR]. That’s 1.1 billion tons of trash per year. Still, being from the west, it was a slightly unsettling sight, and the smell was putrid; I almost preferred the dust.
The mere quantity of burnt trash in the world was not the sole purpose of NCAR’s study. Instead, they focused on how the massive amount of trash being burned every year around the world was a major contributor to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as well as serious medical concerns. They found that 5% of combined human emissions came from the burning of trash worldwide — not a number to sneeze at, especially when considering that the global transportation sector (including cars, trains, buses, things like that) contributes to 14% of the world’s global pollution.
Unregulated and collectively approved of, the burning of trash in towns like Karatu is, compared to the surplus of other issues that the people here face, not really a noteworthy issue. There’s no reason for it to be.
So how do you fix a global problem like this? Can you overlook the other issues that these places face and focus your aim solely on getting people to not burn their trash? As previously mentioned, trash burning is nowhere near a priority to most. However, the silver lining of this smoky cloud [make this into a pun] is that a solution is theoretically possible — if people are willing to expend the resources to implement it.
Remember back in the early 2000s when recycling was just beginning to grab the public’s attention? Soon, it became all the rage, with recycling bins next to every trash can, specific recycling bins for specific recyclable material, shirts made in sweatshops with those three familiar arrows. Finally, something that can assuage our wastefulness!
So, essentially, the same trend needs to happen to the rest of the world. Ambitious? Maybe. Unrealistic? Probably. But in a part of the world where every tiny little bit counts for something, wouldn’t it be wholly beneficial to reuse what would otherwise be wasted? By implementing a recycling system in impoverished placed like Karatu, we could drastically reduce the need for people to burn their trash. This would diminish the numerous health issues that stem from burning plastic and other trash. We could reduce the 5% of pollution caused by burning trash worldwide. The world would be less reliant on new plastics when everyone recycles their trash.
I like to take a rather optimistic stance on whether or not mankind can engineer itself out of the coming apocalypse. Yeah, sure, we engineered ourselves into it in the first place, but who knew what we were getting ourselves into? Blaming mankind for getting us into this mess is like blaming the people of Karatu for not knowing better than contributing to global warming by burning their trash. They have a solution that works for them and they use it — just like us when we created the internal combustion engine and found a use for that black liquid buried in the crust of the earth. Did we know that burning that was going to eventually burn a hole in our atmosphere and suffocate us (aside from the jabronis at Exxonmobil [https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/exxon-knew-about-climate-change-almost-40-years-ago] who knew about global warming in the 70s but didn’t say anything)? Aside from that though, we were pretty clueless. But hey, now we can brag that the most valuable auto company in the world solely produces electric cars. Emission regulations have been put in place worldwide, like the Clean Air Act of Los Angeles. This act made it possible to see the city’s skyscrapers without the view being spoiled by the soft, yellow cloud covering the city. We’re effectively engineering ourselves out of it nearly as fast as we engineered ourselves into it.
When you hear of a town like Karatu, the first thought that goes into your head probably isn’t “I wonder what measures they’re taking to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases.” That’s because it’s ridiculous to expect a third-world country to make even more sacrifices than they’re already forced to make in order to save a planet that has done nothing for them. So other people have to take it upon themselves to help in any way they can. Support for Karatu has been trickling in for a while, resulting in establishing facilities like the Tumaini Junior School, or FAME, or any other non-profit organizations that have helped Karatu thrive a little bit more. The question isn’t whether or not we can help. The question is will we take action or will we die with the planet?