Women bring light to remote villages on islands of Zanzibar

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In this undated photo provided by XPRIZE, a child in a village in the Tanga region of Tanzania learns to write from a tablet using open-sourced software that would easily be downloaded by illiterate children to teach themselves to read. (AP)
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In this undated photo provided by XPRIZE, a child in a village in the Tanga region of Tanzania learns to read from a tablet using open-sourced software that would easily be downloaded by illiterate children to teach themselves to read. (AP)
Updated 21 May 2019
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Women bring light to remote villages on islands of Zanzibar

  • Women are almost twice as likely as men to have no education, and are less likely to own a land or have access to a bank account, according to a Tanzania-wide government survey in 2016

KINYASINI, Tanzania: A s a single mother, Salama Husein Hajja was low in the pecking order in her village in Tanzania and struggling to eke out a living for her family as a farmer.
But now she hopes to gain status and a stable income after being trained as a community solar engineer for a project bringing light to scores of rural villages where no homes are connected to electricity on the islands of Zanzibar.
Grandmothers and single mothers — many of whom have never learned to read or write — are among those being trained under the program which they say could transform lives in their poor fishing and farming communities.
“We struggle a lot to get lighting,” said Hajja, 36, a vegetable farmer and mother of three children from a village on Unguja, the largest and most populated island in the Zanzibar archipelago.
“When you don’t have electricity, you can’t do many things like teaching children. It forces you to use a lamp. The smoke is harmful, the eyes and the chest are affected.
“When the electricity is there, it’s better.”
Life is challenging for women in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania made up of numerous islands where half the population lives below the poverty line.
Women are almost twice as likely as men to have no education, and are less likely to own a land or have access to a bank account, according to a Tanzania-wide government survey in 2016.
Many poorer and rural families also lack access to electricity, compounding the challenges they face.
The island region’s entire energy grid depends on an underground cable connecting it to the mainland which was damaged in 2009, plunging it into darkness for three months.
Furthermore, only about half of houses in Zanzibar are connected to mains power, with many of the remainder forced to rely on polluting fuel lamps for light.

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“We only use a lamp inside,” said Aisha Ali Khatib, a mother of nine, training as a solar engineer alongside Hajja at the Barefoot College in Kinyasini village on Unguja.
“The lamp uses paraffin ... Buying one spoon of paraffin is 200 shillings ($0.09) but I can go for two days without making 200 shillings.”
Solar power offers solutions to connect rural villages with little prospect of getting mains power and increase resilience and sustainability.
Millions of people across sub-Saharan Africa are getting access to electricity through off-grid renewables, the International Energy Agency said last year, which forecasted strong demand to boost growth in the sector up to 2022.
The solar training scheme offered by Barefoot College, a social enterprise that began in India and is now working in East Africa, also focuses specifically on training women.
The project was designed to address the fact that women are much less able to leave their villages due to poverty and family links while also empowering women in Tanzania’s male-dominated society by offering them decently paid work.
Communities in participating villages are asked to nominate two women aged between 35 and 55 to leave their families and travel to the college to train as engineers.
Many of those chosen lack formal education, but they are recognized as people who can command authority and who are deeply embedded in the life of their villages.
“When you educate a woman, you educate a whole community,” said Fatima Juma Hajji, a solar engineer trainer at Barefoot college in Zanzibar.
“When you educate a man, he will not stay in the village, he will go away but when you educate a woman, she goes back to her village and helps improve.”
Women on the project spend five months living and training at the college, after which they return to their villages and set up solar lighting systems for their family and neighbors.
Households pay a few dollars a month for power – a cheaper option than buying paraffin or electricity from the grid.
Some of the money is used to pay the engineers a salary in return for maintaining the village’s equipment and funds raised can also be plowed back into community projects.
Women on the scheme said they had benefitted by gaining a stable income stream, and a new sense of independence and respect within their villages.
“We have been given a better life because after we leave here, we will be engineers and will go back to teach others,” said Hajja.
“When I go back I will have status. I will be knowledgeable and I will be proud.” ($1 = 2,300.0000 Tanzanian shillings) (Writing by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change.


Waves of Chinese tourists invade North Korea

Updated 14 min 41 sec ago
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Waves of Chinese tourists invade North Korea

  • China remains the isolated, nuclear-armed North’s key diplomatic backer and main provider of trade and aid
  • China has a proven willingness to use tourism as a geopolitical negotiating weapon

PYONGYANG: On a grey stone column in Pyongyang, a mural shows Chinese and North Korean soldiers rushing into battle against US-led forces in the Korean War. Decades later, the monument is a regular stop for new waves of Chinese going to the North, this time as tourists.
Hundreds of soldiers and workers have been sprucing up the obelisk and its grounds in recent days ahead of a state visit to Pyongyang by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.
An inscription on it lauds “the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army, who fought with us on this land and smashed down the common enemy.”
Their “immortal exploits” will “last forever,” it proclaims, as will “the friendship forged in blood between the peoples of the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
Nearly 70 years after Mao Zedong sent millions of soldiers to save Kim Il Sung’s troops from defeat as General Douglas MacArthur’s men marched up the peninsula, China remains the isolated, nuclear-armed North’s key diplomatic backer and main provider of trade and aid.
Now the Friendship Tower, as the monument is known, attracts growing hordes of Chinese tourists — and the renovations suggest it may also be on Xi’s itinerary.
Ordinary Chinese pay travel companies around 2,500 yuan ($360) for a standard three-day trip, arriving overland by train in Pyongyang to tour the capital’s highlights, from the Arch of Triumph to Kim Il Sung Square.
The following day they head south to the Demilitarized Zone that has divided the peninsula since the two sides fought each other to a stalemate in 1953, before returning home.
“I’m very interested in North Korea and wanted to come to see what North Korea looks like,” said Yu Zhi, a retiree from Anhui province visiting Pyongyang, telling AFP that she had a “special feeling” for the country.
“China is very friendly with North Korea,” added her fellow traveler, a woman surnamed Jin. “We have been friends for generations.”
It was not always so. Mao — whose eldest son Mao Anying was among those killed in what China still calls the “War to Resist US Aggression and Aid the DPRK” — described the neighbors as “as close as lips and teeth.”
Ties then waxed and waned during the Cold War, when founder Kim Il Sung was adept at playing his Soviet and Chinese allies off against each other, and his grandson, the current leader Kim Jong Un, did not visit Beijing to pay his respects for more than six years after inheriting power.
But as he embarked on a flurry of diplomacy last year, he made sure that Chinese President Xi Jinping was the first foreign head of state he met, and he has since done so three more times — more often than Kim has seen any other leader.
Now Xi is going to reciprocate.
At the same time Chinese tourism to the North has reached record highs, according to travel industry sources — so much so that Pyongyang has imposed a limit on arrivals.
No official figures are available from authorities on either side, but Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, the market leader for Western visitors, said there had been “a huge increase in Chinese tourists.”
At peak times 2,000 people a day had been arriving in Pyongyang, he said. “That’s far too many because there is no infrastructure to accommodate that many tourists, so problems with train tickets, with plane tickets, hotel space.”
As a result, North Korean authorities had themselves set a 1,000-a-day cap, he added, although it was unclear whether this applied across the industry or solely to Chinese, who make up the vast majority of arrivals.
“There are issues with just hundreds of people showing up at the same time.”
China has a proven willingness to use tourism as a geopolitical negotiating weapon — it banned group tours to South Korea after it deployed a US anti-missile system, THAAD.
With nuclear negotiations at a stalemate the North remains subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions, and the US imposed a travel ban on its own citizens visiting following the death of student Otto Warmbier, who had been jailed after trying to steal a propaganda poster.
But tourism is not among the sectors targeted by the UN, potentially enabling Beijing to use it as an incentive for its sometimes-wayward ally.
The Chinese travel phenomenon is market-driven, rather than prompted by state order — as well as the market offered by China’s huge population, the two countries’ border enables cheap overland journeys.
But simply enabling it to take place, said John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul, meant “We can infer some choices are being made” by Beijing.
“We know it’s a lever they can turn on and off,” he said.
Even with the diplomatic process at a standstill, he added, “The Chinese think you have to use this window of opportunity to move things forward. There has to be a path on both sides and so something like opening up tourism is a good way to enable that.”
At the Monument to the Three Charters for Reunification on the edge of Pyongyang, where two giant stone women form an arch over a road, a secondary school teacher from Shanghai called Peng said: “We are both socialist countries. I feel there are more Chinese coming to visit.”