A visit to Lingeka, Tanzania

Published October 20, 2014 – by Karisia Gichuke
Mother from the farmer’s/parenting group
Mother from the farmers’/parenting group

I am just back from a visit to Lingeka, in the Shinyanga region of Tanzania. I was there at the invitation of ICS to visit communities who have been implementing their Skilful Parenting programme.

ICS have an unusual approach, in which the entry point and initial focus of their parenting work in communities is agribusiness and improving farming practices. They provide training to farmers on agricultural techniques, offer the means to purchase improved quality fertiliser and seed, and provide access to a fairer market for selling their produce. This enables farmers to better provide for their own food and increase their income.

At the same time, they encourage the parents in these farmers’ groups to learn about parenting skills together. ICS has developed a course in which parents learn together about subjects such as affirmation, self-worth, discipline and managing conflict in the family. The course also takes parents through planning together as a family, saving, money management and setting financial priorities.

ICS is delivering this work in an extremely remote part of Tanzania; the journey to Lingeka involved a two hour flight from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza then eight hours on a dusty road, some through riverbeds which threatened to engulf the car at any given moment. It was clear that the communities we met have few visitors and they were entertained to hear Kiingereza (English) spoken and to share the changes that they have experienced through working with ICS.

Sun begins to set on the return journey
Sun begins to set on the return journey

My take on issues parents and children in Europe face provoked much curiosity – and concern when I described children living in flats without gardens or access to outside space. Various individuals shared stories of improved harvests and yields and improved relationships with children and spouses interchangeably; there seemed to be no differentiation between farming and parenting conversations, which might reflect the strength of ICS’s approach.

One of the questions we have been pondering in the Bernard van Leer Foundation is what motivates individuals to attend courses on parenting and see them through to the end, particularly when there are major competing pressures on their time and when there can be a myriad of interventions taking place in a community at any given moment. Making use of initial interest in improved farming outputs to introduce conversations around parenting practices is an interesting example for those who are also facing questions about setting an entry point.

ICS’ office in Mwanhuzi, Meatu district
ICS’ office in Mwanhuzi, Meatu district

However, using farmers’ groups as the entry point is not just about sustaining attendance and interest in the Skilful Parenting programme. It also reflects ICS’s belief that economic strengthening is integral to improving parenting practices and children’s wellbeing. For them, one can’t be fully effective without the other. It is something we continue to debate at the Bernard van Leer Foundation.